Harriet Tubman

harriet-tubman-pictures-1

There has recently been a lot of talk about Harriet Tubman. The US Treasury announced in April 2016 that Harriet Tubman would be replacing Andrew Jackson as the face of the US $20 bill. Andrew Jackson had been the face of the note since 1928, and the change caused quite a stir in some US communities. Some even proclaimed that $20 bills should not be used and many racist comments were posted on social media.

So who was Harriet Tubman and why did she cause such an uproar? By all accounts she was a very brave woman who campaigned tirelessly against all the odds and at great risk to herself, for freedom and equality, and is somebody whose courage and tenacity should be celebrated by all.

This history extract is taken from Wikipedia:

Harriet Tubman (born Araminta Ross; c. 1822 – March 10, 1913) was an American abolitionist, humanitarian, and an armed scout and spy for the United States Army during the American Civil War. Born into slavery, Tubman escaped and subsequently made some thirteen missions to rescue approximately seventy enslaved families and friends, using the network of antislavery activists and safe houses known as the Underground Railroad. She later helped abolitionist John Brown recruit men for his raid on Harpers Ferry, and in the post-war era was an active participant in the struggle for women’s suffrage.

Born a slave in Maryland, Tubman was beaten and whipped by her various masters as a child. Early in life, she suffered a traumatic head wound when an irate slave owner threw a heavy metal weight intending to hit another slave and hit her instead. The injury caused dizziness, pain, and spells of hypersomnia, which occurred throughout her life. She was a devout Christian and experienced strange visions and vivid dreams, which she ascribed to premonitions from God.

In 1849, Tubman escaped to Philadelphia, then immediately returned to Maryland to rescue her family. Slowly, one group at a time, she brought relatives with her out of the state, and eventually guided dozens of other slaves to freedom. Traveling by night and in extreme secrecy, Tubman (or “Moses”, as she was called) “never lost a passenger”. After the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 was passed, she helped guide fugitives farther north into British North America, and helped newly freed slaves find work.

When the Civil War began, Tubman worked for the Union Army, first as a cook and nurse, and then as an armed scout and spy. The first woman to lead an armed expedition in the war, she guided the raid at Combahee Ferry, which liberated more than 700 slaves. After the war, she retired to the family home on property she had purchased in 1859 in Auburn, New York, where she cared for her aging parents. She was active in the women’s suffrage movement until illness overtook her and she had to be admitted to a home for elderly African Americans that she had helped to establish years earlier. After she died in 1913, she became an icon of American courage and freedom.

 

 

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The Black Prayer

The Black Prayer
This is deep, so take your time.

Why Did You Make Me Black Lord
Lord .. Why did you make me black?
Why did you make someone
the world would hold back?
Black is the color of dirty clothes,
of grimy hands and feet…
Black is the color of darkness,
of tired beaten streets… Why did you give me thick lips,
a broad nose and kinky hair?
Why did you create someone
who receives the hated stare?

Black is the color of the bruised eye
when someone gets hurt…
Black is the color of darkness,
black is the color of dirt.

Why is my bone structure so thick,
my hips and cheeks so high?
Why are my eyes brown,
and not the color of the sky?

Why do people think I’m useless?
How come I feel so used?
Why do people see my skin
and think I should be abused?

Lord, I just don’t understand…
What is it about my skin?
Why is it some people want to hate me
and not know the person within?

Black is what people are “Labeled”
when others want to keep them away…
Black is the color of shadows cast…
Black is the end of the day.

Lord you know my own people mistreat me,
and you know this just ain’t right…
They don’t like my hair, they don’t like my
skin, as they say I’m too dark or too light!

Lord, don’t you think
it’s time to make a change?
Why don’t you redo creation
and make everyone the same?

God’s Reply:

Why did I make you black? Why did I make you black?

I made you in the color of coal
from which beautiful diamonds are formed…
I made you in the color of oil,
the black gold which keeps people warm.

Your color is the same as the rich dark soil
that grows the food you need…
Your color is the same as the black stallion and
panther, Oh what majestic creatures indeed!

All colors of the heavenly rainbow
can be found throughout every nation…
When all these colors are blended,
you become my greatest creation!

Your hair is the texture of lamb’s wool,
such a beautiful creature is he…
I am the shepherd who watches them,
I will ALWAYS watch over thee!

You are the color of the midnight sky,
I put star glitter in your eyes…
There’s a beautiful smile hidden behind your pain…
That’s why your cheeks are so high!

You are the color of dark clouds
from the hurricanes I create in September…
I made your lips so full and thick,
so when you kiss…they will remember!

Your stature is strong,
your bone structure thick to withstand the
burden of time…
The reflection you see in the mirror,
that image that looks back, that is MINE!

So get off your knees,
look in the mirror and tell me what you see?
I didn’t make you in the image of darkness…
I made you in the image of ME!

Conversations with Darryl and Tony

Darryl is one of my friends who lives in Chicago. I have been to Chicago, it seems like a nice place with a lot going on. According to the 2000 census, the demographics of Chicago are 32.4% Black, 31.7% White, 28.9% Hispanic/Latino, 5.4% Asian of a 2.8 million population.

