“… The American Dream is achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work rather than by chance.”
-Adam Barone, “American Dream.” Investopedia, 21 Nov. 2019.
“‘Mr. Rickey, are you looking for a Negro who is afraid to fight back?’ asked the young [Jackie Robinson]. ‘Robinson, I’m looking for a ballplayer with guts enough not to fight back,’ explained [Branch] Rickey.”
– Conversation between Jackie Robinson, first black MLB player and Branch Rickey, baseball executive. Christopher Kline, “Silent No Longer: The Outspoken Jackie Robinson.” History, 14 Apr. 2017.
“You niggers are wondering how you are going to be treated after the war. Well, I’ll tell you, you are going to be treated exactly like you were before the war, this is a white man’s country and we expect to rule it.”
– Blanton, Joshua E.: Men in the Making, in: Southern Workman 48 (January 1919), p. 20.
My Dear Readers,
As the month of February is winding down, I want to acknowledge Black (originally Negro) History Month. This is the time of year in which African Americans and the dominant group come together to showcase and learn about the contributions of its black citizenry.
What is psychologically impactful for many is that at the end of each February, the essential meaning of black history, its contributions, and achievements are put away, forgotten by some, and ignored by others until Black History Month arrives again next year.
“What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing you did mattered? That about sums it up for me.”
– Groundhog Day. Dir. Harold Ramis. Columbia Pictures, 1993.
What are the psychological impacts on black and brown children whose history is condensed and packaged during the 28 or 29 days of February then subsequently disappears only to be repeated year after year?
What are the psychological impacts on those same black and brown children who are inundated with symbols, ideologies, accomplishments, and achievements of the dominant group for the remaining 337 days per year?
What are the psychological impacts on black and brown children observing their parents, elders, and responsible others colluding with the dominant group in observance of Black History Month?
The answers to these questions are complex. Like a rooted tree that is not watered, when the psychological self is not reinforced on a consistent basis, it withers away to the point where it ceases to strive to live and is resigned to a life of existence and basic survival.
Since their arrival in American colonies, African men and women have existed in a constant state of psychological survival. They have had the similar value of a “beast of burden”, tied to the yoke and forced to plow the land for meager or no return. The “beast” plows the land in hopes of receiving the “carrot” that is placed strategically in sight and yet remains out of reach.
The “carrot” being offered to African Americans by the dominant group is the attractive and appealing American Dream. The American Dream is
the belief that “anyone, regardless of where they were born or what class they were born into, can attain their own version of success in a society where upward mobility is possible for everyone and it can be achieved through sacrifice, risk-taking, and hard work, rather than by chance”.
Although the intention behind the creation of Black History Month was well conceived, a community of psychologically weakened individuals is unable to consistently reinforce their history to their children while depending upon the dominant group to teach black and brown children their historical contributions and achievements from a white perspective.
This white perspective tends to single out certain African Americans and identify them as the Super Negro. These legendary figures were usually sports figures such as:
• Jackie Robinson – MLB Hall of Fame
• Kobe Bryant – NBA Champion
• Jesse Owens – Four-time Gold Medalist, Berlin Olympics 1936
• Wilma Rudolph – Three-time Gold Medalist, Rome Olympics 1956
• Arthur Ashe – winner of seven Grand Slam singles and doubles tennis titles
• Althea Gibson – winner of seven Grand Slam singles and doubles tennis titles
However, African Americans, when viewed through the white perspective, are separated out into the best or Super Negros and all other average or unknown African Americans whose accomplishments and contributions are intentionally ignored or diminished. These every-day people are seen as having less value, therefore are not worthy or eligible to receive the “carrot”.
This group is designated “invisible” and hence becomes the No Negro. These indivisibles or No Negroes make contributions to the dominant group, but those contributions are not considered noteworthy and therefore do not become “folklore” or “legendary” and quickly fade into the dust of time and history.
Let’s examine some of the contributions and achievements of those who failed to win the praise of the dominant group and now are relegated to footnotes in history.
• Jill Elaine Brown
• The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion
• The Red Ball Express
• Charles Walter David Jr.
Jill Elaine Brown
Although Bessie Coleman (1892-1926) is known as the first African American woman to hold a pilot license as well as stage a public flight in America, little has been stated about Jill Elaine Brown, who became the first African American woman to serve as a pilot for a major US airline when she was hired by Texas International Airlines at the age of 28.
Prior to this, she became the first African American female trainee to enter the US Naval flight-training program. A tireless fighter of racial and gender discrimination, she sued United Airlines after being rejected for employment three times.
Today she remains an advocate, model and mentor for women and African American aviators.
