Canada does not have a Juneteenth celebration — and we don’t need one

Good reminder of the differences between Canada and the USA:

After the murder of George Floyd was captured and shared around the world last summer, many white communities found themselves thrust into what can best be defined as the Great White Awakening.

Prior to the killing of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery and many other Black victims also lost their lives to state-sponsored violence in 2020. But the eight-minute-and-46-second video of Floyd’s demise became the catalyst for a deluge of corporate and political anti-racism declarations.

The actual follow-through on those declarations has been largely inconsistent, but organizations and governments alike are still trying to find ways to appeal to the Black community. In North America, one publicized aspect of the outreach has been the institution of federal holidays to commemorate important dates in national (Black) history.

Source: Canada does not have a Juneteenth celebration — and we don’t need one

A Century After The Race Massacre, Tulsa Confronts Its Bloody Past

Of note:

It’s been 100 years since the Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst episodes of racial violence in U.S. history. An armed white mob attacked Greenwood, a prosperous Black community in Tulsa, Okla., killing as many as 300 people. What was known as Black Wall Street was burned to the ground.

“Mother, I see men with guns,” said Florence Mary Parrish, a small child looking out the window on the evening of May 31, 1921, when the siege began.

“And my great-grandmother was shushing her, saying, ‘I’m reading now, don’t bother me,'” says Anneliese M. Bruner, a descendant of the Parrish family. But the child became more insistent.

“And so, my great-grandmother put down her reading and went to see what her daughter was talking about. And indeed, the street was populated with people with guns,” Bruner says. “Bullets were flying everywhere and they fled trying to reach safety at a friend’s home.”

Bruner is able to tell the harrowing story today because her great-grandmother Mary E. Jones Parrish, a teacher and journalist, survived and documented the massacre in her self-published memoir, Events of the Tulsa Disaster.

Sitting on her porch in Washington, D.C., Bruner flips through the pages of her family’s copy which she keeps carefully stored in a plastic bag.

“The book is a small red volume, hardcover, somewhat worn,” Bruner says. “The pages are a little brittle.”

In the book, Parrish described her heroic escape from the angry mob, and her risky return to Greenwood to document the truth of what happened. She included photographs and eyewitness accounts from others, and also recounted the myriad obstacles to rebuilding imposed by the city of Tulsa. In the appendix of the red hardcover, Parrish recorded the value of the property destroyed or taken, including her own two apartments, and the secretarial school she operated.

But the book is more than just a historical account. It’s also Parrish’s plea for America to live up to the promise of democracy.

“My soul cries for justice,” she wrote. “How long will you let mob violence reign supreme?”

Bruner believes her great-grandmother’s words are a message for the nation today amid the quest for a racial reckoning. She’s worked to get the memoir republished in conjunction with the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre, The Nation Must Awake.

“How do you get past the trauma, the hurt, the pain, the fear, the chaos without truth?” asks Bruner, “and that is what Mary Jones Parrish brings — the truth.”

The scene was horrific a century ago when the armed white mob, fortified by law enforcement, descended on Greenwood, an all-Black district just north of downtown Tulsa. Two days of bloodshed and destruction ensued, by land and air. Despite efforts to protect their property, Black residents were outnumbered and outpowered. Eyewitnesses recalled the specter of men carrying flaming torches through the streets to set fire to homes and businesses. Then martial law, and the arrests and internment of thousands of African-Americans.

The massacre had been sparked by reports that a 19-year-old Black man had allegedly offended a 17-year-old white female elevator attendant. The murky incident got blown out of proportion by inflammatory newspaper accounts.

While events in Oklahoma over the next few weeks will seek to examine the legacy of the Tulsa Race Massacre 100 years later, it hasn’t always been that way. Historical records were mostly destroyed, and for decades it was called the Tulsa Race Riot, implying it was somehow a two-sided battle.

Tulsa — and the nation — have been slow to acknowledge the brutal reality of what happened back in 1921, and the lasting impact it’s had on Black families.

“This actually was something that was akin to an act of war where the country turned in on its own citizens,” says Tulsa descendant Annaliese Bruner.

In addition to the loss of life, there was more than $1 million in property losses which would amount to more than $20 million today. Before the massacre, the Greenwood district was considered one of the most affluent all-Black communities in the country, a mecca for African-American culture, business and prosperity.

“It was a community of self-sufficient people,” Bruner says. “They had a great sense of themselves and their place in the world — exercising their agency and full rights and responsibilities of citizenship.”

A heritage to be proud of, yet a heritage Bruner didn’t learn about until she was in her 30s, she says, when on a visit to her father in California, he gave her the little red book and revealed this part of her family’s history.

“I was speechless, stunned, amazed, proud, sad. I was grief stricken,” she says.

It helped explain some of the trauma in her family. For instance, her grandmother who escaped the massacre as a young child struggled with alcoholism.

Bruner, an editor in her early 60s, has been on coronavirus pandemic lockdown with her grown children over the last year, so they’ve had time to consider the legacy of Tulsa and the family’s heritage.

“To be the descendent of a survivor, and then for that survivor to have the presence of mind to write that down and to have the clarity of thought for it to be so detailed, so meticulously put together, is just the source of pride,” says Kevin Hurtt, Bruner’s 33-year-old son, a biologist and science teacher.

In earlier generations the story of Tulsa was rarely passed down from victims to descendants because of fear of retribution, and Bruner suspects perhaps even some shame for having endured such abuse. Hence the long-kept secret.

Bruner’s daughter, Portia Hurtt, is a 31-year-old lawyer. She finds it hard to contemplate that not only her family, but everyone who lived in Greenwood was disinherited from what their ancestors had built there.

“Looking back now, I know how the story ends,” she says, fighting back tears. “This can be a theme in African-American families where you have to do everything right. And if something comes along and derails you, that can reverberate through generations.”

Anneliese Bruner says that the country needs to be humble and acknowledge what the Tulsa Race Massacre did to African Americans, otherwise, there is no moving forward.

“There are people whose psyche is still affected generationally, trauma after trauma, after trauma just continues to build on itself,” Bruner says. “And none of it gets resolved if you’re in a system that sometimes has the unequal application of law and or opportunity.”

Bruner sees a toxic line from Tulsa to violence against Black people today, and says the same questions apply.

“Who’s going to be held accountable?” she asks. “Are reparations going to be made? Is there going to be any official admission of responsibility?”

In 1997 the state legislature created what was called the “Oklahoma Commission to study the Tulsa Race Riot of 1921,” and it published its final report in 2001. It found that the city of Tulsa had conspired to destroy Greenwood.

