“Herein lie buried many things which if read with patience may show the strange meaning of being black here in the dawning of the Twentieth Century. This meaning is not without interest to you, Gentle Reader; for the problem of the Twentieth Century is the problem of the color-line.”

W.E.B. Du Bois wrote those lines in the Souls of Black Folk in 1907 and more than one hundred years later, in the Twenty-first Century, the problem remains the color-line.

After all of this time, Black bodies continue to be criminalized and dehumanized. I have been wondering if a shift in perspective would solve all of our issues. Shifting one's perspective is so simple that it seems trivial, but the only difference between an oppressive, racist person; the only difference between a racist, oppressive system and a person or system that embraces the diversity of God's design is perspective. An act of kindness and respect for all people without regard to race is the kind of perspective shift that is very much needed in our country. Could it be that simple?

Sign Up for Paterson Newsletter
Our newsletter delivers the local news that you can trust.

donald j. trump used the United States National Guard, and military police to violently disperse peaceful protestors so that he could hold up a bible in front of a church for a photo-op. Had he opened that bible, he could have seen the passage in Proverbs where it states that a man who is kind benefits himself, but a cruel man hurts himself. donald j. trump is the gasoline on the fire that has been raging in our country for more than one hundred years. his perspective that a photo op trumped the very important foundational practice of protest in the United States gave him permission to proceed in his cruel act. What could a perspective shift have done to support the peaceful American protesters? Could the president have delayed that photo op until morning when the protests were done? A shift in his perspective would have helped him to see Americans protesting as the act of kindness and respect that it is intended.

Amy King’s 2016 poem Perspective reads, in part,”I know which one is dying/ while black and which one stands by white.” In the poem she discusses the social acceptance of police violence against Black bodies, against Black people, against Black family members, mothers, fathers, lovers brothers sisters scientist. Amy Cooper, who is not a voice or subject in a poem, but a real person who understands the perspective that society has about Black people and who understands the social acceptance of police violence against Black humanity so much that she weaponized her false vulnerability against a gentle man, Chris Cooper: a scholar, a scientist; a bird watcher. A shift in perspective could have led to a civil discourse between the two people. Instead, a long history of the social acceptance of violence, police violence in particular, informed her cruelty toward Mr. Cooper. Could it be that simple?

That former officer who penned Mr. George Floyd to the ground by placing his knee on Mr. Floyd’s neck thought that Mr. Floyd was expendable as evidenced by his action. A shift in perspective would have preserved Mr. Floyd’s life. A shift in perspective would have allowed the officer to consider that Mr. Floyd’s life mattered, to arrest him if needed, to allow Mr, Floyd a day in court, to not stand in the way of Mr. Floyd’s natural return to ‘The Essence.’  In July of 1919, Claude McKay wrote, “If we must die, let it not be like hogs/Hunted and penned in an inglorious spot”. Over one hundred years ago, McKay who was fed up and frustrated about the violence against Black people wrote to encourage Black people to bravely fight back. I believe Americans protesting in the 2020 Rebellion are sprouted from the same seed of frustration that birthed McKay’s words. A change in perspective. Could it be that simple?

There is a fraction of our United States who still limit the value of Black Americans to a utilitarian function: essential workers whose job descriptions have varied over the years: slave, indentured servant, maid, colored soldier, and, today, those low wage service careers. In 1895, Paul Lawrence Dunbar’s poem, Colored Soldiers, describes the dire circumstances under which colored soldiers helped to defeat Uncle Sam’s oppressors only to be dismissed and subjugated afterward. Not much has changed the utilitarian view of Black Americans for some people in the United States since Dunbar preserved that history for us, so that we know.  To that fraction who still hold limited views concerning Black Americans, I say to you, Gentle Reader, a shift in perspective is all that is needed. Imagine your life, dreams, talents, and interest in another shell. Would you be less human? Would the matters of your mind be less valuable beneath wooly hair?

The 2020 Rebellion, during a global pandemic, speaks to the passion that hundreds of years of fighting toward equity has produced.Rebellion is happening in our hearts. Rebellion is happening in our minds. Rebellion is happening in our art.The Rebellion is happening in our souls. Rebellion is happening in the streets and we are planning to win. It is that simple.

 

Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Black Boy

Influenced by Wallace Stevens’ poem, “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird,” 1954.

I

Among twenty armed officers,  

The only moving thing  

Was the falling body of the black boy.  

 

II

The root and the branches  

Of a family a tree in which there are

love, and legacy, and memories of lynched black boys.  

 

III

The black boy is the greatest,

 And the greatest endurer

Of unnecessary, historical pain.    

 

IV

A man and a woman  

Are one.  

A man and a woman and a black boy  

Are one.  

 

V

I do not know which to prefer,  

The beauty of a black boys eyes

Or the beauty of his creative mind,  

The black boy’s potential, sure bliss,

Or the black boy’s tendency to love.  

 

VI

Bars filled the long hallways  

With barbaric enclosures.  

The body of the black boy  

Crossed it, to and fro.  

His mind,  

uncontainable,  

His spirit, still free.  

 

VII

O Men of Theology  

Why do you imagine golden hair?  

Do you not see how the wool headed black boy  

Walks around on feet  

Of polished bronze around you?  

 

VIII

I know valuable places and possessions  

And complicated, intricate creations-- ways of knowing;  

But I know, too,  

That the black boy is involved  

In what I know.  

 

IX

When the black boy emerged in the Western Hemisphere,  

It marked the edge  

of many improvements to modern society.  

 

X

At the sight of black boys  

Gathered under street lights,  

Even the asphalt beneath their sneakers  

Are blessed by their existence.  

 

XI

She rides around the country  

In an impossible glass coach.  

Each time a fear pierces her,  

She mistakes her fragility, and  

Insecurity, and false vulnerability  

For a black boy.  

 

XII

The earth is spinning.  

The black boy is her axis.  

 

XIII

It was a murmuration.  

It was black boys  

Gathering to show  

Black boy solidarity  

In spite of the many obstacles.