The 6888th Central Postal Directory Battalion
Led by its black female commander Major Charity Adams Earley, it was the only all-female, African American battalion overseas in France during World War II.
At the time, there were more than seven million American troops stationed in Europe. The task of sorting mail and delivering mail was difficult due to common names, soldiers on secret assignments and wartime conditions. At the time, there were more than seven million American troops stationed in Europe and receiving letters from home was an important way to keep up the morale of the troops on the front lines.
These enlisted women worked eight-hour shifts, seven days a week, despite having to respond to racism and segregation while performing their duties.
Major Earley felt that reacting to racism caused more problems than it solved and insisted that the 6888th Battalion look past the prejudice directed at them by the men retuning from the frontlines. Major Earley’s efforts lead to a US recruitment tour to encourage more women to enlist and were groundbreaking and eased the inclusion of African Americans and women into military service.
The Red Ball Express
This military unit was a large convoy of trucks, the majority of which was made up of African American soldiers who, during WWII supplied the Allied forces once they broke out of the Normandy Beaches in 1944. The Red Ball Express was created in August 1944 as a means of getting vital supplies to some 28 American and Allied divisions racing across France.
Each division needed 700 tons of fuel, ammo, food and other essentials every day. At the height of the Red Ball Express mission, some 5,938 vehicles carried 12,342 tons of supplies day and night.
The drivers would drive at high speeds through enemy territory to ensure the supplies would be there when needed. Up to 140 trucks were on French roads 24 hours days supplying General Patton’s Third Army 350 miles away in the east as well as the First Army 400 miles away in the south. Night driving had to be done without headlights to avoid being spotted by the enemy.
They modified vehicle carburetors, removing the governors so they could travel at speeds reaching 50-60 mph. They risked land mines and drove with shredded tires from roads littered with shell fragments and barbed wire. They drove in overloaded trucks that tipped and flipped, sinking into the mud of country roads, risking death due to enemy action and exhaustion from crashes due to drivers falling asleep at the wheel from lack of sleep.
In 83 days and at the end of the program in August 1944, about 412,000 tons of various items including gasoline, ammunition oil, food, mail and other needed supplies had been delivered by the Negro drivers of the Red Ball Express.
One British infantry brigade commander noted, “Few who saw them will ever forget the enthusiasm of the Negro drivers, hell-bent whatever the risk to get Gen. Patton his supplies.”
Charles Walter David Jr.
Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. served aboard the US Coast Guard Cutter Comanche during WWII. The Comanche was assigned to escort a convoy in the North Atlantic which included the troop transport ship the USS Dorchester. During the night of February 3, 1944, a U-boat off the coast of Greenland torpedoed the USS Dorchester resulting in multiple casualties. David volunteered to leave the safety of the kitchen of the Comanche to dive overboard, with air temperatures below freezing, to help rescue the Dorchester survivors.
David assisted in the rescue of 93 people, repeatedly diving into the frigid waters and personally saving the lives of three Dorchester survivors and two of his own crew members, one being the cutter’s executive officer who had fallen overboard and was unable to pull himself up by diving into the cold waters and tying him up to be hoisted to safety.
Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. died a few days later from pneumonia that he contracted during his heroic efforts to save the Dorchester’s survivors and members of his own crew. He was posthumously awarded the Navy and Marine Corps Medal, the nation’s third highest medal for bravery.
The Super Negro: Worship & Rewards
Following a life of service to the dominant group during which the Super Negro has endured countless incidents of macro aggression; death threats and physical assaults, micro aggression; everyday verbal, nonverbal slights, snubs or insults, and acts of rejection, similar to Jackie Robinson, the expectation is to endure and have “guts enough not to fight back”. In exchange, the Super Negro is permitted limited access to the group’s wealth and social standing.
As a reward for service to the dominant group and endurance of many years of abuse, selected African Americans following their death are granted godlike worship and legendary status.
Take notice of the awards given to those earlier mentioned in the Super Negro group:
• Jackie Robinson – Six-time MLB All-Star, MLB Rookie of the Year, MLB Hall of Fame, MLB All-Century Team presented by Major League Baseball and had “The Jackie Robinson Award” named after him.
• Kobe Bryant – NBA MVP, Four-time NBA All-Star Game MVP, 18-time All-Star presented by National Basketball Association and, The NBA All-Star MVP award will be renamed the “NBA All-Star Game Kobe Bryant MVP Award” in his honor.
• Jesse Owens – Four-time gold medalist at the 1936 Olympic Games and had “The Jesse Owens Award” named after him
• Arthur Ashe – Had “The Arthur Ashe Courage & Humanitarian Award” for Contributions Transcending Sports, presented by the ESPN, named after him.
