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Est. April 5, 2002
April 18, 2019 - Issue 785

Part 1: America Begins in Africa

"What is slavery if not the history of America’s brutal
subjugation of Africans and African Americans? But
our subjugation didn’t end in 1865. The backlash against
freed blacks and Reconstruction resulted in the violent
renunciation of our humanity again with legalized
segregation and the systemic oppression meant to track
and stifle our rights as human beings
as well as our mobility in the world."

read all parts of this series

Women respond to racism. My response to racism is anger. I have lived with that anger, ignoring it, feeding upon it, learning to use it before it laid my visions to waste, for most of my life. Once I did it in silence, afraid of the weight. My fear of anger taught me nothing. Your fear of that anger will teach you nothing, also…

Women responding to racism means women responding to anger; Anger of exclusion, of unquestioned privilege, of racial distortions, of silence, ill-use, stereotyping, defensiveness, misnaming, betrayal, and co-optation.

Audre Lorde Speech

National Women’s Studies Association Conference, June 1981

A thousand cuts.

It’s just one mornings in which I awake, kiss my cat’s forehead in acknowledgment of his existence. For many Americans, it’s a typical day in America.

I’ve an appointment with a chiropractor.

She smiles when she enters and asks, how you’re doing?, as if, she’s never seen, as I have, a video tape of a young black man (her age or younger) fall to the ground, surrounded by police, pointing guns and yelling. As if she’s never even understood what it means for me to be a black woman in a town where the majority of whites, on the right and left, believe “racial issues” do not exist.

How do I just say, Fine? I’m doing fine?

I’ll defer to her innocence. It’s America, where cuts, slight, moderate, or deep, bleed. Too much bleeding at once is impossible to survive.

So I defer. And try to be good. Silence!

I tell her I didn’t get much sleep. It’s not just the lower back issue today—it’s the neck, shoulders, knees.


Yes, stress.

The old white man below me, in a senior complex. Possibly dementia. The disturbance from his apartment have been much more pronounced in the last few weeks, I say. Maybe a young relative and someone, not on the lease, is living with him now. Maybe? I’m not sure.

I don’t mention that I’m one of six or seven black tenants in a 70-unit building.

You’re trouble! Trouble! I’m not going to stop a damn thing!

I try to tell the doctor about this moment when the older man, with my note, arrives at my door. I’m on the phone with a nurse from the hospital. His approach is threatening. Hostile. I closed my door twice. Yet, he tells the building manager otherwise, however. I’m the one who is hostile: I closed the door on him. And But not a favorite of the building manager, what’s another “credentialed” individual to say that would clear up this matter?

My “evidence,” “support,” in other words, is made null n void.

I told the chiropractor something of this story last week, not long after The Punishment regimen began. And why not an all-out onset since no one is expected to believe the word of a black woman against a white man, particular one who is moneyed. So the younger individual below alternates between “gaming” and “motel-style” activities.

Here’s our society today. Every evening. Every night. Divided and angry. Revenge is glorified. Target the old black woman for harassment. Who should care she has a terminal cancer? She’s alone and a good target. Zoom! Boom! Bang!

You say kids? The chiropractor is asking.

This cut I know well: I watch as she slowly tilts her head to one side. She’s become wise and all-knowing.

I speak to that Look: Another neighbor (need I use the adjective, white) saw a young person or two. She referred to them as “kids.” Early twenties, maybe.

It’s impossible to stay, head slumped, in the corner of the ring. So I rise: I realize I’m speaking with someone who doesn’t know who they are! I don’t expect to be given the benefit of the doubt!

It’s March. Women’s month in the US. And the smile never leaves her. She must remain behind it.

Nothing good can come from this encounter. There can be no understanding let alone justice when there’s no equality. For the doctor is not at liberty to see me as a full human being, aside of stereotypical representations. And those representation, even ones she can barely articulate, nonetheless, maintain her top billing in the ring and all the advantages offered her in a narrative that honors her racial superiority.

I say none of this, but I try, and why, I don’t know, try to explain what she fails to hear or see. Does she really know her history? The American past? If she did, she would recognize me, hear me, and I would recognize her and hear in her a comrade, instead of feeling stressed. Pain here in my neck, my shoulders, my knees.

But to no avail.

One more cut! All I know is education. It must work. Education leading to Reparations.

Later this same day, I’m home when I receive a call. Another younger white woman. A social worker, this time, who has visited with me earlier in the week. While she was in my home, she suggests that the old white man needs help, maybe the younger relative is taking advance of him, she’s suspicious about me. The shelves of books—not quite what she is trained to expect.

