S2:E5 Racial Reckoning
COMBING THE ROOTS PODCAST
By Ally Henny
Season 2, Episode 5
August 6, 2020
HENNY: This is Ally Henny and you’re listening to “Combing the Roots,” powered by The Witness – A Black Christian Collective. Well, we’re in a time of racial reckoning. Stay tuned to find out more.
HENNY: Heyyy! Well, it’s good to be back on another episode of “Combing the Roots.” I am excited to be here and talking with y’all today, and having the opportunity for y’all to hear some of my thoughts. I’m always so humbled just by your interaction, just by your comments, your likes, the fan mail that y’all send me – the emails – I say “fan mail,” that makes me feel really special today, “Oh, you got fan mail!” Like, there’s not like – the Post Office isn’t delivering mail to my house that’s fan mail. I mean, the Post Office is barely delivering my actual mail to my house, but nobody’s – I don’t have fan mail. But I do occasionally get some messages from people that are like, “Oh, Ally, this is wonderful!” I occasionally get some emails from some folks. So it’s definitely encouraging and it definitely gives me some, I guess, strength. It gives me some strength to keep fighting this fight and to keep going forward.
So I’m thankful for all of y’all: my listeners, the people who follow this podcast, the people who follow my work. I wouldn’t be able to do this without y’all – wouldn’t be able to do this, especially, without my patrons. I have a Patreon account, that’s just, it’s just my name. You can go on Patreon; for as little as $2 a month you can help support my work. And I try to give y’all some good benefits and stuff over there, try to give y’all some writings and some videos and that sort of thing. And it’s something that I really feel gratified by. Not so much – that sounds like, “I feel gratified by getting your money.” That’s not really – I don’t do it for the money, even though the money certainly is something that is helpful. But I do it because I am able to see, kind of ,you know, the impact that it makes on people.
And with that said, you know, Patreon – you’re supporting my work, and a lot of my Patreons, a lot of my patrons, rather, happen to be white people. You know, this podcast is geared – I try to gear, I try to speak to Black women. But there definitely are white folks that listen to this podcast, and there’s white folks that follow and support my work. And so whenever you’re a Black person or a person of color that follows my Patreon, I try to also have things that are resources that would help you in your activism and in validating your experiences. Because I think that that is really important, even as I might be educating white people.
And so with that said, you know, talking about validating experiences, and talking about validating and being able to give language, being able to equip Black people in their activism: I want to take some time to speak about this thing that’s been going on in our culture for the last – since May, so I guess it really has been maybe two or three months at this point. It’s been since April or May. But really, I say it’s been since April or May – this is just the latest wave of the new civil rights movement. Because it comes in cycles and waves. It’ll come – there’ll be a time whenever there’s heightened activism, when there’s heightened fervor on the issue of racial justice; and then something else will happen, it’ll get a few news cycles, and something else will happen, and so it will fade to the background, for the mainstream. For us, it’s often in the front of our minds; but for a lot of people in the mainstream, it’s kind of the issue of the moment, the flavor of the week, and then it’ll go away. And then unfortunately it takes another Black death, or another set of Black deaths, for it then to rise to media attention again. And I think I’ve said before that I think the cycle is getting quicker, and it’s happening faster. It feels like it’s happening more often, that there are less breaks between the cycle; but it’s happening.
And so we’re in this moment again. And I feel like this moment is a little bit different than previous moments. I think in previous moments there had kind of been a recognition; there had been racial recognition, but not reckoning.
And so at this point, we’re seeing a reckoning. And I say “reckoning,” but I mean – it is a reckoning with a lower-case R. It’s not like the big Reckoning, the big come-to-Jesus moment, if you will. It’s not that type of thing, I don’t think. I think that there’s a lot farther, there’s a lot more that can be done. But we’re seeing a moment when, racism – people are like, “OK,well, we need to fix that. We need to fix some of the things that we’ve done in the past.” So you’re seeing where old TV shows – where the producers, where the people who were even on some of these shows, where the parent company, people who are in charge of distribution of some of these shows – are saying, “We are going to cut out certain episodes.” So that happened with “30 Rock.” Tina Fey said – I’ve never seen “30 Rock” before, and I’m sure that some people are all, “What? You’ve never seen it?” but I did not. I’m not really a big comedy person anyway. I don’t – like a lot of like the mainstream comedy and stuff. I like to laugh. I like things that make me laugh. But I often don’t really often like a lot of the mainstream type of comedy. I think some of it is that I don’t really go for crude humor, and so that’s even – I broke down and watched “The Office” because I felt like I was missing out on a cultural thing. So I broke down and watched that. And I did enjoy it; but there were a lot of points where the humor was just kind of crude, and it was just kind of like, OK, there’s other things we could laugh about. Like, there’s more intelligent jokes that you could probably make here besides “That’s what she said.” And so, yeah. I’m just not really into that. And that’s not a judgement on “30 Rock” because I don’t know “30 Rock,” but “30 Rock” is a show that I haven’t watched.
