Black History Week Two

The Convict Leasing System because for most of American history "To have Negro blood in the veins makes one unworthy of consideration, a social outcast, a leper, even in the church." (This is a brilliant pamphlet written by Ida B Wells. The forward is from the hand of Fredrick Douglas). 


The Progress of the Afro American Since Emancipation a part of the same pamphlet above, this chapter was written by I Garland Penn outlining the amazing contributions and progress of African Americans in the decade following slavery- in education, trades, music, art, journalism and much more. 


Southern Horrors: Lynch Law in All Its Phases because Ida B Wells commitment to the truth inspires us to do the same. "Somebody must show that the Afro-American race is more sinned against than sinning, and it seems to have fallen upon me to do so." 


How It Feels to be Colored Me because we are proud of who we are "I AM NOT tragically colored. There is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all." by Zora Neale Hurston.


We Wear the Mask because our poetry says it all and yet leaves so much unspoken. 


The Great Migration because Isabel Wilkerson is a brilliant storyteller and captures a period of time in which many of our families persisted and persisted and persisted. 


Gordon Parks (Jim Crow Images in Color) + Personal Narratives about Jim Crow because its sometimes too easy to see these photos in black and white, forgetting the world was in color. Because its important to know the daily stories- how Jim Crow felt, smelled, spoke in its daily experience. 

Austin Brown
Black History Week One

7 Medieval African Kingdoms You Should Know because our history doesnt begin with slavery.


The Atlantic Slave Trade During Its Heyday & The Remarkable Life of Olaudah Equiano because our survival is truly remarkable.


African Resistance to Slavery because "Africans started to fight the transatlantic slave trade as soon as it began."


The Half Has Never Been Told because we continue to tell only half the story of slavery (if that much). 


When Slaves Go On Strike because "slaves freed themselves." 


Reconstruction: The Second Civil War because the end of the Civil War only initiated a new wave of terror and injustice against black people


History's Lost Black Towns because you cant erase our history

Austin Brown
It begins.

So, in the same week we will witness the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr and the inauguration of Trump. I am fairly certain the dominating rhetoric this week will attempt to bring these two personalities together with a thread called "unity" or "peacefulness" or "love". It will be overtly suggested and subtly implied that walking in the steps of King requires that we lay down our concerns for the sake of such pretty words. 

This expectation has already been stated with calls to "support the President-Elect" to "see how it goes" to "try working with him instead of against him" to "unite behind him" . We have even been expected to be silent about the overt racism of Trump, many of his staffing picks and yes the folks who voted for him. We have been told in article after article after article that it is unfair, too far-reaching and altogether unwise to state unapologeticaly that race was a driving force of the campaign. We are told to believe it was economic concerns that drove people to Trump, not the racial rhetoric of "law and order" for black bodies, not the protests that kicked, and punched and pushed black protestors around, and not Trumps hate-filled speech egging on the violence of crowds. How easy it is for all these writers and pundits to forget how many folks cited "political correctness" as a reason to vote for Trump- read I-want-to-be-able-to-say-racist-things-but-never-be-called-a-racist. Its amazing to me that we have become so used to uncovering dog-whistle politics, we dont recognize the overt versions of racism anymore. 

And I partially understand. White people really dont like being called racist. The politically astute are correct that this isnt a great strategy to win converts over to the democratic party. But even in light of this election, I am less worried about winning people over to the democratic party than I am worried about the dignity of my community. 

In addition to "I dont like this", those who only have a superficial understanding of racism are genuinely convinced that it is inaccurate to say that white people, who knew his racial rhetoric was problematic but just wanted his economic policies, are racist. But this is the classic definition of racism once we move beyond the interpersonal, white hooded, slur-using racism. To make a decision to choose ones own economic security at the expense of people of color is exactly how we arrive at systemic racism. It is the small step on the way to big leaps of disparity. Choosing white economic security over the personhood of black Americans is how we got redlining and housing covenants, segregated schools and segregated neighborhoods, job discrimination and college segregation, unequal access to loans and mortgages and credit of all kinds, mass incarceration and environmental racism. Much of America believes there is nothing wrong with a pursuit of happiness that sacrifices the dignity of Black citizens. But I dont have to cooperate. 

For weeks I have been trying to figure out my game plan for inauguration day and beyond. Will I stay home or go to work? Will I write or hang out with friends? Will I take a long bath or go volunteer in my city? Will I road-trip to the Womens March or spend the entire day reading about black history. Will I plot or rest? Honestly, I still have no idea! But here's why. I have decided that whatever I do on inauguration day will only be the first step, the launching pad, the starting block.  Instead of focusing on just the one day, let us think about it as the source for infusion of energy for the race to come. If you need to march, march on! If you need to plan or write or read, go forth. If you need to rest, practicing self-care or indulging in your art, I affirm that choice. Because contrary to popular memory, MLK resisted white America's desire for the status quo. He spent his entire ministry resisting the abhorrent treatment of Black folks. He was so successful in leading this resistance, he was assassinated. 