We started off discussing Trump and his supporters in the forthcoming election, and Darryl (who is black) said that the support for Trump is revealing just how racist the white population of America is. I naively added my thoughts, which at the time had no statistical basis. I guessed (based solely on my experience of the views of my own white friends, family and acquaintances) that there are about 5% of the white population who are raving racists – willingly wishing harm, oppression and bad fortune on non-whites. I also guessed that of the remaining 95% many of them are not out and out racists, but people who know that racism happens but it does not register on their radar because it doesn’t affect them – it is somebody else’s problem. I used to be like this myself, blissfully unaware that as a white person I enjoy privileges that others do not, and I vaguely knew that there were injustices and issues, but it didn’t affect me, so I didn’t feel the need to stand up and say anything about it.

Also when your white social group contains many ‘mild’ racists – the kind of people who would never willingly harm a person based on skin colour, but blame the economic and criminal problems of the country on the non-white population, it’s easier to say nothing and go with the flow than it is to continually challenge them. I have challenged them in the recent past, and it is hard to change perceptions because they just accept what the media feeds them and do not actually look for the truth.

It’s really important to understand that the media have their own agenda and they will report in a biased manner to sway the population into believing whatever they want them to believe. The media is rarely questioned or brought to account, and if you are constantly being bombarded with gross exaggerations and lies, then you will believe the lies. If the government/media owners want mostly negative stories about black people reported and lots of positive stories about white people, then this is what happens and it is being fed to every household every day.

Darryl said that my guesses were way out and it was more likely that 95% of the white population are raving racists. He said that every day he says hello to white people who live in his apartment building and they ignore him and walk straight past. People sigh, roll their eyes, give him dirty looks. Nobody will hold a door open for him, women clutch their purse a bit tighter as he walks by. He hates going to restaurants because he has to wait to be served while white diners get served as a priority. I asked if there are ANY white people who are nice to him, and he said a few, but not many.

I mentioned this experience to another friend, Tony (also black), who used to live in Chicago and he agreed about the extent of blatant racism. Tony recounted a story where he had visited a branch of Olive Garden with his ex-wife. It took a while to get seated, but eventually they were served by a waiter who took an order for an appetizer. The salad was brought out and then the waiter disappeared and ignored them for the rest of the evening. Approximately an hour later another waiter asked if their main order had been taken, which it hadn’t, so the second waiter dealt with the order. At the end of the meal, Tony insisted that the tip should be given to the second waiter as the first waiter had neglected them. This caused a commotion and the manager was called, who then proceeded to treat Tony as if he had done something wrong, rather than treating him as a customer who had received appalling service. All three staff were white, Tony and his partner had a dreadful experience, yet they were being treated like an inconvenience rather than valued customers. This is not an isolated experience – it is generally how many black people are treated daily in Chicago.

It’s dawned on me before, but these conversations really hammered it home that I will never know what it feels like to be discriminated against like that every day. I feel sad and sorry that anybody has to live like that. It has to change.

I am now feeling really uneducated about the extent of the problem and would like to learn what others perceptions are regarding just how racist white people are. Do other Chicago inhabitants agree with Darryl and Tony that the vast majority of white Chicago residents have a racist mindset? Is it the same America-wide? How about other countries and cities ? Please discuss.

Clinton and Vannessa’s Experiences

Clinton, who lives in the Midlands area of the UK talked to me about being stopped by the police five times in one day while driving. Four of the officers gave him a ‘producer’ (meaning that he had to attend a police station and show his licence, MoT and insurance documents). A ‘producer’ is a real inconvenience – UK police stations are notoriously swamped with paperwork and understaffed meaning that you generally have to wait for a few hours or more just to speak to the officer at the front desk. Clinton was driving a black BMW and had even been warned by his friends not to buy it because it would be a magnet for police attention. He says that whenever he sees a police car in the rear view mirror now he gets nervous and agitated and when stopped, he feels that he cannot speak up and challenge the situation because he will be seen as aggressive and is more likely to get into trouble than his white peers.

Clinton says that the biggest issue for him though is that he has never felt included in the UK society. He states that he will never be seen as British or English and always labelled as ‘black’, and then demonised for not integrating.

Vannessa added to the point about being on your ‘best behaviour’. She said that it depends on your work environment – the more corporate you are, the more it seems you have to  curtail certain behaviours and not be seen as a troublemaker or ‘angry chip on your shoulder’ black person. She added that an outwardly, pro-black individual would find it very difficult to integrate into that type of environment and perhaps end up with mental health issues due to not being their true self. There are interesting studies around the impact of racism and mental health, the statistics are astounding regarding black people in the mental health system in the UK.

Vannessa mentioned that a lot of institutions are ingrained with this  racist mentality and black people have to navigate around it as best they can.

Click here for a link to a published research article about racism and mental health in the UK.

Click here for a link to an article about racism and mental health in Australia.

