“Don’t Let Da Rona Get on Ya!”

I have been home and mostly in the house for the last 10 months and I am not happy about it. I am used to being on an airplane every 10 to 14 days flying around the country and sometimes around the world. I was supposed to spend April and May 2020 in the San Francisco Bay Area. I was supposed to attend my twin grandchildren’s high school graduation in the Sacramento, CA area. I was supposed to attend my sorority’s international convention in my hometown of Philadelphia, and I was supposed to head to Johannesburg, South Africa to receive an honorary degree in October. I didn’t get to do any of those things, and I imagine you, too, have a laundry list of things you were supposed to do, and we were all prevented from doing them for the very same reason—COVID-19 or the Corona virus.

This virus has been devastating for this country and the entire world. At this writing more than 400,000 people in the US have succumbed to this disease and more than 25 million have been infected by it. Many businesses have gone under. Millions of people have been laid off, furloughed, or fired. More than 800,000 women have left the workforce. Only 38% of public school students have been able to participate in face-to-face schooling. Most reasonable people wear masks in public and practice physical distancing which means we don’t congregate in regular activities like eating out in restaurants, attending church, going to parties, celebrating major life events like weddings, graduations, or funerals. I along with most of the folks I know conduct business, family, and friend visits via electronic platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, and Google Meet.

Now we have learned that 2 of the vaccines that were fast-tracked during the Trump Administration are ready to go with somewhere between 90 and 95 percent effectiveness. Both vaccines require two dosages administered about 3-4 weeks apart. However, we are learning that Black people are less likely to say they will get the vaccine. The most recent statistics indicate that 80% of Asian Americans say they will get the vaccine. Sixty (60) % of Whites and Latinx people say they will get it,  but less than half—40% of Black folks have said they would get the vaccine. The reasons for Black people’s reluctance are understandable. They are grounded in a history of mistreatment and mistrust.

As a researcher I have to go through Human Subjects certification periodically at the university. These certifications are in place based on the abuse of people by researchers and African Americans have been frequent victims of unethical and cruel research protocols. The major study we reference is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study. Briefly, this study took place in Tuskegee, Alabama and looked at what happened to Black men who were left with untreated syphilis, even when a cure for the disease became available in the midst of the study. Many of these men and their families were unaware that they even had the disease. They study allowed the disease to ravish the bodies and lives of these families. The study went on for 40 years, from 1932 to 1972 and the families devastated by the disease did not receive a formal apology until the Bill Clinton Administration. Additionally, the story of Henrietta Lacks reinforces Black America’s mistrust of the medical community. Henrietta’s ovarian cancer was misdiagnosed and mistreated. She became a genetic guinea pig and almost every biological sciences researcher actually uses what are known as HeLa (Henrietta Lacks) cells to understand developments in their field. Those two cases are high profile examples of things that have occurred to Black people in their relationship with the medical community. However, the mistrust also stems from personal encounters with the medical community.

The research suggests that physicians do not believe Black people experience pain to the same degree Whites do. Our medical concerns are regularly discounted and brushed aside. Health care workers are rude and dismissive of Black health concerns. We are treated (even by the previous Surgeon General) as if our health concerns are all a result of poor lifestyle choices. We have always understood that the medical community regards Black life as cheap. This is why we have to take to the street and yell, “Black Lives Matter!”

These series of bad experiences notwithstanding, Black people we have to get this vaccine. We are dying at a greater rate than Whites from this disease. We are working jobs that place us at greater risk of contracting the disease. We are front line workers in hospitals, nursing homes, grocery stores, public transit, pharmacy clerks and other service industry jobs. We are more likely to live in multigenerational families and we are more likely to live in densely packed, multi-family residences. In other words, we are “ground zero” for contracting Corona virus.