“This Commission fully understands that it is neither judge nor jury. We have no binding legal authority to assign culpability, to determine damages, to establish a remedy, or to order either restitution or reparations,” commissioners wrote. Though the report also suggested that reparations to the Greenwood community “would be good public policy and do much to repair the emotional and physical scars of this terrible incident in our shared past.”

According to the commission’s report, the massacre destroyed some 40-square blocks in Greenwood. Nearly 10,000 people were left homeless as 1,256 homes were looted and burned down. And the thriving commercial district was destroyed — some of the finest Black-owned and operated businesses in the country, including hotels, restaurants, grocery stores, a theatre, a roller skating rink, hospitals and doctors’ offices, law firms, churches and realtors.

Commissioners suggested reparations such as direct payments to “riot survivors and descendants,” a scholarship fund and a memorial, among other things.

“When you talk about reparations, the challenge is that it means different things to different people,” Tulsa Mayor GT Bynum says.

“There is an acknowledgement that Black Tulsans have not had the same shot at success and a great life that white Tulsans have had over the last hundred years,” Bynum says.

Bynum, who is white, says while there’s public support for addressing disparities, resistance to cash reparations runs deep.

“Where does that come from?” he asks. “It would necessarily have to come from a tax levied on this generation of Tulsans and the idea of financially penalizing this generation of Tulsans for something criminals did 100 years ago, that’s a hard thing to ask.”

But survivors and their descendants are asking. A lawsuit against the city is seeking a host of reparations including financial compensation, tax abatement, mental health services, and restitution to include the redistribution of land to the families of Greenwood’s original landowners.

“We’re really trying to get solutions and justice that’s going to change these socio-economic statistics that we’ve been living with for the last 100 years,” says Tulsa attorney Damario Solomon-Simons.

He’s the founder of the Justice for Greenwood Foundation, and represents the three known living survivors of the Race Massacre, who testified before Congress last week. A House Judiciary subcommittee is revisiting legal and policy measures to compensate survivors, their descendants, and Tulsa’s greater Black community.

Solomon-Simmons believes the pushback on reparations is rooted in the country’s historical notion of race, and the view, dating to slavery, that Black citizens aren’t entitled to the same rights as white citizens.

“It is a remnant of a badge of slavery,” Solomon-Simmons says. “Anybody that does not believe in truth, justice and reparations for the people of Greenwood, then you don’t believe in truth, justice and equity — period.”

He says part of the difficulty in getting the white establishment on board in Tulsa is that their families directly benefited from the massacre, and in some cases participated in it.

“They don’t want to discuss the real aspects of it,” he says. “Because then they’re talking about their fathers, their grandfathers, their uncles.”

Earlier this month, in a controversial move, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre Centennial Commission removed Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt from the panel after he signed legislation that would ban the teaching of certain concepts about race in state schools. Commission members were vocal in their opposition, arguing the law would undermine efforts to teach Oklahoma’s race history, including the truth about what happened in Tulsa.

For descendant Anneliese Bruner, coming to terms with that truth is the key to accountability. A belief she says was reinforced as she watched the Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol, happening just a few miles from her home.

“It was a frightening prospect,” she says. “Knowing what I know about what happened in Tulsa when, as my great grandmother called it, King Mob was in charge.”

Bruner says the nation, and in particular Black Americans, should not be living with that same fear 100 years after the Tulsa Race Massacre.

Source: A Century After The Race Massacre, Tulsa Confronts Its Bloody Past

In Likely First, Chicago Suburb Of Evanston Approves Reparations For Black Residents

Interesting practical and focussed approach:

The city of Evanston, Ill., will make reparations available to eligible Black residents for what it describes as harm caused by “discriminatory housing policies and practices and inaction on the city’s part.” The program is believed to be the first of its kind in the U.S. and is seen by advocates as a potential national model.

Evanston’s City Council voted 8-1 on Monday to approve the Local Reparations Restorative Housing Program, an official confirmed to NPR over email. It will grant qualifying households up to $25,000 for down payments or home repairs, according to the city, and is the first initiative of a city reparations fund that was established in 2019.

“The Program is a step towards revitalizing, preserving, and stabilizing Black/African-American owner-occupied homes in Evanston, increasing homeownership and building the wealth of Black/African-American residents, building intergenerational equity amongst Black/African-American residents, and improving the retention rate of Black/African-American homeowners in the City of Evanston,” reads a draft of the resolution.

In November 2019, the City Council established a reparations fundto support initiatives addressing historical wealth and opportunity gaps for Black residents, to be funded by the first $10 million in revenue from the city’s tax on the sale of recreational marijuana. The housing program is initially budgeted at $400,000.

Robin Rue Simmons, an alderwoman and architect of the reparations program, told NPR in 2019 that the plan aimed to solve a pair of problems facing the community: Black residents being disproportionately arrested for infractions involving marijuana possession, as well as being priced out of their homes.

“We have a large and unfortunate gap in wealth, opportunity, education, even life expectancy,” she said. “The fact that we have a $46,000 gap between census tract 8092, which is the historically red-line neighborhood that I live in and was born in, and the average white household led me to pursue a very radical solution to a problem that we have not been able to solve: reparations.”

Housing as a top priority

City officials wrote that affordable housing and economic development were the top priorities identified in a series of meetings with community members about what those reparations should look like. Historical evidence made clear the connection between the city’s actions and the suffering they caused, the officials added.

“The strongest case for reparations by the City of Evanston is in the area of housing, where there is sufficient evidence showing the City’s part in housing discrimination as a result of early City zoning ordinances in place between 1919 and 1969, when the City banned housing discrimination,” they wrote.

As part of their fact-finding effort, officials commissioned a historical report on city policies and practices affecting Black residents from 1900 to 1960 and through the present day. The 77-page report, written by Dino Robinson Jr. of the Shorefront Legacy Center and Jenny Thompson of the Evanston History Center, detailed decades of segregationist and discriminatory practices in areas including housing, employment, education and policing.

The authors wrote that in addition to impacting the daily lives and well-being of thousands of city residents, such policies dictated their occupations, wealth, education and property in ways that shaped their families for generations.

“While the policies, practices, and patterns may have evolved over the course of these generations, their impact was cumulative and permanent,” the authors wrote. “They were the means by which legacies were limited and denied.”

To qualify for the program, eligible Black residents must either have lived in Evanston between 1919 and 1969 or be a direct descendant of someone who did. According to program guidelines, people who do not meet these criteria may apply if they can prove they faced housing discrimination due to city policies or practices after 1969.

