Archive for the ‘Black in America’ Category

casket

Celebrating Black Life Through Death

For centuries, African Americans have been forced to deal with DEATH. We use and have been used to celebrate and protest with our bodies. From the Trans-Atlantic Slave trade until the present Black Lives Matter Movement, Black bodies have been placed at the forefront of movements, memories, and significant moments in American history.

At approximately age 12, I experienced the death of a family member for the first time. One of my great uncles, Bill died after an aggressive battle with cancer. Before his death, I spent every weekend with him. I watched as his sisters, my grandmother, great aunts, and older cousins cared for him, laughed with him, and encouraged him until his final breath. They ensured his exit was as delicate as his arrival.

As in most African American families, the “Homegoing Service” can be quite an event. You’ll have the storytellers that stand before the church and tell stories of “remember when ” we will laugh. You’ll have the family member that stands in front of the casket as ask, “WHY?!” in the most antagonistic and depressing manner towards God; they’ll be carried off. You’ll hear the pastor or some stranger sing a song without knowing all the words, which becomes a topic of discussion during the repast. In any event, funerals are an incredible asset and aspect of Black culture, thus, we pride ourselves on making them memorable.

Quite often, a funeral can feel like the one moment when Black Lives Matter. The spirit of protest and appreciation can burgeon around death. For example, Black Lives Matter, in my opinion, gained momentum after the death of Trayvon Martin. His violent death resonated in a manner that ignited memories of Black tragic deaths throughout the United States, sparking a movement. Our memory of Trayvon is eternally tied to the Black Lives Matter movement and protests against the treatment of Black Lives in America.
Albeit, I can, unfortunately, list a litany of Black names that have occurred in the course three years, I want to focus on the celebration of Black Death.

There’s a deep history here.

The following is an excerpt on African American home-going services:

“It is a celebration that has become a vibrant part of African American history and culture. As with other traditions, practices, customs and norms of African American culture, this ritual for dealing with death was shaped by the African American experience.” 

“The history of the homegoing service can be traced back to the arrival of African slaves in America. Early during the slave trade, slaves believed death meant their soul would return home to their native Africa. They were not allowed to congregate to perform any ritual for burying the dead because slave owners were fearful the slaves would conspire to create an uprising during any such gathering. Later, to control the slave population, slave owners introduced slaves to white Christianity to placate and subdue them.

The Old Testament stories of God and Moses freeing a captive and enslaved race resonated with the slaves. The New Testament stories of Jesus and promises of glory in heaven and a far better after-life allowed slaves to forge through the turmoil of mortal life and look forward to the day when they would return home to the Lord. They fully embraced Christianity and death, for slaves, was viewed as freedom. Their death rituals were jubilant, and it became one of the earliest forms of African American culture.

At the beginning of the twentieth century, there were few, if any black funeral homes. Survivors of deceased blacks were forced to depend on white funeral homes for embalming if they agreed to service them. Jim Crow laws and white bias required blacks to enter these white funeral homes through back doors and basements, a degrading experience that added to the tragedy of losing a loved one.

Although the embalming was mostly done by white funeral homes, the homegoing service took place in the black Christian church. The churches began forming burial societies to collect money for funerals. Black businessmen who opened funeral homes during the early-to-mid-twentieth century saw not only a business opportunity but a way to help the community. Funeral parlors were among some of the first black-owned businesses, and the black funeral director was a trusted friend and neighbor in the community. The tradition of the black community funeral director and the support of the black Christian church exist in many black communities today.”

The unique business model of Funerals that emerged and presently exists within the Black community is to be commended. While the Black experience is not always joyful, we laugh through our pain and celebrate even in our death.

While researching this topic, I came across an incredible book and PBS documentary over Black Funeral Parlors that is worth watching.

Black Homegoing Services 

To Serve The Living Book Review

A Small Example of A Black Funeral 

Incredible Atlantic Article on The History of Black Funeral Homes

In closing, I find Black Death fascinating because it’s arguably the one time in our lives when the Black body is honored. While the media discusses the way in which a Black life was taken or how one lived, we move forth in planning an event that eliminates all of that and focuses on honoring the Black body. We will NEVER forget the life one has lived. We honor and uplift our dead. From Emmett Till to Sandra Bland we recognize that the Black bodies have been used to deter progress, but also promote it. We also understand that no matter HOW one died, at this moment, we uniquely celebrate LIFE through their DEATH.

And that is a moment worth noting in Black History.

Ke’

Submitted To The Scholars,

In Leadership, Love, and Service

Last week, hundreds, if not thousands of my peers responded to Justice Scalia’s comments regarding African American’s and “slower tracked” colleges. As a response, the Twitter hashtag: #ByeAbby and memes throughout Instagram and FB showed images of Black Success throughout predominantly white institutions.

