“To hold a people in oppression you have to convince them first that they are supposed to be oppressed.” ~ John Henrik Clarke’
We keep saying these are strange times. But are they? Over ten years ago I was getting ready to travel to Jamaica for a week of high school reunion activities. I had invited a friend (non-Jamaican) to come with me. It would be her first trip to Jamaica, but not her first trip abroad. She was from North Central Florida, a small town not far from the town of Rosewood, in fact she was probably descended from the survivors of that strange time.
I had picked her up from the airport, we had just arrived at my home when we realized there was excitement on our street. Police had blocked it off at either end. It was Boomy. Boomy was a kid who lived down the block, he was older than my kids, and as a teen he had been in the usual scrape with the cops. But always polite and pleasant as far as I was concerned. The news was reporting that some African American male had led police on a chase through several police jurisdictions until being apprehended in front of his home, just down my street.
Eventually we learned the Boomy had gone by his ex-girlfriend’s home to pick up some of his ‘stuff’. Due to prior altercations she had taken out a restraining order on him, and so when he showed up she called the police. When he saw them arrive he decided to leave, and as he backed out he closed his car door and struck a cop. That meant that the chase was on for he was fleeing from the scene having attacked a cop with a deadly weapon.
Now Boomy had a fear of being shot by the cops. His prior run-ins with them had not been neighborly, and he had told his friends that if anything ever happened he was going to head straight for home, to make sure that his family would be able to witness any violent confrontation. He pulled up in front of his parent’s home seconds before the cops, and as they surrounded the car he sat quietly, waiting. One of the cops decided she saw him reaching for a weapon and shot him in the neck. Fortunately and miraculously Boomy survived, and is doing well today, so I hear.
One of the blessings and curses of our modern world is the ever-present videos of situations as they happen. This gives us the opportunity to be judge and jury, viewing and sharing angles, giving opinions and sentences. Unfortunately, the video is a moment in time. We have no idea what was going through the minds and hearts of those caught on camera. What was the old saying? Walk a mile in my shoes. We are coming to the end of another week of being front line spectators at a family’s grief. It strikes me as being a stark invasion of privacy that over and over again we get to watch the raw emotion and pain of a family’s sudden and senseless loss.
But these are not strange times. Things have been stranger in this country’s history. There are so many moments of unmentionable and heinous acts carried out by white people against the original land owners of this country; against an enslaved people; against people who, once emancipated, were still treated as less than human. So many episodes that even those who were born here may be unaware of. So much of history has been whitewashed out of history books. As they say, history is written by the victors.
It comes as no surprise to many that the leader of the free world, a man who has benefited every step of the way from his white privilege, could plan to hold an event that attracts people whose common denominator is their whiteness on a day of great significance to the descendants of enslaved Africans in a town where a massacre killed hundreds of such descendants. Juneteenth has been an informal holiday, a celebration of the ending of slavery. Although official emancipation was a couple of years earlier, June 19th, 1865 coincided with the end of the Civil War, when the proclamation of freedom was announced in Galveston, Texas. For years ‘Juneteenth’ was celebrated by African Americans as their Independence Day, eventually becoming less popular. It was in the era of the fight for Civil Rights that it was revived, with MLK Jr’s Poor People’s March on Washington being planned to coincide with Juneteenth.
So many stories are lost to history. So much pain. Sometimes it takes one story, one man’s suffering to bring to light centuries of hateful acts. A story can expose what science and statistics fail to. It is stories that capture the imagination and tug at the heart, creating the emotional connection that breeds empathy. I can only hope that even those who considered themselves informed have been availing themselves of the movies that are now readily available. The story of Thurgood Marshall defending a black man in Connecticut on charges of rape. The image of James Baldwin fiercely, cuttingly teaching young English university students the history of the colonization and enslavement of Africans. The fire in his eyes can be seen through the ever present cigarette smoke (yes, in those days they even smoked on TV!) as he declared “I am not your Negro.” We have no excuse not to educate ourselves.
It is beautifully ironic that we are seeing the music of Bob Marley used in marches and protests across the globe. For Bob used the words of two of the early 20th Century warriors for the liberation and unity of people of African descent: the Emperor Haile Selassie, and the Honorable Marcus Mosiah Garvey. From the words of Selassie’s speech declaring ‘War’, or Garvey’s exhortation to ‘emancipate yourself from mental slavery’ we are being reminded that this is not new, this is as old as time.
This Friday morning I am hopeful that this period of time will come to be known as one of great education and change, a moment in history where we availed ourselves of all of the information, to become informed and aware, and ready to create a new world order for generations to come. We see the seeds of possibility, the chance for growth and evolution. Let us continue to do the work, not to be discouraged, but to know that in the words of another singer: ‘No pain, no gain.’
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!