City officials plan to implement the program in the early-to-mid summer and say more details will be made available before then.

The national conversation about reparations

The program has the endorsement of national racial justice organizations that advocate for reparations, including the National Coalition of Blacks for Reparations in America and the National African American Reparations Commission, the city said.

Advocates hope it will boost similar redress efforts in other parts of the country. Ron Daniels, the president of NAARC, told The Washington Post that “right now the whole world is looking at Evanston, Illinois.”

Dreisen Heath, a racial justice advocate and researcher with Human Rights Watch, wrote in a Twitter thread that while “local remedy is not a replacement for federal action,” it is still important given the harms inflicted on Black communities by various levels of government.

“What happened in [Evanston] today is historic & will help provide a pathway for other cities,” Heath wrote. “It should be treated as such, knowing there is a long way to go for the city of Evanston and the country at large.”

Still, the program is not without its critics.

The dissenting vote on the City Council came from Cicely Fleming, an alderwoman who is Black and who traces her Evanston lineage to the early 1900s. In a lengthy statement, she said she is fully in support of reparations but denounced the initiative as “a housing plan dressed up” as such.

She said the plan allows only limited participation and does not grant enough autonomy to the community that has been harmed — unlike cash payments, for example, which she said allow people to decide what’s best for themselves. (According to the city’s website, it does not have the authority to exempt direct payments from state or federal income taxes, meaning recipients of any such stipends would be liable for the tax burden.)

Some of Fleming’s other criticisms are that the proposal is being rushed to a vote without enough time for community members’ concerns to be voiced and resolved and that its limited scope does not do enough to lay the groundwork for longer-term efforts.

“We can talk more about the program details, but I reject the very definition of this as a ‘reparations’ program,’ ” she said in her remarks. “Until the structure and terms are in the hands of the people – we have missed the mark.”

The program’s approval comes as the topic of reparations — for the harms of slavery and ensuing generations of racial discrimination — continues to gain traction and spark debate in American society.

An opinion poll released last August, following a summer marked by nationwide protests against racial injustice, found that 80% of Black Americans believed the federal government should compensate the descendants of enslaved people, compared with 21% of white Americans.

Several places across the U.S. are considering reparations initiatives of their own, including Amherst, Mass., Asheville, N.C. and Iowa City, Iowa.

Reparations are also a topic of conversation at the federal level, where HR 40, legislation proposing the creation of a commission to study and develop reparations proposals for Black Americans, has attracted renewed interest since its introduction in 2019.

White House press secretary Jen Psaki has said that President Biden supports the idea of studying the issue but did not say whether he would sign such a bill if passed by Congress.

Source: In Likely First, Chicago Suburb Of Evanston Approves Reparations For Black Residents

Black Microbiologists Push for Visibility Amid a Pandemic

Of note, particularly important given disparities in health and healthcare:

A few days before her fifth-grade science fair, Ariangela Kozik awoke to the overwhelming scent of poultry past its due. It was exactly what the young scientist had been hoping for.

“Whew,” she recalled thinking at the time. “There is definitely something growing in here.’”

She rushed into her kitchen, where a neat stack of glass Petri dishes awaited her, each filled with a gelatinous brown disk made of beef broth and sugar. Atop many of the cow-based concoctions was a smattering of what looked like shiny, cream-colored pimples. Each was a fast-ballooning colony, teeming with millions and millions of bacteria, including several from the swab of raw chicken juice she had dabbed on three days before.

Dr. Kozik, then just 11, had set up an experiment to determine what brand of dish soap was best at killing bacteria. (The answer: Joy dishwashing liquid.) But her results yielded an even bigger reward: a lifelong love of microbes, exquisitely small organisms with an outsize impact on the world.

“It felt like I had just discovered a new form of life,” said Dr. Kozik, who is now a researcher at the University of Michigan, where she studies microbes that live in human lungs. “It was so cool.”

Two decades later, Dr. Kozik still considers her science fair project, for which she won first place, one of her first formal forays into the field of microbiology. In the months after her experiment, she devoured every book she could find on the topic, until she had worn her parents down with endless chatter about infectious disease. About 10 years later, she was on track toward a Ph.D., which she earned in 2018. And on Monday, she kicks off Black in Microbiology Week, the latest in a series of virtual events highlighting Black scientists in a variety of disciplines, as one of its two lead organizers.

Like earlier, similar events, Black in Microbiology Week will be hosted entirely through virtual platforms like Twitter and Zoom. The event will feature seven days of talks, panels and online discussions, spanning a range of topics under the microbiology umbrella, including the coronavirus, and addressing disparities in medicine, education and career advancement. Everything is free and accessible to the public, and will be live-captioned. Registration is required to attend.

“This is really a chance to welcome new voices and amplify those that have not been heard,” said Michael D. L. Johnson, a microbiologist and immunologist at the University of Arizona who will take part in Friday’s Black in Bacteriology panel.

For Doctors of Color, Microaggressions Are All Too Familiar

Of note:

When Dr. Onyeka Otugo was doing her training in emergency medicine, in Cleveland and Chicago, she was often mistaken for a janitor or food services worker even after introducing herself as a doctor. She realized early on that her white male counterparts were not experiencing similar mix-ups.

“People ask me several times if the doctor is coming in, which can be frustrating,” said Dr. Otugo, who is now an emergency medicine attending physician and health policy fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. “They ask you if you’re coming in to take the trash out — stuff they wouldn’t ask a physician who was a white male.”

After years of training in predominantly white emergency departments, Dr. Otugo has experienced many such microaggressions. The term, coined in the 1970s by Dr. Chester Pierce, a psychiatrist, refers to “subtle, stunning, often automatic, and nonverbal exchanges which are ‘put downs’” of Black people and members of other minority groups; “micro” refers to their routine frequency, not the scale of their impact. Dr. Otugo said the encounters sometimes made her wonder whether she was a qualified and competent medical practitioner, because others did not see her that way.

Other Black women doctors, across specialties, said that such experiences were all too common. Dr. Kimberly Manning, an internal medicine doctor at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, recalled countless microaggressions in clinical settings. “People might not realize you’re offended, but it’s like death by a thousand paper cuts,” Dr. Manning said. “It can cause you to shrink.”

The field of medicine has long skewed white and male. Only 5 percent of the American physician work force is African-American, and roughly 2 percent are Black women. Emergency medicine is even more predominantly white, with just 3 percent of physicians identifying as Black. The pipeline is also part of the problem; at American medical schools, just 7 percent of the student populationis now Black.

