A new President has been named in the US and while many folks are rejoicing, there are mixed feelings that continually remind us that while Trump may have been impeached - white supremacy and the infrastructure that set him up certainly hasn’t left the building.
Here at Black Creatives Aotearoa we would like to share the perspective of some of our African American members. We invited Daisy Remington, our social media manager to share her thoughts and opinions on the current state of affairs. Daisy spoke with two African Americans currently located in the USA: Diane Wesh, who only recently returned home to Virginia Beach, Virginia and Octavius Jones, who found himself having an extended stay back home while his visas were being processed to allow him to continue his study at Victoria University in Wellington. She also spoke to Ra Shandra, who has lived in New Zealand since Oct 2019 and has ties in Washington DC. From these different korero she has penned her first opinion piece.
Thank you Daisy for taking the time to share your words, thoughts and feelings with us. We are delighted to share your work!
My name is Daisy, I hail from California. I am a mother, a farmer and the social media manager for Black Creative Aotearoa. I have called New Zealand my home for over 10 years. While I love America unendingly I had to separate myself from it. There are many reasons I relocated to Aotearoa - and one of these was the need to get away from the sense of fear and anxiety I felt permeating the United States.
It feels that a lot of the fear and anxiety stems from a desperate attempt to suppress history and a denial of the duality that exists in the United States. The US has felt on a precipice and feeding the monsters of fear and anxiety has resulted in anger and violence. Change is required, not simply a change in Presidency but a recognition that we (Americans) are all in this together. Having candid conversations about the past and the present, about the systems that are failing so many, and allowing for the many personal perspectives.
I often hear people crying, ‘revisionist history cannot be taught’, and yet revisionist history is all that is taught. In the US, African American, excuse me ‘American history’ only mentions: slavery, the end of slavery, and the civil rights movement. Some states do not even touch on all three or do so in such brief terms that is it any surprise that the average white person might wonder, why are they complaining?
Complaining is often a term used by those who feel uncomfortable with the fact another person is making their opinion known. Right now, we need to make our opinion known.
A new president does not erase the events that occured. Just like the people who felt so emboldened by the president’s, at the time, words have not disappeared. These events happened and these people are still a part of the US.
I admit, it is not easy for me to be open. I have spent much of my life policing my words and I have found myself too often concerned with how my white reader will receive my words. My efforts are directed to ensure that I am palatable to my white reader so that I do not shut them off - this is obvious to me. I am also conscious of the tension between my desire to invite and include those who are white, and perhaps on the fence, into this conversation to grow their understanding of our views as African-Americans; and yet, I am simultaneously aware of the choices that I make that could, unintentionally, seem that I am not writing for ‘my people’.
I share this, not to make excuses but to offer a glimpse into the ongoing tug-of-war that is my current state of being and from which this, my truth comes from.
I hope you find these different perspectives, that do not seem to reach NZ media, informative, personal and revealing.
No one I spoke to was surprised by the storming of the capitol. The country was built on racism that too many white people refuse to acknowledge. Part of the problem is indeed systemic, our system has repeatedly failed to present history in an accurate way and when asked to provide a more realistic view of history there is brutal, unyielding and ugly opposition.
I asked Ra Shandra, a working mother, if this event has affected the way people see racism in America Ra said, “I would like to hope it has opened their eyes, but there are many people that still refuse to see it, and if they refuse to see it they obviously are not willing to accept responsibility or actively participate in a resolution.”
There is always a way to avoid conversations that need to happen. Looking for a masterclass in how to turn racism into economic policy in an attempt to erase it from a lexicon? You only have to listen to Lee Atwater, the campaign manager for Reagan and Bush Senior here to gain an insight into the workings of the system.
“Change won't arrive until we all fully accept that our country is truly flawed at its very core and commit to changing the oppressive and racist systems that have been in place for decades,” Ra says and I feel she’s right.
Since the first interactions between the Indigenous peoples of North America and those from the British isles who deemed themselves superior, different in race, in genetic makeup, in the very colour of our epidermis a huge, unequal and inequitable abyss has been created. While racism has always existed and affected communities of colour, it has been fed and emboldened. Ra points out that it really began to grow when we elected the first black President and Trump simply had to fan the flames.
Harry Reid, the Senate Majority Leader in 2008, apologized for saying that Obama only had a chance because he was light skinned and had “no negro dialect, unless he wanted to have one.”
Clearly, Mr. Reid is not well informed with the required code switching that we (the black community) face on the daily. It is also unsettling that such language would be used by someone who supported Obama’s candidacy.
When discussing the intensification of racism within the US Octavius who is researching, through digital storytelling, how Māori women understand their environment and what role they play in marine conservation for his PhD, said, “Somehow it was okay to fester and grow with the terrorist acts at the local level, but now that it has reached the buildings that birthed such rhetoric and currently houses the offspring of white supremacy - there is more pomp and circumstance surrounding such violence.”
The theatrical aspects associated with these acts are echoed by Diane. Having travelled solo around the world, and compelled to do so after a deeply traumatic experience in the US, Diane is a survivor who has created remarkable change for herself, and the black communities she connects with wherever she goes. However, she doesn’t hesitate in saying,
“This is America. This has always been America. White people will continue to be white people: Do whatever they want, whenever they want, wherever they want and reap the benefits of their privilege.”
Numerous arrests have followed but justice is still far from being served to those who sit at the bottom of the banquet table. Privilege is still prevalent. Jacob Anthony Chansley, one of the insurrectionists was able to have a judge ensure he received organic food while in prison.
Can you imagine? On one hand we have the killers of Eric Garner going scot free and on the other Jacob Anthony Chansley is able to ensure that his diet is unaffected while he is in prison.
The caucasity is hard for me to fathom. I cannot imagine living a life where I did not have to check myself before making any move.
It is hard to be optimistic during this time and this is a feeling shared by myself and those with whom I had an opportunity to reflect. Octavius says, “There is no way for there to continue to be a North American empire with this level of inequality and injustice.”
Ra also added that she was concerned that [her] family and friends will be profiled then vilified because of the color of their skin. “I look at little black and brown children that are born into a system that is set up against them and wants to see them fail.”
The frustration is well put when Ra said, "My ancestors sang ‘We shall overcome someday’...but when will someday finally arrive?”
This particular fight is not directly a black fight, as Diane points out: “We (many Black people) don’t have any more time or energy to exert on their foolishness,” and I agree; this is a time for the white communities to really examine what is going on that would allow them to accept this.
However, this issue is not about stereotyping or lumping all white folks together because as Octavius points out that “white people who have felt the disenfranchisement of the recent years and not realized that their issues are WITH and not against POC, indigenous peoples, people with disabilities, queer people and non-white immigrants.
What is striking to me, like Octavius said and Ra touched upon, is that the country was built on the blood and sweat of black and brown people but it also worked to oppress many white people as well.
Through all of this it is also important that our black communities maintain their mental health. “Me personally, I’m concerned with maintaining my boundaries to keep my mental health in check,” Diane said. I have to echo this sentiment as the events that unfolded rocked me to the core. Despite knowing and witnessinesing these things occur on a smaller scale it still saddens me to see this on the national level.
America has a lot to unpack, if we let this moment be forgotten then an opportunity is missed. This moment is not unique but it could be. If America learns from this event and its sordid history then real change just might, have a chance.