Last Updated on February 14, 2022 by BVN

S.E. Williams

This Black history month as African Americans are coalescing around the hard work of seeking sustained solutions to the deadly and relentless inequities that left our people so extremely vulnerable to the ravages of COVID-19, while simultaneously working to keep the nation’s focus on the violence perpetrated against them by a police force never intended to protect Black people and a criminal justice system designed to keep them incarcerated as fulfillment of an institutional and discriminatory justice process sanctioned by the nation’s constitution. 

The Black community understands all the noise about critical race theory (CRT) is nothing more than  another usual effort being taken to distract from this good work.  We understand their reliance on distractions.

“You done taken my blues and gone. . . But someday, someone’s gonna stand up for me. . .and sing about me and write about me, Black and beautiful. . .”

Langston Hughes

Sometimes, I must stop and marvel at the evil genius of those who structured the Constitution’s 13th Amendment that, on the one hand, set Black people free, while at the same time leaving Black’s vulnerable to perpetual enslavement. The amendment reads in part, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”  It is easy to see how the idea of freedom was an easy distraction from the promise of continued slavery that prisons would provide.

As brilliantly pointed out by Michelle Alexander in her seminal work The New Jim Crow is this caveat in the 13th amendment that clearly explains why the nation’s criminal justice system has so miserably failed Black people and kept so many incarcerated or should I say—enslaved. The 13th Amendment is a daunting challenge to neutralize and also remains embedded in many state constitutions including here in “liberal” California.  

Faux argument over critical race theory

But I digress. My real focus is to appeal to the reasoning of those wallowing in ignorance due to a feigned grassroots movement against teaching a more inclusive history of this country that considers the lived experiences and contributions of the diverse people who also helped build this nation. 

Those who are so angry about this, who are so willing to conflate ethnic studies and critical race theory without understanding what critical race theory is, or how it differs from ethnic studies, I appeal to them to listen less to right-wing rhetoric and instead, learn about it for themselves.

A better understanding would help peel away the layers of misunderstanding being leveraged to perpetuate the uprising against ethnic studies. Naysayers will learn that there is a difference between the two and also understand that there is nothing wrong with critical race theory. It might also help them realize–though many already know–this whole movement is less about critical race theory and much more about America’s original sin of racism.

When such blinders are removed it will be easy to see those pushing this discussion have the same mentality as those who said Blacks were only 3/5 a person, or those who structured the 13thAmendment, or the ones who called Martin Luther King Jr. a communist agitator, or who believe Black people don’t feel pain, or that the Affordable Care Act included death panels, or those who advocated “there are good people on both sides,” in relation to the Charlottesville debacle, or who call the COVID-19 pandemic a hoax, or who claim Trayvon Martin, George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery and others deserved to die, who resist mask mandates, who believe Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential election, and who claim the attack on the nation’s capital was a peaceful protest, can also be counted among those who think the voting rights of Black people do not warrant protections.  

A thin line between love and hate

What is most incredulous about the feigned anger around critical race theory is that many of those so rabidly offended by teaching ethnic studies are also just like many throughout history who, while working against the interests of Black people,  have rarely hesitated when it came to the appropriation of Black culture. Cultural appropriation can be defined as “the adoption or exploitation of another culture by a more dominant culture.”

Since the arrival of the first Africans in 1619, everything belonging to Black people has been stolen and/or appropriated–our names, our families, our languages, our religions, our labor, and at times, our lives—America even tried to steal our future. But,  we were strong. We persevered. We survived.

White society has appropriated our culture and every aspect of who we are. They tan,  to add color to their skin, a way of appropriating our melanin, wear  perms to add curls to their hair, collagen to increase the volume of their lips, implants to fill their breasts and hips. They mimic the way we dress, how we walk, and enjoy what we eat. 

Taking our blues

“You done taken my blues and gone. . . But someday, someone’s gonna stand up for me. . .and sing about me and write about me, Black and beautiful. . .” -Langston Hughes (image source: dreamstime.com)

We were not surprised when white rappers made millions from our latest style of revolutionary music, because it was just one more example of how what is ours–they automatically assume as a result of white privilege— is theirs to lay claim. Our church hymns became theirs just as and the nation’s most original style of music–jazz and blues, were appropriated in the past. That’s why Langston Hughes wrote, “You done taken my blues and gone. . .But someday, someone’s gonna stand up for me. . .and sing about me and write about me…” Hughes was scathing in his criticism of the appropriations of Black-originated culture in all its forms.

And so this year in Black History, Black people and others say it is past time for someone to  “sing about us and write about us” in our children’s history books.

Even as many Americans feel so comfortable about appropriating our Blackness, they still choose to ignore the power of our presence and contributions to this nation. 

Black people have faced innumerable challenges since the first Africans arrived here but gradually and with fervent determination we continue to progress. With each battle we grow wiser. We understand not only the overt nature of racism but also the microaggressions that are equally detrimental, if not more so. 

Black Americans of the 21st Century, just like their forebears, are ready, willing, able and equipped with new tools to continue  the quest for equity on multiple fronts simultaneously as the history of the struggle is embedded in our DNA. As such, racist distractions over critical race theory will not deter Black people from this multi-generational quest.  

Of course, this is just my opinion. I’m keeping it real.

S.E. Williams

Stephanie Williams is executive editor of the IE Voice and Black Voice News. A longtime champion for civil rights and justice in all its forms, she is also an advocate for government transparency and committed to ferreting out and exposing government corruption. Stephanie has received awards for her investigative reporting and for her weekly column, Keeping it Real. Contact Stephanie with tips, comments. or concerns at myopinion@ievoice.com.