Wearing Black, Being Black

Yes, I'll be wearing all black tomorrow: Black pants, black shirt, black umbrella if it rains, black eyeliner on my eyes...but I'll skip the black lipstick because I'm not really going for the goth look.

I'm wearing all black in support of the "Jena Six" rally that will be taking place tomorrow in Jena, Louisiana. If you haven't heard of the "Jena Six" by now, Google it and you'll get to read about yet another ridiculous example of racism in the good ole USA. I think about incidents like this every time I hear someone say that my little boys are sooo cute. Yeah, they're cute, but cute won't stop someone from trying to convict black males for some craziness.

Speaking of blackness, today as we were walking home from school, my six year-old says to me, "Mommy, I'm the only black boy in my class."

This is 100% true. One other student is Asian. Everyone else is Latino.

I asked him if someone had said something bad about his skin or hair, and he said, "No."

I told him how if anyone did, he should tell his teacher and let me know so I could whup someone's ass help solve the problem. But he only replied, "How come there aren't any other black kids in my class?"

I know how my son feels. I feel like I've been asking variations of this "why am I the only black person" question my whole life. In most school or work situations I've always been the only black person, or else there was one other black person around. And, in moments like this, as much as I love my neighborhood (despite the drunks that were back again today), I wish there were more black folks around here. Or rather, I wish there were more black folks with school age children around here. The young black hipsters are starting to migrate this way and I see them out in all their childless, boho-chicness.

Folks tell me I should move to Inglewood or Baldwin Hills where I can see black folks the minute I walk out of the door. Plus the schools have greater numbers of black children. I've been told that my child is going to have identity issues if he doesn't go to a school with more black children. That way of thinking assumes that his race should be the primary identity for him, and indeed, for many people, race is their primary identity. But we are all more than the sum of racial politics.

So, I really hope you wear black tomorrow, not just to ask for equality and justice for black folks, but to ask for justice and equality for all of us. We all deserve so much more than what passes as racial equality in this country.

We all need to raise the bar.


thailandchani said…
Agree with you 100%. How shortsighted it is to assume that your son's (or your) race should be a primary identity. It is as though they don't realize that it perpetuates racism .. because it encourages factionalism.

By any chance, have you ever read Angela Davis' book "Women, Race and Class"? I don't necessarily agree with all of her political positions but this is one issue she addresses very well.


Jameil said…
thanks for reminding me. i don't plan on going anywhere but i will wash my black clothes so i can wear black sitting around my house or at the grocery store.

i'm pretty well-adjusted and i was "the only" a lot through h.s. going to an HBCU def. rounded me in a way i will always appreciate. so send your baby to HAMPTON!! :) i'm back to being the only in some situations again so its nice to have at least the memory of being the majority.

lmao @ "help solve the prob". get it mommy!!! :)
Anonymous said…
My son attends CLAS (Culture and Language Academy.org) in Inglewood.
Great school!! http://www.cultureandlanguage.org/index3.html

and if you don't send your baby to Hampton...send him to FAMU.... :)
Ms Angela said…

I began kindergarten in 1963, and I was not only the lone Black student in my class, I was also the only person of color in the room. That trend pretty continued throughout elementary school for me, my sister and my brother. To my dismay, things didn't seem to improve when my own children began attending school. I don't know how many times I've had to stop myself from going BWC (Black Woman Crazy) because of some whack stuff a teacher said to one of my kids.

My mother had to pull me out of a open house because I was seriously ready to beat my oldest daughter's second grade teacher down. She had separated the "good" kids from the "bad" kids in the classroom--good kids were in the front, and "bad" kids were in the back. Her rational: she was spending too much of her time dealing with the "bad" kids, and it wasn't fair to the "good" kids. And of course, all of the "bad" kids were Black or Latino. And to make everything worse, NONE of the other Black and Latino parents said a word about that woman's overtly racist classroom management policy. I was boiling over when I realized that I had been left hanging. But I didn't let that stop me. Nothing stops me when I start going there. Well, my mother is the only person on this earth who could stop me.