But for Black female physicians, making it into the field is only the first of many challenges. More than a dozen Black women interviewed said that they frequently heard comments from colleagues and patients questioning their credibility and undermining their authority while on the job. These experiences damaged their sense of confidence and sometimes hampered teamwork, they said, creating tensions that cost precious time during emergency procedures.

Some physicians said they found the microaggressions particularly frustrating knowing that, as Black doctors, they brought an invaluable perspective to the care they offer. A 2018 study showed that Black patients had improved outcomes when seen by Black doctors, and were more likely to agree to preventive care measures like diabetes screenings and cholesterol tests.

In May, four female physicians of color published a paper in Annals of Emergency Medicine on microaggressions. The authors, Dr. Melanie Molina, Dr. Adaira Landry, Dr. Anita Chary and Dr. Sherri-Ann Burnett-Bowie, said they hoped that, by shining a spotlight on the problem, they might reduce the sense of isolation that Black female physicians experience and compel their white colleagues to take specific steps toward eliminating conscious and unconscious bias.

Discussions about lack of diversity in medicine resurfaced in early August, when the Journal of the American Heart Association retracted a paper that argued against affirmative action initiatives in the field and said that Black and Hispanic trainees were less qualified than their white and Asian counterparts.

Dr. Phindile Chowa, 33, an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Emory University, was in her second year of an emergency-medicine residency when an attending in her department mistook her for an electrocardiogram technician, even though she had previously worked with him on rotations. She approached him to give a report on her patients, and he wordlessly put out his hand, expecting her to hand over an electrocardiogram scan.

“He never apologized,” Dr. Chowa said. “He did not think he did a single thing wrong that day. I was the only Black resident in my class. How could he not know who I am?”

The derogatory encounters continued from there. Colleagues have referred to her as “sweetie” or “honey.” She recalled one patient who asked repeatedly who she was over the course of a hospital visit, while quickly learning the name of her white male attending physician. When she was first admitted to her residency, at Harvard, a medical school classmate suggested that she had had an “edge” in the selection process because of her race.

Such comments can create an environment of fear for Black women. Dr. Otugo recalled overhearing her Black female colleagues in Chicago discuss how they were going to style their hair for their clerkships. Many of them worried that if they wore their hair naturally, instead of straightening it or even changing it to lighter colors, their grades and performance evaluations from white physicians might suffer.

Dr. Sheryl Heron, a Black professor of emergency medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, who has worked in the field for more than two decades, said microaggressions can exact a long-lasting toll. “After the twelve-thousandth time, it starts to impede your ability to be successful,” she said. “You start to go into scenarios about your self-worth. It’s a head trip.”

This comes on top of the stresses that are already pervasive in emergency departments. A 2018 survey of more than 1,500 early-career doctors in emergency medicine found that 76 percent were experiencing symptoms of burnout.

But Black women doctors said they have seen how Black patients rely on their presence to get the best care. Monique Smith, a physician in Oakland, Calif., was working in the emergency room one night when a young Black man came in with injuries from a car accident. She was confused when some of her colleagues called him a “troublemaker,” so she visited the patient’s bed and asked him about his experience being admitted. He told her that he had begun to lash out when he felt he was being stereotyped by staff members because of his skin color and the neighborhood he came from.

“I was able to go into the room and say, ‘Hey dude, Black person to Black person, what’s up?’” Dr. Smith said. “Then I advocated for him and made sure he got streamlined care.”

The conversation made Dr. Smith more attuned to the degrading comments that Black patients experience at hospitals, and she now tries to intervene and identify her colleagues’ biases. She believes, for example, that physicians are sometimes quicker to order drug testing for Black patients, even if their symptoms are most likely unrelated to substance abuse.

But many Black physicians find it challenging to be advocates for themselves and their patients, particularly within the rigid hierarchies of the medical system. “You’re faced with situations where you’re going to be perceived as the angry Black woman even though you’re just being your own advocate,” said Dr. Katrina Gipson, an emergency medicine physician. “You’re constantly walking the line of how to be a consummate professional.”

Dr. Landry, an author of the recent paper and an emergency medicine physician at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said that hospital and residency directors who are looking to address the deep-rooted problem should begin with hearing and validating the personal experiences of Black doctors. Continuing to diversify emergency medicine departments is also critical, she added, so that Black physicians are not working in isolation to implement cultural changes and arrange mentorship from more senior Black colleagues.

“I’m the only African-American female physician faculty member in my department, and that creates this feeling of not having a support system to speak up when something happens to you,” Dr. Landry said. “Having this paper is a validating tool for people to say, ‘See, I’m not the only one this is happening to.’”

Dr. Molina, an emergency medicine resident at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and one of the paper’s authors, said that spotlighting diversity in medicine was particularly important amid a pandemic that disproportionately impacts Black patients. “The Covid pandemic has served to emphasize health disparities and how they impact Black populations,” she said. “As emergency physicians, we have to present a united front recognizing racism is a public health issue.”

 

Discrimination may contribute to decline of ‘birthweight advantage’ in black immigrants

Striking and disturbing findings from Florida. Contrast between Blacks and Latinos also striking:

Black women have the highest prevalence of low birthweight babies compared to other racial and ethnic groups, but black immigrants typically have much better outcomes than their U.S.-born counterparts. Yet, little has been known about whether this “healthy immigrant” effect persists across generations.

According to a new study published by Princeton University researchers, the substantial “birthweight advantage” experienced by the foreign-born black population is lost within a single generation. In contrast, a modest advantage among foreign-born Hispanics persists across generations.

The authors suspect discrimination and inequality in the U.S. may be a contributing factor to this decline. Experiences of interpersonal discrimination, both before and during pregnancy, are likely to trigger physiological stress responses that negatively affect birth outcomes, they said.

The study, published in Epidemiology, has important public health implications given that low birthweight is a significant predictor of a broad range of health and socioeconomic outcomes throughout one’s life. The findings also underscore the potential role of discrimination in producing racial and intergenerational disparities in birth outcomes.

The research was conducted by Noreen Goldman, the Hughes-Rogers Professor of Demography and Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, and first author Theresa Andrasfay, who received her Ph.D. from Princeton’s Program in Population Studies.

Motivated by an earlier study of a small number of black immigrants in Illinois in the 1950-1970s, the researchers felt that conclusions regarding intergenerational changes in birthweight warranted a larger sample based on recent data in a popular immigrant destination state.

The authors analyzed administrative records from 1971 to 2015 in Florida, which receives a large number of black immigrants from the Caribbean. They linked several hundred thousand birth records of daughters to those of their mothers. This allowed them to compare birthweights of daughters born to foreign-born and U.S.-born mothers with the birthweights of their granddaughters. The study provides estimates of these intergenerational changes in birthweight for white, Hispanic, and black women.

