Today, national and even international press are paying attention to racists marching in Charlottesville, Virginia.
I, for one, am shocked that this story has yet to get old in this country.
This country was developed and fermented upon the theory of manifest destiny. One only has to spend time with First Nation people or descendants of African slaves to know how that turned out for generations of peoples. And throughout social media, some people are aghast and appalled that racist men and women have turned out in droves to terrorize people.
Many desperately wanted the racists’ way of life to become relics of the past as opposed to a daily reality. However, let’s be clear and honest. They have never gone away.
Let me share a quick American history through the eyes of my family. My grandparents’ grandparents were mostly born into slavery. To put that in perspective, the age difference between grandparents and their children’s children during that time period was approximately 35-40 years. If you or anyone you know has parents who gave birth to them in their 30s and 40s, that would be the same as you stating that your parents were born in slavery.
One of my great-grandparents escaped a mob in Alabama on a midnight train to Georgia after he struck back at a sharecropper who was abusing him. Two of my grandparents were threatened to have their home burned to the ground for attending voting rights community organizing meetings. These threats came from the parents or legacy members of the KKK who have been on the TV this past weekend.
My father was thrown into jail for registering people to vote. His sister was murdered in cold blood in Philadelphia, and her case was never investigated.
My mother suffered countless injustices, professional hurdles and vocational defeats based on the color of her skin, despite having always been recognized as an academically gifted individual.
My father was one of the many Black people laid-off by McDonnell Douglass (now Boeing) in the late ’90s based on race even though he outperformed his White counterparts on nearly all measures, which became one of the largest class-action lawsuits ever won.
And in my generation, three of my grandmother’s four grandsons (including me) have spent multiple nights in jail while committing no crimes. And one died in police custody.
Unfortunately, this is my American experience.
After a recent funeral, my grandmother calmly pointed to a tree where they (White supremacists… who are now called nationalists) used to hang Black boys and men. She calmly added: “They used to hang us, and now they shoot us. Nothing happened to them back then, and nothing happens to them now.”
It goes without saying that we are products of our choices, but we are also products of society’s choices. While working abroad, I was preparing to return to the United States. And two weeks prior to my return, a White “nationalist” calmly walked into a church with many elderly Black bible study attendees. He prayed with them before deciding to kill them for no other reason that because their melanin concentration was higher than his ― e.g., they were Black.
Immediately thereafter, my friends abroad begged me not to get on that plane to return to the U.S. One was near tears, stating that it was far too dangerous for me to return to the United States when it was clear that avid racists were rapidly gaining more power than they have had in the past 25 years. But as they say, sometimes you choose the crazy that you know as opposed to the crazy that you don’t know. So off I went.
This is my America. This is my home.
After the November 2016 election, I heard fear in my mother’s voice. A fear I did not recognize. She knew full well what the near future had in store for this country. Because lest we forget, she had seen it before when Nixon was elected not once, but twice. A rabidly racist man sat in 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and surrounded himself with some of the most outwardly racist people that general society would tolerate at the time.
Nixon was elected twice, mostly by the parents of the people who created the current administration. The same one that wants to reduce, if not end, oversight of abusive police departments. The same one that wants to put resources to challenge collegiate affirmative action in America’s schools. The same one that want to restrict the remaining vestiges of the Voting Civil Rights Act that my family had fought so hard to see come to fruition.
So no. Absolutely not. I did not wake up in an America today different from the one my family has survived since arriving in chains. I woke up in the same country spouting the latest version of manifest destiny.
Take a look at the news. The people marching are not just 90-year-olds who cannot accept today’s world. There are many fresh-faced 20-somethings who believe equity cannot occur without them losing their rightful place at the top.
But one thing is evident: that story of manifest destiny has infected more than just the original creators. It has infected Black Americans who demand drinkable water, better schools and access to jobs. It has infected Brown Americans who demand stable residency, fair labor practices and access to the civic discourse. It has also infected the First Nation peoples who were the original victims of manifest destiny as they demand sovereignty over their lands and access to health care.
This is my country. I am here to fight for it.
As one of my great friends always reminds me: “It is all of us. Or none of us. You better believe it!” I do not have the desire or willingness to be focused on one issue. Dr. King told us to challenge Injustice. And a great woman once recently told us: “When they go low, we go high.”
So the mountaintop we go… join us!