One of the biggest obstacles many African-American’s have yet to, “overcome” is the need to become “separate” while fighting for equality.
History, once forgotten, has the tendency to repeat itself.
The Harlem Renaissance saw successful African Americans deliberately separate themselves from those that did not wish to include them. During that period, many flourished, sadly though, more floundered. The “strange fruit” that hung from the poplar trees down south – made the stench of discrimination, prejudice, and racism impossible to ignore. . Jim Crow gave us the “opportunity” to have a separate but very un-equal education. The lesson learned – separate can never really be equal. Those willing to carry the momentum forward gave rise to one of the most crucial times in American history; the birth of the Civil Rights movement.
Built upon the basic tenants of the “unalienable right to the pursuit of life, liberty, and happiness” the momentum behind the movement propelled America through the gateway of change, and forced her down a path from which she has never been able to return. Perseverance and prayer – provided the seeds for this, one of the most prolific periods in American history. African-Americans realized the truths that were held “self-evident…that all men are created equal” applied to all who resided here. People, quite simply put were “sick and tired of being sick and tired” (Hammer, 1963).
Brown vs. the Board of Education (Topeka, Kansas 1954) broke the barrier of segregation and began (what would become the roots of) equal opportunity. To be equally educated would unequivocally afford African-Americans access to opportunities once denied their ancestors.
Ignited by their ideals, downtrodden depression gave way to determination. Inspiration came from a soundless pain that penetrated the depths of many and caused them to question what they had until now, been forced to accept. Thiers was a landscape of experiences harvested from a field plentiful with pain; sewn with the seeds of silent suffering and watered with tears that fell like rain when understanding failed.
The landscape of their experiences changed the tenor of the nation by giving rise to the harsh (and often inhumane) treatment of the African-American. The nightmare that was racism, separatism, prejudice, inequality and discrimination, needed to end. There were many leaders and many more individuals willing to be led. The fight for freedom that ensued took the lives of many, but stilled the spirit of none; voiceless victims were no more.
In his speech given upon the Western Michigan University campus in 1963, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. rendered anyone unable to find something worth dying for, unfit to live. His were the words that fueled the fury of a generation no longer willing to be held captive by their fear. That generation’s ability to overcome had been enhanced, by the belief that their sacrifices would enable those followed, to sit among thier peers and be considered equal.
To create a world in which to be heard, one must join a group that consists and/or promotes solely the ideals of one ethnicity recreates a society rooted in a separate but equal mentality. Segregating ourselves under the guise of promoting the ideals of African-American culture is the antithesis of integration. To appreciate the individual differences we must become comfortable with different individuals and allow those individuals to become comfortable with us. A cohort of those wishing to promote the in-depth study of the impact of culture and/or ethnicity upon the experience of being human welcomes all. Inviting others to openly, honestly, and respectfully question all they think know can only happen when we are willing to reach beyond our comfort zone.
We, like those who came before us, must work together with different individuals promoting the same idea. Second order change has, for the African-American meant reaching beyond themselves to make it so. Viewing the world as a place where we must again separate ourselves to allow equal opportunity (especially in the field of Marriage & Family Therapy), where we must meet under the guise of sameness to express ideas about being treated differently goes against the very nature of my beliefs.
Must we exclude ourselves so that others will then include us?
Gandhi (1869-1948) said very plainly – “you must go out in the world and be the change you want to see.” Let us go out among them. Let us show ourselves to be the people we would like them to be. My perceptions of self are based upon the perceptions of others, which are affected by the way, in which I perceive myself. In short, it begins with me. Each one of us has the responsibility to those who came before us, to take as many steps possible forward. We must decide to dispel the myths, stereotypes, and negative ideas as we promote positive perceptions while sitting among individuals who may need nothing more than an opportunity to ask questions and to understand.
When we (African—Americans) rid ourselves of the mentality that limits our ability to see beyond the assumptions we make about others, perhaps others will be more willing to see beyond the assumptions they make about us.
“Fleecy locks and black complexion
Cannot forfeit nature’s claim.
Skin may differ, but affection
Dwells in black and white the same.
Were I so tall as to reach the pole
Or to grasp at the ocean at a span,
I must be measured by my soul
The mind is the standard of the man.”