The results point to what the researchers call a large foreign-born advantage among blacks: 7.8% of daughters born to foreign-born black women are low birthweight (under 2,500 grams or 5.5 pounds) compared to 11.8% among U.S.-born black women. But, whereas foreign-born Hispanic women maintain a birthweight advantage in the next generation, black women see this advantage essentially eliminated with the birth of their granddaughters. These granddaughters are more than 50% more likely than their mothers to be low birthweight. In contrast, the increase in low birthweight prevalence between daughters and granddaughters of U.S.-born black women is only about 10%, which is more in line with national increases in low birthweight over the same time period.

Andrasfay and Goldman were surprised by the rapidity with which the foreign-born advantage among black women was lost. After only one generation spent in the U.S., the prevalence of low birthweight is almost as high among the granddaughters of foreign-born black women as among the granddaughters of U.S.-born black women (12.2% vs. 13.1%) and is considerably higher for both groups of black infants than for white and Hispanic babies.

The authors identified an equally striking finding with regard to differences in low birthweight by level of schooling. Contrary to the pattern found among all other racial and ethnic groups, foreign-born black women are about as likely to have a low birthweight daughter if they have low or high levels of schooling. However, in the next generation, the prevalence of low birthweight declines as maternal education increases. This likely reflects a difference in the context in which mothers received their education.

In the U.S., mothers with less than high school education are disadvantaged in multiple ways, but women who obtained this same level of schooling before immigrating to the U.S. were likely relatively advantaged in their origin countries.”

Theresa Andrasfay, First Author

The authors controlled for socioeconomic and health-related risk factors, including characteristics of women’s neighborhoods that varied among racial, ethnic, and nativity groups, but these factors did not account for their findings. They concluded that the high frequency of low birthweight babies among blacks, and the increase from daughters to granddaughters among black immigrants, were likely both due to exposure to discrimination and inequality. “Unfortunately,” said Goldman, “high quality measures of discrimination are notoriously difficult to obtain.”

The researchers note several limitations of the study. The study is based on birth records from only one state, Florida, and in order to observe multiple generations within the same family, the study was restricted to families in which both daughters and granddaughters were born in Florida. Though the main analysis used only female births, there is evidence that the findings extend to male births. Nevertheless, their study has important implications.

“Though black immigrants currently make up a small share of the population, their numbers are growing,” said Andrasfay. “This growth emphasizes the importance of understanding how their health evolves with time in the U.S. to better understand future disparities.”

“Foreign-born blacks may experience less prejudice than their U.S.-born peers because they have spent part of their lives in majority black countries where discrimination may be less severe than in the U.S.,” said Goldman. “In contrast, their children spend their entire lives in a more racialized social environment than found in the Caribbean, which could explain the worsening of birth outcomes between generations.”

“This study also underscores the need for more research,” said Goldman, “both to develop better measures of interpersonal discrimination and to identify epigenetic mechanisms that link social stressors to birth outcomes among black women.”

The paper, “Intergenerational change in birthweight: effects of foreign-born status and race/ethnicity,” was published online in Epidemiology on June 1 and will be featured in the September print edition.

Source: Discrimination may contribute to decline of ‘birthweight advantage’ in black immigrants

The ‘Ferociously Contested’ Story of How Blackness Became a Legal Identity

Interesting historical account:

How did Africans become “blacks” in the Americas?

Those who were forced into the ships of the infamous slave trade probably thought of themselves using ethnic and territorial terms that have been lost to us. But across the ocean, enslavers and local elites lumped Africans of many different backgrounds into a single category of debasement, “n—–s,” and sustained this category through laws that regulated freedom.

But the creation of racial identity through legal means took some surprising turns.

From the beginning, enslaved people and free people of African ancestry used those same laws to claim freedom and citizenship for themselves and their loved ones. They created spaces for communities where “blackness” and freedom were not only possible, but foundational.

Although free people of color were few in number compared to enslaved people, and lived on the margins of plantation societies in many ways, the contests over their identities, status, and rights were the terrain on which race was made. Legal contests over freedom determined whether and how it was possible to move from slave to free status, and whether claims of citizenship would be tied to racial identity.

By the early 18th century, Cuba, Virginia, and Louisiana (all colonies themselves, of the Spanish, British, and French Empires, respectively), had legal regimes that constituted blackness as a debased category equivalent to enslavement. But 150 years later, by the mid-19th century, the social implications of blackness in each of these regions were fundamentally different.

In Cuba in the 1850s, a free man of color could marry a white woman, attend public school, and participate in a religious association that gave him opportunities to be part of public life. But, in 1850s Louisiana or Virginia, a free man of color saw his churches and schools being shut down, faced prosecution for marrying across the color line, and ran the risk of being kidnapped, imprisoned, and even re-enslaved for remaining in the state in which he was born.

In Louisiana or Virginia, when a person sought to prove in court that he was not a person of color, he would bring evidence of civic acts, because citizenship and whiteness were so closely linked in political thought and legal doctrine that a citizen must be a white man, and only a white man could be a citizen. In Cuba, similar conduct was not necessarily incompatible with blackness.

The key to understanding these divergent trajectories lies in the law of freedom. Different approaches to freedom were rooted in various legal traditions. The right to manumission, for example, was firmly entrenched in the Spanish law of slavery, and so in Cuba manumission, or release from slavery, was not tied to race, a crucial difference from both Louisiana and Virginia.

One turning point in this story was the Age of Revolution. The populations of free people of color, who claimed freedom in rising numbers, exploded in all three jurisdictions, and the example of the Haitian Revolution inspired the enslaved as it struck fear in the hearts of enslavers.

In Cuba in the 1850s, a free man of color could marry a white woman, attend public school, and participate in a religious association that gave him opportunities to be part of public life. But, in 1850s Louisiana or Virginia, a free man of color saw his churches and schools being shut down, faced prosecution for marrying across the color line, and ran the risk of being kidnapped, imprisoned, and even re-enslaved for remaining in the state in which he was born.

But the expansion of freedom meant different things in the Spanish empire and in the U.S. republic. Communities of people of color in Cuba and Spanish Louisiana owed their existence to legal understandings and customary practices anchored in traditions of the ancien regime. Enslaved people who managed to purchase their freedom or, more rarely, obtained manumission through other means, became members of highly stratified societies. Black freedom did not imply social equality and republican rights.

