About Getting Over Slavery by Onnesha Williams

IMG_4205In our most recent conversation on race, Crystal was tasked to ask a heavy hitter. She was challenged to ask that question that maybe a white person might really want to ask a black person, but might not take the liberty because it is too uncomfortable or sensitive. It took a few days, maybe a week or so and then she asked me. I was ready. After noticing her stumbling to find the proper way and the right words to be politically correct, I asked her to just spit it out (because I was ready right?) and so she did. It was a two-part question:

Part 1:  Can we ever disentangle slavery from the current state of race relations to see if our perceptions are more or less human-related over being race-related? (paraphrasing)

Part 2: How do you know it’s because you’re black, when you have a negative encounter that you perceive to be race-related? (also paraphrasing).

Okay, so yes, when we initially discussed this I was ready and we had a pretty lengthy phone conversation on these issues while intermittently pausing to kiss our kids or give some mundane instruction to our husbands. This was our next blog and we were going to get it out and that was that.

Well, I soon realized that this was harder to write about than to discuss. Why? Because that weekend Beyoncé Knowles performed in the Super Bowl and the race relations curve ball was once again pitched and it changed my tone a tiny bit, well more than a tiny bit, and I wasn’t ready for that. So I will do my best to represent our conversation pre/post Super Bowl 50 halftime fall-out.

Here we go.

Part 1. Can we ever disentangle slavery from our current state of race relations?

My short answer is no. My longer answer sheds a different light on the slavery/race relations narrative. We all know slavery ultimately ended up being race-based in this nation. Blacks were enslaved for centuries primarily by whites (northern and southern). This was an accepted way of life practiced and justified by the white populous and backed by U.S. legislation. Blacks were eventually emancipated and that changed their freedom status, however the ideology and accepted practice of race-based social structure and advantage never ended. So metaphorically, slave-based ideology transformed from wearing antebellum dark coats and trousers to donning business causal khaki’s and button downs, but just never quit the job.

In so many race conversations with white counterparts (not Crystal), I have been told to “get over slavery” or have been reminded that I am not a slave. They have suggested that slavery should not be considered in current day relations. Consequently, the most ironic and profound thought comes to my mind when I hear these statements.

The thought: It is not blacks who can’t get over slavery, it is mainstream white America that won’t move on from slavery. How else does systemic racism still exist?

Why was there ever Jim Crow laws? Why was there the fight for equal rights in the Civil Rights Movement? Why in 2016 are blacks still marching and holding signs? Why so much disparity in the criminal justice system (which does take freedoms away from blacks more than whites and is more lethal – hence the cry regarding unarmed shootings)?

I think more than anything, blacks as a people have attempted to move on, even in the face of hurdling over so many barriers specifically designed to keep us “socially shackled.” These barriers include having no resources after being freed, unfair housing practices, denial of equal education and employment and so on. We have moved on and just want equity, equality, and to be left alone. We would never have to respond to racism if it didn’t still exist.

It’s the part in the Lifetime movie when the captive escapes from the wooded cabin, finds the highway and flags the nearest car down; only to find out when they think they are safe, the driver just drives them right back to the windy pathway in the woods, taking them right back from where they escaped.

So we can all move beyond slavery only when it is identified by ALL as the root and foundation of current day racism. We can move on when there is widely accepted awareness and acknowledgement that we must take reformative actions as a nation to end accepted racist practices. I mean, we went as far as ending slavery, we can keep going.

As for my post-super bowl-Beyoncé-fallout attitude, Crystal and I revisited this conversation and discussed the “half-time show fall-out.” I asked most of the questions this time. The primary being: how do whites (in general) not know about wide-spread racism and its current impact? Even if it is not their burden to bear, how does it go unnoticed? How is it justified to lash out at a video and an entertaining performance and not have an outcry about hundreds of years of injustice and racism that still affect multiple groups of people of color to this day? I hate to answer a question with a question, but there it is.

I will have to break here and answer part two in a follow up blog, so stay tuned. Always love.

-Onnesha

Read Crystal’s blog for this conversation at the following link:

The “S” Word by Crystal Valentine

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