On My Shelf: Racism

I’d like to thank #Slatespeak for making me realize the problem in the church. I expressed my feelings/frustrations on this topic on this post. I put out the call for some literature delving into this topic when an archivist friend at a religious archive recommended this book. (see below).

The first chapter alone had me feeling all sorts of things. All. The. Things. I look forward to sharing my thoughts further once I finish reading it.

I’m exploring the idea of doing seasonal reading. By that I mean, dedicating a season to reading a certain genre, author, or topic. For fall, I want to read bell hooks. I read Teaching to Transgress a couple of months ago and I remember thinking “I love this woman.” I want to read as much of her writing as possible.

A friend gifted me with a Barnes & Nobles gift card that led to this purchase. I was originally looking for a different book by bell hooks but I decided to read the Introduction to get a sense of the content. True to form, hooks sucked me right in. I guess you could say I decided to read it hook (😉) , line, and sinker.

Why I'm Glad Underground on WGN was Cancelled

When the show premiered in 2016, I was apprehensive. Did we really need to delve into slavery? (That’s debatable to some) More importantly, would the show do slavery and those were enslaved justice? Two minutes into the pilot episode where Noah was on the run to the sound of Kanye West’s Black Skinhead, I was hooked. I became a ride-or-die Underground fan telling anyone and everyone about the show. I even went so far as to consider developing community discussions around the show.

This write up isn’t why I love the show BUT I’m glad WGN pulled the plug on it. To read up why I originally liked the show, check out my 2016 post on my old site.

1. Who? What? When? Where?

For most of Season 2’s run, I spent that time confused as hell. Where were we? The show spent a lot of time jumping around that it became difficult to keep track of characters and where they were. First, Cato was in Philadelphia and then Ohio? Or was he in Ohio all along? Not only that, the show compressed time for the sake of moving the plot along. It took the Macon 7 most of Season 1 to get to from Georgia to freedom, wherever that was. And yet, I am suppose to believe that Rosalee and Noah got from wherever they were to Georgia. Travel, even by train, wasn’t fast back in the late 1850s. Also, the show missed a golden opportunity to explain how two former slaves managed to make it there without any trouble. By compressing time, the show lost its realism.

2. Harriet Tubman

I love me some Aisha Hinds. The woman did the damn thing as Harriet Tubman. I’d love to see a biopic of Tubman with either Hinds or Violet Davis in the role. I mean, a girl can hope. Unlike the others, Tubman was a real person so having her interact with fictional people became a problem. I recently read Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom by Catherine Clinton. It painted an interesting look at this woman called Moses. For one thing, Tubman was acquainted with Frederick Douglas and William Still. Still resided and spent most of his abolitionist career in Philadelphia which had a substantial black population (and still does). Yet, in Season 1, we encounter Still in Ohio where he meets John Hawkes. Season 2 corrects this by placing him back in Philadelphia at Cato’s McMansion.

But, back to Tubman, when Harriet was not traveling she was in Canada with her family who she helped escape to freedom. She spent the spring and summer months, when days were longer and not conducive to running away at night, taking domestic jobs or speaking engagements to raise money for her next venture south. She liberated slaves in the fall and winter when the days got shorter. Not only that, she mostly traversed into Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. Going into the Deep South did happen but not as frequently. I say all this to say: how then could she link up with and spend so much time with the Sewing Circle which was based in Ohio?  

3. The lines of racism and prejudice got blurred as f**k

What made Season 1 so great is that it showed more shades of gray in terms of racism and slavery (see my original post). While there were abolitionists, there were some who harbored anti-black attitudes. That anti-blackness was pervasive. There were all sorts of justification ranging from religious to the physicality of black people which led most white people of that time to regard slavery as necessary and to the benefit of the black race. As such, they were regarded as “The Other.” That was my biggest problem with the Sewing Circle. They painted this kumbaya moment of racial harmony between all of the members, white, black, and mixed. I saw that as a golden opportunity the show missed to again delve into the mess that is racism and anti-blackness.