But anyway, I digress. Tina Fey – who was on “30 Rock,” who was one of the producers of the show, or director of the show; I know that she was on it, but she was instrumental in the show’s creation also – decided that there apparently were several blackface gags on the show, and they – I shouldn’t speak on what I don’t know. It might not have been several; it might have just been one. At any rate, there were some blackface episodes that she was like, “Well, we’re not going to do this. We’re going to take those out of the rotation in syndication, and we’re going to take those off of Hulu” or wherever it was. And, I guess, something that’s a little bit more in my wheelhouse, “The Golden Girls” – which also does employ some aspects of crude humor, but differently than something like “The Office” – “The Golden Girls,” I definitely love “The Golden Girls.” “The Golden Girls” is about the only, one of the few comedy shows that I watch, and watch frequently. But there is an episode where there was a blackface gag in that, and NBC decided to pull that episode from Hulu.
So we’ve seen that kind of like at the cultural level. And then we have, of course, you know, Confederate flags and Confederate statues coming down. We have people losing their jobs over racist comments that they made. We have people like Jimmy Kimmel – wow, I never thought I’d see this coming! Because you know, I’m just going to be real. Like, I’m not a late-night show watcher – surprisingly, for somebody who’s not a big fan of comedy, I don’t watch a whole lot of late-night TV. But there have been some times that I have watched, just because it’s been on – like back in the day, watching “Scandal,” and then “Scandal” would go off and I’m watching the news, and then, like, OK, in DC Jimmy Kimmel came on after the news. So then watching then news and then, oh, Jimmy Kimmel’s on, so OK, it’s going to be on here for maybe five or 10 minutes. I always have found Jimmy Kimmel to be extremely problematic. And before that, even, I’m pretty sure he was on “The Man Show,” and that show was a cluster. But I’ve always found Jimmy Kimmel – I’ve not found Jimmy Kimmel funny. I have felt often that some of his humor borders on being racist anyway. But Jimmy Kimmel of all people, comes out and is like, “Yeah, you know, I did some blackface things where I” – it was both verbal blackface, where he was on a radio show, I think, imitating Karl Malone; and then he brought that act to TV. And he was like, “Hey, I’m not going to do this anymore.” Or he was like, “Hey, I did this, and I regret it. Oops, I was in blackface; I’m sorry. Don’t cancel me” – is effectively what happened.
So we kind of have that moment too, where you have people in different industries who have recognized that the way that they did things in the past, and the way that they comported themselves in the past, isn’t going to cut it. Because the internet, like, the Black internet, will pull your receipts. Black people on the internet – like, you get Black women on the internet – we will pull all of your receipts. We will have your last known address. People will be able to find people’s birth certificates, on the internet. Now, I’m exaggerating a little bit. But for real, I mean, Black people – Black Twitter, especially – just always comes with the receipts. Like, does not forget anything that anybody has ever said or done. And people be like, “Oh, this person said this racist,” and “Oh, this person did this racist.” And the next thing you know, it’s a huge controversy. And so there were a lot of celebrities, there were a lot of people who decided to get ahead of those things that may have inevitably come out, as things have endured increasing scrutiny. And so there’s been this moment, where people are kind of saying, “If it’s not a full” – And the reason I call it a lower-case R reckoning is because it’s kind of like, we’re going to apologize for the things that we did in the past, that we recognize that people maybe wouldn’t think are OK. And maybe it’s not OK, and so we’re going to apologize for that. But I’m not really convinced that people are doing the requisite work to revise what they’re doing now, and to revise their course forward.
So I’m going to talk about that, and expound on this a little bit more, in the next segment.
HENNY: In the last segment I talked about how we are in a moment of racial reckoning in this nation. But I said that this moment of racial reckoning – it’s reckoning with a lower-case R. So in this segment I want to expound on that just a little bit more.
So the reason why I say that this racial reckoning that we’re experiencing, this moment, this – I guess you could even call it a season, because I think it’s been about three months, and I guess a season is about four months; so I guess we could maybe even call it a season of racial reckoning – the reason that I say that it’s reckoning with a lower-case R is because I’m not entirely convinced that people are reckoning with how we move forward. I don’t think that people are really reckoning with, What does justice look like in the here and now? I think that people are doing more kind of reckoning, and maybe repenting and maybe whatever else, for the past. And I don’t think that that’s wrong. I think that that is part of the process.