Folks, I know we are suspicious of anything the US government sponsors but this time we have to be willing to give this a chance. I am reminded of 2Kings 7:4 that tells the story of 4 men with leprosy who sat outside the city gates. In their dilemma they said, “We will starve if we stay here, but with the famine in the city, we will starve if we go back there. So we might as well go out and surrender to the Aramean army. If they let us live, so much the better. But if they kill us, we would have died anyway.” The Bible scholars among the readers know they did not have to surrender because God caused confusion among the Aramean army and they fled. The lepers came into an empty camp filled with food, supplies, and treasures which they took to the city and shared with the people. If you are afraid the vaccine will harm you, I can assure you catching the virus will harm you AND you may spread it in ways that harm a family member, friend, and/or neighbor. Getting the vaccine may cause an adverse effect but the probability of that happening is quite low. All I can say is we have to protect ourselves and our community and as my fam from West Philly says before I hang up from our phone calls, “Don’t let da ‘rona get on ya!”

Get your vaccine, fam!

Stay Black & Smart!

“I Don’t Want to Unify with Evil”

It is almost impossible for an American not to have been impacted by the events of January 6, 2021. That was the day that a crazed mob of racist, white supremacist, reactionary, cult-like people who believed the big lie that Donald Trump won the 2020 election. In addition to breaching the walls and doors of the US Capitol building, they went on a rampage destroying property, desecrating the Senate Chamber, rifling through lawmakers desks, and urinating and defecating in the halls of the Capitol. As the days and weeks pass, we see more video of disgusting behavior and recognize that more than mere vandalism, this attempted coup and insurrection also resulted in the death of at least 5 people.

Hours and days later after the insurrection was quelled Congress came back into session and completed the task they were originally slated to do—count the Electoral College votes to formally recognize the victory of Joseph R. Biden and Kamala Harris as President and Vice-President of the United States. However, more than 100 Republican Representatives continued with their objections along with a half dozen Senators to the electoral votes from a few states (Arizona, Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania). Fortunately, the will of the majority of the electorate prevailed and all the votes were counted to reveal what we already knew. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris were the duly elected next President and Vice President.

Over the next few days, the House of Representatives initiated a second impeachment against Donald Trump for his part in inciting a riotous coup designed to subvert the Constitution of the United States. Voices on both sides of the Congressional aisle rose to speak in favor of or against the motion to impeach Donald Trump. While those against impeachment often cited the fact that Trump had less than 2 weeks left in his term, the big talking point was that we shouldn’t impeach him because we want to heal the divisions that have wracked the country. As I watched incredulously, I talked back to my television saying, “Oh now you want to be unified? After you have spent the last 4 years (actually last 12 if you count all the divisiveness they sowed during the Obama Administration) making sure the country was divided, you want to speak of unity!

I have nothing against unity. A people who are unified are stronger. A unified nation is likely to be more prosperous and productive. But there are some things we should not unify with. We should not unite with the forces designed to oppress and destroy us. We should not unite with morally objectionable causes. We should not unite with evil. What we saw at the Capitol on January 6, 2021 was evil and that evil was encouraged and incited by the then President of the United States. The evil that Congressmen and women want us to unite with include policies that allow for separating children at the nation’s Southern border, corrupt business practices that funnel public monies into the President’s private interests, duplicitous census procedures that attempt to subvert the Constitution’s mandate to take an accounting of all the “persons” in each state and District of Columbia, environmental policies that threatened subsequent generations, health policies that take no responsibility for the death of almost 400,000 people along with months of inaction, voting restrictions that suppress the electoral power of millions of Black, Brown, and other people of color, law enforcement practices that continuously kill Black people with impunity, and white supremacist dog whistles that threaten to over throw the government and the voices of 80 million voters.

I will unite with parents of children whose first language is other than English, even though mine is, so their children can receive a decent education. I will unite with homeless people, even though I am not homeless, so they can receive adequate shelter. I will unite with immigrants, even though as an African American I am not an immigrant, to ensure they receive fair hearings as they seek asylum. I will unite with prisoners, even though I am not in prison, as they seek decent conditions and adequate legal representation. I will unite with the disabled, even though I do not have a disability, as they fight for accessibility and opportunity. I will unite with anyone who experiences marginalization, oppression, racism, and sexism whether or not I fall into the category of otherness being challenged. But I will NOT unite with evil!

Stay Black & Smart!

“But What Will We Tell the Children?

