Jun 24, 2020
by PAMELLA GIBBS
Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
– From the poem “Let America Be America Again” by Langston Hughes, 1936
One of the most poignant speeches given at George Floyd’s funeral was given by his niece when she asked the question: “When was America ever great?” in response to Trump and his many followers as well as the Republican Party’s refrain of “Make America Great Again.”
I believe she was asking the question for her uncle and the millions of other Black and Brown people trying to navigate through the many pitfalls that is America’s cultural divide. What’s so sad is that in June of 2020 we have young people asking us all when will America live up to its promise of an equal society allowing for the pursuit of happiness and liberty and justice for all of us and not just for some of us.
The truth is that this is the Inflection Point! The fork in the road, a transformative moment, or any other phase you want to use to express the urgency of where America is as country right now. As we decide in which direction we want go we cannot make the wrong choice because the wrong way forward could be the death knell of America as a nation and destruction of us as a people. And I don’t think it’s an hyperbole because for the last three weeks I have sat riveted to my television set and iPhone to watch and read about what is happening in cities and small towns across America in the aftermath of the ghastly murder of George Floyd at the hands of four Minnesota police officers. This week, Atlanta is now in the cross hairs of the unrest because, Rayshard Brooks, another Black man was murdered while in police custody and Atlantans and other people across this country are again outraged and marching to implore White America and White Americans to accept that Black Lives Matter…TOO! I am heartened that many are expressing that BLACK LIVES Matter to them and are willing to put actions behind their convictions. It is good that many more Americans are joining the chorus every day from Congress to Fortune 500 company CEO’s to the NFL commissioner to Brown, White, Asians and Native Americans.
But We Are Still Dying!
WE | ARE | STILL | DYING!
We are still dying!
And many Black Americans are angry and afraid. Angry that in 2020 Black lives are still seen as expendable; And TOO many white Americans don’t see that as a problem. Indeed many racist white people see the killing of Black men and women by police and other American citizens as justified no matter the circumstances. We are afraid because we know it could happen also to people we love because of the levels of hatred and vitriol that is spread throughout the common spaces we all share. We in the Black community feel we are not respected. That even after 401 years of explanation, our very humanity … our humanness is still discounted, marginalized, ignored. We are frustrated. We have no more words to help explain the situation to White America. All that is left to say to White America is “Enough is Enough.” We demand that our grievances be addressed. We want the police to be held accountable! We want America brought to account as well.
SO HERE WE ARE.
But where do we as a country go from here?
How do we get to the other side of this insanity?
We are broken.
How can we fix the damage?
How can we build healthier communities where trust exists between the people in power and their proxies and the African American people they’re supposed to serve and protect?
Right now many African American communities see the police culture as being very toxic towards us and as a result there is very little trust. In many communities across America we are demanding police reform to help build that trust. We want wholesale changes in the systematic racism of police departments and until that happens we will not believe you! Until you dismantle the old guard mentality of the powerful police union leadership; we will not believe you. Until you abandon the doctrine of “qualified immunity” for cops; we will not believe you. Until you address the militarization of policing in Black and Brown communities; we will not believe you are interested
in any systematic changes and WE will not accept or rubber stamp your changes just to get along.
62 years ago Fannie Lou Hammer said this about an era similar to the one we are in now:
“See, it’s time for America to wake up and know that we’re not going to tolerate — we’re not begging anymore. And I’m not going to say not any more of us are going to die, because I’m never sure when I leave home whether I’ll get back home or not. But if I fall while I’m in Kentucky, I’ll fall five feet and four inches forward for freedom, and I’m not backing off it. And nobody will have to cover the ground that I walk on as far as freedom is concerned because I know as well as you should know that no man is an island to himself, and until I’m free in Mississippi, you’re not free in no other place.”
– Fannie Lou Hamer, from a speech in Kentucky, 1968
So I say to people like Senator Tim Scott(R-SC) You can talk all you want about taking away “qualified immunity” from the police is a non-starter for the Senate but the word on the street is NO JUSTICE NO PEACE!! and I believe the word on the street.
On our contract With America,
“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
So says our Declaration of Independence. These God-Given rights are a part of the contract that Black American’s have been redrafting and refining with White America for 401 years and we still have not secured a viable contract because White America you are still negotiating in bad faith. You still have your foot on our backs and your knees on our necks. So I say as Americans we need to ask ourselves Why? Why is it that the life of an African American still seems to be counted as three-fifths of a white American’s life? Why is it that the dream of a home, a car, a damn cup of coffee at Starbucks or jogging in our neighborhoods are not things that Black people are supposed to be able attain or do without being questioned by a white person as if we can’t possibly own our homes or cars; or belong in StarBucks or an upscale neighborhood. Indeed, Why is it that many more times than not, doing these things while Black can cause your life or liberty to be take away?
As urgent as the need is to deal with the systemic racism in our police departments, our job markets and our schools; it seems to me that the greater concern and equally important question we need answered is who really benefits from the deep divisions between the races? The so called cultural divide problem.
As we deal with the Coronavirus pandemic, the economic downturn and the climate of racism who is losing their lives and their jobs and their
livelihood in greater numbers? This is not about culture this is about economics, the racial wealth gap.
So let me talk to Black America right now. While we have this platform now is not the time to be satisfied with taking down statutes and flags. Nor to accept gradual progress. Four hundred years has been gradual enough! We want our rights and we want them now. This time feels different. America may not be ready for change but through our continued actions she will be prepared for change when it happens. And it will happen. Keep Protesting. Make them see you! You matter!
In closing, I would like to say something to the young people. Recently, Theron Snipe and I had a conversation with two young people of conNECKtedTOO –> TINYisPOWERFUL for their Podcast, I Like My Tea Sweet, on the subject of social justice in the present climate. We spoke for an hour touching on many topics: race and racism; white supremacy; poverty; and self- determination. One of the questions I didn’t get a chance to answer that I would like to try and answer now is this: What is your advice/ message to the younger generation?
Well, to Aysha and Rain and others, I would like to say that I am sorry that you and your cohorts have been enlisted in this struggle for freedom and self-determination, in many cases against your will. I know many of you are angry and frustrated and afraid that you have to put your bodies on the frontlines. I’m sorry that some of you are dying because of it. 401 years later you shouldn’t still be fighting to prove that your Black skin does not define your worth, your intelligence or your beauty. But, I love that you are here in this movement now. I am proud that you are holding us accountable. Keep calling on governors, county officials, mayors and other public officials to eradicate the systems of oppression and racism. Two of the best ways to get change done is through legislation and voting. So by all means keep the pressure on in the streets through Peaceful protest. But please remember we have the most consequential election happening in your young lives this November and you all have to vote in large numbers like your future depends on it because it does. Your vote, young people, is your voice. Make America hear you. If you vote this November in large numbers in collaboration with other voting groups we will have a chance to change the political landscape for years to come. And then maybe, we can begin to make justice for all truly the law of the land.