I think that a lot of – I think that I’ve said this on here before, but if I haven’t said it before, I’m going to go ahead and say it now. I think a lot of the problem with racism today is that white folks kind of see themselves as individuals, and they don’t quite see themselves as being historical beings. They don’t see themselves – where we tend to see ourselves in light of our ancestors, in light of the past, present and the future – white folks don’t do that. White folks are just really kind of super individualistic, and just really kind of like, “OK, hey, I’m in the moment; this is the best moment of our lives,” and blah blah blah; and aren’t very reflective about the past. And so I think that their lack of reflection about the past; their lack of even – it’s like, I try to take a charitable view of people, because I just try to do that. Because there’s people that be like, “No, they lying.” But there’s a lot of white folks that I encounter that are like, “I had no idea that things that are in history” – that I learned about in school; that me, Ally, learned about in school – they’re like, “Hey, I had no idea that that happened.” And so, I mean, I guess I kind of try to take people at their word for it, and be charitable, and not just say that they’re lying. But whether they’re lying or not is immaterial, basically. Whether they just have pushed it out their mind; whether it’s that they literally weren’t taught some of these things – and really, I mean, some of these people living in the South, maybe they weren’t taught stuff. Like, maybe there were aspects of history that they simply were not taught. Or maybe somebody taught it to them – it was in their history book – but it wasn’t enough for them, it wasn’t taught in a way that it stuck. It wasn’t taught in a way that’s like, yeah, these fountains, these segregated water fountains, are directly connected to the slavery that we learned about in the other unit. And that’s connected to some of these issues that we’re having today. Like I don’t know, maybe, if for some folks, it’s just that those lines, it was never taught to them in a way that – it was just sort of like, “Hey, yeah, here’s this thing that happened over here. We’re going to just kind of run by that because it makes white people feel bad.” I don’t really know what it is.
But what I do know is that part of understanding racism today, you can’t really – we know this – you can’t really understand racism today without looking at it through a historical frame. Because there is a context to what we’ve experienced. And so you can’t just divorce the things that are happening today. You can just divorce George Floyd. You can’t divorce George Floyd from Eric Garner, and those things happened like six years apart. You can’t divorce George Floyd from that context, let alone divorcing him from the context of Emmett Till; let alone divorcing him from the context of Rodney King; divorcing him from the hundreds and thousands of lynchings that happened in the South. You can’t divorce that from the history of policing in this nation. Like, all the threads are there. The threads are there, the threads are connected. Yet for white people it’s just sort of like they want to see stuff, they want to see everything as an isolated incident – whenever it’s not an isolated incident, because we’re sitting here like, “Yo! This is connected! This stuff is related. This stuff is a history that’s built upon one another.” And so white folks is just now coming – they are just now coming to that recognition that, “Oh, hm, like, yeah, I didn’t own slaves, but my God, some of the stuff that’s going on today, actually has something to do with that.”
And so I think that we’re in a necessary stage of, “Oh, OK” – so like I mentioned in the last segment, Jimmy Kimmel said, “Hey, OK, let me come on, and just go ahead and get ahead of anything where I imitated somebody in blackface; let me go ahead and say that that was wrong; let me reflect on my past and get my own skeletons out of my own closet.” And so you have Tina Fey being like, “We’re going to pull this episode” – or multiple episodes, whatever it was – “of ’30 Rock,’ like, OK, we’re going to do that.” You’ve got NBC saying, “OK, you know what, we’re going to pull this episode of ‘The Golden Girls’ down from Hulu.” You’ve got just all sorts of different things. And there’s been reckonings like this – these lower-case-R reckonings – in the past. In fact, this happened during the civil rights movement, this happened in the ‘50s and ‘60s, where that was the point when blackface became less acceptable. And it’s totally unacceptable today, and most folks would agree on that. Some people will argue about what blackface actually is, and that’s still a problem, because people aren’t developed in their understanding and critical thinking and contextual skills, yet. And so we haven’t quite reached that point where people have reached that stage where they can discern something as racist, without, like, needing it to look exactly the way that something that we formerly held as being racist looks.
