Power, politics, and policy and the influence they have over African American people
The reaction of your recess teacher is shock — who is this little Black child who would dare question the authority of a White woman living in America? So again the teacher yells, “Push the merry-go-round you Black ni**er bi**h,” and again you look her dead in the eye and tell her “No.” After all, you want to experience the same joy you witnessed on the other kids’ faces as you pushed and pushed the merry-go-round for countless recesses.
Immediately the teacher grabs you by the ear and drags you to the principal’s office, with all the other children following, proclaiming to onlookers that they will teach this “coon, ni**er, monkey, and child of Satan” a lesson! As if the girl understands that there is power in numbers, she breaks away from her teacher and runs as fast as she can inside the building, down the hall that had suddenly grown despairingly dim, and abruptly into the classroom in which her sister resides.
Out of breath, tears mixing with the perspiration that now paints her face and heart racing uncontrollably, the girl tries her best to explain that she needs help! The sister, who is three years older and had assumed the position as mother since the two were adopted, immediately goes into survival mode. She grabs her sister’s hand, and before long the two are fighting their way through an angry crowd of racist White children and adults from their school.
In the end, the two girls were suspended and a new rule was created to empower the school to take action against the likes of these two African American girls — my sister and myself. Years later I realized that power, politics and policy, the very tools used in the Civil Rights Movement, is the same ammunition that had been used against me as a child.
These are also the same weapons used to oppress, depress and suppress African American people to this day. As Michelle Alexander’s book so eloquently speaks to, we are living in a “New Jim Crow” society!
What does that mean, you may ask? After all, haven’t the headlines proclaimed that we are “post racial”? Is it not true that the “talented tenth” are working as politicians, doctors, lawyers, CEO’s, actors, businesspersons, millionaires, homeowners, and even the first African American president in America?
Are we not living in the “dream” that someday all men will be created equal? Do we not wake up every morning knowing that we are seen as human beings? After all, Chris Mathews “forgot that [President] Obama was Black for an hour.”
In spite of it all, African Americans still have the highest achievement gap in Minnesota. We still have the high unemployment rate for African Americans. We are still disproportionately locked up in the prison system, and the list of statistics could go on.
My people, we must wake up! No longer can good people sit back and essentially do nothing. In order for us to be effective, we must seek out power, pass policy, and cultivate politicians who will advocate on our behalf and be held accountable for the offices in which they serve, while preserving who we are as a people.
Next month we will explore in greater detail power, politics and policy and the influence these have within the African American community. Many of you may have stories like my own, and I would love to hear about them. Feel free to email me and discuss how you personally have been affected by power, politics or policy.
I personally want to thank Melissa Owens, Timothy Franklin, Florida Powell and Nsikak Ekereuke for sending in responses to my last article. I am working on ways to engage the community more and anticipate hearing more from each of you!
Mary Anderson is a community engagement facilitator for a local nonprofit in the Twin Cities area who has served more than 17 years in civic engagement, community organizing, and a host of philanthropic initiatives in the U.S. and abroad. She welcomes reader responses to [email protected]