Daily Archives: May 12, 2022

Confronting Anti-Blackness – Ave Sandstrom

The Black Present & Presence event illustrated the deep-rooted but ever-present ways African Americans have assembled to resist their conditions of oppression and the resistance they meet from the dominant white society. The program at large brings together a variety of black voices to advance our understanding of black culture and the consumption of black culture in everyday life. The event I attended was led by V. Dozier and Khalia li. The speakers discussed the types of spaces black women have created to communicate with one another and amplify their voices in a society that often silences them. The speakers also highlighted an ongoing struggle of having their ideas co-opted by white society: from their literal knowledge and scholarship to their actual bodily practices and forms of cultural expression. With black women leading the conversation, the Black Present and Presence offered more context into a long history of the minimal visibility of black humanity: highlighting black resistance through the creation and exercising of culture that consistently meets erasure, silencing, and appropriation. 

The Black Present and Presence event featured dialogue on digital black feminism that illustrated the ways black people have reclaimed the power to control their narrative. Through an ongoing struggle to succeed in a society that attempts to sustain their subordination, honoring and constructing blackness in the public sphere has served black Americans with a tool for resistance, unity, and pride. Chapter 12 of Freedom On My Mind, “Catastrophe, Recovery, and Renewal,” discusses a new consciousness developed within black America at the beginning of the twentieth century. “The New Negro” of the Harlem Renaissance movement emphasized racial pride, militancy, and the urgency to transform black American life. The text shares, “rejecting art that would ‘pour racial individuality into the mold of American standardization’ (White et al. 690).” At this time, black Americans were collectively moving under the controls of their objectives. As a result, black artists gained more control over representations of black history and culture that rejected and challenged the long-standing racial stereotypes of Jim Crow. 

Art is transformative; it shows people what they are and can be. The Harlem Renaissance pronounced black culture, heritage, and identity as art. The movement offered African Americans the opportunity for self-definition and self-realization. As the chapter highlights, “the empowering change in black identity that it fostered became permanent” (690). During the Renaissance, resisting antiblackness and celebrating black identity offered an opportunity to dismantle a distorted narrative and demand visibility. The institution of racism denies black presence, but black people find a way to collectively bring their presence back in through a culture of resistance and racial uplift.

The event also offered insight into black hair culture as a symbol of resistance, racial pride, and the interconnectedness of black people. In Océane Nyela’s Braided Archives: Black Hair as a Site of Diasporic Transindividuation, she explains that women of African descent “experience belonging in the Diaspora through their hair” (Nyela 2). The styles black women wear on their heads surpass just hair and aesthetics. They play a huge role in fostering and reasserting identity. Nyala writes, “hair has and continues to be used to communicate between members of the African diaspora and sustain the cultural knowledge and practices” (10). In pre-colonial Africa, hair was associated with identity and spirituality, believed to be “a gateway to the divine” (11). In addition, it served as a social, cultural, and ethnic marker, relaying information on one’s geographical origin, societal status, marital status, and more. Although these markers varied from one ethnic group to another, the social and cultural significance held in the hair was one shared convention across West African ethnic groups. 

During the transatlantic slave trade, millions of Africans were kidnapped, taken without any sense of control of their own destiny, a process that required their dehumanization. An early practice to erase the identity of the newly enslaved was shaving their heads. This custom ensured enslaved peoples could not recognize themselves, each other, and their origins. By the 18th century, black features, specifically hair, began to be categorized as inherently inferior. This degradation of African hair was a tool used by white slaveholders to justify the enslavement of African peoples. 

In the aftermath of slavery, the Harlem Renaissance emphasized the reclamation of African-based aesthetics, namely hair, to repair lost cultural identity and reclaim bodily autonomy. Nyala shares that cultural expression through hair “allows us to think of ourselves as ‘humans’ through cultural practices that reinforce/foster a cognitive process of group belonging. This cognitive process allows us to ‘remember’ who we are” (102). As I believe Nyela describes, embracing Afrocentric hairstyles allows African Americans to demonstrate a visible connection between them and their lineage. It reclaims the power once carried by the hair of their ancestors and represents their identity as black people. Nyala also notes, “hair braiding creates the possibility for blackness to redefine itself outside the claws of whiteness and stand on its own. Here, hair braiding becomes an exercise in making and (un)making historical legacies” (109). White supremacist culture invented negative stereotypes to create a false narrative about black women. The reconsideration of Afrocentric perceptions of black hair and a refusal to abide by presiding anti-black ones was an act of resistance throughout black history. Through this form of cultural expression, black women demanded visibility and outwardly celebrated their identity as black people. They reclaimed stolen power and threatened the status quo when they resisted these stereotypes by using their culture to self-define. 

At the Black Present and Presence event, Khalia li spoke about her own hair journey, offering more insight into the invisibility or even hypervisibility that is still bound to black hair. She spoke about her lack of courage to wear hairstyles that did not conform to eurocentric beauty standards out of fear of how it would impact her lived experience. Hair weaponized against black women is a legacy that remains in the present. According to Global Citizen, “In 42 states across the US, the law does not protect citizens from discrimination for how they choose to wear their hair or represent their heritage.” The denial of employment and education because of hair remains an ongoing issue across black America. This reality is increasingly problematic when non-black people culturally appropriate black hairstyles. When white women copy hairstyles that black women were and are unable or unwilling to wear due to negative perceptions of black hair, it ignores the historical weight of these practices. Furthermore, it delegitimizes the negative experiences black women face when expressing themself in this particular way. 

When white celebrities receive praise for wearing black hairstyles, it separates black women from something they created and burrows in deeper the racial stereotypes of antiblackness. In The Oppression in Appropriation, Danielle Vaughan-Bonas describes, “what often follows is the cultural appropriator neglecting to credit the source for the culture, and through this, black women become invisible” (Vaughan-Bonas 3). Ignoring the origins of black hairstyles and not giving compensation to its inventors illustrates the minimal visibility of black people. Furthermore, it demonstrates the dominant majority’s lack of awareness of how black people navigate a racist society. One specific example was Kim Kardashian taking to social media to credit her Fulani braids, worn by the Fulani people of West Africa, to Bo Derek, a white actress who culturally appropriated the hairstyle in the 1979 movie ‘10.’ By calling them “Bo Derek braids,” the hairstyle’s black roots and cultural significance become muted. Additionally, when white women name a black hairstyle they didn’t create, it alienates black people from something they invented. It erases identity and the possibility for resistance. 