And so what I mean by that is that, like, I’ll use “The Golden Girls” as a good example of that. So the gag that was in “The Golden Girls” episode – which aired in 1988, I think, or 1987, something like that; it was an episode from the ‘80s – and it was just some characters with a mud mask on their face; but the whole thing, the joke, was that there were some people, some Black people showed up at their house and were kind of looking at them like crazy, like, “OK, what are y’all doing here?” And the whole thing: none of the jokes in the scene work without the tacit understanding that Rose and Blanche are in blackface. And it’s not carried out – there are some jokes in the scene that are problematic, especially if you watch it, like on Hulu, I think has the full, full episode; so whenever you watch it in syndication, there’s a few things that they cut out, so you don’t get the whole essence of the thing. But there are some parts, some jokes, in the scene that aren’t necessarily blackface-related jokes, but are kind of problematic. But you have this scene, the whole thing is that we have the tacit understanding that Blanche and Rose are in blackface, because that’s the whole scene. And so whenever this episode was being pulled off of Hulu, there were a lot of people, there was this outcry among people that were like, “Oh, this isn’t bad, this isn’t whatever, this isn’t blackface,” because their understanding of blackface is minstrelsy. And so they can’t see where, like, OK, somebody wearing, a white person wearing brown stuff on their face, and there being kind of racial jokes within that context – how that’s blackface.
And so there’s whole kind of thing where, as we are in this lower-case-R reckoning, that people still need to develop in their understanding; but they are at least recognizing that stuff is wrong. And so they are recognizing that there are things that were in the past, that were wrong – and that they are somehow, maybe even tangentially, related to things that are happening today.
But the reason why I make this into a lower-case-R reckoning is that people – what I’m seeing now is that it’s like, you know, white folks are like, “OK, cool,” like, “I feel bad about this thing that I did in the past” – but then not recognizing that, like, there’s stuff that you did today that is tied to racism. There are systems that you participate in, like, right now – that you’re participating in right now – that are problematic. So, like, I mentioned to you – I don’t mean to pick on Jimmy Kimmel, but here I am. I had seen jokes on his show – the very little I watched his show – things that were kind of like, “Uh, bro, this is problematic. This is kind of ignorant. This is racist.” Or just ignorant. There’s stuff, I won’t even call it racist, because I can’t even remember what anything was. But there were just some jokes that I just thought, “This is ignorant. This is insensitive.” So it’s like, you can’t even tie – so, yeah, you can recognize imitating Karl Malone in the past, you can get that that might be a problem; but like, how’s your show going to change today? And maybe, like, I’m not trying to call anybody out, and maybe he’s changed. Maybe he’s changed how he’s approached his comedy. Maybe he’s changed how he’s approached stuff.
But my whole thing is that a lot of these folks out here want to then – because I think that even talking about the past, doing some of those things – I mean, them Confederate statues been needed to have come down. So, I mean, a lot of them statues were erected, like, you know, 30, 40, 50, 60 years after the Civil War. It wasn’t like the South lost, and then the next day – it wasn’t like Lee surrendered at Appomattox Courthouse, and then the next day they were casting a statue of him to put in Richmond. Like, it wasn’t like that. Like, it was, you know, 20, 30, 40, 50 years after the Confederacy lost, that these statues started going up – thanks to the Daughters of the Confederacy, who were trying to keep the memory and the culture and all this other type of stuff alive. So it wasn’t even like, you know, that these things were going up in any time that would have really brought any kind of honor to people. It was white people just white peopling. Whatever. And so them statues been needed to have come down. But it took, what? It took how much innocent Black blood being shed for somebody to decide to take down a statue? Like, that – it blows my mind. It’s just so ridiculous, that it takes all of this.
People have been talking about taking them statues down for a good long time. But even just in the last six years, that’s been a conversation – even just since the Charleston massacre, and since Charlottesville. So, you know, within like the last three to five years, the conversation has really heated up. How many Black people – how much Black blood has been spilled – for somebody to decide, “Yeah, OK, I guess we can take the statue down” that people are rallying around, that’s inciting some of this violence; that’s a point, that’s serving as a rallying point for some people that want to keep the status quo? Like, what the heck, y’all? So to me, that’s little-R reckoning. That’s saying, “We’re going to deal with the past.” It’s easy. Like, I mean, I get it that they don’t feel like it’s easy, but it’s really easy to take down a statue. Like, comparatively. I mean, I know that there’s labor that goes into it; but taking down a statue is really easy. Pulling an episode off of YouTube or off of Hulu or Netflix or wherever – that’s actually relatively easy. That doesn’t really, like, cost anything. I mean, it might cost some of those actors residual pay, but you know, for a show like “The Golden Girls,” those actors have been getting residual pay. The guest stars, at this point, are probably about the only people who are still alive, besides Betty White. But you know, yeah, those actors, they’re getting residual pay, and that’s a shame that they lose some of their livelihood or whatever – especially because, in this episode, there were Black actors who – the ones who are still alive, if any of them are still alive; I’m not sure; I haven’t researched that aspect of it – but yeah, it’s a shame that they are losing their residual pay. Yeah, that’s a shame, that any of the actors – especially the people of color who worked on “30 Rock” – yeah, that’s a shame that they’re going to lose the residuals. If they were just in that one episode, they’re going to lose the residuals from that episode. So yeah, there’s definitely a very small – but often, like, the residual pay is often like a quarter. That mailbox money that those actors get, it’s like a quarter. Or, you know, it’s 75 cents or a dollar, just depending on how big of a part there was, and what their agreement with SAG is.
