The Power of Language for Brain Function

Hooks Academic Research Fellow Dr. Kami Anderson was a recent guest on Brain Power TV hosted by Dr. Hokehe (Eko) Effiong. In the episode, they discussed the brain benefits of learning another language in children and adults. Dr. Anderson is a trained scholar and master teacher of Afrocentric teaching strategies that ensure language retention, not just learning, and speaks directly to the neurological ways in which people of African descent process and embody languages.

Watch the episode below:

Transitioning from Fate to Destiny

by Paige Pirkey

Have you ever wondered how to transition from fate to your chosen destiny? I have, too. After years of reading, reflecting, and searching, I believe I’ve found the answer; and I’d like to share my learned lessons with you in this article. My learned lessons center around this idea called “purpose”. Our purpose is our chosen destiny, but how do we find it?

The first step is to meet yourself where you’re at. We must be open and honest with ourselves. We must be willing to dive deep into the inner recesses of our hearts to discover what lies beyond the veil of our emotions. Under every negative emotion lies a fear: A fear of abandonment, rejection, betrayal, being found unworthy, unlovable, broken… As we identify this fear and bring it to the surface, we’re able to unlock another layer of armor around our hearts by greeting it with the keys of love, compassion, and presence.

The second step is to trust yourself. Trust is essential and requires patience. In fact, to fully develop trust, one’s patience may need patience. Both patience and trust are skill sets that must be developed along the path to finding one’s purpose. Even as I type now, I notice the physiological experience of tightness in my chest and jaw… I then notice the stories I tell myself: That this process is taking too long or that I’m not doing it right… But perhaps, instead, I’m hoping to deliver the best, most uplifting message… If I choose to shift my interpretation of my perception, the understanding and experience of it also shifts, from anxiety to enthusiasm. After all, my purpose, or at least discovering it, should bring me joy. I’ve learned that, sometimes, we must unlearn what we’ve learned and trust our decision making, that we’re on the right path. And it takes patience to rebuild that trust in ourselves and our unfolding process.

The third step is to recognize our strength, our resilience, our bravery! We need to give ourselves credit for our tenacious efforts; again, we cycle back to phases 1 and 2: Meeting yourself where you’re at and trusting yourself. The process of discovering and living your purpose requires time, effort, and practice –all of which require strength; this will lead us to our chosen destiny. By purposefully, continuously choosing to disrupt our old ways of experiencing life, we create a new story, our destiny. This is one of the most loving acts we can do for ourselves –and passing along this strength to future generations is one of the most loving acts we can do for them.

And we can do this together. As promised in my previous article, I will now dedicate time to introducing the pilot project that I recently created, implemented, and evaluated:

Yoga and mindfulness practices are supportive on the journey from fate to destiny. Yoga uses the mind, body, and breath as tools for self-realization and self-actualization. By engaging with a physical pose, one enters a moderately uncomfortable, stress-induced state; this state of being reflects the stress we encounter in our daily lives. In that process, we focus on our breath in the present moment. And in that moment, we discover those repetitive stories that we tell ourselves that lead us to our fate. This realization presents us with the opportunity to choose a different story, to change how we engage with and interpret our experience. And with time and disciplined practice, this effortful process becomes automated and thus, actualized. We have, then, embodied the skills needed to transition ourselves from fate to destiny…

These life skills are exactly what I taught to kindergarteners, 1st graders, and 2nd graders at a local school system. The school system serves mostly minority students (54% Latino; 38% African American; 5% European American; 2% Asian); ninety-five percent of students’ families reside in the urban Memphis area with 77% living in Shelby County zip codes below the lowest median household income (below $42k). Approximately 91% of students meet the federal guidelines for free/reduced lunch.