It was possible for a person to be an abolitionist and be anti-black. Hell we see that with some white allies of the Black Lives Matter movement. (Yeah, I said it!)

4. Cato. What the hell was Cato’s deal?

I wanted to say that to the writers. Cato’s storyline made no kind of sense. It took a friend to point out that Season 1 ended with Cato and that carriage full of money. Okay, so he had money. In the five month leap, he went to Britain and lived a lavish lifestyle.

How was this fool making money?

He bought art. Came back to the states. Set up a nice living in Philadelphia (I think? See #1). He serves as a benefactor to a play that makes fun of white people. He has bodyguards.

How. Was. This. Fool. Making. Money?

Then he loses it all on the same night as his abolitionist event in which Frederick Douglas and William Still were in attendance. No one heard the crazy loud shoot out at his house. No one. Not one person, fam?

Other odds and ends

  • Patty Cannon – A slave catcher in Underground. However, no one did a Google Search of that name. There was a real-life Patty Cannon who ran a gang and kidnapped black people and sold them into slavery. Thing is she died in 1829. Underground is set in 1857-1858.
  • Samuel – Why was I suppose to care about this man? I don’t even know you and all I see you doing is taking up valuable air time.

The Real MVP of Season 2

Ernestine. That was the only story line that I felt was still grounded in the history of the time and explored the psychological impacts of slavery on a black woman. Not only that, a black woman who used her gender to score favors and protect her children at any costs.





The N-Word and White Complicity

 Me: What Are you doing later?

Him: Grabbing drinks with friends.

Me: Who?

(He rattles off some names and all I hear are guys’ names.)

Me: That sounds like a guy’s night.

Him: Yeah,…you probably shouldn’t come anyway.

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I hear the slight hesitation and what he says has me curious. I prod as I normally would. My friend, 20-something year old white male, tells me that I would not be comfortable around one of the guys. To that I reply, why? He confesses that said friend, after a few drinks, drops the n-word. A lot.

I’m shocked but not for the reason he thinks. My first exposure to the word “nigger” came when I was 8-10 years old. An elderly white man referred to my older sister and I as niggers when this white teenage boy tripped in McDonalds. Despite the fact we were nowhere near him, that man pointed his arthritic finger at us and said “it was those niggers over there.” No one said anything to us. Everyone cast embarrassed glances at us. The manager tried to quiet the old man down. My sister and I wrapped up our half-eaten food and left. We told our parents. My mom shook with anger.

To say that the n-word upsets me is an overstatement. I have been on the receiving end of it on multiple occasions. Friends have endured humiliation from racists. As a person of color, it’s like you grow a thick callous to it. A shield of protection. Admittedly, if I’m caught at the wrong moment, when the shield is down, it hurts. It hurts like hell.

What do you do? I asked my friend. He explained that he tries to calm his friend down and tell him to be quiet.

But you don’t use it as an opportunity to tell him why it’s wrong to use that language, I said.

He acted as if my words were an insult. A wound that I had inflicted on him. He feigned a response and prattled on about how he doesn’t like to get political. I didn’t say anything. I listened but my silence made him uneasy. That, dear readers, is why I was shocked. I naively thought that my friend, a seemingly “with it” kind of guy would be the first to strike down that behavior not passively accept it.

It reminded me of that McDonalds experience. Not the old man but the reaction of those present. None of them stepped up to defend two little black girls from the offensive speak of a significantly older white man. Rather, they looked away or, in the case of the manager, tried to calm him down. Where was the outrage? The sympathy. The consoling of two little girls.

But that’s the thing about being black. We don’t get to be kids. We don’t get to be protected from the horrors of the world. Rather we are thrust right into it before we’re ready and, in some cases like mine, without our parents to walk beside us in it.

Him: I feel like you’re judging me.

Me: Oh, I am. I’m not going to lie I’m judging you right now.

I explained to him that attitudes like that will never change unless they are exposed and challenged. More importantly, it takes more people (read: white people) to call out friends, family, and others who refer to any group in a derogatory, racist way.

White silence is white complicity in racism.

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