So anyway. That’s a relatively small amount of reckoning, and it’s something that is easy to deflect, and be like, “Oh, OK, cool. The past.” Like, yeah, that’s the past. And so I can apologize. It’s easier to apologize – it’s easier to ask for forgiveness, than it is to actually make substantive change.
And so for me, what it comes down to is substantive change. And I think that Black folks, we have to keep pushing for that substantive change. We have to keep pushing for – it’s like, yeah, you took the statue down. That’s great. We don’t need that level of violence. We don’t need white supremacists to have something that they can rally around, and that they can call the troops to. Wonderful! But we need more. We need more substantive change. We need y’all to do more. We need y’all to do better. We need y’all to carve out a better path than what you have.
And so I don’t think that we have reached the level of reckoning that would necessitate massive change. And I keep saying, it’s ridiculous to me that it took all of this – it took watching somebody get choked out, on your phone – to realize, “Oh, hey, maybe I shouldn’t have done blackface back in the day.” I mean, the thing is, I feel like these folks already knew that it was wrong. Like they already knew that they were wrong, but they were just trying to, I don’t know, ride the wave or whatever, for as long as they could. And whenever they realized, suddenly, that people are going to start calling them out for the things that they did: well, let me get ahead of it and let me do damage control. And that’s really, I think, an issue now, is that a lot of people are doing damage control instead of repairing. They’re doing the bare minimum that they can, to make sure that they don’t lose their career, to make sure that they don’t lose their business, to make sure that they don’t lose their influence or whatever. But they’re not repairing anything. They haven’t actually reckoned with the problem.
So I’m going to talk about this a little bit more in the next segment. Stay tuned!
HENNY: So in the last couple of segments, I talked about why I think that the racial reckoning that is happening in America right now, is a reckoning with a lower-case R. So in this segment I want to talk about how I think that we, that Black people: how can we effect a racial Reckoning that takes place with a capital R?
Now, in saying this, I want to recognize that, you know, the Reckoning, the Revolution, whatever you want to call it – it’s not going to be comfortable. It’s not going to be something that makes us – we’ll feel good about it, I think, once it happens; but I think that going through the process of reckoning is going to be painful for us. And it’s not that – I say “we’re” going through the process of reckoning. It’s not that there’s really anything that we have to reckon with. But we have to be around white people who are reckoning with their racism, and the racism in this culture. And so we are the ones that – whenever this type of thing happens, we’re the ones that they run to our In boxes and “Oh, help me understand this,” and blah blah blah. So there’s emotional labor that gets spent there.
There’s just dealing with people’s violence, just in life, in a normal context where people are insensitive. And they don’t want to reckon with the past, and they don’t want to reckon with the present. And they don’t want to reckon with how they need to change their behavior in order for there to be a better future. And so there’s violence that’s done.
And so I don’t just come to this table glibly, like, “OK, yeah, y’all, we’re going to start the Revolution, we’re going to get the white man” – like, I don’t come to the table lightly, at all, with this. Because it cost our ancestors, and it’s going to cost us. And it’s going to be uncomfortable. But I think that at the end of the day – like, the reason why I’m out here, I’ve said this before – is for my kids. And I don’t want my kids to have to fight the same battles that I’ve had to fight. I don’t want my kids to have to be out here and be traumatized by the same things that I’ve been traumatized by. I don’t want my kids’ relationship with their white family, with other white people that they may know and encounter in their life; I don’t want their relationships, whenever the next wave of stuff happens – and maybe we can end racism now; I don’t know if it’s something that will end in our lifetime – but I don’t want my kids to have to go through the same things that I had to go through.
And so I recognize that, like – and I realize that not everybody has kids, and not everybody’s thinking about the future in that way, so I don’t want to – I don’t even want to center myself in that, like, “Well, I’m thinking about my kids and the future” and whatever. I’m not trying to center myself in that respect. What I’m trying to say is that, like, you know, we come from a collective culture. There’s somebody that talks about “being a good ancestor.” And so, you know, I want to be a good ancestor. And I want to think about future generations of Black people in this country who are going to have to live. And the things that we had to deal with in the past, I want to be the past. Just like, you know, I don’t have to deal with segregated water fountains and segregated bathrooms. I don’t want the next generation to have to deal with people who are operating in white fragility. I don’t want for them to have to deal with redlining. I don’t want them to have to deal with mass incarceration. I don’t want them to have to deal with watching Black death and lynchings happen live on their phones or whatever device it is that they have. I don’t want that for them. We had that. I don’t want that for them.