More than 30 years ago I was teaching a class of prospective teachers at a northern California university. The class focused on curriculum and methods. The class of almost all young, White women had just completed a reading that included the translation of Christopher Columbus’ journals by the Spanish priest, Bartolomé de las Casas. The students were shocked to learn of Columbus’ brutality—wantonly killing the indigenous people of what is current day Cuba, brutally working them from sunup to sundown, and even slicing off the hands of those who did not bring in the required amount of gold. Columbus’ savagery was responsible for the genocide of the Arawak people. After reading this information, one of the students asked, “But what will we tell the children?” I responded, without blinking, “The truth, I hope!”

For much of my career with adult learners I have heard story after story of how we can’t tell our children (read, White, middle class students) about the ugliness of racism. “It’s just too much”. “We don’t want to frighten them!” No one talks about the terror and fear that Black children experience as a fact of daily life. And this rush to protect the “innocent” White children from the truth is a big part of why we cannot make real racial progress in this nation.

On Wednesday, January 6, 2021 we saw yet another day that will live in infamy in the US. A mob of thousands of domestic terrorists stormed the doors of the US Capital to destroy, desecrate, and loot what is often referred to as the symbol of democracy. Much of this mayhem and destruction was visible to us on television. The Congress was in session in order to count the electoral college votes that certified the election of Joseph Biden as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President. This mob breeched the building and ultimately one person was shot and killed, and 3 others died as a result of other injuries or underlying conditions. Members of Congress were shuttled to undisclosed locations deep within the bowels of the Capital. Ultimately, the protestors were forced out of the building where they continued to congregate on the Capital porticos and chant the lie that Trump won the election. One group swapped out the US Flag for a Trump flag to hang from the Capital and another person had previously paraded throughout the building with a Confederate flag. That flag never, ever flew in the Capital even in the midst of the Civil War!

As the situation was finally brought under control more and more outraged officials, generally White, declared, “This is not who we are!” The truth is this is EXACTLY who we are. Over and over when Whites have not received what they wanted they have visited acts of terrorism on anybody or anything they perceive to be standing in their way. Shay’s Rebellion and the Whiskey Rebellion of the late 1700s are examples of Whites who did not want to pay taxes. Of course, the Civil War was the ultimate rebellion. The summer of 1919, known as the “Red Summer” was marked by acts of violence against Blacks at the close of World War I. By 1921 Whites in Tulsa, Oklahoma bombed, burned, and massacred Blacks in the Black independent business section known as Greenwood. According to the Equal Justice Initiative in the period between Reconstruction and World War II there have been 4,400 documented lynchings

 of Black citizens in the US.

What America saw on January 6, 2021 was a mirror reflecting back on itself. This is who it is and who it has been from the beginning. Now, we have educators wondering what to tell students about what transpired at the Capital. If the past is any indicator of what will be done, we will likely not tell the children anything. Instead, we will create a narrative about some “small group” of dissenters who were protesting the results of an election that had been settled. It will describe this as an “isolated incident” not connected to anything else. Telling the children this version of what transpired means we will continue to repeat these behaviors over and over declaring them to be unrelated to the very fabric of the nation. However, I have some clear perspectives on what we SHOULD tell the children:

  1. In this nation White protests are generally regarded as the legitimate right of the participants and without threat;
  2. Black protests are perceived as dangerous and warrant extraordinary police or military presence for control;
  3. The nation has been engaged in anti-Black racism since its founding;
  4. Because the nation refuses to deal directly with racism, its manifestation wax and wane over time. But, it does not go away;
  5. Racism is anti-democratic and as long as the US does not face its complicity in racism it cannot claim to be a democracy;
  6. The US has profited from racism through things such as free or low wage labor, different housing costs, differential health costs, etc.;
  7. The US has also economically disadvantage itself because of racism through lower productivity, poorer educational opportunities, under identification and utilization of talent.
  8. All of our systems—education, criminal justice, health, housing, environmental policy, symbol systems—are riddled with racism;
  9. The system only redresses Black complaints when it is certain that Whites will also benefit—e.g. Affirmative Action, public accommodation, school segregation;
  10. Tell them the TRUTH!

Stop saying this in not who we are. It IS who we are….

Stay Black & Smart!