When white people benefit and profit from appropriating black hair culture without fear of negative consequences, while black women endure race-based discrimination, it perpetuates unequal power dynamics and reinforces black inferiority. Vaughan-Bonas adds, “Fulani braids, among other African hairstyles are consistently rejected by society when worn by black women, until a member of the dominant class wears them and validates them for white consumption” (4). Black women have long worn their hair in braids, but once placed on white bodies, the appropriator suddenly becomes a “trendsetter.” When black hairstyles are only accepted when elevated by white people, it communicates that they are not seen as valuable on black bodies. 

Culture is a shared locus of meaning-making and identity-making. Throughout their lives in bondage and beyond, African Americans have formed a unified identity through a culture of resistance. The foundations upon which African Americans thrive today began with their ancestors piecing together a new life. Before black bodies were stolen from the shores of Africa, there was no notion of black identity. African peoples came from different kingdoms, nations, and governments, spoke different languages, and practiced different forms of faith. Not until black people reached the Americas did they become enslaved, distinct, and tasked to form a collective identity. With a new shared positionality, they had to develop their own methods to procure their freedom and grapple with their distinct conditions. For the entirety of the black experience, resistance has been constant but also challenging. In this way, there is an intricate relationship between the black people of the present and those who were enslaved. Throughout history, black Americans have created and embraced culture to survive their conditions of oppression. When white people steal black culture and claim it as their own, it is another form of colonization, conquering and erasing black identity. To understand why issues of the past persist as issues in the present, we have to ask ourselves how we got to this moment. 

Works Cited

Nyela, Océane Ingrid. “Braided Archives: Black Hair as a Site of Diasporic Transindividuation.” YorkSpace Home, 3 Mar. 2022, yorkspace.library.yorku.ca/xmlui/handle/10315/39078. 

Vaughan-Bonas, D. “The Oppression in Appropriation”. Footnotes, vol. 12, Apr. 2019, https://journal.lib.uoguelph.ca/index.php/footnotes/article/view/5314.

“8 States across the US That Have Banned Black Hair Discrimination.” Global Citizen, www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/hair-discrimination-crown-act-states/. 

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021.

 

Abolition and Black Power-Kayla W

Abolition and Black Power

 

I went to the program “A night with Patrisse Cullors” put on by USD’s Torero program board and the Black Student Union. Patrisse Cullors is a Black activist, who is the co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement. She is also an artist and a writer of three books which are entitled An Abolitionist’s Handbook:12 Steps to Changing Yourself and the World and her second book When They Call You a Terrorist. This program consisted of 30 minutes where Patrisse was able to talk openly, and then a 30-minute question and answer. This allowed Patrisse to discuss her beginnings and why advocating for Black voices became so important to her and her journey. The purpose of this talk was primarily about abolition and what it means to be an abolitionist. Her central concept was to promote abolishing social institutions that disproportionately affect Black Americans- particularly prisons. These narratives and themes of abolition, Black pride, and social movements in the program are significant to our understanding of African American History because these ideas are not only seen throughout the Black freedom struggle but also in the continuous fight for true equality in present-day America. 

Abolition is a concept that Patrisse is very passionate about. In an article written by Patrisse Cullors, she states “We organizers and freedom fighters believe that an abolitionist framework and strategy is necessary to challenge the conditions faced by Black communities in this country, and that only through an abolitionist struggle will we repair our communities and undermine the systems of oppression… from the transatlantic slave trade through the prison industrial complex”(Cullors, 1684). I relate this quote to the abolition of slavery, and how Black resistance (including abolitionism) contributed to the end of slavery. As we have discussed in class, even with the election of Abraham Lincoln, African Americans knew this was not going to be enough to obtain the end of slavery. This is because Lincoln allowed for more compromises and not the total end to slavery as he was not in support of the idea of Black citizenship. Compromises never actually benefit Black people- because slavery is still permitted. I think it is important that we still recognize that this strong ideal still exists today, where African Americans know that just making minor changes to our society and social institution just won’t be enough to ensure total Black equality. Patrisse emphasizes that there is a need to have a complete reconstruction or even abolition of some institutions in order to create enough powerful change. I think it is crucial that Patrisse focuses on the prison system because of how Black people are disproportionately incarcerated and given harsher punishments even today. As mentioned in our lecture, incarceration became the new Jim Crow in the mid to late 1900s. Society has come a long way from the way it once was, but clearly just making legislative changes will never fully make the difference on its own.

The second theme in this program I found to be important in understanding African American History is Black Pride. During her talk, Patrisse touched on the importance of prioritizing mental health and ensuring that we are caring for ourselves first and foremost. The idea of prioritizing oneself and focusing on uplifting the Black community relates to the idea of Black power that emerged during the civil rights movement. Black power was the idea that Black Americans were going to represent their culture how they wanted to, and not be influenced by what White America wanted. It was to elevate the whole Black community and be able to decide who to ally with. Patrisse advocates for embracing Blackness and elevating those around us(having black pride), which is very similar to Black power. Another way this theme and Black power intersect is the push for proper presentation in politics, including people who will reflect the Black community and their needs.  Black stereotypes and harmful images have been portrayed in the media since slavery, and it is important to acknowledge that some of these stereotypes and mindsets still exist today. Ideas that African Americans are lazy and abuse the system are propaganda that started during the civil rights movement, and continue to be used today as a way to discredit government funding for forms of welfare; the most common is the  ‘welfare queen’. Adopting ideologies like Black pride and power today assists in protecting African Americans from dangerous ideals that continuously allow dominant White America to discriminate against them. It also encourages the Black community to have a safe place to be themselves and maintain their true identities that were being stripped away during slavery and segregation. This is why it is important to Patrisse that she promotes embracing Blackness and Black culture in the present day to combat discriminating stereotypes and uplift her fellow Black communities.

