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African Americans in YS

Sankofa Talk | A victim of Jim Crow tactics

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Just over 56 years ago, on April 4, 1968, I was 13 years old and washing dishes after dinner when I heard my parents shout in unison: “NOOOOO!”

I rushed into the living room where they were watching the evening news to find out their horrified screams were prompted by the news that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. had been murdered. My stepfather jumped, puffed out his chest, balled up his fist in the direction of the TV set and let out a litany of profanity that rang in my ears for days. It was a sad night in my house. King’s dream boomeranged, morphed into a nightmare and snatched his life away.

I didn’t get much sleep that night. I thought about that part of King’s iconic speech where he said he longed for the day when a man would be judged not by the color of his skin, but by the content of his character. Maybe it was because by then I had read Frantz Fanon’s “The Wretched of the Earth” and Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land,” that I had begun to have serious doubts about the capacity of the white collective to atone for America’s original sin and learn how to treat her Black inhabitants like human beings.

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Riots and fires raged in over a hundred American cities in the wake of King’s assassination, in stark opposition to his belief in nonviolent protest. As a matter of fact, after staying up all night, I plotted to start a riot at school the next day. I got out of bed, put on some old clothes that I used to mow the lawn in, and thought about how I was going to wreak havoc. Fortunately, when I arrived at school, I found it closed. I felt robbed of the opportunity to seek some sort of contorted justice for Dr. King. I was angry.

I have been angry about the maltreatment of Black people ever since those days. The longer I live, the more incidents of mistreatment, ranging from covert to blatantly overt, keep piling up. Sometimes it feels like I’m at the bottom of a pile of football players and they just keep jumping onto the pile. It’s difficult to bear this emotional weight all the time. It’s truly exhausting. I don’t say this to elicit sympathy. I say this because I must say it to survive.

I have done a lot of reading in an attempt to understand racism and white supremacy. One of the conclusions I have drawn is that there has been a tremendous amount of energy by white people to render Black people powerless, second-class citizens. This includes systematic eradication ranging from mass incarceration to state-sanctioned murder at the hands of police. There has been systematic backlash against the mere existence of Black people ever since the Emancipation Proclamation. However, I digress.

Two years ago, I encountered a white woman acquaintance in a parking lot downtown. I issued a greeting in passing asking her how she was doing. Her response was: “Well, I never thought I’d be living in a town owned by a Black man,” obviously referring to Dave Chapelle’s purchasing real estate property around town. I was caught off-guard, to say the least. While much can be said about her comment, I’ll leave that to the reader. It did, however, confirm one thing in my mind: Racist sentiment is alive and well in Yellow Springs.

This also became evident when I learned that teachers at the high school were having students debate the pros and cons of slavery. When I publicly shared that, it opened the door for Black students to share a five-page laundry list of racist incidents and eventually led to a student walkout in protest of a teacher slinging the n-word around and the same teacher calling the police on the student who confronted the teacher. The teacher was allowed to resign, avoiding discipline. More about that later.

Let’s move on to Antioch College and the recent incident of the firing of Guy Banks, known as “Tron.” Now we have a classic example of Jim Crow lynching tactics come to town. What happened to Tron is reminiscent of what happened to Emmett Till, and so many other Black men who had their lives permanently altered by the words of a white woman. Here we have a white woman, two weeks on the job, claiming that this young Black man threatened her, snatching away his livelihood.

I spoke with Tron about the incident. What stood out to me was that while he was sharing the details with me, he showed no signs of the anger or bitterness that one would rightfully expect. He seemed flabbergasted and frustrated, bewildered, that anyone could make such accusations about him. This, I thought, really rhymes with the sentiment expressed in the dozens of letters to the editor addressing the incident. The letters have expressed disbelief in the accusations and personal stories of how he has helped the people he has worked with as a personal trainer, including children and the elderly alike; you know, that whole “content of his character” thing. He is not angry, but I am angry for him. People have called for mediation. Yes, let’s have mediation. Do something!

One of the things that makes me angry is the use of the response that institutions hide behind to avoid accountability. “We can’t discuss personnel matters.” This was also used in the case of the n-word-slinging high school teacher. It has also been used in countless cases of anti-Black police brutality. We, the people, have been put in a place (once again) where we have to tolerate injustice (or not?) and those who perpetrate it. This flies in the face of what Antioch College purports itself to be, a hotbed for social justice, a claim that it makes while shaking hands with Jim Crow. This cannot continue.

Someone go help Horace Mann. I’m sure he’s trying to climb out of his grave over this.

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