The pilot program was 3-weeks long wherein students [and some teachers] received 4, 30-minute sessions per week. Below comprises selected excerpts from this study:

  • Students’ post-program excerpts:
    • “Yoga taught me more about myself, about what I think is better than what other people think I should think.” –1st grade, girl
    • “[When I’m feeling sad or stressed or overwhelmed], I do yoga to feel better, to remind us that we can do anything.” –2nd grade, girl
    • “We also learned that we can feel how we want to feel –even if we feel sad. It’s okay to feel our feelings.” –1st grade, boy
    • “It teached me how to be creative, like trying the yoga thing made me excited, and then, I went back home, and it made me build new crafts. I used to give up.” –2nd grade, boy
    • “It’s helped me learn about how our feelings communicate.” –2nd grade, girl
  • Teachers’ post-program excerpts:
    • “…[T]hey showed patience… I definitely saw some growth with independence and self-direction.” –Teacher F
    • “I’ve seen that change in my students as well; they definitely are more eager to help each other after the program, too.” –Teacher J
    • “A lot of my kids took your breathing technique… I would watch them do it in the room when they were upset.” –Teacher A
    • “I want to say thank you for creating an environment for my student to be relaxed and calm and to be a kid… I was pleasantly surprised, and it made me so happy. I think he was truly comfortable around you, and just truly relaxed around you, which is truly amazing because you’d only known him for a few weeks.” –Teacher A

To be sure, I learned just as much from my students [if not more], as they learned from me. For persons interested in learning more or collaborating in some capacity on this project, please reach out to me via email at paige.pirkey@memphis.edu.

For an audio recording of this post, click here.

Paige Pirkey is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow. Her current research focuses at the heart of change-making education, centering on urban schools by adopting a bottom-up approach that promotes healing and self-empowerment. 

 

 

 

Intertwining Destinies: Heroes’ Hearts Beating as One

by Paige Pirkey

Have you ever wondered about your potential –the possibilities for your life? Life is to be expressed, a story to be lived. Stories give meaning and life to our existence; they represent the truths we tell ourselves. Stories can either serve as a gift filled with little treasures or as a landmine filled with loss. How we see these stories reflects a pattern, and that pattern reflects the probable possibility of our life. But as conscious creators of our story, we have the power to decide, to choose between fate and destiny: Fate is the outcome of recycling past stories, whereas destiny is the outcome of choosing to create a new story. But how do we change our outcome, our possibility, our story?

We must first begin by evaluating our role in our own story. What roles, or characters, do we tend to play; which feel more comfortable, and why is that? I encourage us all to explore this with openness and curiosity. WE are the conscious creators of our life, and we get to choose whether to shame, judge, or criticize. Life is but a dream, a dream to be chosen and lived. But how can we be expected to live that dream if we continue in a recycled pattern of shame? This is not to say this process is easy. Part of choosing our role requires that we discover our true, inner strength. Our roles are for us to choose, and this strength is required to choose that role in the creation of our dream.

I am grateful for the opportunity to choose, for this opportunity to exercise free will –yet with this power, I’ve learned, comes great responsibility. Our choices impact future generations. The choices we make in our lives influence their choices –their stories. We weave our destinies. We forge our own destinies through the truths we tell ourselves, but what are we forging, what are we choosing to create, if it is based in shame, judgment, and criticism? What kind of world are we creating for ourselves and future generations? We get to decide what that world will look like –and I can’t hope to do it alone, which is why I’m writing this article… I need your help. The world is neither mine nor yours to create. It is ours –but we must be willing to combine our strengths, intertwining our destinies, for the greater good of humankind.

This brings us to the second step… We all must decide the role we hope to play in not only our own lives but also the role we choose to play in the lives of others. Do we hope to be the ruler, the bystander, the jester –or can we choose a different character, a different role? Across religions and cultures, there seems to be one such character that we all secretly aspire to be: the Hero. But again, will we choose it? Our ancestors: Were they aware of this choice, or did they unknowingly succumb to their own fate? Do we choose to repeat the mistakes, the wounds, the traumas of our past –or do we choose to create a new story, together? I realize what I’m saying doesn’t feel easy or simple –and yet, all it requires is a decision, a choice. A choice to forgive: to release the transgressions of those who chose to act in alignment with their fate, rather than their destiny. This choice not only frees them, but it frees us –to move forward, free from the pain and destructive nature of the past, to move forward with hope, love, and grace.

Although forgiveness begins with a choice, it is a process. And even though it will take time and effort, your destiny, our destinies, are worth it. And this kind of forgiveness, the type that can transcend us from fate to destiny, requires the strength of a hero. We all have this potential, this possibility, within us, but we must decide whether to choose it. The quality of our story, of our destiny, depends upon whether we are willing to show up as a hero to test and develop our strength.

