Let Freedom Ring

So, y’all know I love this book. And although I am not sure that Bell’s leaving Harvard in protest in 1992 helped to improve race relations at Harvard, I understand why he did it. My favorite quote from Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism and a bit of commentary:

“Black people will never gain full equality in this country. Even those herculean efforts we hail as successful will produce no more than temporary “peaks of progress” short-lived victories that slide into irrelevance as racial patterns adapt in ways that maintain white dominance. This is a hard to accept fact that all history verifies. We must acknowledge it, not as a sign of submission, but as an act of ultimate defiance” (12).

Although I cried happy tears like so many other Black folks when Barack Obama was elected President of these United States, it wasn’t because I thought we had come to the end of the racism, or that Black folks were finally free. It was because I felt at that moment that so many of the people who had given their lives to the struggle of racial equality: Evers, X, King; Collins, Wesley, Robertson, and McNair, Luizzo, Goodman, Cheney, and Schwerner; and countless other whose names we may never know, had not all died in vain. That my grandparents, who lived under the caste system of Jim Crow, and my parents who marched with Dr. King in Selma, had not suffered the pangs of racial discrimination for nothing.

HOWEVER, we know, as does Bell I’m sure, that Obama’s election was a symbolic victory. And instead of telling you what I think this symbolic victory means here I’ll leave you with this anecdote:

Last Monday, a dear friend of mine, E., a Black man who will defend his dissertation next week, was waiting for the bus on campus. A truck full of white men pulled up, and as they rode by, they hollered “nigger” out of the window at my friend. E. told me that it didn’t really affect him then, but a couple of days later the impact of what had happened started to sink in. After damn near 12 years of post-secondary education, he is still just another nigger to most white people. While some of you may disagree with me, I take comfort in the fact that I KNOW I’m right. Let’s keep it real folks, racism serves a grander purpose in this country than to divide us up based on the color of our skin. As Bell points out, “liberal democracy and racism in the United States are historically, even inherently, reinforcing; American society as we know it exists only because of its foundation in racially based slavery, and it thrives only because racial discrimination continues” (10).

Still, like Harriet Tubman I am defiant, always trying to figure out ways to “harass” the man and continue to raise awareness regarding racial (and LGBT) discrimination in this country. For me, being "free" means recognizing the new and improved ways that racism works in this country, and being committed to the struggle for as long as I am able to draw breath. In other words, “I'm gonna be free, or I'm gonna be dead.”