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Sankofa Talk — Save us from UpSouth Ohio

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May 25, 2021, marked the one-year anniversary of the vicious and prolonged murder of George Floyd, even as bystanders begged and pleaded for Officer Derek Chauvin to stop mashing his knee into Floyd’s neck. Chauvin continued though, even after Floyd had become silent and lifeless, face down on the pavement with his hands cuffed behind his back.

It was a nightmare to watch, and that’s putting it mildly.

What made it all the worse was Chauvin’s stone cold glare into the cell phone camera of 17-year-old Darnella Frazier — as if to say, “I am judge, jury and executioner here. This is my privilege and duty, and I will not stop until he is dead, and no one can or will stop me.” It was the epitome of white privilege, with the worst possible outcome.

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It was a video version of the “shot heard around the world.” The act drew millions of people around the country, even around the world, into the streets in protest against one the most vile acts of police brutality ever caught on camera. Huge multiracial crowds gathered demanding justice. Yellow Springs was no exception as a group that came to be known as YS Speaking Up for Justice held youth-led protests, which evolved into antiracism rallies and teach-ins that ran for 25 straight weekends.

But as people across the country sought to memorialize Floyd and grieve on May 25, Ohio Republicans chose to cement their membership in the “Black Lives Don’t Matter” movement. They dishonored the first anniversary of Floyd’s murder in a way that floats atop the rising tide of anti-Black sentiment that has washed across the country in the past several years. Their response was to introduce a bill that would ban the teaching of critical race theory, or CRT, in grades K–12.

Kimberlé Crenshaw is a founding critical race theorist and a law professor who teaches at UCLA and Columbia University. According to her, “critical race theory is a practice. It’s an approach to grappling with a history of white supremacy that rejects the belief that what’s in the past is in the past, and that the laws and systems that grow from that past are detached from it.”

It is an effort to examine the role that law plays in the systemic discrimination against Black people and other marginalized groups. Many right-leaning people love to say that systemic racism does not exist. The reality is that systemic racism, including genocide, slavery, disenfranchisement and a host of other white domination tactics lies at the very foundation of America.

It is clear that the proponents of House Bill 322 neither understand critical race theory nor what racism really is. One of the bill’s sponsors, Rep. Don Jones, a Republican from Freeport, Ohio, said it is “designed to look at everything from a ‘race first’ lens, which is the very definition of racism. … CRT claiming to fight racism is laughable. Students should not be asked to ‘examine their whiteness’ or ‘check their privilege.’ This anti-American doctrine has no place in Ohio’s schools.”

“The very definition of racism.”

He clearly doesn’t even know what racism is, and he doesn’t care either. What matters is that he wants to be seen as a defender of the myth of white superiority. He did, inadvertently, make one claim that is true: that CRT has no place in Ohio’s schools — but only in the sense that it is not currently taught in the schools. 

The overwhelming majority of the statements denouncing CRT have one critical element in common: they seek to protect whiteness and the idea of white identity. I see these critics as first cousins to the defenders of the lost cause who deny that the Civil War was fought over slavery. Honoring the defeated Confederacy provides a really shiny vehicle to drive a meandering, imaginary road that leads away from facing the immoral stench and brutality required to hold people in generations of bondage. They follow the road right into a mind-numbing space and scenes of surreal plantation life, where happy darkies gladly serve their needs and economy and Jim Crow reigned supreme. 

White people who bask in their privileged generations of white advantage take particular offense to the idea of their racist heritage. They employ racist dog whistle terms like “anti-American” and even call CRT a “racist ideology,” or “a Marxist doctrine” — a common tactic used to stir irrational fears. Having said that, I’m reminded of the entrenched, gripping cowardice aroused by the prospect of acknowledging the multi-tentacled monster of systemic racism and its deadly nature.  That resounding closing line of the national anthem — “the home of the brave” — really should be removed in shame.

So now they come with the anti-antiracist movement. Banning CRT is akin to the burgeoning number of voter suppression laws, claiming to assure secure elections — a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. The claims of the damage to the white children being taught CRT — such as they learn to hate themselves — are necessarily false claims because, again, CRT is not taught in the schools.

The real resistance is that one of the trends in the wake of George Floyd’s murder is the emergence of more truth about the horrifying history of the maltreatment rained upon Black people by whites. That’s what they want to avoid: their own unmitigated history emerging. The truth will not have a coming-out party if they have anything to do with it. Instead, they seek to smother, distort and hide it in order to continue to facilitate and justify killing Black people, whether it’s literally or psychologically.

It is easy to lose hope in any sort of racial reconciliation in America. I do it almost every day. Then I wrack my soul for the inspiration to keep clawing toward some sense of hope that America will begin to inch towards its purported values of liberty and justice.

According to a press release from the Ohio House of Representatives, HB 322 would prohibit any state agency, school district or board of education from teaching or instructing an employee to adopt or believe concepts, such as: “With respect to their relationship to American values, slavery and racism are anything other than deviations from, betrayals of, or failures to live up to authentic founding principles of the United States, which include liberty and equality.”

In reality, the founding principles were genocide and slavery. Everything about America economically, politically and socially flowered from these twin tragedies.

If America is to be healed, her people must accept the reality and implications of slavery. Jim Crow, 80 years of convict leasing, systemic discrimination, wanton police brutality, and relentless voter suppression since 1865, have literally destroyed the lives and aspirations of millions of Black people. They are not mere deviations from American values.

The other day, the strangest question entered my mind.

“Why isn’t the act of voter suppression a federal crime?”

If I am mistaken and it is, in fact, a crime, why aren’t all these people pushing 350 voter suppression bills going to jail? HB 322 would ban a teacher from posing that kind of question in the classroom. Another question that slid into my mind: what happens if this bill becomes law? I haven’t allowed myself to answer that yet. A man can only take so much.

After all, this is not just an Ohio issue. At least a dozen other states have either passed or proposed similar bills. This indicates that this is an organized effort, probably funded by right-wing big spenders dedicated to dominating various aspects of government.

The appropriate response to this is organizing, and it has to be well done and relentless. We can’t afford to sit back and allow these social and political crime waves to drown us in despair. I am aware of organizing efforts all around. I encourage everyone concerned about this to get involved with one of them.

To get involved locally, please send a message to Let’s grab this Jim Crow dragon by the tail.

Save us from UpSouth Ohio.

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