In January 2017, my blog begin with a critique of the Women’s March, a march that was heavily and primarily attended by White women in knitted pink pussycat hats as if we had forgotten that indeed 53% of White women that voted, voted for Donald Trump. As I watched the march on TV, I struggled to figure out why it was not resonating with me. I am a woman that believes in the liberation of ALL women, but something was amiss. And then the iconic picture of Angela Peoples came across my newsfeed and immediately I knew that was why I felt the way that I did.
While I support protesting, and marching I felt many of the White women during the November 2016 election were like the three White women in the background of the picture nonchalantly on their phones, taking selfies in their Ugg boots as if the proverbial plane was not on fire. However, the plane is on fire and has been on fire, but White America treated Black people, particularly Black women as if we were the stewardess giving instructions as the flight takes off for what to do if the plane goes down. We were tuned out, and our shouts ignored as White America went on about its business.
We were just those protestors fighting against racism until it was Heather Heyer. We were only those people complaining about police brutality until it was Alex Wubbels a White nurse being wrongly arrested by a Utah police. We were just overreacting when we screamed about Freddie Gray being given a “rough ride” by the police which aided in his death, and then the President of the United States encouraged police to rough up suspects. We were just those lone dissenters screaming about healthcare until you realized Trump meant your healthcare would be taken away too. We were just standing with a Black woman named Anita Hill that testified about sexual harassment against a man that went on to become a Supreme Court Justice and then it all hell broke loose in Hollywood. We told you we did not live in a post-racial America after the election of President Barack Obama and then 74% of White men and 65% of White women that voted in the Alabama Senate election, voted for a racist alleged pedophile and the world realized we were not post-racial. It seems life would be much less complicated if White America would listen to Black people, particularly Black women when we speak. And not as an afterthought but a forethought.
I started this year on a high note, believing that something that I wrote would shake up the world. Yet here we are just three days from a new year and actress turned activist, Alyssa Milano makes a Twitter post that revealed to me that we have a very long way to go. Alyssa was thrust into the spotlight after she tweeted a phrase “Me Too” to bring awareness to people that have been victims of sexual harassment and assault. However, the “Me Too” movement was actually started by a Black woman named, Tarana Burke over a decade ago. Alyssa later acknowledged this fact however what was done was done and many credit Alyssa with sparking a movement.
Perhaps Alyssa was feeling particularly revolutionary when she took to Twitter early in the morning to post the poem by Langston Hughes, Let America Be America Again. In her posting of the poem, she highlights a stanza by Hughes forgetting the central focus of the poem that Hughes places in parentheses, America never was America to me, almost as if he wants to draw particular attention to that part of the poem.
It is as if the ENTIRE meaning of the poem flew just north of Alyssa’s head. Langston Hughes full poem can be found here.
Alyssa’s convenient performative act of justice reminds me of when White people cherry-pick quotes by Martin Luther King Jr. or Muhammad Ali that help them sleep better at night. Do not forget that while Dr. King said, “I have been to the mountaintop” he has also said, “First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”
While people like Alyssa love to quote Muhammad Ali saying, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth,” do not forget that Ali also said, “I ain’t draft dodging. I ain’t burning no flag. I ain’t running to Canada. I’m staying right here. You want to send me to jail? Fine, you go right ahead. I’ve been in jail for 400 years. I could be there for 4 or 5 more, but I ain’t going no 10,000 miles to help murder and kill other poor people. If I want to die, I’ll die right here, right now, fightin’ you, if I want to die. You my enemy, not no Chinese, no Vietcong, no Japanese. You my opposer when I want freedom. You my opposer when I want justice. You my opposer when I want equality. Want me to go somewhere and fight for you? You won’t even stand up for me right here in America, for my rights and my religious beliefs. You won’t even stand up for my right here at home.”
For Alyssa to conveniently highlight a part of Langston’s poem that makes her feel good, that will get her some Twitter likes and then have the audacity to come back to Twitter to EXPLAIN what Langston meant in his poem, as if Black people are not the walking living personification of his words is an insult to every Black person on this earth.
Let me educate you, Alyssa beyond your performative Twitter racial justice on what Langston meant. You have failed to highlight the most important part of his poem.Langston is writing about two things in extreme juxtaposition to draw a glaring difference in what America says it is and the reality of what America actually is for Black people.
Black people were brought to this land in chains, suffered some of the worst heinous, atrocious crimes against Black humanity, worked in fields from sun up to sun down expected to pick over 200 pounds of cotton a day, and suffered the whip of the lash if they didn’t meet their quota. When you tweet, “Me Too” remember that it was enslaved Black women that were raped by White men and White people turned a blind eye. It was Black women that had to look into the eyes of their husbands while a slave master stole their humanity. It was Black women that had to birth children by their slave masters. Here in Kentucky where Langston’s paternal great-grandfathers were slave owners, an enslaved Black woman named Lucy was lynched for murdering her slave owner and rapist. So no, Alyssa, America has never been America to me.
Black people have suffered under the weight of racism just to have civil rights. Black people were arrested, beaten, water hosed, had dogs turned loose on them just for the right to just be. A Black boy named Emmett Till was beaten and killed because he was falsely accused of talking to a White woman. This same White woman had the convenience of admitting that she lied years later. How convenient it must be to take a stand for Black people you have harmed from the comfort of your home. Sound familiar, Alyssa? George Stinney, a 14-year-old Black boy, was sent to the electric chair for murders he did not commit. At just 90 pounds, George was so small that he had to sit on top of a Bible for the helmet of the electric chair to fit him for White America to make an example out of him. So no, Alyssa, America has never been America to me.
And here we are today with the murders of Trayvon Martin, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner and countless others. Today of all days for you to make your post, Black people are hurting as we stand in the gap for Erica Garner, the daughter of Eric Garner, a 27-year-old Black woman that fought for social justice after the murder of her father, that was declared brain dead after suffering a heart attack. Yet here you are with a misinterpreted poem from one of the most prolific writers that wrote for radical racial reform. Here we are in 2017 where the weight of racism continues to chip away at our lives daily. Here we are when a 12-year-old boy named Tamir Rice is gunned down on a playground by the police in less than 2 minutes for playing with a toy gun. Here we are where an NFL player can be vilified and blackballed for taking a knee to bring awareness to police brutality. Here we are, Alyssa, where a Black man can be wrongly murdered by the police on camera and America tries to tell us why it is justified. Here we are, Alyssa, where a Black man in Mississippi can be beheaded in 2017. Here we are, Alyssa, where Black people are STILL fighting for the right to just exist in America. So no, Alyssa, America has never been America to me.
And you come online with your Twitter post as if the world is supposed to be impressed by your performative social justice and ignorance. I am hardly impressed. It is easy to overlook Langston’s meaning of his poem when you do not have to live it daily. It is easy to make a Twitter post and sit back and pat yourself on the back as people like your post and feel as if you have done something for the advancement of race relations in America. In fact, you have done nothing but show me that we still have a long road to travel.
As Langston wrote,
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
Since you enjoy quoting Black writers, Alyssa, let me quote one for you. In the words of James Baldwin, “I love America more than any other country in this world, and, exactly for this reason, I insist on the right to criticize her perpetually.”
And daily I will criticize America for what it isn’t for Black people and ALL People of Color longing and screaming for JUSTICE!
Featured Image: Alyssa Milano Lauren/Variety/REX Shutterstock