That woman never knew how close she came to being on the receiving end of a vicious right hook. She needs to sing praises of my mother to this day.

This was NOT an effective way of dealing with institutionalized racism; I'm perfectly aware of that. But my reaction was borne out of a lifetime of negative experiences in the public school system, and I wasn't about to let the same thing happen to my kids.

What happened to that teacher? She was shuffled around the Sacramento City School District for years. She finally received grant funding assistance and become a founding member of a charter school. Funny how people like her manage to be rewarded for the things they do.
Liz Dwyer said…
I haven't read Angela Davis' book. Funny, my mom and I were just talking about her the other day. I'll have to add that to my reading list and see if they have it at the library.

I'll be wearing my black while trekking back and forth past the drunks down the hill. Those guys were out there at 8 am this morning! GRR!

I think the idea of an HBCU is a good one to explore. I hate how some parents steer their kids away because they think they're going to get a bad education or not know how to function in the real world. But, right now, he really wants to go to Notre Dame. He believes the only college in the world is Notre Dame. And yeah, I'm looking forward to getting on the school site council and wrecking shop...I figure I will try some more acceptable methods of accomplishing stuff at the school, all without taking off my earrings and breaking out the jar of vaseline. Besides, it's LA so if I went that route, I'd get sued. I have to keep it civil and classy.

I totally want to hug you! Thanks for sharing that link to the school. I hadn't heard of them but I went over to the website. Looks really cool. I'm going to see if I can go check out some classrooms and observe. Thanks!

I keep thinking that I have twelve or more years of BWC ahead of me. I am glad you did not clock the teacher but I can understand the sentiment. Who does that kind of stuff to children??? The crazy thing is, I used to supervise a teacher who also did that "good" kid, "bad" kid mess. He was teaching a group of THREE students while another thirty students were just buckwild in the classroom. I told him that if I was a parent of one of his students, I'd sue him for everything he had for doing that. I advised his principal to not ask him back, but the principal needed a warm body. Now he's a curriculum specialist and is getting his administrative credential. Makes absolutely no sense.
1969 said…
I am in all black today as well.

As for your son, he has a mom with a good head on her shoulders who has his best interests at heart. In addition, you will always do what's best for him. Race doesn't matter, he's already a winner.
Anonymous said…
I have Black pants, shirts and tie, I look like Steven Segal! lol

Seriously, as the Grand Verbalizer Funk'n Lesson Brother J would say:

"The ever-nappy crew setting the mood,
I raise my fuel for my firm attitude..
Walking through the streets with my war cry spear
Certain folks know it means doom when they hear,
My firm, black boots with no spurs attached
Now let me take a second, cause I might detach
My black boots if they should choose,
to treat my people as fools to rule!"
Liz Dwyer said…
Thank you for saying that. I am so glad I'm able to connect with other black moms both here in this city and in other places so we can support each other... and I've got my black on. My husband and I rolled out this morning looking like we're auditioning for The Matrix or something. I'm so glad so many have turned out for the rally.

Steven Segal! LOL! And let me go find an X-Clan CD right now so I blast that out my windows.
BZ said…
"That way of thinking assumes that his race should be the primary identity for him, and indeed, for many people, race is their primary identity. But we are all more than the sum of racial politics."

AMEN! I took this Africana Womanism class with an amazing professor - Clenora Hudson-Weems. Sooo enlightening and she touched on that very issue. I'm glad you put that out there.
I'm wearing black to work tomorrow. I work in a school district where we have a total of 43 black students ALL TOGETHER.
Really hard to believe, especially since that makes up 0.9% of our student body.
It makes me sad to think that there are kids who are not only the only black child in thier class, but in their entire school.
Thanks for your post.
Ian Lidster said…
I've been following this story and I suffered under the unjustifiable hope that such things were past history. Sadly, no.
Meanwhile, my friend, you have been tagged, if you wish to check my blog.
thailandchani said…
This post brought back a memory. When I was in high school (granted, this was a very long time ago), we had one Black student.. and she didn't come until 1968, my junior year! Prior to that, I was surrounded by only white kids. I don't even recall any Hispanics or Asians.