Notice now, if you are doubting your own ability and the ability of others: Is that your fate talking –or your destiny? I believe in you. I believe in your abilities, but you must be willing to believe in yourself. If you say you cannot, then you are probably right… And the same can be said if you say that you CAN.

So, what will your decision be? Will you step into your destiny and be the hero you were always meant and able to be…?

I am open and willing to cooperate, to co-create our destiny. My intention is to begin the development of a project. In fact, I’ve already conducted the pilot phase, yet am seeking collaborators to expand this initial effort.

For more information, please see “Transitioning from Fate to Destiny.” If this sounds of interest, please contact me via email at paige.pirkey@memphis.edu. On the other hand, if this project is not of direct interest, yet you believe I may be able to support your efforts, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for holding space, devoting the time and effort to read this article, and allowing me to share my truth. I am honored by this opportunity to share my joy, love, and passions with you.

For an audio recording of this post, click here.

Paige Pirkey is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow. Her current research focuses at the heart of change-making education, centering on urban schools by adopting a bottom-up approach that promotes healing and self-empowerment. 

 

 

 

 

SOREN LIT: Reclaiming the Southern Renaissance

by Melodie J. Rodgers

As a ferocious act of self-care, I intentionally dove into outlining what I needed in a writing community during this pandemic. I discovered I needed a sanctuary—a sanctuary consisting of those who were questioning their place, empowered by lessons, and who were also deconstructing traditions of the South. I began reflecting on the communities of creatives that I was drawn to… and who helped shape me as a writer.

In my early 20’s, I lived in the Little 5 Points district of Atlanta. This area was the Greenwich Village of the South. Back in those days, I rented a room with other creatives in a slightly run-down Victorian with the most welcoming paint-peeled porch in the world. The tenants, my beloved friends, were all writers. All of us were thrown together… identifying as either women, femmes, and/or non-binary. We had open mics around our campfire in the backyard while listening to the train go by. Smells of menthol cigarettes, Jameson, patchouli incense, and citronella would swell inside our noses as we eagerly awaited the next brave soul to present their creative work to us under the glow of the flames.

These memories made me realize just how privileged I was to be amongst such beautifully bold beings, and that I really wanted to create a platform for women, femmes, and/or non-binary writers. And so, I launched a Southern Renaissance literary journal called SOREN LIT.

SOREN LIT serves as a reclaiming of the Southern Renaissance literary movement. However, the steadfast mission of SOREN LIT is to bring together the vital voices of those primarily left out of the first movement. By centering on women, femmes, and/or non-binary writers with Southern connections, it is our wish to empower these writers (from all backgrounds) and merge them together as one would the key ingredients of a gumbo… into a new Southern Renaissance of literature with fresh eyes and fierce stories to tell.

Our primary goal is publishing the work of women, femmes, and/or non-binary writers with Southern connections. We crave poetry, fiction, and nonfiction…

unapologetic, visceral, and authentic.

As an exquisite extension of our literary journal, we have also launched the SOREN LIT podcast in order to learn more about our published writers and their unique writing journeys.

SOREN LIT podcast is also available on the Apple, Spotify, and Google podcast platforms.

Melodie J. Rodgers is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow and the Founding Editor of SOREN LIT. Melodie received her MFA in Creative Writing from Queens University of Charlotte’s Latin American program and she is currently a Ph.D. student at Georgia State University in the Department of English and Literary Studies. 

No Future in this Country: Book Talk with Andre E. Johnson (Video)

The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change hosted the Inaugural Hooks Social Justice Series event where Hooks Scholar in Residence Andre E. Johnson gave a lecture on his book, No Future in This Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner. The event was moderated by UofM Communication and Film graduate student Tom Fuerst and took place February 24 at 1pm CST on the Hooks Institute’s Facebook Page and was free and open to the public.

About the book:

No Future in This Country: The Prophetic Pessimism of Bishop Henry McNeal Turner (University Press of Mississippi, 2020) draws on the copious amount of material from Bishop Henry McNeal Turner’s speeches, editorial, and open and private letters to tell the story of how Turner provided rhetorical leadership during a period in which America defaulted on many of the rights and privileges gained for African Americans during Reconstruction. Unlike many of his contemporaries during this period, Turner did not opt to proclaim an optimistic view of race relations. Instead, Johnson argues that Turner adopted a prophetic persona of a pessimistic prophet who not only spoke truth to power but, in so doing, also challenged and pushed African Americans to believe in themselves.

