Power to the Name...and then some stuff about ally-ship
Q'ell Betton's "What's In a Name" inspired this one
As I was reading Q'ell Betton's "What's In A Name," he mentioned that he had a girlfriend who told him that she would not change her name. I rooted for her on the spot. I know that feeling, I have always said the same. As I mentioned in "Radicalization," I have a family tree that is 15 pages long that traces my grandmother's surname to 1795. I am one of the lucky ones. The truth is that we never moved from the lands from where we were slaves. The abolishment of slavery happened in 1865, so we have county records for the people alive at that time. So I will take on my husband's name but in hyphen form. I refuse to drop my surname because I can trace it too far back. It's my legacy; it's my history.
The Opportunity to Know Oneself
Betton talks about the effects of racism and slavery in his own country within the British Isles. He speaks on how at the end of slavery, it was either work for free or die and how his own last name means not knowing much beyond the fact that his family was owned by people of European descent. It serves as a reminder of systematic racism didn't just happen to black America. It happened to every family that still resides in the country that was forced upon them centuries ago.
Growing up, my family would throw huge family reunions. The generation before me is the last in my family to maintain these types of connections. People who share my name came from all over the country to a little country town in the south to celebrate our name. That little country town has streets named after us, our family burial plot is there along with the church, and we have land there. It is our legacy from slavery in tangible form.
Is my name a slave name? Yes. Well, most likely. The people in my family who know the most about my name have Alzheimer or have passed on. I am happy that I am finally connecting to the black community in the most authentic way I have ever managed. In my time to get here, though, I missed primed opportunities to learn not only about culture but also about my family. So all I have now is what is written down and the family members currently around me. I say this because I believe my name is a variation of our slave name instead of it being it exactly. However, I do carry two surnames, both from my father's side. The second is more likely to be our exact slave name. It is of French origin and is widely used among people of European descent.
I don't know much about my mother's side because, unlike my father's side, my mother's side was torn down by systematic racism. Systematic racism is more than not being able to attend well-funded schools and being denied for a loan at a bank. It is grandparents raising grandchildren as their direct own. It's those grandchildren working own fields to provide food for a family of 5 plus. It's teenagers marrying at 16 because what is the other choice.
In my piece "Domestic Violence. It is part of the BLM Movement too" I talk about how domestic violence is a symptom of systematic racism. We have higher cases of violence in our communities because we have been denied basic needs and opportunities for better for centuries. The effect is the breaking down of our family structure. When the family breaks down, then the community breaks down. It is a massive snowball effect that starts with racism.
The Legacy of a Name in Entertainment
Michael Jordan's documentary on ESPN was a feat in itself, but it did show a one-dimensional person. No matter how great Jordan was/is, he did not use the platform he had to progress the black community. I grew up loving Jordan as a sports figure, but I also remember stories circulating about people meeting him in Charlotte, especially when he bought the Bobcats. It was never good. So the name Jordan also meant, to many, including my family, a man who didn't like/appreciate the very community he came from.
Now LeBron James and Colin Kaepernick are our current day revolutionary sports figures for the black community. They will never be remembered as just sports figures. Their personalities, their connections to their families and their communities, show a profound understanding of their names, not only as superstars but as black men.
Even people like Kanye West, no matter how offbeat Kanye is, understands his name as a black man in America. People like figures like Donald Glover and Jay-Z over Kanye, which I understand entirely. Yes, Kanye has said some things that are beyond ridiculous, yes he supported Trump, and yes, his wife leaves something to be desired, but that doesn't mean he doesn't understand. Kanye has been canceled by the black community, which I can't fault anyone for, but Kanye continually shows up for the community. He has his own traumas and he has his own struggles. We should choose to respect that instead of saying he's a sellout. But hey, that's just my opinion.
I bring these people up at this point because it is crucial we take cues from these people who have made it to the point where systematic racism can be an afterthought. However, they choose not to let it be. They understand their platform is powerful not only for the black community but also for the white community. They also know at the end of the day, their surname ultimately means different than. It's humbling to witness them acknowledge that. These men grew up in poverty, they are zero generations removed from it, and they never forget it.
Family/Friend Gatherings for Progress
I would love to get to a place in my life where I can throw a huge family reunion, such as the ones I attended as a child. I am fond of my father's generation and the ones before him for making the point to find each other, instead of letting our displacement from America's systematic racism be the final say. As a black person and an everyday individual, I believe this the most powerful thing one can do for their community and family in the name of progress.
Now with all that being said, let's talk ally-ship.
I see too many posts, mostly from black people, telling people that their voice is insignificant or too small.
These posts aim to criticize the fact that someone, most likely not black, posted about the current state of things or posted that black square. These posts say that none of it meant anything to their racist aunt or cousin. We, as the black community shouldn't be criticizing these people for how they choose to support.
It is equivalent to saying this person stole from me, so I will steal something from them.
Instead, we should tell them that the ones that supported them in their support of the movement are the people they should be building their connections with, especially if it's a black family member. If it's not, if everyone in their family is white, then their posts should be an opportunity to have open discussions about why this movement is happening. The people liking their posts are showing them that they hear them and on some level understand their sentiments.
To the Allies:
Now, I do entirely agree with the bare bones of the criticism of which the 'nobody cares' post comes from. For these are hard conversations to have and at heart, it does take more than a post. These are face to face conversations that are needed. Why not gather your family and friends for pool days, barbecues, lake/boat days and use that time to create open discussions? Yes, this is a prime way to create opportunities for friction within your family or friend group. It is also an excellent opportunity to be a real ally to the movement too.
True ally-ship isn't money-related nor protest-related; it is choosing to be the person that brings the hard conversation of this movement to families and friends. It is choosing to be the voice that speaks up during family/friend gatherings knowing that the discomfort that you will cause is minor to the discomfort that the black community lived/lives through on a day to day basis for the past 400 years.
At the end of the day you won't reach everyone; some people just need to come into things in their own time but for everyone else you do reach, keep reaching them. You have no idea who you might influence.
Thanks for reading!
This turned out a little longer than anticipated, so thanks for sticking with me! Also, definitely check out Q'ell Betton's article!