Why? Why does America refuse to learn from its history? Why have the purveyors of peace and freedom allowed–no, ensured–that a second class citizenry exists amidst the empty prosperity and freedom enjoyed by those former Europeans? Why has Black outcry gone ignored? Why have Black minds been neglected?
When? When will America realize that its destiny is inextricably intertwined with Black destiny? That its fortunes depend on Black sacrifice and struggle? That its character is inseparable from Black influence? That a city on the hill cannot shine as long as so many inside the city’s walls aren’t allowed to see the Sun?
How? How long must we be here before this nation rights its wrongs?
It lynched Nat Turner, skinned him, and sold his skin as souvenirs instead of abolishing the peculiar institution he protested.
It swindled Frederick Douglass, who after slavery’s conclusion, attempted to equalize the newly recognized Black “citizens.” His Freedmen’s Bank went bankrupt, and Black people were left without economic support.
It convoluted the complexities of the thoughtful disagreements between Black intellectuals like Booker T. Washington and W.E.B Du Bois; Martin and Malcolm. They celebrate Martin for the one paragraph of the one speech they know, they love his devotion to peace. His devotion to Black people, though: they ignore. This is no accident, for if Martin was the oppressor-lover they paint him to be, they wouldn’t have bothered killing him. And Malcolm–the demon of the Civil Rights Movement–has been so disparaged that there are even Black boys and men who don’t appreciate him.
It lauds Langston Hughes, James Baldwin, Toni Morrison, but the beautiful words of those writers fall upon deaf ears. It listens to Aretha Franklin, Whitney Houston, Beyoncé–so quick to enjoy the artistic product of Black struggle, yet perpetually slow to address it.
Its outright bigotry has morphed into surreptitious hate. Now it restricts us from the ballot, removes our history from curriculum, throws our men in prison, tells our women that beauty is measured in distance to whiteness, economically castrates us, and even restricts our access to fresh food and air. The lessons of the generations have been ignored and discarded: those who refused to learn from their history are repeating it.
The schizophrenic personality that is our nation continues to disrespect Black citizenship and abuse Black people, but the times are changing, and with every day that passes, the words of Langston Hughes become more and more present:
I, too, sing America.
I am the darker brother.
They send me to eat in the kitchen
When company comes,
But I laugh,
And eat well,
And grow strong.
I’ll be at the table
When company comes.
Say to me,
“Eat in the kitchen,”
They’ll see how beautiful I am
And be ashamed—
I, too, am America.