Social movements are another important concept in African American history and they were discussed during the program with Patrisse Cullors. As a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Patrisse recognizes the significance social movements have in fighting for social change and progress. She also shared with us the calling she had at a young age to fight against discrimination and stand up for African Americans. The Black Lives Matter movement has made tremendous advancements in creating social progress for discrimination that Black Americans still face today, especially regarding police brutality. The BLM movement reminds me a lot of the Black Panther party because of what they both fought for and the ideals they have. In our book Freedom on my mind, when discussing the goals of the Black Panther Party it states, “included among them were self-determination for Black people, full employment, decent housing and education, an end to police brutality, and exemption from military service”(White et al, 591). Something else that I found to be an important connection between the BLM movement and the Black Panther Party is that along with their powerful presence in creating social change, they also formed resources for their Black communities everywhere. These resources abled them to better the lives of themselves and those around them- the Black Panther Party gave away groceries and created programs to better their community and the Black Lives Matter movement has helped fund different programs like jail bail funds, and COVID relief for black families during the pandemic in 2020(Blacklivesmatter.com). Patrisse argues that it takes everyone to create change, notably not just African Americans. On page 591 of our book, it also exclaims “ This emphasis on structural inequalities allowed the Panthers to work with radical groups that prioritized class, regardless of race, which in practical terms permitted their alliance with white organizations (White et al.). This is important to note because oftentimes White America can separate this fight for inequality as a “Black problem” (like society does with most problems that do not specifically affect them). As we have learned throughout this class, and even in our own present-day experiences, this can be a harmful mindset that is clearly untrue. Black Americans need support from their communities and other communities to come together to create movements that fight for and embrace social change.  

I believe that understanding where the origins of these Black equality ideologies and course of actions like abolition, Black pride, and social movements came from and how they relate to current day ideas/problems is crucial in understanding African American history. This is because you are able to examine how much progress has actually occurred, as well as, how important it is to continue these ideals in order to create change. I think that there is sometimes a misconception that the discrimination that occurred during the civil rights movement or earlier do not exist today, but if we look back at African American history, we will see that current day ideas are just evolved versions of problems that have been happening for a long time. It is important that we use African American history as an interchangeable model for fighting struggles that Black Americans still face.    

 

Bibliography

Cullors, Patrisse. “Abolition and Reparations: Histories of Resistance, Transformative Justice, and Accountability.” Harvard Law Review, vol. 132, no. 6, April 2019, pp. 1684-1729. HeinOnline.

Home – Black Lives Matter. https://blacklivesmatter.com/. 

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021. 

 

The Push for Equality for All

The Push for Equality for All

I attended the program, The Sum of Us, presented by Heather McGhee. This was a very eye-opening presentation of her book, which correlated perfectly with the topics discussed in this semester of African American History. During the meeting, she began to explain her journey and push to write this novel. This push began out of frustration; she wanted to spot problems, which led her to craft evidence-based policies and to find solutions for these discovered problems. Her goal was to improve the economy for all people. She then made the decision to leave her job and take a new journey. This new journey was to answer a major question in the African American community. Her idea of the 0 sum is explained as how white people see racism. If the black community gains something, it takes away from the white community. This implies that whites see people of color as an expense. She began thinking, “Why can’t we have nice things such as affordable housing or health care?”  This theme of the program is significant to the understanding of African American History because it emphasizes the importance of not only constitutional rights, but equal rights in all aspects of life. 

Throughout the semester, we have discussed African Americans’ fight towards equal rights. This fight began as a fight towards rights stated in the constitution that were not being applied to people of color. These rights are supposed to apply to all people in the United States. African Americans had to fight for rights that should be inherent. A quote from Freedom on My Mind, written by Deborah Gray White states, “As a people who had consistently been forcibly deprived of their constitutional rights, African Americans also used the war as an opportunity to assert their right to self-determination and liberty. This meant not only the right to fight for their country and to work without discrimination but also fundamental citizenship rights such as rights to vote, hold office, and serve on juries. In addition, it meant the right to participate in the social and cultural life of America as free and equal human beings.” (White, 787) This quote encapsulates the main themes of demanding equal rights. This led in their fight for the right to vote, especially those who remained in the south. This ability to vote would allow them to vote out anti-black officials and lead to being able to secure economic rights. This fight was successful and gave them the ability to be more assertive in their community and society. Their next goal was to end segregation on public transport as well as in national professional organizations. This desegregation was successful in sports such as baseball and tennis, which emphasized black talent. This led to changes in entertainment such as music and film. Although these talents and abilities were appreciated by some, many other white people did not like their rise in society. 

In the interview with Heather McGee, she explains how this white negativity towards the rise of black people in society has been affecting us all and the democracy we aim to obtain. A quote from her novel The Sum of Us states, “the economic benefit of the racial bargain is shrinking for all but the richest. The logic that launched the zero-sum paradigm—I will profit at your expense—is no longer sparing millions of white Americans from the degradations of American economic life as people of color have always known it.” (McGhee introduction, xx-xxi). This quote expands upon her idea of the 0 sum showing how white people view African American gain as a loss for themselves. She referred to times in Montgomery, Alabama, where there was once a lush public swimming pool created in the 1930s and 40s but only available for white people to use. Once black people demanded rights to use the pool because they were forced to pay taxes on it, the government got rid of it. Instead of providing equality for all, the white people did not want to share so everyone loses out. This example shows how even though African Americans were given the rights they demanded, white people always found a way to get around it and not give them what they deserve. So many of the nice things were public goods, until it meant all of the public (including people of color) then they didn’t want them anymore so they were destroyed. 

Another example of 0 sum is college. As we learned in class, the G.I. Bill allowed African Americans to get a college education at the expense of the government and transformed higher education in the U.S. This government aid angered the white people and the government became inferior when they were aiding black people in the eyes of the whites. After they complained about having to attend schools with black people, the Federal government shifted from given loans to ones that needed to be paid back. This made it too expensive for black people and priced it out of reach for the working class. This caused many issues because even middle class jobs still required education. When college was 90% white, college was free. When it became more diverse, it started to become more expensive. As Heather stated in her interview, “The average white high school dropout has more wealth than a black college graduate.” This puts into perspective and emphasizes the inequality African Americans were still facing even when they were given the basic constitutional rights. 