So no. I will not be "supporting" my own erasure. I will not be "joining together" with the dehumanizing language Trump uses to talk about black communities. I will not be "waiting to see" how many policies are dismantled that help those in need. I will resist. 

I really wish there was just one way we could do this. I wish there was an easy way for all of us to band together to resist. But this is going to require writers and professors, pastors and artists, voting and calling representatives, protesting and petitions, journalists and organizers, youth leaders and donors, lawyers and health professionals, homemakers and third-shift workers, CEOS and the retired, historians and researchers, millennials and baby boomers, celebrities and voices who will rise out of "Nazareth". The next four years are going to require all of us. Its going to require all of our voices, all of our skills, all of our passion. Some of you will focus on housing and homelessness. Some of you will focus on food justice or environmental racism. Some of you will turn attention toward mass incarceration and criminal justice. Many will need to keep an eye on health care policies. We will have to work locally and still keep our eyes on national politics. You dont have to do it all, but please do what is yours to do, bearing in mind that all of our work matters.

This is how we pursue peace. This is how we unite. This is how we love one another. 


Austin Brown
I Was Able to be Hurt

I still havent recovered from the election, yall. Life keeps moving forward. I am going to work. Im cooking dinner and washing dishes when I run out of clean ones. There are lots of black movies coming out that Im excited to see. Im hanging out with friends and making new ones. Im still responsible for caring my little pup. But the truth is, I am still not over the election. I still feel lots of feelings. The grief process goes on for me. 

A friend of mine had someone close to her pass away a couple years ago. She used to describe momentarily forgetting, dialing the phone in a moment of excitement... then remembering. Her grief would come crashing down around her again- but differently. It didnt make her sob, But it made her deeply sad. It was like going through the shock of being told again, but not the desperation. She was doing something normal- making a phone call. But suddenly this moment wasnt normal at all. And she had to find her footing again. She had to swallow, breathe deeply, feel it all and then make a conscious game plan for what to do next. "Im just going to sit here for a moment." or "Im going to call my sister and tell her my news, but also tell her about a ringing phone that no one is going to answer." 

To be clear, it is not my desire to compare the pain of losing a loved one to this election. I do want to say that sometimes I forget, and when I remember everything stops for a moment. It all comes rushing back. I hear a speech or catch a headline, and I shake my head, wondering again how we got here. My reaction is still a little intense- pops of anger or shock or denial or sadness. But mostly anger when I remember again.  

Im not over it. And this makes me mad. 

I want to be over it. I want to have not felt anything to begin with. I want to say that I didnt feel grief, that I didnt possess enough expectations in America to be disappointed. I am supposed to know better. I am supposed to know how deeply racism and xenophobia runs in America. I am supposed to know how treacherous and poisonous white supremacy is. I am supposed to know and knowing is supposed to save me. 


Once a year I read "For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When the Rainbow is Enuff". I read it because I love it. I love the women. I love Shange's poetry. I havent experienced all (or even most) of the events described in its pages, and yet their thought process is familiar to me. In one section of this choreopoem Shange writes, "i've lost it / touch wit reality / i dont know who's doing it / i thot i waz but i waz so stupid i waz able to be hurt / & thats not real / not anymore / i shd be immune / if im still alive & thats what i waz discussin / how i am still alive & my dependency on other beins for love / i survive on intimacy and tomorrow" I cant believe America is still able to hurt me. But I survive on intimacy. And tomorrow. 

For this work, sometimes...oftentimes... I desire to be hard. Impenetrable. Unable to be rent, torn, cut, scarred. But Im not. 

And so I am paying attention to Trumps picks. I am paying attention to the reaction from white nationalists. I am watching news stories normalize white supremacy. I am noticing how uncomfortable white people are with that term- especially those who didnt vote for Trump. I am noticing the current interest in who is racist and who is not- this conversation is always more fun for folks than how do we uproot racism from our lives, communities and society. I am paying attention. Paying attention to the black folks still dying the streets, the native americans still fighting against the pipeline and flint residents who must avoid their drainpipes. 

Because though these are all theoretical choices right now. Soon these folks will be governing, suggesting policy decisions, changing funding priorities, making decisions that will impact all of us. And those decisions (and the rhetoric used to champion them) will embolden folks. 

I am writing, But also trying to follow the lead of my sister friend, Christena Cleveland, who has modeled for me what it looks like to embrace a contemplativeness that is culturally relevant to me (image that, white people dont own contemplativeness! Who knew!?) I am practicing joy when I can. I am devouring books. I am rethinking how I preach and what I am saying to the Church. I am taking it all in; I am letting a lot of it out. I am trying hard not to explode all the time, but without retreating, without choosing ignorance and avoidance. 

This is hard. But I am not. 

I was able to hurt, but my hurt wont define me. I will not become my hurt, and so I wont fear it. I wont fear being able to be hurt. I will recognize that sometimes this is the cost of hope.

Austin Brown