I grew up in the Los Angeles area, too, specifically in a city with the initials "BH".


It embarrasses me now.

Anyway, this post gave me some real insight into how that student must have felt, being the "only one" in a sea of white faces.

Of course, she was treated as something "exotic" which must have really made her angry, now that I think of it.


Liz Dwyer said…
Doesn't Clenora Hudson-Weems talk about how women of African descent don't do feminism because their construct is the entire family, not just the woman? Or something like that. I'll have to go look it up because I don't quite remember. That's great that you got to take a class with her. I know she's done a lot of research on Emmett Till.

Wow, 43 black students in all of Durango? Gosh, just when I was thinking it looks so picturesque there that I might have to add it to the list of potential post-LA sites... darn it!

I often think it wouldn't matter so much to be the only black child if it was clear that those black children were loved, seen as beautiful, and accepted for who they are, you know?

I'm really wondering what's going to happen tomorrow there. It was great to see so many rallies taking place around the country today. I hope it means that folks are thinking about what they can do in their communities/personal lives when they get home.

Gosh, that's really something to be at a school in BH when the first black student attended. I can't imagine what it was like for her. I always like to think that experiences like that can hurt, but they can also make us stronger, and give us new reservoirs of empathy for others. I've always migrated to the people that are sitting by themselves at events because I know how that feels. I'd like to imagine that the experience, even if it was hard, has given that girl you went to school with some sort of inner strength despite it all.
thailandchani said…
This is becoming a very interesting discussion. :)

When Patricia came to the school, everyone was really fawning over her ~ to a point where they likely forgot she was a human being rather than just a "race". With it being 1968 and a lot of this very new to so many people (especially people in BH), everyone was trying to prove they were not racist ~ if you get what I mean. I'm sure she laughed behind her hand at our antics many times.

And I'm sure it made her stronger. The only alternative would have been that it would embitter her ~ and I'm sure she was smart enough to not let that happen.

I'm going to check out Clenora Hudson-Weems. If what you suggest is true, she is someone I'd like to learn from.



Miss Awesome said…
I'm really mad I missed this memo until today. I guess I did wear black pants yesterday so...

I hear the same questions from my six year old, who's half black. His best friend at school told him that "You can't do this because you're brown. Only white people can do it." It was something ridiculous like a magic trick that my son just didn't KNOW HOW to do. Unfortunately he believed him, that he was physically unable to do it because of his skin color and was ready to accept that and give up trying.

"No buddy, you can do it. You just have to practice. It has nothing to do with your skin color."

I wore black and made a lot of phone calls to officials in Louisiana, but it was anticlimactic because I doubt I accomplished anything.

White people need to realize several things, once and for all.

1. They are depriving themselves and their children of the full life they could have if they accepted the many contributions made by non-whites in every field. What could be more boring than a lily-white world?

2. They are really in the minority, if you go by the numbers. It's amazing that they've gotten away with this kind of shit for so long. It needs to change. Yesterday. For all of us.
Liz Dwyer said…
I'm sure she did laugh a little. I chuckled a little just imagining everyone in BH trying to act sooo not racist. But, there's a lot of that acting going on now, 40 years later. I was reading something today about how so many of the so-called liberal bloggers weren't writing anything at all about the Jena 6 over the past few weeks and months. And then I heard that Mychael Bell was denied bail today. Gosh, justice seems to be elusive in Jena, LA.

Big Momma,
LOL at the cherry on top! I heard that!

In all seriousness though, when I was teaching, I remember so many times how my students would say certain things were only for white children -- things like a music program in the school, art teachers, a safe neighborhood. Going to college.

Goodness, kids sure know what's what, don't they.

Well said. You are amazing.

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