Similarly to the 0 sum in college, there was a 0 sum in the housing market as well. It was a constant struggle to find housing that was inexpensive and safe to raise a family for the black community. They tried to demand fair housing policies but were unsuccessful and were faced with resistance when trying to move into public housing. It states in Freedom on my Mind that, “whites used intimidation and violence to keep blacks out of places they considered their own” (858). This was a constant struggle that African Americans had to face. In Heather’s presentations, she spoke about how racism led to the financial crisis. She discussed how strange fees were targeted in mostly black neighborhoods. They were subprime loans which made excuses to be more expensive and had equity that the brokers could strip. Again, this is a loss for everyone when there are unfair rights given to the community of people of color. 

The answer to Heather’s question about why we cannot have nice things is because racism destroys the chance for any unity in our world. Without unity, nice things are destroyed; human selfishness and segregation destroys hope for all. Throughout this class and this program, it has given me a new perspective of the difference between constitutional rights and equality. Although people of color were given the basic rights to life, they were not sufficient to live a happy life without segregation. Even though they are given the right to vote, get an education, and own homes, there continues to be an unfair disadvantage in many aspects. The goal is not to provide the bare minimum but to treat people of color as equals socially, economically and politically. Our society must continue to aim for equal rights for all people of color including women and children whose voices are often ignored. This continuous cycle of discrimination and racism has made it impossible to ever obtain a true democracy in America. If racial subjugation in our society continues, the power will always remain in white hands. As a country, we must unite with one another to create a better world and future for generations to come.

 

Works Cited 

McGee, Heather. The Sum of Us, February 9, 2021.

White, Deborah Gray. Freedom on My Mind, December 14, 2012.

The Cost of Racism- Sabrina Bevill

Sabrina Bevill

Dr. Miller

African American History

13 May 2022

The Cost of Racism

“Why can’t we have nice things?” (McGhee, Pg. xi) are the first words uttered by Heather McGhee in her book The Sum of Us. This question was also posed by the author during the event “The Sum of Us: an evening with Heather McGhee.” Although on the surface, this appears to be a basic query, this question allows Americans to delve deeper into the systemic racism that pierces through our democracy. The zero-sum paradigm, which McGhee described as, “the advantage of one group, takes out of the pocket of another,” is seen as a game by white Americans. A game they believe they are now losing. This mindset leads white people to believe that any advancement for the black population means that they face a cost or loss. Instead of allowing African Americans to have the same opportunities, white Americans would rather give up some of their “nice” possessions in order to not lose the game. What white Americans fail to recognize is that, in stopping the black population from having “nice” things, everyone looses. Racism is costing all Americans. The program delves into the importance of the zero-sum paradigm and declares this theory, alongside the institution of racism, as an influential aspect of African American history because it delivers negative costs to Black Americans and in turn, all Americans. This concept is apparent in Black people’s loss and lack of public goods, their inability to afford a college education, the inequitable homeownership system, and the deteriorating state of the environment.

One of the ways in which white people have attempted to penalize African Americans in the game of life over the course of history is by limiting access to public goods, or by removing the availability of them all together. An example of this, provided during the program, was the closing of the public pool in Oak Park, located in Montgomery, Alabama on January 1st, 1959. This public pool was a luxurious white only pool that was in operation until a demand was made to desegregate parks in Montgomery. In fact, “Eight days after the first lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court to desegregate the parks in Montgomery (see below), the Parks and Recreation Board announced that it would close Oak Park and all of the other parks in the city” (Retzlaff, 721). Instead of allowing integration and all to benefit from a public good, the city chose to drain the pool and deny access to white and black people alike. This was the case for many public goods. On the other end of this issue, when not wanting to deprive white Americans from a resource, public goods were sold to private institutions that were allowed to discriminate. This practice of corporate discrimination during the civil rights era was known as a form of de facto segregation. According to the textbook, Freedom on my Mind, de facto segregation is “racial separation that occurs in practice…but is not based on law” (White, Pg. 1178). Those who were overseeing the companies that privatized public goods and reserved their use for whites only could argue that their actions fell outside the law because they were privately owned, creating a new obstacle for African Americans.

The need for a higher education increases as society progresses, however, this opportunity is extremely difficult to attain, especially for black youth. As explained by Heather McGhee, when the college going population was about 90 percent white, there was plenty of federal financial assistance. This assistance, as discussed in McGhee’s book, would “pay most if not all of their costs of higher education” (Pg.41). An example of a form of financial aid was the GI Bill which, alongside other benefits, assisted veterans in affording higher education, (White, Pg.791). This bill, although legally available to all veterans, was not accessible to black veterans, which stigmatized them. During the civil rights movement, state legislatures who were interested in assisting an increasingly diverse college population, could not equally represent older voters who did not approve of the events that took place during the civil rights movement. In turn, federal funding for higher education was reduced and not only did black students lose access to affordable higher education, all lower income students, both black and white, lost effective financial assistance that could be utilized towards higher education. 

The systemic institution of racism and its influence on homeownership has cost the United States a substantial amount of money. In exercising “reverse redlining,” communities of color were targeted and taken advantage of. Reverse redlining is a practice where minority communities are targeted with predatory measures and are taken advantage of. This is not to be confused with redlining, which is “the practice of denying the extension of credit to specific geographic areas due to the income, race, or ethnicity of its residents” (McKnight). Black citizens fell victim to loans that had unreasonable terms and were extremely difficult to pay off. This was known as predatory lending. Predatory lending, alongside other racist practices such as restrictive covenants, forced black Americans in between a rock and a hard place. With a strong desire for homeownership, black people accepted the lending terms or were unfortunately unaware of the motives of the real-estate industry.  In analyzing what has been consumed in class content in tandem with information from “The Sum of Us: an evening with Heather McGhee” it is clear-cut that these implementations into the housing industry were created to block black people from owning homes. A possible reason for this persistence in blocking African Americans from home-owning is due to the fact that homeownership is “…the center of financial security and wealth-building for most families…”(McGhee, Pg.275). Consequently, since this wealth would be extremely beneficial to the black population, in order to win the game of life, white Americans did and still find it necessary to discriminate against black people in homeownership. According to Heather McGhee, homeownership is also extremely influential for the American economy in its totality. As a result of discrimination in this sector, the United States has not recorded trillions in lost wealth and the homeownership rate has not recovered, costing all Americans.

