The pipe dream of a post-racial AmericaTalk About Race — By Jo Nubian on February 17, 2010 at 08:20
As I made coffee this morning I watched a segment on a national news station that discussed the plight of Black Farmers still trying to settle a discrimination lawsuit dating back more than a decade. I look at that time in history and realize that this case is both too far to trust and too close for comfort. The original case was settled in 1999, but the National Black Farming Association contends that more than 80,000 of their members missed the filing deadline. These men and women are attempting to get what is owed to them, reparations for the racism they encountered at the hands of the Department of Agriculture (USDA). In reference to this case being settled originally a little over ten years ago, we must acknowledge that such discrimination being perpetuated in these recent times proves that racism is still a very integral and prevalent part of US culture and society.
Many may wonder why a city girl, finishing her Master’s degree, and looking towards her Ph.D. would be concerned about these struggling Black farmers. It’s because beyond my womanly pomp and circumstance, I am just a country girl- back woods, bayou raised, red clay dirt on my feet, and blackberries straight from the bush in my mouth. I’m proud beyond measure at my families ascension from enslavement to Cum Laude college graduates.
When I saw those farmers standing, far away from their southern fields, freezing in the Washington DC snow, I thought of my father who had to quit school in 6th grade to help his family share crop, and my maternal grandmother who toiled in the fields of her tenant farm while carrying most of her eleven children. Also, I think of my uncles, still audacious enough to try and fare decently in this economy and place where global warming makes the return on crop harvesting little to none. Mind you, my great grandmother was, as my mother often brags, pitch Black African and once enslaved. They called her Ma’am Sweet. She spoke French and through her midwifery delivered almost every child in her Parish. I can see her instinctively mixing her herbs and attending her private garden, a harvest that she would use to feed her own family and would often share with the whites in the neighboring community.
I think of all the Black hands that raised the food, which has nourished this nation, and raised the cotton, cane, etc., which has built it and I wonder if those hands might be shown decency and respect in the new year, decade, or century, that a people who have given so much and gotten so little, still somehow rising, could be treated with the basic humanity shown to others who have invested much less and received much more.
I also ponder where in a land that transcends race would a group of Black employees win an EEOC lawsuit against their former bosses who decided that, as a result of their race, they should be subjected to higher amounts or frequencies of radiation. Welcome to Memphis Tenessee, land of Stax Records, the murder of Dr. King, and a nuclear power plant called…wait for this…RACE (Radiological Assistance, Consulting and Engineering). From RACE, 23 Black employees filed a class action suit asserting:
white managers at RACE subjected African-American employees to excessive radiation exposure — more than their white co-workers. The company allegedly assigned black workers to the shop with radioactive waste while white employees worked elsewhere, and it manipulated the dosimeters that measure radiation exposure to mask the actual levels that black workers received. ~ Sue Sturgis southernstudies.com
The employees won the case, $650,000 divided between all of them, minus any fees they may have incurred. It sounds like pennies, an obvious under-compensation, when one considers the damage that radiation exposure can cause. Being subjected to this poison not only increases the workers’ risks of diseases like cancer, but also affects the organs, even the reproductive ones, and the children they will produce or already have produced. We are speaking about a fate worse than lynching, where the savagery can potentially transcend your lifetime and trickle down your lineage- a sort of environmental apartheid that should be considered a criminal matter instead of a civil one.
Forward ever like the great champion of our people Marcus Garvey would often chant, let’s discuss briefly the incident where Chris Matthews commented that, after watching POTUS deliver a riveting State of the Union Address, he “forgot Obama was Black for an hour”. There are a few aspects of this statement that upset me, with my first qualm being the idea that Matthews thought that he was paying Obama a compliment.
In other words, and as Matthews and others like him believe, it is an honor and a privilege to not have one’s blackness taken into consideration. The thought of transcending, or better yet ascending, race automatically attributes one’s accomplishments to attempting to ascertain a standard of whiteness. It is after all how we measure our success, with whiteness I mean. As a matter of fact Frantz Fanon would contend that, “For the Black man there is only one destiny. And it is white.” I would argue that Fanon was not referring to the hearts of Black people but more so to the masks that many have to wear in order to be accepted in the larger society.
The White Privilege that perpetuates this destiny of whiteness, that makes whites believe that being a lighter complexion, or speaking without the use of Black English Vernacular makes blacks more white, less black, and the leaders of the Black race as a result, is the elephant in the room that no one wishes to address. The idea that American culture wishes to assimilate my blackness into nothingness appears to be no cause for alarm. I feel some kind of way about that…
In a Post Racial America acceptance and tolerance are what the nation stands atop. There, no one needs to discuss race at all. It is a place of inclusion where every race and culture is celebrated, not a place where I sit wondering why Beyonce, Shakira and Jay Lo all look like the same woman although each is of a different culture and heritage. What people like Chris Matthews and the makers of Loreal want us to believe and understand is that there are Whites, and then there are a small percentage of POC that need to blend and morph into an almost but not quite white being. I don’t want to be some alien, forced to leave behind all of the people, stories and humble beginnings that make me who I am. I fully understand that no one would forget that my nappy hair, brown skin, and red clay dusted feet define me as Black.
I don’t find a shame in my Blackness that makes me want to honor not being seen as such. Zora Neale Hurston wrote in her essay How Does It Feel to be Colored Me, “I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.” This is my constitution. Accept all of me or none of me as you move past race dear America. I’ll be fine either way…
Author: Jo Nubian (11 Articles)
Jo Nubian is a freelance writer whose writing focuses on human rights, especially issues of race and gender. She is currently based in Houston, Texas where she is completing her masters of arts in literature and writing for various journals, magazines, and other publications. Her thesis work discusses the theme of womanism in the life and works of Zora Neale Hurston.
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