By contrast, in Virginia during the Age of Revolution, the expansion of manumission, and the increase in freedom lawsuits, were tied to questions of citizenship, and of black participation in the new political order under conditions of equality. Enslaved and free people of color alike infused these questions with a sense of urgency, as they made use of every available legal loophole to purchase or make claims for their own freedom. Their actions produced dramatic results: by the early 19th century, the proportion of free people of color in Virginia had increased significantly.

Virginia’s white citizens witnessed these trends with horror and petitioned to outlaw manumissions. It was, literally, a reactionary request: to restore the colonial law of freedom. The 1806 law requiring freed slaves to leave the state fell short of that goal, but marked the first step towards a social order in which blacks could only exist as slaves.

After Nat Turner’s rebellion in 1831, whites’ political will to exclude free blacks intensified. Slaveholding states in the U.S. South responded to threats of rebellion, and to Northern abolitionists’ demands for immediate emancipation, with a defense of slavery as a positive good: the best possible condition for debased “Negroes.” To galvanize the support of non-slaveholding whites, Southerners cemented white solidarity by defining citizenship and voting rights along racial lines.

This movement created a paradox: egalitarian democracy would go hand-in-hand with the expansion of racist practices and ideologies. As slaveholders appealed to non-slaveholders with the promise of broad citizenship rights for all white men, free people of color became increasingly anomalous, and even dangerous to the polity. That is why colonization efforts that sought to remove free blacks to a distant location in Africa prospered in 19th-century Virginia and Louisiana (which changed hands to the United States in 1803), but not in Cuba.

That is also why Virginia and Louisiana acted in the 19th century, especially in the 1850s, to end the possibility of manumission, self-purchase, or freedom suits. By 1860, free people of color in Virginia and Louisiana were increasingly forced to leave the state upon emancipation or to live under threat of prosecution. A few even chose “voluntary” re-enslavement in order to remain with their families.

Free people of color continued to claim freedom in court, and fought tenaciously for the basic rights to a homeland, to remain close to friends and kin, and to live in their communities of origin. Yet they saw their militia and schools shut down, and their churches survived only under white leadership. Increasingly contested battles in court over racial identity attested to the growing anxiety over black citizenship and the need to prove whiteness in order to claim basic rights.

By 1860, Cuba had diverged significantly from Louisiana and Virginia—not in its legal regime of slavery, but rather in its regime of race. Enslaved people in Cuba took advantage of legal reforms that were not intended for their benefit to carve out greater freedoms for themselves. But in Virginia and Louisiana, where the status of communities of color was reduced to something closer to slavery. Race rather than enslavement became the true “impassable barrier,” in the words of Justice Roger B. Taney. In Cuba, where free people of color could be rights-bearing subjects, enslavement was the dividing line.

Laws regulating free people of color also served as a template for post-emancipation societies seeking ways to keep black people in their place. Slavery laws did not translate forward in the same way that regulations based on race did. When Southerners sought to restore the antebellum order after the Civil War, they could not re-impose slavery, but they passed Black Codes whose language echoed the laws regarding free people of color almost exactly. Under the Black Codes, freedmen could enter into contracts, own property, and appear in court on their own behalf. But in myriad other ways, their lives were constricted, just as they would have been if emancipated before 1861.

In the U.S., laws limiting the immigration of free people of color from one state into the other were the first immigration restrictions. These statutes echo into the 20th century—and to the present day—in limitations on the right to immigrate into the U.S. based on racial and national identity. In Cuba, on the other hand, legal racial barriers came under increasing attack even before final emancipation in 1886. In the 1880s, limitations on interracial marriages were eliminated and racial segregation in public services and education was outlawed. These changes were an imperial imperative. As the colonial state of Spain sought to retain control over its restive colony of Cuba, it had to cultivate the political support of the free black population. By 1898, the island’s short-lived political regime of “autonomy” recognized black males as voting subjects with equal rights.

The transition from black slavery to black citizenship was neither linear nor preordained. It was as contentious and ferociously contested a process in Cuba as it was in Virginia and Louisiana. But the new struggles for standing and citizenship took place against the backdrop of significantly different legal regimes of race. From being enslaved to being a citizen, the connecting tissue before and after emancipation for black people was not “from slave to citizen,” but from black to black.

Source: The ‘Ferociously Contested’ Story of How Blackness Became a Legal Identity

Racial divide of COVID-19 patients in U.S. grows even starker as new data suggests disproportionate black patients

Yet more evidence and advocacy:

As a clearer picture emerges of COVID-19’s decidedly deadly toll on black Americans, leaders are demanding a reckoning of the systemic policies they say have made many African Americans far more vulnerable to the virus, including inequity in access to health care and economic opportunity.

A growing chorus of medical professionals, activists and political figures are pressuring the federal government to not just release comprehensive racial demographic data of the country’s coronavirus victims, but also to outline clear strategies to blunt the devastation on African Americans and other communities of colour.

On Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released its first breakdown of COVID-19 case data by race, showing that 30% of patients whose race was known were black. The federal data was missing racial information for 75% of all cases, however, and did not include any demographic breakdown of deaths.

The latest Associated Press analysis of available state and local data shows that nearly one-third of those who have died are African American, with black people representing about 14% of the population in the areas covered in the analysis.

Roughly half the states, representing less than a fifth of the nation’s COVID-19 deaths, have yet to release demographic data on fatalities. In states that have, about a quarter of the death records are missing racial details.

Health conditions that exist at higher rates in the black community – obesity, diabetes and asthma – make African Americans more susceptible to the virus. They also are more likely to be uninsured, and often report that medical professionals take their ailments less seriously when they seek treatment.

“It’s America’s unfinished business – we’re free, but not equal,” civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson told the AP. “There’s a reality check that has been brought by the coronavirus, that exposes the weakness and the opportunity.”

This week, Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition and the National Medical Association, a group representing African American physicians and patients, released a joint public health strategy calling for better COVID-19 testing and treatment data. The groups also urged officials to provide better protections for incarcerated populations and to recruit more African Americans to the medical field.

Jackson also expressed support for a national commission to study the black COVID-19 toll modelled after the Kerner Commission, which studied the root causes of race riots in African American communities in the 1960s and made policy recommendations to prevent future unrest.

Daniel Dawes, director of Morehouse College’s School of Medicine’s Satcher Health Leadership Institute, said America’s history of segregation and policies led to the racial health disparities that exist today.

“If we do not take an appreciation for the historical context and the political determinants, then we’re only merely going to nibble around the edges of the problem of inequities,” he said.

The release of demographic data for the country’s coronavirus victims remains a priority for many civil rights and public health advocates, who say the numbers are needed to address disparities in the national response to the pandemic.