At this time in his life, Turner had no confidence in American institutions or that the American people would live up to the promises outlined in their sacred documents. While he argued that emigration was the only way for African Americans to retain their “personhood” status, he would also believe that African Americans would never emigrate to Africa. He argued that many African Americans were so oppressed and so stripped of agency because continued negative assessments of their personhood surrounded them that belief in emigration was not possible. Turner’s position limited his rhetorical options, but by adopting a pessimistic prophetic voice that bore witness to the atrocities African Americans faced, Turner found space for his oratory, which reflected itself within the lament tradition of prophecy.

 

When #CRT Legislation Hits the Language Learning Fan

by Kami Anderson

In my rites of passage group, my Babalawo said one day, “The greatest example of ego is white supremacy.” What more poignant moment to take this quote head-on than by addressing the recent influx of governors across the nation banning Critical Race Theory (CRT) from being taught in the k-12 classroom?

Now, let’s be clear: Critical Race Theory is NOT being taught in the k-12 classroom.  But from a pedagogical perspective, limitations on CRT can significantly impact the type of content a teacher can offer in the classroom. I want to take a moment to provide examples from a specific place in the k-12 school, the foreign language classroom.

Crenshaw explains that CRT acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation, and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continues to permeate the social fabric of this nation.

LangCrit, or Critical Language and Race Theory, is a critical theory of language and race that challenges fixed assumptions related to language, identity, and race and argues that these categories are socially and locally constructed. Specifically, it is a theoretical and analytical framework that puts the intersection of the subject-as-heard and the subject-as-seen at the forefront of interpretation and analysis. It looks for ways in which race, racism, and racialization intersect with language, belonging, and identity issues.

The work I do in CRT is in the classroom. Specifically, my foreign language classroom uses an Afrocentric derivation of LangCrit. I want to take a moment to use Tennessee as my example. Looking at the Tennessee law, it “will restrict what public school teachers can discuss in Tennessee classrooms about racism, white privilege, and unconscious bias.” This limits authentic identity for the racialized child in the classroom.

What does that mean exactly? It means that the whole and complete child cannot be acknowledged. It means that the sociocultural history of various racial and ethnic groups represented in the classroom cannot be fully recognized in the books or lessons.

I say this boldly and without apology, because my research examines how black culture, history, and identity are critical for language retention in the foreign language classroom.  In particular, I use raciolinguistics to analyze how language is used to construct race and how ideas of race influence language and language use.

Rosa and Flores purport raciolinguistics is “part of the broader structural project of contesting white supremacy.” From an Afrocentric perspective, studying raciolinguistics would examine the impact of race on foreign language learning and the influence of race on foreign language retention.

Raciolinguistics can be applied to the study of Blacks and foreign language learning because of the hegemonic presentation of language within the classroom and the hegemonic presentation of language outside of the classroom. It not only allows one to approximate race and culture in the classroom but also challenges examining how race plays a factor in language acquisition and retention. It is this intentional act that brings social and racial justice into the foreign language classroom.

By restricting CRT, teachers cannot complete this work. If you insist that race is no longer be a prominent factor, I am no longer allowed to question its absence in the foreign language classroom. As Brown and Edouard note, being able to see authentic representations of race and culture relatable for the student, particularly the Black student, is an “untapped intellectual resource.” By allowing students to identify similar racial and linguistic features in course content, students can witness the “perceived authenticity of language” This can’t be adequately tested without methods in CRT.

Language activism examines the structures of privilege and power exacerbated through the supremacy of language. It attaches language to contestations of power and critiques standard forms as codes of power. Specifically, in the foreign language classroom, it perpetuates supremacist elitism of foreign language learning among monolinguals seeking access to bilingual education.

In seeking to further Afrocentric language activism, I can focus and center the Black student in languages and focus on the Africanisms present in language and analyze how the appearance of Africanness affects our listening to language. For example, I can teach the West African connection between yam and ñame (they are the English and Spanish names for the same root vegetable), demonstrate and teach the history of how when in a Palenque neighborhood in Colombia you may hear “Lo no hagas pa’na” and it has the same connotation as “You bet’ not” in their communities. No, it is not grammatically accurate. It is culturally accurate, and that is just as important, especially in the foreign language classroom. This cannot effectively be taught without CRT methods and analysis.