The environment is a huge point of contention between ideological groups. Amongst groups that are majority people of color, climate change, global warming, and a slew of other environmental issues are of grave importance. Communities of color are hit the hardest by environmental degradation. In America, it is common to see sewage plants, freeways, and other environmentally degrading systems based in communities of color. As was covered in our course, the Black Panther Party fought against environmental injustice and worked to improve the health of black communities that waned due to poor environmental decisions. Children and adults alike in these areas were developing respiratory issues and were not receiving any assistance or acknowledgement from the government. Although a common misconception amongst white Americans, this information is not to say that predominately white communities are exempt from the downward trend of the environment. As McGhee mentioned in her book, “Scorching triple-digit days, devastating wildfires, and drought restrictions on drinking water have become the new normal for California’s working-class barrios and gated communities alike” (McGhee, Pg.205). If a sewage plant is stationed on “the other side of the tracks,” all Americans are under the same sky, consequently affecting every citizen.

In conclusion, the history of wanting to deprive black people of goods and necessities is an ultimate cost to all Americans. Black people’s loss is not white people’s win, even though this is the historically pushed and widely accepted concept. One group’s loss is the other group’s loss. The costs of the zero-sum paradigm follows Americans into the present day, which can be seen in the loss and lack of public goods, the lack of affordable higher education, the inequitable homeownership system, and the deteriorating state of the environment. If this win-loss perspective does not shift in the foreseeable future, the direct effect could be the ultimate demise of all Americans. Black people will continue to suffer under the oppressive regime that is the American democracy and white people will, in tandem, continue to obliviously fall victim to the same oppressive system. Furthering us from the very hill of democracy America claims to be upon.

 

Works Cited

McGhee, Heather. The Sum of Us. Random House Publishing Group, 2021.

McKnight, Alicia. “Expert Witness Services.” Forensis Group, 17 Sept. 2013, https://www.forensisgroup.com/resources/expert-legal-witness-blog/reverse-redlining-mortgage.

Retzlaff, Rebecca. “Desegregation of City Parks and the Civil Rights Movement: The Case of Oak Park in Montgomery, Alabama.” Journal of Urban History, vol. 47, no. 4, 2019, pp. 715–752., https://doi.org/10.1177/0096144219877636.

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. 3rd ed., Bedford/St. Martins, 2021.

Inequality Affects Us All – Malinda Vheru

Heather McGhee, the chair of board for the Color of Change organization, a well-known college professor at various colleges including Yale University, the former president of DEMOS, a non-profit progressive U.S. think and do tank, a common contributor to NBC News, and more, a black woman. Who has dedicated more than twenty years of her life to fulfill change in a world of inequality. She explains through an online conference broadcasted by San Diego’s Public Library how she struggled upon coming to terms with her latest book, “The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together.” This fascinating book tackles the everyday racial injustices that most minorities are confronted with and offers a fresh perspective towards the outlook of equality and how citizens of today can contribute and benefit.

As McGhee reveals how she came upon the idea of the zero-sum concept which she deems as very helpful to her outlook she mentions, “I used research and data, statistical analysis, to spot problems in the American economy and then to try and craft evidence-based policy solutions to issues of widening inequality. The fact that one percentage of the population owns more wealth than the entire middle class while half of adult workers are paid too little to meet their basic needs.” These are the constant problems that are pointed out as McGhee highlights that there are, “Relatively simple policy decisions that policy makers and business leaders could make to improve the American economy for all the people who participate in it.” With years going by it became apparent to McGhee that the data accounting for economic injustices no matter how widespread she made the claim was not the solution because it did not tackle the root of the problem. She traveled the country and came across a main question of why America did not provide “nice things like guaranteed affordable health care, affordable housing, a well-funded public school in every neighborhood, living wages for all workers.” As a result, she answers this question through, “The Sum of Us.” Referring to the common narrative or underlying understanding of many Americans, specifically white people, and the beliefs toward the way society functions. A twisted view, McGhee explains as, “This idea that there is a fixed pie of well-being and progress with only enough space for one group of people, and the earning of wealth for some people (mainly pointing out minorities) has to come at the expense of the others (white people in particular).” For example, if one group gets a bigger slice of the pie inconveniently, the other group must get a smaller slice. She explains their reasoning using common phrases such as, “A dollar more in my pocket must mean a dollar less in yours.” After acknowledging it, McGhee combats this assumption upon the reassurance that with the sum of equality no one must lose. Meaning no one is giving up anything they have already worked for or anything they inspire to achieve when everyone is given the equal opportunity to succeed. My interpretation of McGhee’s viewpoint is that we can all get an equal slice of pie, with room to get more and more unlimited, so no one should be limited, or initially held back, especially because of their differences that society has pointed out in history, to this day.

Going deeper into understanding McGhee’s focus, it is essential to bring light to the many ways inequality takes effect in communities today, especially the everyday injustices that are often overlooked. For instance, McGhee points out the educational system. Taking a deeper dive into history and the motives surrounding the thousands of dollars covering expenses of colleges/universities, which excludes millions of aspiring students worldwide (mostly young adults who identify with minorities) from the higher education path. McGhee infers that this exception is no coincidence. Considering statistics provided by Joni Sweet, a freelance writer and editor who specializes in travel, health, and wellness with years of experience, who provides data backed up by many supporting sources such as Stacker. A publishing company that aims to transform formally gather information into news formats where they are easily accessible to the public. Sweet, in her article, “How College Costs Have Changed in the Last 50 Years,” published by Stacker, releases shocking information regarding the higher education systems, which backs up McGhee’s purpose. Sweet states, “Data showed that the cost of attending college increased 146.59% at public universities and 156.67% at private universities from 1969 to 2018.” Consequently, Sweet also discloses that the number one concern among students and their families has become student debt and college affordability. Seeing as black people are among the most oppressed in the United States following slavery to recent history, as well as one of the least expected minorities in the country to attend college because of this, there are factual connections between college/university costs increasing and keeping minorities from a higher education, as McGhee was also willing to bring to attention. In connecting these factors to historical challenges black people faced, such as the black codes and Jim Crow laws which were other suppressive tactics within the government to keep black people away from gaining access to better opportunities for a better life in general, as far as the public is concerned. While acknowledging the restrictions put on slaves to eliminate any sort of access to education, for fear of them accomplishing statuses like Benjamin Franklin, one of the most historically known slaves who gained an education through rebellion. Fear that education would lead to black people demanding their freedom, which lead to the civil war in result of victorious movements and abolitionists that encouraged the education of slaves, despite most white Americans disapproving and trying their hardest to prevent this out of fear of abolition. White Americans, then enforced the segregating of black and white people, specifically within the school system, which provided unequal access to quality education for black people. Following that, the ending of segregation in 1964, only lead to the beginning of an outrageous raise in expenses to receive a higher education. In other words, with black and white people being taught under the same roof, the next step within the predominantly white American government was to raise the costs of education, once again excluding minorities, noting that they were among the poorest, and wouldn’t be able to afford the raising prices. Let alone send their children to receive a higher education and start better lives for future generations based on the equal opportunity within the education system, which has never been detected. Circling back to the reason McGhee exposes the educational systems’ flaws in supporting the demand for equality. Many educational systems especially the ones of higher education are based on a biased playing field that favors white Americans, expectedly, which has been developed from the discrimination and oppression of minorities throughout history that has shaped the future for many aspiring students of color, unfortunately.