The AP analysis, based on data through Thursday, found that of the more than 21,500 victims whose demographic data was known and disclosed by officials, more than 6,350 were black, a rate of nearly 30%. African Americans account for 14.2% of the 241 million people who live in the areas covered by the analysis, which encompasses 24 states and the cities of Washington D.C., Houston, Memphis, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia – places where statewide data was unavailable.

The nation had recorded more than 33,000 deaths as of Thursday.

In some areas, Native American communities also have been hit hard. In New Mexico, Native Americans account for nearly 37% of the state’s 1,484 cases and about 11% of the state’s population. Of the 112 deaths where race is known in Arizona, 30 were Native Americans.

After Democratic lawmakers introduced legislation this week to try to compel federal health officials to post daily data breaking down cases and deaths by race, ethnicity and other demographics, the CDC released only caseload data that – similar to the AP’s analysis of deaths – show 30 per cent of 111,633 infected patients whose race is known were black. African American patients in the 45-to-64 and 65-to-74 age groups represented an even larger share of the national caseload.

The lawmakers sent a letter last month to Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar urging federal release of the demographic data. And Joe Biden, the former vice-president and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, also called for its release.

Meanwhile, some black leaders have described the Trump administration’s response to COVID-19 as inadequate, after what they said was a hastily organized call with Vice-President Mike Pence and CDC Director Robert Redfield last week.

According to a recording of the call obtained by the AP, Redfield said the CDC has been collecting demographic data from death certificates but that the comprehensiveness of the data depends on state and local health departments, many of which are overburdened by virus response. No plan was offered to help health officials in hard-hit communities collect the data, leaders who were on the call said.

Kristen Clarke, president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which took part in the call, said African Americans “have every reason to be alarmed at the administration’s anemic response to the disproportionate impact that this crisis is having on communities of colour.”

Mistrust runs deep among residents in many communities.

St. Louis resident Randy Barnes is grappling not just with the emotional toll of losing his brother to the coronavirus, but also with the feeling that his brother’s case was not taken seriously.

Barnes said the hospital where his brother sought treatment initially sent him home without testing him and suggested he self-quarantine for 14 days. Five days later, his brother was back in hospital, where he was placed on a ventilator for two weeks. He died April 13. Barnes’ brother and his wife also were caring for an 88-year-old man in the same apartment, who died from the virus around the same time.

“Those people are not being tested. They’re not being cared for,” Barnes said.

Eugene Rush lives in one of the areas outside large urban cities that have been hit hard with coronavirus cases. He is a sergeant for the sheriff’s department in Michigan’s Washtenaw County, west of Detroit, where black residents account for 46% of the COVID-19 cases but represent only 12% of the county’s population.

Rush, whose job includes community engagement, was diagnosed with COVID-19 near the end of March after what he initially thought was just a sinus infection. He had to be hospitalized twice, but is now on the mend at home, along with his 16-year-old son, who also was diagnosed with COVID-19.

“I had a former lieutenant for the city of Ypsilanti who passed while I was in the hospital and I had some fraternity brothers who caught the virus and were sick at the hospital,” Rush said. “At that point, I said, ‘Well, this is really, really affecting a lot of people’ and they were mostly African American. That’s how I knew that it was really taking a toll a little bit deeper in the African American community than I realized.”

Source: Racial divide of COVID-19 patients in U.S. grows even starker as new data suggests disproportionate black patients

How afrofuturism gives Black people the confidence to survive doubt and anti-Blackness

New term to me. Not sure whether fantasy or escapism is more effective than real people and role models although greater diversity in all forms of entertainment and culture important:

In 2018, Black people globally got a signal of hope when director Ryan Coogler and Marvel Studios released the critically acclaimed movie, Black Panther. While few knew of the Black Panther as a superhero despite the comic being released in the 1960s, millions now know of him because of the film’s overwhelming success.

Its success can be due, in part, because of what it tells us about Black people’s futures. Many Black people — seeking belonging and better outcomes for their lives — have turned to afrofuturism as the source of optimism. According to afrofuturist expert and author Ytasha Womack, afrofuturism refers to “an intersection of imagination, technology, the future and liberation … Afrofuturists redefine culture and notions of Blackness for today and the future by combining elements of science fiction, historical fiction, speculative fiction, fantasy, afrocentricity and magic realism with non-western beliefs.”

Black Panther had Black people chanting “Wakanda Forever,” while many imagined that they too could put on the Black Panther suit to gain a sense of belonging. Black people, including Canadians, believed that Wakanda, the utopian city where the Black Panther resides, is a real place. For Black Canadians, Wakanda offers a place that exists outside the harsh reality of an anti-Black white settler narrative that is anti-Black.

Black legal scholar Lolita Buckner Inniss says anti-Black racism is deeply enmeshed in the Canadian social fabric. Anti-Black racism cuts deep enough so that many, if not all, Black Canadians feel there is no hope for a better future.

Afrofuturism in cinema is but one source. Writer Nnedi Okorafor’s 2015 science fiction novella, Binti, features a Black woman protagonist named Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka. Binti is an intelligent woman leader of the Himba tribe whose genius gets her into to the prestigious Oomza University, which floats about the galaxy. Binti is the first member of the Himba ethnic people to attend the school. Her decision to attend is met with ridicule, laughter and threats to her life due to the fear and insecurities of her people.

Her people have never been allowed to imagine futures beyond their traditional way of life and identification with the land. Binti states:

We Himba don’t travel. We stay put. Our ancestral land is life; move away from it and you diminish. We even cover our bodies with it. Otjize is red land. Here in the launch port, most were Khoush and a few other non-Himba. Here, I was an outsider; I was outside.

She echoes the social challenges that Black people face when embarking upon new ways of living after leaving traditional family and cultural contexts. Often, their families and cultures pressure them to remain entrenched within the known confines of family, culture and community, rather than explore the new and unknown.

One of us, Anthony, was the first member of his immediate family to attend post-secondary education and graduate school. He wanted to apply to graduate school but had to fight internalized feelings of low self-worth that insisted he did not belong in academia. Indeed, a lack of self-confidence influenced the choice to avoid applying to programs that required a high grade-point average with a full scholarship because he did not believe he would be accepted.

Blazing a trail to a Black future

In her village, Binti had been one of the few who used knowledge to create peace in her tribe, so she had to overcome pressure to remain in the village in order to embrace new learning. On a spaceship, travelling from her village to the Oomza University, Binti as the only Himba at the university encounters another obstacle: the false assumption that people from her land are evil, dirty and primitive.