As an activist, I wanted to jump in the conversation but this time, I watched, I read, I listened, because something interesting was occurring to me. Why did we feel the need to show our success to Justice Scalia, what would this change? I dismissed my pessimism until a colleague of mine commented: Justice Scalia “inartfully asked the question that might have been necessary.”

In my mind, I agreed. The question was valid. African Americans value their HBCU experience. I am Black; I valued mine.
Just two weeks ago, Black Twitter, the black conscious community, and just black folk throughout the world, literally, responded to the issues taking place at Mizzou. Some invited their Black counterparts to HBCUs, others said we must stand in support of the issue, I just thought that everyone should know that space is a construct and doesn’t belong to ANY said race. Thus, HBCUs are inherently black and PWIs are inevitably white because of a construct NOT right.

Moving on, after reviewing Justice Scalia’s comments, they were FUCKED UP. I mean, it was inartful, he one of the most powerful fucking lawyers in the world. He isn’t an idiot. He knew the question would spark outrage, but WHY?

Despite our, African Americans success at PWI’s, we OUTPERFORM blacks at ANY OTHER none-HBCU in UG. Many may equate our education as less than, slower tracked, or sub-par, and they may be right.

But, why then do graduate schools look to HBCUs for Top Talent in their fields? Why do we more often than not, matriculate and success in graduate schools at PWIs?

It’s not about a slower track; it’s about culture. I am not a lawyer, I don’t know how to construct the question that Scalia asked but it was the structure of his inquiry, it was simply the wrong question. Black people strive in environments conducive to their success, and that is at an HBCU, without question, but that doesn’t mean it’s for every Black person. Try putting ants in Antarctic. They’d die. Or adapt. And, I dare not desire to be bitten by an ant that shifted environments and survived. I’d inquire about the ability to succeed despite the obstacle. While the polar bear, the Eskimo, and the seal all look at the ant as a threat or undesired new element, it survives. They’ll never help them. They might even pull them in the water, but the ants survive. We might lose a few here and there, but we stick together… and while the natives of the climate wonder why we’re struggling we outperform, reproduce and navigate a place that was not designed for us to survive.

Justice Scalia, I don’t have a photo, but I do have a story of survival.
It’s not about how a Black boy from a small East Texas community graduated from an Ivy League and top international school, but also how he took every skill back to the colony and trained the Ants built to ONLY survive in the summer and taught them how to survive in the winter.

Justice Scalia, you’re afraid of me. You should be. I am your darkest secret. I am the one that will make you question life on the planet once a fucking ant bites your foot in the Antarctica.

I AM

I don’t police my blackness. I refuse to live in the constant fear of the “white gaze” and what “they” may say or feel about me. I’ve lived long enough to understand that I will never measure up to someone else’s expectations, let alone my own. My personal reflexivity captures the heart of an English teacher with a red pen; I am a major critic.

Are not we all? My question of EXCELLENCE lies not in the opposing spectrum I face throughout this world or in the oppressive system that guides America’s democracy but in self, in God and truth.

I am that I am. Black. Excellent. Inextricably linked to the harsh reality of my past both historic and contemporarily.

I am Black.

That can’t be arrested. It’s too strong to be occupied or overtaken. It’s too liberal to be conservative and to free to enslave.

I am Black.

The epitome of the earth’s crust burgeoning out the remaining parts that collectively generate power; ugly at its core, beautiful in its birth and powerful in its living.

I am Black.

Unapologetically.

I won’t stray from my poetic construction of the British language that immigrated on the tongues of thieves. My language ebonically is native as a leaf from a Fall tree.

It’s the utterance of an innate reconstruction of what was lost, taken, eradicated and exterminated yet it still rises.

Through ‘incorrect’ conjugations, we utter questions from existentialism to Zionism gaining curiosity from the world. We’re Black.

The rhythmic flows that blossom from the anatomical structure gains pause but imitation is evanescent, yet it’s eternal. It’s the voice of our ancestral soul reminding us that I AM HERE.

To some, they’ll never understanding BEING, let alone, BEING BLACK. To many, they’ll despise the mental incapacity of their mind to think beyond their socially constructed lens that defines themselves for themselves.

I AM BLACK, and SO IS MY AMERICA.

I understand your gaze and interest in understanding my behavior, it is you who seeks to know yourself for you don’t understand SELF thus you seek identity through false attempts to define me, but you should LET ME BE. BECAUSE I AM and FOREVER WILL BE BLACK; I AM AN AMERICAN SOUL.

AND IF YOU LOOK in the mirror, your reflection is an attempt to capture and retain my American Identity.

I AM BLACK, and so art thee.

Hello.

Dark Hand in Heavy Chains