There are many instances of police racism in the UK and worldwide, I have a friend who was one of the few black members of the West Midlands Police, and he was told by a colleague “You’re okay mate, but I don’t like blacks or asians”. There was no rationality to this statement, just somebody with a very responsible job being openly racist. I have another friend who is on medication which can cause insomnia, so he decided to go out for a run at 2am one night to clear his head. Not very far down the road he was stopped and searched by the police and told that he looked ‘suspicious’ because he was a black man out running late at night with a backpack on.

Amanda (from the previous post) also had an experience relating to cars where her boss asked her if her partner was a drug dealer because he drove a BMW M3. She was determined enough to take her case to court and she won.

The points about police racism are not paranoia, they are fact. The government statistics from 2010 state that a black person is 7 times more likely than a white person to be stopped and searched, and a non-white person is more likely to receive a custodial sentence than a white person. There are many more instances where non-whites receive a harsher deal. This report can be viewed here.

I felt saddened by the extent of Clinton’s harassment and the fact that he has never felt like he fits in to the UK society. There are many more like Clinton.

There is a lot to celebrate and embrace about the wide variety of cultures in the world and yet we often choose to take a narrow minded view and dismiss anything other than our own particular way of life.

 

Amanda’s Experience

Amanda, a young professional accountant from London spoke to me about her experiences in the workplace. She recounted one situation where she worked for an advertising company in London. Amanda worked at the head office near Edgware Road and noted that most of the staff were white, with approx. 3 token black staff in the building. All of the sales staff were white and actually told Amanda that the company tend to not hire anybody who is non-white. She started working on the first floor and was messed around terribly, having to move office almost every week until she ended up on the eighth floor.

If you have ever moved desk in an office environment before you will know what an upheaval this can be, moving all of your files and equipment around and hoping that your computer and phone will still work as expected at the new desk. Sometimes you can easily lose a day’s work when moving.

After the weekly inconvenience of moving around the building, they then wanted to move Amanda to another location in Brentford, quite a distance from the Edgware Road office. Her colleagues could not believe that she had to keep moving and it seemed that she was being singled out. When she discussed the situation with Human Resources, and showed that her contract stated Edgware Road, they agreed to pay her for the year so that she would leave the company. When she asked why there were hardly any non-white people in the company, Human Resources stated that they had ‘met their quota’.

This is not an isolated incident and Amanda has experienced similar situations before.

What struck me about this experience was not only the blatant racism by the company and the admission of ‘meeting a quota’ by the HR Dept, but the degree of subtle workplace bullying that Amanda experienced. It is well documented that bullying in the workplace is not only restricted to verbal and physical assaults but also includes actions of inconsistency and isolation as published by the Workplace Bullying Institute:
Isolation : Intentionally excluding someone or making them feel socially or physically isolated from a group; purposefully excluding someone from decisions, conversations, and work-related events;
Constant change and inconsistency: Constantly changing expectations, guidelines, and scope of assignments; constant inconsistency of word and action (e.g. not following through on things said)

There is also a suggestion that she was ‘paid off’ to avoid any industrial confrontation that may have created bad press for the company.

Most companies say that their values include Respect, Fairness and Equality, and some of them include racial and cultural awareness training during induction, but how many actually discipline or dismiss employees who do not adhere to the company equality policy ?

 

Invisible

The first post is the lyrics of a track called Invisible by boy band Public Demand. The track was released in 1996 and the band featured Lifford Shillingford who went on to have major success with Artful Dodger’s Please Don’t Turn Me On, and Lifford still records and performs today. The lyrics are a poignant account of a young black man’s view of a racist world where he does not fit in – 30 years after the Race Relations Act was initiated in the UK.

View the song video here

Invisible Lyrics

A sea of empty faces, with hearts as cold as stone
Look into eyes that don’t see, I feel so all alone
No-one seems to care, no-one wants to look into the light

There’s a baby crying, but no-one wants to know
Her mother made a wrong turn, down a dead end road
Now she’s lost in her own tears, there’s got to be a better way of life, oh no

I feel like I’m invisible, is that what I am
I walk through this world, like an invisible man
I can’t take it, I can’t fake it
Got to be a better way of life (said there’s got to be a better way of life)

I call out for a taxi, but he just drives on by
And as he passed me, I looked him in his eyes
Do you feel at all, or am I out of sight or out of mind, ohhhh

I feel like I’m in my own world, with people just like me
Caught in a bubble, I’m losing sanity
Feel like I’m falling faster, but still I won’t give up the fight, oh no

I feel like I’m invisible, that’s how I feel
You look right through me as if I’m not real
I won’t give in, this ain’t living, got to be a better way of life

Got to be a better way of life, feels like I’m going to lose my mind
I need to know the reason why, I, I, I, I feel like I’m invisible
Is that what I am, walk through this world like an invisible man
I can’t take it, I can’t fake it, got to be a better way of life, for me and you

I know I’m not invisible, that’s how I feel
You look right through me as if I’m not real