• Wilma Rudolph – Had “The Wilma Rudolph Courage Award” for female athletes demonstrating extraordinary courage, presented by Women Sports Foundation named after her.
• Althea Gibson – Had “The Althea Gibson Cup” presented by the International Tennis Federation, named after her.
The No Negro: The Gaze at the Carrot & Differential Treatment
Similar to the Super Negro, the No Negro provides a life of service to the dominant group endures incidents of macro and micro aggressions with the hope of achieving the same rights and benefits of the dominant group. However, as there are too many and aren’t seen as having the same value, they can only gaze hungrily at the carrot and must fight for access to the wealth and resources controlled by the dominant group.
• Major Charity Adams Earley commander of the 6888th Central Postal Battalion and responsible for handling mail for millions of white servicemen upon her return had to stand off with the KKK with a shotgun while protecting her home and she had to fight for her benefits earned as a veteran servicing her country.
• Although black drivers of the Red Ball Express risked their lives delivering supplies to General Patton’s 3rd Army, he wrote in his dairy “I have no faith in the inherent fighting ability of the race.” Upon returning home, there were numerous incidents of black veterans being lynched while in military uniform.
• Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. participated in saving the lives of 93 survivors. Approximately 672 men died and 230 from the Dorchester survived. Four men, all white received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the highest honor bestowed for heroic actions taken place under enemy fire. For sacrificing his life Steward’s Mate First Class Charles Walter David Jr. who, because of the color of his skin was restricted to mess hall duty, received the Navy & Marine Corps Medal, the nation third highest honor.
• Jill Elaine Brown throughout her role as a commercial pilot, safely transported thousands of passengers without incident. However, although she had the training, skills and experience she was repeatedly denied, due to her race and gender, employment by United Airlines. She sued the airlines twice in federal court and lost both times.
Concluding Words-Dr. Kane
“Boy, you be safe out in the world now. Remember, you’re colored. This is a white man’s world. Mind your business, stay out of white folks’ mess.”
– Mabel Sanders, Grandmother
My Dear Readers,
I am the child of the segregated south. Although I am northern born (Harlem, NY), I am southern raised (Newport News, VA). My grandmother’s father was a slave, whereas my grandmother was born free.
Although domestic terrorism is a new concept to the dominant group, it was a well-known concept to many African Americans including my great grandfather and the generations of my family that followed. Understanding the difficult times in which my grandparents lived, her words “stay in your lane and mind your business” were fitting even though African Americans have provided cheap labor in agriculture and factories and sacrificed our sons and daughters in service of this country yet, we are still forcefully excluded from sharing in the resources of this land.
Currently, factions within the dominant group are struggling to win the African American vote as the nation enters the presidential election. Historically, the concerns of the African American community have been taken for granted, with promises made and broken. While included in the political processes, once our votes have been received, we find ourselves once again being excluded from participation into the resources held by the dominant group.
Dr. Tressie McMillian Cottom, in her 2019 book, Thick: And Other Essays, suggests that “exclusion can be part of a certain type of liberation, where one dominant regime is overthrown for another, but it cannot be universal”.
The failure of the African American community is its willingness to sacrifice the psychological wellness of its children for the carrot of economic wealth that is gingerly dangled by the dominant group. It seems to passively accept the limitations imposed on it by the dominant group by allowing them to determine the acknowledgment of its history, achievements of its individuals as well as the community’s awareness of the psychological impact of this distorted history on its children being spoon-fed stories of the “Super Negro” or omission of the achievements of the “No Negro”.
Fortunately for the upcoming generation, the black millennials, many are choosing to go in a different direction. They have decided that the American Dream is a myth that can be snatched away at any time so therefore, “chasing the carrot” is not for them. They have decided that “staying quiet and minding their own business” is not for them. They have decided that allowing their achievements to be omitted is not for them. They are instead focusing on proving their humanity and ensuring that the dominant group and its infighting political factions make good on their promises.
My grandmother’s words were right for her time and her day. However, her day has passed.
The past is what it was.
The present is fading
The future is not promised
Embrace your journey
As you walk the landscape
Walk your landscape, not someone else
Seek your dreams, not someone else
Holding the psychological self
As you embrace the unknown and uncharted….
Dr. Micheal Kane
“How would you feel psychologically if you were stuck in one place and every year your history was displayed exactly the same reinforcing the belief that nothing you did mattered? That about sums up Black History Month for me.”
– Dr. Micheal Kane
Standing Alone… The Unspoken Truth
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