And I hope that they don’t have any battles. But if they do have battles, I hope that they are different battles, and that they are wildly different battles, and that they’re battles that we couldn’t have even imagined fighting; but things have gotten so much better that we’re like, “Wow, that’s how things are?”
So anyway. In effecting this Reckoning, I think that it’s important for us to recognize, kind of the heaviness and stuff of the moment; but it is important for us to be bold, and to hold people’s feet to the flames. I think that it’s important for us to speak up and speak out, as much as we can, as much as we’re safe; be able to clearly speak out about the things that are wrong, that are being done to us.
I think that in the past, it was very hard for our ancestors to speak out. They didn’t have Twitter. They didn’t have Black Twitter. They didn’t have social media. They didn’t have TikTok. They didn’t have Instagram. They didn’t have any of that. They had networks for sure; they had social networks and stuff, for sure. But they didn’t have the ability to connect with, and to share with, other Black people across the nation. And so I think that – and what we’ve seen, even – is that the most change is effected first of all whenever people – because, for whatever reason, people can’t just take our word for it. They’ve got to be able to see what is happening. And I don’t think we need to sit and record Black death, and just be holding Black death and whatever up; and holding times whenever we’re being abused, and posting it, and being like, “Yeah!” And it becomes a thing where our abuse becomes entertainment for people. Because I do think that there’s such a thing as trauma porn, and we don’t need to have trauma porn. But I think that it’s important for us to be bold in our witness to what is happening to us. And I think that as we continue to speak out; as we continue to unpack some of these things for society – for white society in particular – that is something that will help us in the long run.
And I say this and it’s not like – I don’t want to insinuate that we must always be in a posture of unloading our pain for white people’s consumption. That’s not what I’m saying at all. But what I’m saying is that whenever we boldly stand – and we boldly stand even in instances when we’re being abused because we know that we’re right; and we’re showing the world; we’re putting America to shame, essentially, and saying, “This how we’re being treated,” and we’re going to be bold about what’s happening to us and sharing what’s happening to us to the world – I think that that forces white people’s hand. It forces them – it puts it in their face in a way that they can’t continue to look away. And so, like I say, this isn’t like an unloading, in a way that is unhealthy for us, that puts us in a position of weakness; but actually having strength and power. And I know that I’m on the right side.
I can’t help but think of Congressman John Lewis – he recently passed – and thinking about how there’s this infamous photograph of him, a mug shot of him after he’s been arrested; and he has a smile on his face. There’s a very similar photo of C.T. Vivian, who also passed – they passed on the same day – and they’re smiling. And somebody asked Congressman Lewis why he was smiling, one time. And he was like, he was smiling because he knew that he was right, and he knew that he was on the right side of history.
And so whenever I think about John Lewis and think about that – even thinking about Selma, that thing that kind of made John Lewis more famous than what he was; that’s the moment, that’s the thing that people most associate John Lewis with, walking across that Edmund Pettus Bridge. That moment was something where – and I remember watching the movie “Selma,” and it’s actually, like I’ve seen the movie twice, and like the first time I saw it – because the first time I watched it, it came out not very long after Ferguson – and I remember feeling like I was watching the live videos and stuff from Ferguson, and it was really kind of traumatic. And then I blocked that scene out. Like, I literally blocked that scene out of my mind. And then I had to watch “Selma” again for school, and I completely had blocked that scene, the bridge scene, out of my mind. And so then I was, like, horrified, and retraumatized all over again. I’m like, OK, I have to remember that this thing was bad. But one moment in that scene is showing the people watching at home, and it’s just like, these people are completely innocent! They’re dressed up in their Sunday best and they’re trying to walk across a bridge, and they are just being treated poorly. They are being beaten up; they’re whatever.
And it’s like – I’m not saying that – once again, it’s not about trauma porn. But I think that being in that place of, “I know that I’m right, and I’m on the right side of history. So I’m going to let these people show their tails because I know that I’m right. And I’m going to speak out boldly, because I know that I’m right. And I’m going to let all the people who aren’t right show themselves.” We have to take that same posture, I think, as our ancestors, and just be like, “Hey, I’m in the right.”