Critical Race Theory is a threat because of the lack of acknowledgment of the research as it relates to Black children and education. To use a proverb as an analogy, we allowed the lion to share its side of the hunting story and then chose to rewrite the narrative back to favor the hunter because we were too uncomfortable talking about the hunter’s role in the lion’s pain.

There is an assumption that students of color in the classroom and carefully placed non-threatening images of well-known people of color as decoration in the classroom and the school are adequate in ensuring Black students see their identity represented. However, one can argue that this representation is shallow at best and exacerbates white supremacy issues within the education system. Shallow will not move our people. We are deeply profound, deeply critical, and deeply connected to an ancestral history with multilingualism. Limiting discussions around this can cripple our beloved community.

Kami Anderson is a Hooks Academic Research Fellow and founder of Bilingual Brown Babies, a specialized service for families of color who are serious about raising their children bilingual in English and Spanish. She was also one of the panelists for our event, “Critical Race Theory: What It Is and What It Isn’t.” 

 

Critical Race Theory: What It Is and What It Isn’t (Video)

The Benjamin L. Hooks Institute hosted an online discussion on the importance of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in academic, education, and activist studies. The event was live-streamed on the Hooks Institute’s Facebook page on June 22 from 6-7 pm CST.

CRT is invaluable in how it helps us understand, research, study, and teach how race functions in the United States and across the globe. However, much of this has come under attack as opponents of CRT charge that it divides Americans and promotes a distorted view of American history through a racial and ideological lens. In response to these attacks on CRT, the panelists addressed those concerns and helped unpack what CRT is and why it has been and continues to be an essential tool in addressing our racist past and present.

 

Free-ish Since 1865: The Meaning of Juneteenth

by Michael Brandon McCormack

With our heightened awareness of the Tulsa Massacre, Juneteenth, for many of us will “hit differently” this year. People who have never celebrated, and, yes, some who had never heard of, Juneteenth are celebrating this year. And that’s no shade to anybody who is just now learning about Juneteenth because we know that Black history has been erased, avoided, distorted, and inadequately taught in our public school systems- or for that matter in our universities. Even some of us who know about Juneteenth, or celebrate it, don’t know much about the history behind the holiday.

We just know that it is Black folks’ alternative to the 4th of July. The 4th of July, a holiday that celebrates American independence from the British, in 1776, at a time when chattel slavery was still deeply entrenched in the fabric of the United States, which celebrated its freedom while keeping people of African descent in bondage.

This contradiction between independence and bondage is what prompted abolitionist, Frederick Douglas, to pose the provocative question in 1852, “What to the slave is your 4th of July?” Douglas answered his own rhetorical question, insisting, “I answer, a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim.” Frederick Douglas spoke these words in 1852, more than a decade before Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

But, make no mistake, it was not Abraham Lincoln who “freed the enslaved.” Enslaved Africans had been struggling, resisting, and fighting to free themselves for centuries; they had been striking blows at slavery with every mutiny on the ships, with every uprising on the plantation, with every destruction of tools, with every poisoning of the master’s food, with every abolitionist speech, with every late-night spiritual in the hush harbor encouraging their brothers and sisters to “steal away to Jesus,” which was code for escape. Enslaved Africans were not just sitting back waiting for Abraham Lincoln, the prototypical white savior figure, Black folks exerted their agency in the struggle for freedom. So, when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, in 1863, it just made official, what Black folks had been fighting for since 1619.

But it wouldn’t be until June 19th, 1865, a full two and a half years later, that word of freedom would reach the furthest corners of the Confederacy. It wasn’t until Union Army Major General Gordon Granger and 1,800 federal troops finally “pulled up” in Galveston and served notice, with General Orders No.3, stating “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free,” that it finally became official that slavery had legally ended in the United States.

