June 19, 2016
Father’s Day collides with Juneteenth this year.
Juneteenth–a day of emancipation for enslaved black folk, my ancestors. Black folk who lived a stone’s throw from where their daughter would have the privilege of attending Rice University thanks to their faithfulness. Patient folk who learned quite belatedly, two-and-a-half years plus 19 days to be precise, that they were free from chattel slavery, at least that form of it.
Yet, 153 years after Juneteenth, freedom for the black male remains an oxymoron. An elusive American Dream. An embodied nightmare.
Because in 2016, black bodies, particularly black male bodies remain shackled.
Chained to a carceral Republic that only intended to commodify black bodies for the solidification of the Capitalism borne of a Protestant Ethic. And after slavery was over, left them to the fate of a white, governmental invisible hand that magically keeps thieir unemployment rates at 50%. They call this political economy.
Dehumanized by a polity that deemed them 3/5 persons and eagerly performed experiments on them–injecting syphilis into their “animal” veins. Or scraped cells from a woman’s cervix sans permission and called it proper cancer research–HeLa has a name. They call this Western Medicine.
Stripped of dignity by a country hellbent on perpetuating the myth that race does not matter where the American Dream abounds. The fact that the vast majority of humans rotting in jail are black and brown can be attributed to their pathology–a lack of personal responsibility, a culture of poverty–never mind that the institutions (public schools) purportedly positioned to elevate them to middle class-ness are actually intended to socialize them into more grown up governmental institutions (prisons).
Because the American Dream is farcical when you are freed to strive only to be re-enslaved by a void where educational opportunity and economic opportunity structures are supposed to exist. But you know, the scales of justice are equal for whites and non-whites, rich and poor. And lady liberty bids us all, tired and poor, to keep up the lie that the American pretense is for all, except Syrian Muslims.
Black men are still stripped of dignity in their death. Men like my grandfather who hopped a train from Rockville, TX to Oklahoma City, OK to study engineering at Langston University at the same time as the “Great Debaters”; who served in the Burma and South Asian sphere of World War II, only to be treated as a second class citizen upon his return home; who became the first black instructor at the Federal Aviation Administration Academy in OKC; and who having been called to ministry in the 1950s, retired early and used his own money to plant a church in an underserved area of Northeast Oklahoma City in 1962–you know, the redlined area where blacks could live and maybe own homes. And now other people want to buy up and take over my Granny’s property. Color coded maps still prevail. They call this gentrification.
My grandfather pastored New Bethel Baptist Church for 21 years. In 1983, he died at the church, just 2 days after baptizing me and my youngest sister. And today, this is emblazoned across the wall of the church that God and my PawPaw built.
One year ago this past week, a “Coonville” in Charleston, South Carolina was shot up by a white supremacist who knows that race matters in ‘Merica. But as the good book says, you can kill the body but not the soul, So the souls of the Charleston 9 live on. They live on in their families modeling of love and forgiveness rather than dishing out the hate of Dylan Roof. Or the person who desecrated the church where I met Jesus on felt poster boards and in the King James Version of the Bible. The kind where Jesus’ words were red, warning us that hatreds and bigotries do not become those who grasp human dignity.
153 years after Juneteenth, Malcolm X’s American Nightmare and Martin Luther King’s American Dream remain in stark juxtaposition.
Coonvillians like me ain’t scared. But we lament the Fathers bodies in jail; or relegated to the only opportunity structure readily available to them–the streets. And we hope in the hope that does not disappoint us while resisting and protesting systems, structures, and institutions that not only permit, but sanction the continued oppression of colored bodies.
Coonvilles like mine and Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC will never cower. We’ve got something within. Something America didn’t give us and America can’t take away.
Happy Juneteenth and Happy Father’s Day.