I think that it’s so important for us not to coddle white people in this moment. Something that I see a lot is that, whenever a white person does wrong, says wrong, whatever, there’s always somebody – there’s always somebody – that comes and tries to run damage control for the oppressors. And, like, we don’t have to do that stuff. We don’t have to make white people feel good about their racism. We don’t have to make them feel good about mistreating us. No matter how nice this person is, normally, in their life, but they did or said something racist; we don’t have to make them feel good. And so I think that we have to – and this goes, kind of, back to that boldness piece – that we just have to be real. We just have to be honest about what people have done. And then whenever people get upset about it: not coddling them. You know, not making it – and whenever I say “coddle,” I think that, you know, having an ethic of where we are gracious and grace-filled; and whereas we are able to process this – and for those of us who espouse a Christian ethic, certainly forgiveness is important. But I think that we have created – speaking specifically from a Christian lens – I think that whiteness has created this framework of forgiveness, and has created a framework of grace, that’s really weak. And so a lot of Black Christians bristle against it, like “I’m not forgiving nobody!” or “I’m not whatever!” Because a lot of us in more activist spaces, we bristle against that because we’re actually bristling against the white version of that. But I think that it’s powerful to be able to walk in grace and love toward somebody, and to be able to walk in forgiveness toward somebody; but to also be like, you know, “Hey, I forgive you, but there’s still consequences.” Like, “We’re still going to talk about this. Forgiving you doesn’t mean that I have to be silent about it. Forgiving you means that I’m not holding you hostage in my brain, and letting you take up real estate;” where you’re taking up real estate and you’re taking up all this stuff, and I’m allowing that thing to make me feel a certain way. Forgiveness is, “OK, I’m releasing the power of your oppression over me; but I’m still going to hold you to account for what you did.”
And so a lot of times, I think that some of these white frameworks of forgiveness and whatever, that those of us who espouse a Christian ethic – I think that a lot of these white frameworks of forgiveness and grace are weak because people don’t want to be held accountable. And I think that especially as it pertains to race and racism, that people try to play the okey-doke on us, and it’s like, “No. Forgiveness doesn’t mean that you don’t get held accountable.” Like, I can forgive you and I can love you, and I can have and want to walk in grace and peace with you; but guess what? You are going to be held accountable.” So I think that it’s so important that we hold people accountable for what they’ve done.
The next aspect that I think will bring the Reckoning is for us to know – I harp on the white folks all the time, about like, y’all gotta be educated – but y’all, fam, I know this is our lived experience, but we have got to be educated. We have got to be educated about frameworks and paradigms of oppression. We just – we have to have the knowledge. We have to have the ability to be able to talk about this thing. And a lot of times, whenever I see people out here shuckin’ and jivin’, it’s like – they’re not like – I mean, they’re shuckin’ and jivin’ because they’re shuckin’ and jivin’, period. They’re shuckin’ and jivin’. But like, it’s not just that they’re shuckin’ and jivin’; it’s like – they’re ignorant. Like, we’ve got to read.
Essentially what I’m telling you is, fam, you have to read. And I understand. I’m not trying to sound ableist or classist or anything, because I get it: sometimes, you know, we don’t have access to stuff. We might not have access to just be able to hop on Amazon, or hop on our favorite bookstore, and spend $300 on books so that we can become more educated on a topic. Like, fam, I get it. But we have got to get knowledge. And those of us who have knowledge? We’ve got to drop that knowledge. We’ve got to drop that knowledge. We can’t be stingy and be like, “Well, you know I have the degrees, I have whatever.” We are a community. So we need to have communal learning. We need to teach one another. We have got to teach our own people. So as we teach our own people, then whenever we’re in these situations – whenever somebody does and says something racist – we are equipped to be able to be like, “Yeah, that’s a problem, and here’s why;” and be equipped to be able to bring that capital-R Reckoning so we can get, then, capital-R Reparations.
I think there have been so many instances over the last few months where you have Black people in predominantly white spaces, who, the white people around them decide, “Oh, OK, we need to get woke.” And so they turn to the Black people in the room: “Hey, get us woke.” But the Black people in the room sleep, and they are in that room because they sleep. So then it’s like all of a sudden, you know, Buffy and them want to be woke; and it’s like, you in the room, and you don’t know the first thing about how to talk about oppression. You don’t know the first thing about how to define racism. You don’t know any of this because you’ve been in the room; you’re in the room because your presence in the room was predicated upon you not being somebody who was going to push back. But then they decide, “Oh, this could hurt our bottom line if we don’t deal with our racist issues. This could become an HR issue” or whatever. And so suddenly they’re calling upon you, and you sitting here ill-equipped.