In conclusion, although there is work to be done in our country there are also various spotlights around the world which include equity and inclusion. To highlight one within the USD community, in the beginning of December 2021, Don and Ellie Knauss made a generous donation to our Torero community. Their act of philanthropy will be one of the greatest in the history of the University of San Diego, funding the new Knauss School of Business building. Throughout the research and data I have collected about both Don and Ellie it is clear they are world changers. Don working for decades on his entrepreneurial career path, now owning one of the most successful top 500 companies in the country. While Ellie Knauss is a woman’s advocate, specifically for breast cancer, seeing as she is a breast cancer survivor. It is apparent that they are people who want to change the route of inequality. The most significant point in their generosity comes from the mission they aim towards. In many interviews Mr. Knauss rephrases, “Creating wealth on a fair and equitable playing field,” as he recognizes that, “Talent is everywhere but opportunity is not.” I feel as if this ties directly into the message and problem that McGhee is working through. Personally, as a black woman growing up in America, I have realized among a lifelong account of sources that black women are among the most oppressed minority in the country. Commitments like these, especially coming from people who are far from understanding the entitlement of being a black woman in American warms my heart and gives me hope. Hope for my future, the future descendants of my family, and minorities as a whole, all over the country. People who acknowledge the hardship of others and aim to create equality are the blueprint of change and I am happy to be a part of this movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

McGhee, Heather C. The Sum of Us: What Racism Costs Everyone and How We Can Prosper Together. Profile Books Ltd., 2022.

Sweet, Joni. “How College Costs Have Changed in the Last 50 Years.” Stacker, 17 Jan. 2020, https://stacker.com/stories/3861/how-college-costs-have-changed-last-50-years#:~:text=The%20data%20showed%20that%20the%20cost%20of%20attending,the%20%231%20concern%20among%20students%20and%20their%20parents.

White, Deborah G., et al. Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents. Bedford/St. Martins, 2021.

“The Invisible Black Woman” – Anisa Beckett

This semester, as part of my African American History course, I had the privilege of attending a program series entitled “The Black Present and Presence” which was specifically focused on “Black Women’s Cultural (In)Visibility”. In the program, speakers V. Dozier and Khalia Ii, Ph.D. Candidate analyzed and showcased the disparities amongst Black women as they are portrayed in the media, as well as the theft of black culture and identity in popular culture. The program spoke on several aspects of how Black history, specifically the history and stories of Black women, are ignored, stolen, and manipulated in mainstream media. In attending this program and doing independent research I found specific interest in how female blackness has been portrayed historically as well as how it is of significance in social media and through hair. 

In order to fully understand the magnitude of the importance of how black women are portrayed in the media, it is important to understand where this began. When watching “Ethnic Notions” by Dir. Marlon Riggs, an Emmy-winning documentary showcasing the realities of how black people have historically been portrayed in the media, I saw that this is not a new issue. Dr. Riggs brings to light the disrespectful portrayal of women in TV when the media was just beginning to surface. With ideas such as the Mammy stereotype, black women were seen as items of White consumption. Mammy was a house slave who was shown to be docile and happy to serve her white masters. She was desexualized to an almost manly figure, making her undesirable by white beauty standards and completely content with being enslaved. This was the first of many examples of how black women have had their own narratives manipulated in the media for the pleasure of white people. They were on display in the way that white men wanted them to be displayed, their history was erased, and their identity was used to further push the White agenda. From this moment further it was decided that Black women were nothing more than vessels for media propaganda and white enjoyment. 

