If there’s one thing you should know about me, it’s that I love the Beatles. In my opinion they may be one of the best bands in all of rock and roll history. Growing up I would listen to their vinyl records with my father and sing every lyric to their famous song “Come Together” off of the Abbey Road album. (Seriously great record I truly recommend it) It’s no wonder that when thinking about the political climate of the United States, my mind went straight to the phrase, so wonderfully sung:
“Come together right now…”
In this country, black and brown bodies still continue to endure the brunt of racism and injustice. Another fatality of a black man, George Floyd, at the hands of police, ignited the continuation of a much needed revolution. While I still remain skeptical of who is truly ready as an ally to contribute to the social understandings and dismantling of racism, one thing actually remains true. People are becoming even more exposed to the contributing factors surrounding microaggressions and racism. They have also woken up to the fact that it begins with education. Whether that be socially, privately, or in our actual educational systems.
Growing up, I attended a private elementary and middle school where I was one of very few black children in attendance. I saw first hand how our education system brushes past black history and minimizes it to a few paragraphs on slavery. We have Abraham Lincoln and then boom! Suddenly Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King solved racism forever. Our education system in itself still upholds the American standard of “Just moving on”, instead of taking the time to digest Black history and acknowledge the brevity of what truly happened, and still continues. Here’s an example: Why is it that we never talk about Juneteenth?
For those of you who are new to educating yourselves on Black history, June Nineteenth, or Juneteenth is the commemoration of slaves in the United States becoming emancipated. More specifically the last remaining slave state of Texas, which happened to be two years after the emancipation proclamation. Now June Nineteenth, 1865 the United States was technically slavery free. I had learned about Juneteenth from my parents, who had grown up towards the end of the Jim Crow era, and were not new to rioting and protests. In fact my mother bore witness to the Detroit riots first hand. Now at twenty-two, growing up in the same country, after years of so called progress, I still think about the fact that I had to look to my parents and do my own research on my own history. Why was the full truth still not taught in schools? Why were people still so hesitant to speak on it even socially?
Now, with social media and pop culture it is easier to still receive half truths, even outside of the classroom. We look at figures of popular success in the Black community, and become complacent, thinking the fight is over. With modern day technology we tend to forget where we have come from, and the fact that it wasn’t too long ago. Ignorance combined with complacency and our instant gratification culture, does more harm than good. It easily separates the Black community at large. We rather take education from popular social media blogs, than from people in our own communities or elders.
From top stories constantly in our faces about arguments over “Dark skin vs. light skin”, to the separation of classes, to what or who we feel in our community has been “Canceled”. These trending topics are subconsciously society’s way of still separating us. We carry their negative impacts into real time. We still crave validation from a white society that was built to keep us apart. We were brainwashed about our blackness, and have been taught separation since slavery. Our generational trauma runs so deeply, that oftentimes as a black community at large we can’t seem to come together. We inflict separation on each other. We forget that we are all still black, fighting the same fight.
I had an epiphany and realized that maybe we all should think about our own privileges as black people growing up this day in age, and how different our way of life is from our ancestors and parents. Before you criticize me, no, I don’t mean the same privileges as white people whatsoever. I mean the privilege of being able to connect with our own at the tap of an app, or the fact that we can take more active actions than our ancestors who came before us. If even our parents with their resilience had the same technology that we utilize each and every day and took it to real life on top of the community education and involvement they were already doing, I wonder how much more progress, even if small, we could have made. We can film injustice in real time, challenge our deans in institutions, and create coalitions to challenge people to check their racism. It is easier to take up space.
The privilege lies in growing up in a world where we now have an overstimulating amount of resources at our fingertips. Yes, we have a long way to go, but we hold more power today than we think. This starts with redefining our understanding of community, and learning how we can take the tools we have online into our own spaces to educate and heal. Kind of like social media new age Black Panthers.
As the next generation of Black elders we need to question ourselves and each other on how resilient we will be for the fight of justice, equity, and equality. I realized our ancestors had more of an understanding of sacrifice and what they were willing to give up to continue the battle. They saw the long term goal. You had to come together on a community level to strategize and to ignite a series of radical changes. How can we acknowledge and speak candidly on generational traumas which separate us in order to heal the collective? When the news cycle ends we oftentimes lose sight of the battle.
Social media is a great first step, but the community we build online seems so real at times, that we forget the work also needs to transcend into real life. While having allies is great, we as a black community need to be allies for each other. We have to admit that we need to come together, and have been tearing each other apart. This largely in part to how normalized a hatred of blackness has become. Think about it. What happens after the revolution? What happens if and when we receive what we have been fighting for? If we don’t work on our internal separation, and work to become whole as a community, we will once again be trapped. We will never break the cycle.
A good place to start is within our educational system. Whether that be having more black teachers and professors teaching us about true black history so we feel like we have people rooting for us. It also lies in the way we educate ourselves and others. Maybe it’s creating more spaces to speak candidly but also to collectively create active solutions. Maybe it’s actually speaking about holidays like Juneteenth, and reminding ourselves, while yes constantly associating our blackness with political acts is tiring, we should also all be proud of being black.
We should feel proud of our culture. We should have a day of community and reflection. We should be able to uplift one another and understand the differences in our own community so that we can all feel like we all have a voice, and educate those who may have gotten ignorantly lost along the way. We have to continue to find ways to make our own feel safe and build each other up in spaces that we must create. While this also takes a large amount of work, we must realize it can’t be us against society, and us against each other. As for me, I’m still trying to figure out even more ways to do all of this. Maybe we can strategize offline at the Juneteenth cookout. Karen isn’t invited.
McKenna is a NYC native performer and creative with a BFA in Musial theater from the University of the Arts. She aims to create art that inspires vulnerability and societal change. You can catch her sparking conversations and spreading light on Instagram, exploring the city, or at your local thrift store