African Americans are an integral part of the United States of America. 95% were brought against their will from Africa (or born to recently-arrived African slaves). They have had to struggle to find even a basic fair treatment from the majority-white populace, and it is incomplete. As a case in point, more black Americans are dying from the coronavirus, proportionally, than whites. Some of this might be able to be attributed to the larger number of premorbid conditions that tend to plague African Americans to a greater degree than other races, but even that leads to the recognition that there must be much about the American experience for black people that is significantly worse than for whites. Asian Americans have pretty decent outcomes in American society, and so it’s hard to tease apart the legacy of slavery from cultural mores and personal choices that are salubrious and prudent. At bottom, though, what is not in dispute is that the African American experience in America has been rough, and that has something to do with racism. I won’t chase every tangent that this introductory paragraph logically leads to — for example, the fact that African Americans are less economically advanced than whites. I will simply sample some politically progressive quotes from African Americans. Who better but these Americans themselves to share their experience? I would also refer the interested reader to the compelling multi-part series produced by PBS: African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross, hosted by Henry Louis Gates, Ph.D. Note also the program takes its name from the influential Jimmy Cliff song.
It is that moment when consciousness is raised and unwavering optimism falters, when the jagged slope of truth replaces the soft slope of fantasy, when the natural recalcitrance of youth gathers onto itself the force of purpose and righteousness, when we realize that fighting is the only way forward, that equality must be won — by every generation — because it will never be freely granted.
Many rivers to cross and it’s only my will
That keeps me alive
I’ve been licked, washed up for years and
I merely survive because of my pride. ~ Jimmy Cliff
I just try to speak about things that affect me and affect our community; sometimes I’m the watcher and sometimes I’m the participant; sometimes it’s just allegories or fables that have a moral or underlying theme, like the ghetto life.
The caged bird sings with a fearful trill,
of things unknown, but longed for still,
and his tune is heard on the distant hill,
for the caged bird sings of freedom.
The beautiful thing about learning is nobody can take it away from you. ~ B. B. King
Character is power.
The key to realizing a dream is to focus not on success but on significance — and then even the small steps and little victories along your path with take on greater meaning.
I tire so of hearing people say,
‘Let things take their course.
Tomorrow is another day.’
I do not need my freedom when I’m dead;
I cannot live on tomorrow’s bread.
It’s essential that we understand that taking care of the planet will be done as we take care of ourselves. You know that you can’t really make much of a difference in things until you change yourself.
A government that cannot or does not protect the humblest citizen in his right to life, Liberty and the pursuit of happiness, should be reformed or overthrown, without delay.
Speaking truth to power means, for me, a commitment to human equality, a vision of democratic empowerment and reform from below which builds upon the incredibly rich history of American radicalism, of Paul Robeson and Fannie Lou Hamer, Ida B. Wells and W.E.B. Du Bois, Cesar Chávez, and John Brown. I continued to be actively and proudly identified as a democratic socialist.
People cry much easier than they change.
Every town has the same two malls: the one white people go to and the one white people used to go to.
If I thought going to war would bring freedom and equality to twenty-two million of my people, they wouldn’t have to draft me. I’d join tomorrow. But I either have to obey the laws of the land or the laws of Allah. I have nothing to lose by standing up and following my beliefs. We’ve been in jail for four hundred years.
Had it not been for the race problem early thrust upon me and enveloping me, I should have probably been an unquestioning worshipper at the shrine of the established social order and of the economic development into which I was born.
To be free . . . to walk the good American earth as equal citizens, to live without fear, to enjoy the fruits of our toil, to give our children every opportunity in life — that dream which we have held so long in our hearts is today the destiny that we hold in our hands.
Nobody wants a nanny state, where the government is stamping out initiative and telling us what to do, but the idea that the only alternative to that is to throw the American people overboard into a global economy with no protections to cushion us from some of these blows is absurd on its face. That’s why I think there’s been a concerted effort to distort my message. When you hear me speak beyond the sound bites taken out of context, I think I make a lot of sense to people, even those in Red States like the one where I grew up. ~ Anthony “Van” Jones
…America has been something of a schizophrenic personality, tragically divided against herself. On the one hand, we have proudly professed the great principles of democracy, but on the other hand, we have sadly practiced the very opposite of those principles.
There are still golf courses I am not allowed to play because of the color of my skin.
Struggle is par for the course when our dreams go into action. But unless we have the space to imagine and have a vision of what it means to fully realize our humanity, all the protests and demonstrations in the world won’t bring about our liberation.
Washington is, finally, working toward a response. But even the most ambitious proposals are nowhere near powerful enough to actually stop the coronavirus from destroying the economy. To do that, policymakers have to go beyond stimulus or bailouts for select industries. They have to take responsibility for economic life on a scale not seen since the New Deal.
Perpetual optimism is a force multiplier.
One of America’s biggest problems is that people of color are having conversations about racism literally every day. And most white people are only having them when they are forced to. …The biggest thing that I believe white people can do is to really get comfortable being uncomfortable having conversations about race and racism.
My raps are a decision, rabble rousing, spiritual, like gospel music. I don’t want to dance. We have so many things to deal with, we need to talk straight up and down.
What’s wrong with our children? Adults telling children to be honest while lying and cheating. Adults telling children to not be violent while marketing and glorifying violence… I believe that adult hypocrisy is the biggest problem children face in America.
Weapons didn’t defeat slavery. Nor did war, nor politics, nor even the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery fell because it offended the human spirit, broke the human heart, and thus could not stand.
Dream of a world where we measure character by how much we share and care, not by how much we take and consume.
Passion will respond to the buzz of a quick fix: sarcasm, too much junk food, impulse buying, gossip, rage, etc. But it thrives on substance: a job well done, giving credit to others, standing up for what you believe in, voluntarily returning lost valuables, choosing what feels right over what might feel good right now. In other words, nourishing passion is ethical passion — it’s finding power in doing the right thing.
It is better to protest than to accept injustice.
We believed if we kept on working, if we kept on marching, if we kept on voting, if we kept on believing, we would make America beautiful for everybody. ~ Al Sharpton
Making your mark in the world is hard. If it were easy, everybody would do it. It takes patience; it takes commitment; and it comes with plenty of failure along the way. So the real test is not whether you avoid failure, because you won’t. It’s whether you let it harden you and shame you into inaction, or whether you learn from it; whether you choose to persevere.
When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.
I always thought that one day our country would be better for everybody. I saw a lot of things that my father had to go through that I didn’t have to go through, so I figured that when my children come home we’d still have something better than I had. That’s why I wanted to go fight for my country [World War II].
The church is only open on Sunday. And you can’t keep asking Jesus to keep doing things for you.
The wackiness is increasing, not diminishing, and it has a great potential for destruction. There is a real need for people who know better to speak out in a concerted effort to curb the appeal of the apostles of the absurd.
Republicans often invoke the Great Emancipator as proof that the party has historically welcomed African Americans, but the self-styled ‘party of Lincoln’ lost its moral entitlement to that claim during the Civil Rights era.
This isn’t liberal versus conservative, it’s yesterday vs. tomorrow, the stress of profound cultural and demographic changes that will leave none of us as we were.
You’re not supposed to be so blind with patriotism that you can’t face reality. Wrong is wrong, no matter who does it or who says it.