I had every, and I mean every intention on not really mentioning or addressing racial issues with our last VALOR expedition in January. Whelp.. I tried. In the great words of Scarface.. “..everytime I think I’m out they pull me back in.”
Now for the elephant in the room/commonwealth. February 1st or 2nd the Governor and the Lt. Governor and several other Virginia officials became the lead on news stations across the country. The media,the majority population of America, year after year, for the last 60 to 80 to 235 years has had an issue of understanding with the African presence that was in this country and was illegally kidnapped and sold in this country.
I would say America has a race problem or issue, but that was the error that W.E.B. Dubois made in the early 20th century in his book The Soul of Black Folks. Africans in this country have the problem. We have constantly expected with consistent failure and short comings of being equals in this nation that 32 million of us call home. Being African in America is almost a mental disorder or schizophrenia, where the illusion of equality, success, and fairness are what we feed off to keep us going, while in our minds, knowing its not going to be equal….ever…Even with the topic of reparations arising in the democratic primaries, it will never be equal.
As agriculturist this idea of equal is the basis for the Pigford settlement from the USDA and the phase 2 Cy Pres settlement currently being remitted. African Americans run from the ideas and notions of having an agriculture present or future. The amount of land loss from black farmers/families in the last 60 years is unfathomable, I’d dare say a sin to our ancestors, and fore parents who made it their sole mission to acquire land between 1865-1950. I’m a benefactor of my ancestors efforts and refuse to let go of what was rightfully sacrificed for and acquired by my grandfather and his brothers with their world war 2 checks. They risked their lives in war to ensure we could have something we could call our own.
Almost forgot about this elephant, America, and especially Virginia is steeped in cultural and racial bias toward its African American citizenry. It didn’t surprise me in the least bit that the man I was speaking with about hemp being the gateway plant for children, especially African American children in Virginia would now be shrouded in controversy over yearbook photos published of white males in black face in the mid 80s. Let me clarify that, the mid 1980s, not 1880s, a period well after Al Jolston and Vaudeville shows. A year when a black man was running for President in Jesse Jackson Sr., and L. Douglas Wilder was a rising star in the politics of the Commonwealth. The insensitivity shone then was magnified at the press conference given by the embattled Governor when the Governor said that was not him in his yearbook, but he had worn blackface to imitate Michael Jackson in a moonwalking exhibition. The audacity of the reporter to ask the governor who was being a mark of national shame and critique to ask if the Dr. Northam can show him the moonwalk. I smiled, as I watched his wife, who wasn’t in the least bit smiling, who understood to a greater extent than the governor and the bumbling reporter the insensitivity of the moment. As the Governor looked over at his definite better half at the moment with a smirk, that smirk that a mischievous child gives his mother when they want to do something just one more time… His wife told him to say ‘that is inappropriate at this time.’
And therein was the problem, the feelings and consideration of the African American not even a thought. Dr. Northam is just a product of his environment, generation and culture. As black history month unfolded into who hasn’t yet admitted to wearing black face month , the Va. government was shamed until the next news cycle. Changing it means nothing, because it’s a 80-90% chance that whoever replaces them that is not an African American, will have ties and connections to racial bigotry and prejudice.
It was taught and institutionalized in Virginia Public Schools during my fathers generation, of happy slaves, of our time in captivity being far better than the jungles of Africa. The Tarzan, Jungle, tar baby, cannibalistic, tribal, Ethopian potbellied, African booty scratcher narratives, that has shaped the perceptions of African culture and peoples, no matter how far removed from Africa. The commonwealth has a problem, it’s a prejudiced, biased, racist and white supremacists culture and rule of law. It benefits most who Bacon’s rebellion was fighting against, White landowners… After Bacon’s rebellion there was an immediate campaign to ensure the poor whites indentured servants, the poor enslaved Africans, and the free native indigenious people never joined forces again.
Many may say, what does this have to do with agriculture. These perceptions of agriculture, and the African American experience with agriculture whether it be enslavement, tenant farming, American terrorism by the KKK or other white nationalists mindsets, or the discriminatory practices of local, state and federal agencies against black farmers and landowners, in the recesses of our mind we know its very difficult to win and maintain. Being a farmer without subsidies, crop insurance, price supports and guaranteed markets is tough. Being a black farmer makes the road seem like the odyssey or Iliad, an adventurous journey where you don’t know what obstacles you will face or if you will survive.
Dr. Northam’s and other admitted collegues in the government actions speak to a greater issue for African Americans. That of power and influence, as those who have complete and total control of our fate in our most vulnerable positions, in government, in courtrooms, with the rule of law, police precincts, hospitals, accounting firms, human resources offices and most every other facet in our daily life have the strong possibility of holding these same bias, stereotypes, prejudice and bigoted views about African Americans if not worse. Citizens of the commonwealth’s perception about the confederate battle flag, monuments and who they think should have won (I frankly can’t tell who won, because I’ve never seen a loser receive so many trophies, accolades, statues, street names, school names, military base names, etc.) Very few will admit to it, but the reality is, we don’t know what you have been taught or have culturally ingrained in you.
The challenge comes in trying to explain this, why I speak and write about the African American experience and viewpoint so much on this VALOR platform. Because I have to make the influencers, policy makers and change leaders aware, there is another perspective that has to be considered.
Many people who are not African American may have had a rough life. They may have had to experience hardship, hard work, sacrifice, disappointment, not being good enough, or not been given a fair shake. I don’t deny the pulling yourself up by your bootstraps approach, as that’s the non African American way. But please understand that the color of your skin did not make your situation any harder, more dire or costly to your life. My gorgeous flawless golden caramel honey mocha skin tone can be costly to my immortality on a regular basis, because of general perceptions the country and the Commonwealth has of large black men. Arriving safely at home after our Richmond VALOR session is a privilege not a right for some of us.