Something is wrong with this picture!

She’s calling for an update: How are things going?

Is she referring to me or to the whites below?

No change or worse. I’ve called the police just this morning.

Are you sure it’s just not normal life in an apartment building?

This is a senior building. So no, it’s not normal.

What is, is this conversation, where it’s causing me to slump in that corner chair, acknowledging that once again, here’s another who doesn’t know who she is. Doesn’t know her history. Doesn’t know that what makes my experience normal to her is what made it normal once to lynch a black man or woman and to celebrate the crime as a mere event, something following church services, something to be photographed and remembered as a victory over intruders.

No bounds need be honored here! The social worker can’t imagine America’s past with its plantations filled with the perpetrators masquerading as the aristocracy, the well-to-do, and the learned class. Property owners all. And that most profitable of all property was the mind and body of my ancestors.

She, the social worker, ready, to recommend me, perhaps, for services from the good and caring, services that would ultimately take me out of the fight, as one less African American obsessed with the past, has no image of these ancestors. She can’t see them as I do—no more than she comprehends a ship’s merchant or slave trader or slaveholder. Even a priest as planter. Educator as planter. America’s Founding politicians and lawyers.

Down for the count: good ridden to me. Peace! No more nagging from the corner about the past!

Sometimes one person can’t do it alone!

While Americans recall the original 13 colonies and the colonists, the wilderness and covered wagons filled with pioneering families, there are stories deliberately kept out of classrooms throughout the US. America begins as a dream in Africa with white men, carrying rifles and wading through muddy waters and tall brush, often in search of unsuspecting villagers.

America begins in Africa where whole communities are hearing rumors, and some, returning at a run, shout out that the intruders have been seen by chiefs, shamans, herders. They have business to attended to, business on their minds. They have an agenda, a plan, a pogrom.

They are coming! Hoards of them! They have weapons. And they are men. Mostly all men. White.

Already neighbors, friends, family members are disappearing.

Run! RUN!

The kidnapping for long distance travel will commence. The ground is being set: the Indigenous are being removed—violently. As violently as Africans are being kidnapped, chained to one another, and forced to walk for days and days under the sun. Traded and sold. Branded. Shipped as cargo to the New World.

And we will be center stage for a long while. We will be the foundation on which rest the hopes and dreams of a future nation and it’s white population.

Writing of the laws intended to cement chattel slavery, W.E.B. Du Bois discusses the “‘millions upon millions of men, human men and lovable, light, and liberty-loving children of the sun,’” who were thrown “‘with no sparing of brutality into one rigid mold’” (qtd in The End of the Myth). What was slavery if not a “‘school of brutality and human suffering’” whose pedagogy was the “‘darkening of reason,’” serial rape, and “‘spiritual death[?]’” (Greg Grandin).

What is slavery if not the history of America’s brutal subjugation of Africans and African Americans? But our subjugation didn’t end in 1865. The backlash against freed blacks and Reconstruction resulted in the violent renunciation of our humanity again with legalized segregation and the systemic oppression meant to track and stifle our rights as human beings as well as our mobility in the world.

And yet black Americans have been told to absolve America of it’s greatest crime. Slavery is in the past. Move on.

American educational institutions echo this sentiment, treating the enslavement of black Americans as if the legacy of this atrocity, this brutal violence against humanity, is a collection of dates and selected black activists approved by the American narrative so as to render these fearless black leaders and martyrs angelical and events appear as bloodless as the proverbial apple pie.

Today, we are witnessing the mis-education of not only African American by the good and caring but also white Americans too who can’t even see themselves in a narrative other than one in which they are champions, victors, masters.

A thousand cuts!

No people can be permitted to be so abused and used for the purposes of affording a life of wealth to another people without, at least, historical compensation. That is, a re-writing of American history, placing front and center, as it is in reality, the violence committed against the Indigenous and African American to make it all happen! To make America “great.” To make America and industrial giant and an imperialist superpower! And, yes, financial compensation—as in, ask the question: how much did Europeans and white Americans gain in wealth and prosperity as the result of not only free labor by Africans and their descendants but also as the result of brutal conditions these human beings (from birth to death) were forced to endure?

So when do we insist on reparations—what is rightly the result of America’s history of violently subjugating the African American that still continues to this day?

read all parts of this series Editorial Board member and Columnist, Lenore Jean Daniels, PhD, has a Doctorate in Modern American Literature/Cultural Theory. Contact Dr. Daniels.




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