And, when enslaved Africans heard the news, some were shocked, others set out to find family and friends who had been sold away, but many began to celebrate their legal emancipation. And, that celebration was the beginning of what we now call Juneteenth. So, first and foremost, Juneteenth is a day of celebration. We celebrate our ancestor’s struggles for freedom. We celebrate the sacrifices they made so that we could be here today. We celebrate, and give thanks, to all of those who lived and died and paved the way for us. So, it’s a celebration! We turn up! We barbeque. We dance. We play spades. We have pageants. Our Texas brothers and sisters have rodeos. Our Louisville brothers and sisters sip bourbon.

But Juneteenth is not just a day of celebration. It’s also a day of education. It is a day where we commit to educating ourselves on the history of Black people in America, and throughout the African diaspora, that has been erased, denied, and distorted. It is also a day for political education and consciousness-raising. Many have protested the injustices that are happening all across this country and that’s good. But we also need to educate ourselves on the policies and ideologies behind the issues that we’re protesting. We need to understand the ins and outs of different positions on reforming, disinvesting, and abolishing, not just the police, but the entire prison industrial complex and dismantling the school-to-prison pipeline. It’s a day to educate ourselves not only on policing, proper, but on all of the various ways that Black and poor and immigrant and queer and trans bodies are policed and controlled and surveilled and disciplined and punished in this country by everyday citizens, employers, teachers, and others. It’s a day of education because our ancestors have always understood that knowledge is power.

But Juneteenth is not just a day of celebration and education. It’s also a day of agitation. It is a day of recommitting ourselves to the ongoing Black freedom struggle. We know that while slavery was legally abolished in 1865, it was never fully eradicated. Sadiya Hartman argues that we are dealing with the afterlife of slavery. Slavery takes on new forms and permutations. White supremacy, anti-blackness, state-sponsored and vigilante violence, captivity, and Black death still plague us day in and day out. While we celebrate freedom on Juneteenth, we know that Juneteenth reminds us that for Black Americans, full freedom has always been denied, delayed, or diluted. That’s why we have Juneteenth shirts that say “Free-ish” since 1865. We’ve never been fully free, just free-ish, but every day, we’re fighting to get free-er and free-er.

With every generation, we have fought, or agitated, for a fuller realization of our freedom. And, despite what we often hear to the contrary, by news media and critics, this generation of young people and millennials are some of the fiercest freedom fighters we’ve ever seen. These young people are out here agitating, and disturbing the peace so that we can get free-er, and free-er, and free-er. They are calling for us not just to end police brutality, but to completely reimagine our notions of public safety. But, we’ve got to agitate not just for the reimagination and transformation of public safety, but also public education, and public housing, and public health, and public resources, and our entire conception of the public good.

And that takes all of us. All of us have work to do. Fred Hampton Jr. reminded us that all of us are not going to be some front-line freedom fighters, but all of us have a role to play in striking a blow for freedom! Activists have a role to play, politicians have a role to play, business owners have a role to play, educators have a role to play, ministers have a role to play, artists have a role to play, parents have a role to play, children have a role to play, you have a role to play, and I have a role to play. And not just the educated, professional, middle class, well-spoken, respectable folks, but the unemployed and those without formal education, our brothers and sisters in the streets, the so-called thugs and sex workers- all of us have a role to play in this ongoing Black freedom struggle!

Happy Juneteenth, y’all let’s celebrate this ongoing struggle for freedom!

Michael Brandon McCormack is a Hooks Academic Research Fellow and Associate Professor of Pan-African Studies and Comparative Humanities (Religious Studies) at the University of Louisville.

 

Black History Matters

by Elizabeth M. Gillespie

Nikole Hannah-Jones sparked a ripple effect of social change. It cannot be stopped now. She took her boulder of knowledge that is the 1619 Project and dropped it on the world. Tenured or not, the impact and influence of her work and the ripple effect of change it creates will be felt forevermore. Her contributions to consciousness-raising and creating a more just and equal society warrant her own place in the annuals of history. Still, Nikole Hannah-Jones challenged the status quo and, thus, she was subjected to what all great and brave challengers face – push back

Power never bends willingly, especially when it comes to demands for change to the status quo. Hannah-Jones’ tenure denial reflects this age-old fact, but it also brings up other bigger issues that we must address as a country. Firstly, what are the dangers of continuing to marginalize Black history in our education system, and secondly, what can we do to set a new precedent, one where Black history is taught as American history? At a time when more students are demanding an inclusive and fuller history be taught and greater efforts are being made at the state level to integrate Black history into schools, the time is now to embrace and adopt the 1619 Project.

