I received an early Mother’s Day gift a few days ago. The 2017 graduates of Bethune Cookman College petitioned, pleaded, and begged their administration to rescind its invitation to Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to speak at their commencement. But the administration turned a deaf ear to them, the alumni, the NAACP, and countless others and proceeded with a graduation with Ms. DeVos at its center. Indeed, they even gave DeVos an honorary degree! This was no mere speaking engagement where people might choose to attend or not. This was the day that represents the culmination of 4 or more years of hard work that they, their families, and friends have been dreaming of. And the students took a civic action that made me proud. When DeVos rose to speak many stood up and turned their backs on her. Students also booed throughout her address.
Some have argued that the students dishonored the university, but I would say it was the administration that dishonored the university. It dishonored the very memory of Mary McLeod Bethune, the university’s founder. Mary McLeod Bethune built that university out of nothing. She was the daughter of enslaved African Americans born in Mayesville, SC. She started Bethune School as a school for Black girls that began in a space she rented for $11 a month. She built benches and desks from crates and used $1.50 to start the library. Mary McLeod Bethune was known as the “First Lady of the Struggle” and to bring Betsy DeVos, whose major agenda is to destroy public education, to the school she founded is nothing short of an insult. I believe Mary McLeod Bethune smiled down on those students who took a stand.
DeVos is infamously known for not being able to answer simple questions about the difference between achievement and growth during her confirmation hearings. After her confirmation she went on to say that Historically Black Colleges and Universities were examples of “school choice.” That kind of ignorance is revolting and the Bethune Cookman students’ response to having her as their commencement speaker was exactly what was called for. They took a stand!
Far too often we talk about our young people as consumed with frivolous pursuits—posting selfies or engaging in Twitter wars—or worse, totally apathetic to the world around them. But I believe this generation is engaged deeply in fighting for justice and equality. This is the generation that has taken to the streets to shout “Black Lives Matter.” This is the generation that shimmied up a flagpole to remove a state sanctioned symbol of hatred and racism, the Confederate flag. This is a generation that is being shot down in the street just for being Black. This is a generation that realized that having an African American occupy the Oval Office would never be enough to bring the nation to the realization that Black people are fully human and entitled to all rights and responsibilities of citizenship in these United States. So on Wednesday, May 10, 2017 the graduates of Bethune Cookman University represented their generation well and took a stand!
In response to their courageous action the administration has followed the Trumpian style and claimed only 20 or so students stood and turned their backs on DeVos. One need only look at any of the news reports and see that many students participated in this act of civil disobedience. (See for example, http://www.cnn.com/2017/05/10/politics/betsy-devos-bethune-cookman-commencement-protest/)
I don’t know what the President of Bethune Cookman thought he would get from inviting someone from an administration that in 5 months has shown itself openly hostile to Black people. The thought of currying favor with those people reminds me of how much we have NOT learned from our history. We have NEVER had a good result from trying to ingratiate ourselves to those who oppress, hate and despise us. The only time we have made any progress in the struggle for liberation is when we took a STAND!
Thank you young people…keep fighting!
Stay Black and Smart!
It has happened again. A young Black boy was shot by a police officer who claims he was doing something he was not doing. Dallas area teenager Jordan Edwards was not drunk. He was not high. He was not belligerent. He was not committing a crime. He was a teenager sitting in a car with his two brothers. Like many teens at the end of the school year they went to a house party (with their parents’ permission). The party got loud and the neighbors complained. Jordan and his brothers decided they should leave before there was any real trouble. They were driving away from the party when the police officer got an ASSAULT rifle and shot into their car. He blew this boy’s head off…for what?
While Jordan lay dying his brothers who had just witnessed this trauma were arrested…for what? The officer lied about what happened, claiming the boys were illegally backing their car up on the road. When the police department saw the body camera they realized the officer lied. He has been fired for failure to comply with police procedure but not arrested. This kind of thing keeps happening to Black people. This is why there is no P (Post) in our PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
Every Black person I know can tell me of the moment they first experienced the trauma of being Black in America. My father had horrific stories of growing up in South Carolina, the son of a sharecropper. People would mysteriously disappear and sometimes show up hanging from a tree out in the country reminiscent of Billie Holliday’s “Strange Fruit.” My trauma came at the age of 7 when I saw the photo of Emmett Till’s mutilated body in Jet Magazine. At only 14 years old this baby was brutally attacked by grown men, hanged, strangled, and body tied to a cotton turbine, and submerged in a river.
For some people witnessing the Rodney King beating awakened the trauma. More recently the series of shootings and exonerations for these shootings have reinforced the trauma. Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, Eric Gardner, Rekia Boyd, Alton Sterling, and many more remind us that the lives of Black people are not valued in this society. We are not naïve. We know that the society despises us because we are a constant reminder of its lack of humanity. Unlike other groups we did not choose to come to America. And the kidnapping, brutalizing, raping, and exploiting of Black people are historical facts. Every time the society looks at us it is reminded of its own lack of humanity. We know America hates us. We just need you to leave us alone. We need a space for healing.
We cannot say we are experiencing Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We experience Traumatic Stress Disorder. Our lives and those of our children are so tenuous. We have to worry that people entrusted with protecting us are likely to prey upon us. We have to worry that we are never believed in situations when we testify against a White person who insults or assaults us. Even in the spaces of “higher learning” our children are verbally, emotionally, and physically attacked. Just this past week an African American young woman became student government president at American University and awoke the next day to a series of nooses and bananas. This kind of intimidation reminds us that there is no ‘P’ in our ‘PTSD’. The American University incident is just one among scores that have occurred in the Trump era. These aggressions (they are not micro) have been there all along. They just seem more evident because we live in a time of increased surveillance.
We need to be aware that this trauma is not going away. This society is committed to its hatred of Black people. It is determined to traumatize and terrorize us and the only thing we have to fight it is our humanity. We must remind ourselves that we will not let the society’s definitions of who we are govern us. They are not valid. We must remind our children that they are worthy and wonderful. We must continue to fight even when the fight seems futile. We must not be overcome by the fact that there is no P in our PTSD!
Stay Black and Smart!