In one moment, one of the Khoush (a different lighter-skinned tribe) students touches Binti’s braids out of curiosity and without consent. Her hair is mixed with sweet smelling red clay and perfume called Otijze, which is connected to her cultural heritage. One of the Khoush students responds that it has a horrible smell, suggesting a passive discriminatory logic of sanitation.

One can observe strong echoes of the attitudes of privileged whites towards high-priority Black neighbourhoods whose inhabitants are stereotyped as criminal, irrational, impoverished and unintelligent. The book suggests that there is no such thing as neutral space and that structural inequities and racial inequalities make space and place difficult to navigate, especially in elitist environments.

But Binti is gripped by the challenge of the new. Her journey of self-discovery begins when she decides to leave village life, defying her ancestors’ dedication to their land and cultural identity. Binti explains that tribal knowledge was handed down orally as her father had taught her 300 years of oral lessons “about astrolabes including how they worked, the art of them, the true negotiation of them, the lineage … circuits, wire, metals, oils, heat, electricity, math current and sand bar.” Her mother had also transmitted mathematical insights and gifts, but never in formal educational settings. Family unity and protection were paramount.

Binti symbolizes the trailblazer who encounters politics, racism, stereotypes, ignorance, systemic inequalities, gender inequities, classism and so on. Additionally, she faces the strong pull of past traditions since she is the first member of her family and tribe to attend a formal educational institute.

Afrofuturism offers a way for Black people to envision their futures, as Missy Elliot’s futuristic music videos exemplify.

Some Black individuals living such stories will inevitably encounter feelings of isolation, lack of belonging and self-doubt. Their internal battles will pit self-trust and the drive towards the new against the safety and security of the past. They will have to develop a secure sense of self and an understanding that it does not matter how far they travel among the galaxies because everyone has unique gifts they can contribute to the universe.

Against the pull of anxieties and insecurities, Anthony graduated with a master’s degree and a PhD; he currently has a post-doctoral fellowship — yet is in another galaxy of his own among the stars.

Afro-Caribbean Black people living in white settler, colonized nations such as Canada face discrimination and negative stereotypes. Afrofuturism can enable Black communities to reimagine new possibilities, especially when the future trajectory for Black Canadians is at times uncertain.

Source: How afrofuturism gives Black people the confidence to survive doubt and anti-Blackness

The Case for a More Negative Black History Month

Canadian media coverage overwhelmingly celebrates the positive as well:

Black History Month is traditionally a time to honor black Americans and, theoretically, accord them their proper place in American history. Every February we re-examine the exemplary lives of Harriet Tubman, Charles Drew, Frederick Douglass and those of lesser known but truly significant leaders, artists, scientists, thinkers and others.

The occasion has always felt too narrow to me. We are eager to celebrate our favorite figures and their trailblazing achievements — Obama is the latest — but less eager to examine the fact that their heroism was based more often than not in fighting an American system that fought — and still fights — against their status as full Americans. Perhaps it’s because black people don’t want to ruin the Black History Month party and white people would rather not examine their role in the racism that made the month necessary in the first place. I’ve grumbled for years about the shortcomings I see but have always come down on the side of celebration. We deserve it.

But the party (though God knows we could use one) can’t be the point this time. In 2020, at this very perilous moment in the history of us all, it’s urgent that we turn the lens around, take it off the worthy black individuals and put it on America as a whole. It’s time to acknowledge what black history really reveals — not individual heroism or the endurance of democratic ideals, but their opposites. Time to examine what black history has always shown us: how hundreds of years of codified oppression, groupthink, hypocrisy, lies and political cowardice have made possible, and palatable, the political oppression and moral corruption of the current moment that threatens to wipe out democracy for everybody.

I don’t exaggerate. We’ve already had lots of alarmed post-mortems about the recently concluded Senate impeachment trial in which the Republicans united to ensure no witnesses were called. The party is increasingly recognized as a cult that serves not people — after all, 75 percent of Americans wanted to see more evidence — but its own interests. It is flaunting this self-interest openly, à la Trump, even suggesting that racist, crude or unconstitutional acts by the president are simply idiosyncrasies — or executive privilege — that are ultimately good for democracy. America appears to be, as Susan Sontag might have said, at the end of seriousness.

But we have been at this end before. We have always been here. The institution of slavery meant that the Constitution, for all its worthy prescriptions that Representative Adam Schiff defended so eloquently during the House trial, was going to be a document undermined from the beginning by the founders’ tacit embrace of that institution. Black history rooted in slavery means that the country was always going to have to make ugly compromises with its own ideals, a process that became normalized. The longevity of slavery meant that business and the pursuit of profit, not justice, would be the dominant force in American life and the real energy driving even the most optimistic notions of American exceptionalism. Put in this context, the cult of Trump is not new, just another compromise with our ideals, albeit a far-reaching one that looks particularly bad in the allegedly enlightened post-civil rights era of the 21st century.

The good news may be that America is finally feeling the embarrassment about the flaws in its national character that it should have felt 400 years ago. Embarrassment is not moral outrage, but it’s a start. The civil rights revolt of the ’60s was greatly aided by the images on television of police dogs and white officers attacking black protesters who were only seeking the right to sit at lunch counters and shop at department stores. It was bad public relations for America, and in the end, bad for business.

That was then. Embarrassment — forget moral outrage — is totally lacking now among Republicans, who willingly take their cues from a man incapable of feeling remorse or regret for any reason. Far from being embarrassed, the cult now seems to be saying that racism and corporate supremacy are, if not actually good for business, conditions we all can and perhaps should live with. Again, not new — we all lived with the economics of Jim Crow for a hundred years. But in 2020 the consequences of clinging to the status quo are incredibly far-reaching.

What we must come to grips with is that the arrogance and myopia that made our race-based social caste system possible, that allowed us to dishonor our Constitution and delude ourselves on a regular basis, are the same arrogance and myopia that are now threatening the well-being of the entire planet. Denying climate change is part and parcel of denying the corrosive effects of segregation. The point is that America is very good at making its own reality, which is another way of saying it has always tolerated — even welcomed — fake news and alternative facts for the sake of power and political convenience.

All this month, I’ve wondered: Would Harriet Tubman, et al, have been surprised at this state of affairs? I think not. Disappointed for sure, but not surprised; I doubt any black freedom fighter expected a country so wedded to inequality to significantly change in his or her lifetime or ours. Yet if we as a country don’t significantly change our view of our own history, which is framed in black history, there will be precious little in the future to celebrate.

Source: The Case for a More Negative Black History Month