And so I’ve seen so many instances of that in the past several months – I mean really, if I’m honest, I’ve seen it in the past several years – where Black folks who are ill-equipped to have this conversation, walk up in the room armed with nothing but their Blackness; and lead people wrong, and lead people astray, and got these white folks out here just saying and doing some ratchet stuff. So we can’t have that. You have got to have the education, you have got to have the knowledge. Whenever I say “education” again, I don’t necessarily mean formal education. I don’t mean, you know, go out and spend money and get a degree. I don’t mean, you know, that you need to spend money on books. But you have got to get this knowledge somehow, whether it’s from Oprah Winfrey’s internet; whether it’s from the library; whether it’s from you borrowing books from your friends. I mean, you know, hey. If you need some books, if you need some knowledge, you can hit me up – I’m talking about Black people can hit me up and maybe I can send you some books, or maybe I can send you some recommendations or get you connected to some resources that are free, that you can get some of this knowledge. But whatever it is, whatever it is – however you get the knowledge – in all that getting, get knowledge. And I’m sure that I probably butchered somebody else’s quote, and it probably wasn’t even that quote.
But anyway, my whole entire point is that we can go – and this is kind of the final thing – I think that we need to be ready to sacrifice. Our ancestors sacrificed. Our ancestors – people – and it wasn’t everybody, but let’s be real – it was a small amount of people. Now, in some cases – I mean, like the Montgomery bus boycott. I mean, it was a lot. There were some points when we got a lot of people participating; and sometimes participating somewhat against their will, because it’s like, “No, you ain’t gonna get on that bus. No, you not fittin to go shop at Woolworth’s. No, you in that store? I’ll like knock these bags out your hand. Like, no, don’t be here.” Sometimes people’s participation wasn’t always joyous participation. But we need to be willing to sacrifice like our ancestors were willing to sacrifice.
And, you know, that can get scary, and that can get heavy, to think like [whispers] oh my gosh, I could die! [Normal volume] Like, I’m not out here – nobody wants to die, like, “Well, you’ve got to be willing to die.” Like, yo, like, I’m not really wantin’ to die. Like, I’m not even going to talk like that, because I’m not going to be like, “Yeah, we just” – I’m not even going to talk like that. I’m not even going to invoke that. Because I don’t even know if we are at this point, that I think that we’re going to die. If we’re going to die, it’s going to be doing something petty. I mean, honestly, if that’s for anybody listening, I pray that it’s not for any of y’all who are listening. But I think that we are more likely to be George Floyd, than to necessarily die from participating in this movement, at this point. And I hope that it stays that way, even though, yeah, I know that people have died. I know that people have died participating in this movement. So anyway. So I probably shouldn’t say that, because there definitely have been people who have died for participating in this movement. And it’s sad.
But I’m not really trying to be on that wave of getting weird with it. Sometimes I think you can get weird, with talking about death, and I’m not trying to weird and extra, with talking about death. But I’m talking about sacrifice in terms of, like, maybe – like people in Montgomery, they didn’t ride the bus, and that was their transportation, for a whole year. Like, Montgomery: they had Uber before there was Uber. Like they came up with their own strategies and their own tactics to be able to conduct their lives. And so I think that we need to borrow some of that ingenuity from our ancestors, and to say, “You know what? This might mean that I don’t shop at this store. Or it means that I’m not going to buy my gas from this gas station,” because of whatever. Maybe it means that, hey, I’m not going to give this group of white people my money. It might mean, you know what? Nothing happened to me, but I’m going to walk up out this church, I’m going to walk up off this job, because stuff happened to other people. And I’m not going to sit here and be, “Well, it ain’t happened to me. I didn’t have that experience.” But we’re going to show solidarity with one another.
And I guess that’s another aspect of it too. I didn’t plan on saying this. But the solidarity piece is, we’ve got to have solidarity with one another. And that doesn’t mean we’re just going to back one another up when somebody really is wrong, being extra and doing something wrong; but we’re going to back one another up in solidarity. Whenever somebody’s like, “Hey, this is a problem. This business is a problem. This job is a problem” – we’re going to back one another up, and be like, “OK, cool. If this is a problem, then I’m here. I’m singing backup. I’m not going to be trying to protect the white people’s feelings, because you at your church and you speaking up about racism, or you on your job and you speaking about racism, and I’ve got to be the Negro that comes in. I’ve got to be Captain Save-‘Em and be like, “Oh, but you know, it wasn’t that bad. These people have been so good to us.” Like, we’ve got to show solidarity with one another.
Well, it’s getting to be about that time, and I have rambled for way longer than I intended to. But I hope that you got something out of it. I hope that the Reckoning – with a capital R – comes soon.
“Combing the Roots” is powered by The Witness – A Black Christian Collective. Special thanks to executive producers Tyler Burns and Beau York. Catch up with what I’m doing on these internet streets by visiting allyhenny.com. There you’ll be able to connect to my Twitter feed, my Instagram, and my Facebook writer’s page. I’m your host, Ally Henny. Peace.
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