Another way in which the history of black women has been erased in pop culture is through the use of traditional black hairstyles by non-black celebrities and people alike as a way to follow a “trend”. In the program, Khalia Ii brought up the idea of how hair is stigmatized both in the media and in everyday life. Throughout history, black men and women have been noticed by their “frizzled” curly hair. This hair, however, has been seen more recently as messy, unkept, and unprofessional. This white beauty standard has made it difficult for black women to wear their natural hair, find hair products that compliment their curls, and feel comfortable in their own skin. This is erasing of black culture because it is making modern black girls and women believe that in the professional world, their hair is not one which commands respect. As a Black woman, I myself struggle with this reality far too often as I get comments on my “messy” curly hair or backhanded compliments on how people “love when my hair is straight”. Feeling pulled to both ends of the spectrum I feel as though I want to embrace my culture and my hair but at the same time I want to look presentable and “well kept”. Unfortunately, now within the black community, straightening hair has been seen as “white washing” or being ashamed of one’s culture because of the different pressures which come from a variety of different places. As a Black woman in America, it is almost impossible to truly “fit in” to all of the spaces I occupy on a day to day basis. While this may seem like an exaggeration, the use of traditional black hairstyles is one of the best examples of historical invisibility. Historically, black beauty salons became a safe place for black women to gather for several hours and talk about things that they were unable to talk about in the public eye. These hairstyles date back to the 15th century where hairstyle was indicative of any number of identifying characteristics. “Hairstyling sessions were a bonding time for women.[…] “Women can take creative measures in surviving the organization and remaining true to ones self. […] While individually not all african american women amortize white beauty standards, african american women have had to invent their own beauty measures. In utilizing the uniqueness of African hair textures,[…] blacks have been very creative in hair styling” (Patton, 4). These hair styles date back to the 15th century where Black women attempted to tame their own hair in a way that remained just as unique and beautiful as the hair they were born with. These styles evidentially took several hours to complete and therefore, naturally, these places became a hallmark of Black female discourse. This same tradition followed black women into America as they took solace in beauty salons and the ability to share freely with people of their own identity. In “Freedom on my Mind: A History of African Americans with Documents” the authors write, “Owing to the rapidly expanding black population, black women’s spaces like beauty parlors proliferated and […] created vital spaces for frank discussions. With their hair-straightening processes and products, these black beauty salons offered black women, especially southern newcomers, new styles to signal their urban identity. Black women’s evolving beauty culture gave them a sense of dignity and self-worth.”(White, Bay, Martin Jr. 669). Black women used the community they created in the beauty salons as a comfort, hoping that one day the conversations they had there would be something they could share openly. This hair was their identity, one which they had struggled for so long to accept and embrace. Hair was also a problem for slaves later on as they had to keep it “well kept” which resulted in women straightening their hair to work with nicer families and having tighter braids in order to serve well and avoid repercussions. All of this is significant to the presence of Black women (or lack thereof) in the media because of the use of these traditional Black hairstyles in the media without any credit or regard for the hardships from which they came from. For a non-white person to use braids or locs as a trend is for that person to actively earase the history of Black women and once again belittle them to a role of White enjoyment. These celebrities often receive praise and compliments because of their use of traditional Black hairstyles because they are “woke” or “wear it very well”. In using Black hair in the media, the history of Black women is ignored because people will only take the “good” and “popular” parts, while ignoring the ugly ones. In addition, by convincing young Black women that their hair is only beautiful if it is braided or held back, society is actively discriminating against Black culture at its root. The program spoke on the importance of and attitudes towards Black hair now, but to truly understand why the lack of appreciation is important, African American history must be explored to understand the implications of opinions today. 

    In the media today black women are repeatedly silenced because they are not considered the “norm” or the standard. V. Dozier spoke extensively on the appreciate for the white male as the default for all things. She spoke on how Black women use research to validate the existence of themselves and their own lives while having to be specific and almost justify their own research by acknowledging that they (we) are not the standard. In the media, white beauty standards and male ideas are constantly being pushed to our phones through instagram, facebook, ect. Specifically mentioned was the idea of “Black Twitter” because black women have to search for representation on their own social media profiles. As far as written media goes, Black women have had to write their own books to create their own spaces for discourse and conversation. For example, “Digital Black Feminism” by Catherine Knight Steele relates these types of literary communities to the previously mentioned beauty salons in which Black women are banding together to share their lived experiences. While these things are great and it is a step in the right direction that people are able to find their own safe spaces, this should not be a requirement to have their voices heard. Like the 19th century had the “Mammy” stereotype, modern media employs the “Angry Black Woman” stereotype. There are places all over mainstream media where Black women have taken it upon themselves to educate the masses and share their experiences and problems they have with the current state of racism and politics, but it is in these same spaces where non-black people have decided that Black women are being dramatic and angry over things that do not really matter. People ignore the real purpose of this discourse and conversation and manipulate the narrative to that it fits their own expectations of what they are really talking about. By doing this, social media has silenced Black voices and made it almost impossible to speak up without fear of judgment or slander of their actual intentions. Also in written media, Black women are being robbed of their right to speak on their own stories and experiences by White people who feel they have the right to speak on things that they have little to no real life knowledge of. Specifically mentioned in the program was the publication of “Bad and Boujee” by Jennifer Buck. Jennifer Buck is a middle aged white woman who spoke on her own perspective on the life of the “trap queen” as she calls Black women. While she may not have written this piece harmfully, she published her work as if it was real information, not speculation. This is a direct way in which Black female voices are silenced by people who believe that lifting Black voices means speaking for those who “need it”. Realistically speaking, though, Black women need and deserve the platform to speak for themselves about their own lived experiences rather than non-black people using their privilege to speak for them. By speaking on behalf of Black women, people are stealing their right to their own portrayal in all forms of media. 

As a society we have to be more aware in lifting black voices and black culture, as it is imperative in cultivating a truly equitable society. Using black culture as pop culture and ignoring the history behind it is synonymous with ignoring the hardships, trials, and tribulations that led to the creation of those things to begin with. The list does not stop at hair but also continues to clothing, nails, AAV, music, and a plethora of other ways in which Black culture has been stolen. Specifically, the usage of Black history and culture because of how it benefits mainstream pop culture is disrespectful to the lived experiences of Black women. We must continue to work to give Black women the platform to be the norm, their own norm. There is no reason why Black women should be unable to learn about themselves without specifically mentioning the fact that they are Black or a woman. Collectively we must pay attention to what media we are consuming and where it comes from, because without the active awareness of these things, pop culture has made it very easy to ignore the importance of the history behind the trends. In the words of Malcolm X “The most disrespected person in America is the Black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the Black woman. The most neglected person in America is the Black woman.” Let us all work together to prove Malcolm X wrong, let’s respect, protect, and appreciate Black women, their culture, and their history. 

 

Works Cited

Black Present and Presence: Black Women’s Cultural (In)Visibility. V. Dozier and Khalia Ii Ph.D. Candidate

Patton, Tracey Owens. “Hey Girl, Am I More than My Hair?: African American Women and Their Struggles with Beauty, Body Image, and Hair.” NWSA Journal, vol. 18, no. 2, 2006, pp. 24–51, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4317206. Accessed 13 May 2022.

 

Riggs, Marlon. Ethnic Notions. California Newsreel, 1987.

 

White, Deborah G., et al. “Chapter 11.” Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents, Bedford/St. Martins, Boston, 2021, pp. 655–699. 

 

 






























Black Aesthetics Is Black Power – Giscard kahwaji

In contribution with the celebration of the Black History Month at USD, I attended virtually the program about African American History known as “Black Present & Presence.” This program was presented by Mrs. Lindy Villa. The main objective of the program was attempting to understand the dimensions of aesthetic experiences and what they mean to the varieties of being human. The program identified the characteristics of black aesthetic experience by way of differentiating from Eurocentric white aesthetic theory. “Black Presence & Present” revolves around developing a unique philosophy specifically for black aesthetics and emphasizes on the importance of embracing this ideology.

One of the main features or themes of the program is the problems African people had to face at the beginning of the journey when the Europeans started enslaving and trading African people which was known as the Triangle trade and the Middle Passage. According White et al. (2020), the Triangle Trade took place between the 18th and 19th century where goods were shipped from Britain to the West coast of Africa. Goods such as tobacco and sugar were exchanged with enslaved Africans. The Middle Passage was a segment of the Triangle Trade that traded good between Africa and Europe. During those times, one of the problems that Africans faced is the fact that they were socially separated from their families and communities. This forced Africans to develop familial relationships without being connected by blood which was later known as Fictive Kin and became communities by the process of cultural change and by sharing the same experience of enslavement. Due to this diaspora, we can find different cultures in different parts of the world, such as the Blue Islands, Virginia, New Orleans, Central America, and Northern Brazil. During this trade, African people were put in cargo ships where the spaces were really tight and crowded. Black aesthetics, which “Black Present & Presence” focuses on, is evident even in those circumstances and on those ships. Enslaved Africans expressed their culture and aesthetics via shaving the hair of each other even with no razors. Using a broken bottle and without soap, they were able to shape and trim their hair. The fact that they still wanted to groom themselves is interesting. They wanted to create an aesthetic collective experience with their bodies. This illustrates how the cultural vitality is important in the survival and resilience of a culture in facing dehumanizing experiences.

As mentioned in “Black Present & Presence,” to do black aesthetics is the scrutinization and criticism in order to identify the significance of certain practices or items that maintain black identity. It ranges from apparel, music, art, paintings, in addition to dancing. We can think of black aesthetics as black ethnicity which according to Oluo et al. (2022), ethnicity is a cultural identity which includes language, music, religion, values, foodways. This reminds me of how African Americans developed Afro-Christianity, the “Invisible Church,” and the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) so that they could relate more to Christianity based on their beliefs and ideologies. Black aesthetics appear in the “Invisible Church” which included homegoing, the Ring Shout, and slave spirituals. Bell Hooks stated that “Black aesthetics is more than a philosophy or a theory of art and beauty,” “It is a way of inhabiting space, a particular location, a way of looking, and a way of becoming.” This term is different than the term given by Eurocentric academics which consider aesthetics as theory of art but not a way to live life or inhabiting space. The program mentions the term “Africobra” which was previously known as the coalition of black revolutionary artists. Jeff Donaldson was the cofounder of “Africobra.” “Africobra” included the commune of bad relevant artist in Chicago in 1968. It signifies the relevance of the aesthetic shift and supported the self-awareness of black people that life in America signifies the diaspora community. In the program, an image was given as an example to describe the African artists. It was an image of three women. The middle women was facing forward while the two other were facing the extremities. They were all wearing bandoliers with a rifle slung over their shoulders. This reminds me of the Deacons for Defense organization in which some African Americans sought out to violence to achieve their civil rights while others tended to fight via non-violent acts. It also symbolizes the importance of women in achieving civil rights such as the mothers of the Scottsboro boys whom organized a mass protest to fulfill justice for their innocent children. It is interesting to see how African Americans always had a variety of creative ways whether to express themselves or to reach a certain goal. Bell hooks stated that African Americans also used art as a way to communicate their political locations. It is interesting to see how the works of black artists can serve not just to black audiences. The idea behind black artwork could be incorporated in liberatory politics that catechizes oppressive aspects. A quote from the program which I found very interesting was “Racism is a white issue as it is a black one.” The text “Freedom on My Mind” describes how financially poor white people, in addition to African Americans, were excluded from elections which was known as Disfranchisement (White et al., 2020). This shows that any weak perception of a certain culture diminishes its relevance in society.

The themes descried in “Black Present & Presence” are very important in the understanding of African American History. In the early 18th century, there were various point of views regarding artwork among African Americans. For example, according to White et al. (2020), DuBois had a slightly different view from that of James Weldon Johnson regarding their definition of the New Negro since DuBois did not appreciate and respect the African American folk culture. Dubois considered folk art such as jazz music and Blues not respectable. DuBois preferred spiritual culture which he considered respectable. I found interesting how DuBois was not interested with art other than that focused in benefitting African American liberation (White et al., 2020). Another form of practicing black aesthetics via art is the Harlem Renaissance which also tended to spread the African American culture via art but had a gradual approach to the white society. For example, the “Fire!!” magazine was published to try to attract white people in order to indirectly achieve a political audience. This magazine would also raise awareness and consciousness among its audience which would hence lead to white people respecting African Americans. Hence, African Americans would be a step closer to achieving equality. This gradual approach is similar to the approach of Accommodationists who believed that accepting racial segregation and inequality at the moment and working from within rather than agitate and protest would prove their worth in society. “Black Present & Presence” served a major key to understand African American History because it pointed out the one of the most effective ways for African Americans in expressing their culture and identity which its effectiveness is still prevalent today. The program also shows how important artistry and culture is for African Americans. This is evident because regardless of all the hardships African Americans had to bear, the one thing that was sustained is their aesthetics which served as hope.

Finally, Black Aesthetics served a major role in achieving equality between people. In my opinion, black aesthetics is a form of black power. Although one might think that artwork and music would not be a strong impacting force, it changes people’s mindset from within. This would leave a more sustainable mark in humanity by focusing on changing the mindset rather than establishing laws that force it. A society with a humanitarian mindset leads to a peaceful world.

 

References

Oluo, I., DiAngelo, R., Eddo-Lodge, R., DiAngelo, W. F. B. R., 978–0807047415, Oluo, S. Y. W. T. T. A. R. B. I., 978–1580058827, Eddo-Lodge, W. I. N. L. T. T. W. P. A. R. B. R., & 978–1635572957. (2022). So You Want to Talk About Race, White Fragility, Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race 3 Books Collection Set. Seal Press/Penguin/Bloomsbury Publishing.

White, D. G., Bay, M., & Jr., W. M. E. (2020). Freedom on My Mind: A History of African Americans, with Documents(Third ed.). Bedford/St. Martin’s.