Some of the consequences of marginalizing Black history to one short month a year are obvious. The Johns Hopkins University Institute for Education Policy found that few schools “teach Black history well.” In fact, the average American has a “spotty” knowledge of slavery and may only know a bit more about the Civil Rights Movement. A 2015 study found only 8 -9% of total class time (1 to 2 lessons) is devoted to Black history. Perhaps one reason for the lack of Black history in the American classroom is because teachers report feeling uncomfortable teaching about slavery and having a lack of resources to do so properly (not to mention 79% of K-12 teachers are white). There is also the issue that despite some states seeking to do more to teach Black history, other states are actively signing bills into law banning the teaching of Critical Race Theory.

We remain woefully uneducated about Black history and Black contributions to our country, which indicates a missed opportunity to foster a more understanding and sympathetic society. According to some, the reasons for failing to teach more Black history are twofold: it forces us to address our “ugly” past and it demands changes to our current American narrative. The failure to accurately and fully teach Black history in the U.S. impedes all progress and efforts to be better as a society. It heavily implies we are not as educated of a citizenry as we think. The continued denial and marginalization of Black history is both absurd, considering the truth about Black history in America is out there, and dangerous. It’s dangerous because teaching history only from the perspective of the “victors” or of the “powers that be” promotes and perpetuates racism through institutions and systems of power. This approach to history also precariously encourages a sense of white tribalism. The bottom line is that history is important and how it is told matters.

One might argue at the collegiate level, students are able to take electives that incorporate or focus entirely on Black history and are exposed to different cultures and ways of thinking, all of which lead to greater contact with diversity and new knowledge. Is this enough? What must we do to fully incorporate and teach Black history as American history? First, we start by doing just that. We must update and adapt our ways of thinking and doing by amalgamating Black history into all of American history. This means teaching the myriad of ways systems, institutions, and people have worked to oppress Black people in this country. It also means teaching about the many triumphs and achievements of Black individuals, groups, organizations, and cultures too. As Jania Hoover explained it, “the Black experience is not one dimensional” and, yet, it’s taught as such. To teach of their accomplishments, including the work of Hannah-Jones, we teach equality.

Crucially, we also have to train and develop our educators on Black history and provide the necessary tools and voices needed to give justice to the telling of Black history as American history. When it comes to teaching Black history at colleges and universities, we must not sugarcoat the truth. It’s a history that deserves to be told factually and with care to ensure Black voices and experiences are heard and validated. Sometimes, though, it takes enough people to want a change for a change to happen. Hannah-Jones did her part. It’s the rest of us that must demand change in our educational system and institutions.

Elizabeth M. Gillespie is a Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Academic Research Fellow and assistant professor in the Department of Public and Nonprofit Administration at the University of Memphis.

When Police Lie: The Initial Police Statement vs. Video Evidence

Many in the media took note of how many police officers took the stand against Derek Chauvin in his trial. We watched as former and current police officers testified against Chauvin, thereby breaking the infamous blue wall of silence. However, what many activists remember was the original statement from the police after the murder of Floyd. In the original statement, the headline from the department read, “Man Dies After Medical Incident During Police Interaction.” Further, it read: “Two officers arrived and located the suspect, a male believed to be in his 40s, in his car.  He was ordered to step from his car.  After he got out, he physically resisted officers.  Officers were able to get the suspect into handcuffs and noted he appeared to be suffering medical distress.  Officers called for an ambulance.  He was transported to Hennepin County Medical Center by ambulance where he died a short time later.” As the AP noted, it attributed Floyd’s death to “medical distress” and did not mention that Floyd had been “pinned to the ground at the neck by Chauvin, or that he’d cried out that he couldn’t breathe.”

As we remember the murder of George Floyd, we should also remember that the initial police reports are not always truthful. As the AP reports, “criminal justice experts and police accountability advocates say the problem of inaccurate initial reports — especially in fatal police encounters — is widespread. For so long, reporters just ran with the initial report from the police that, of course, comes from the officers on the scene. Whatever the police department said became the factual narrative. However, this has not always the case, as the deaths of Eric Garner, Walter Scott, LaQuan McDonald, and countless others have shown. As I mentioned when one of the reporters interviewed me after the Chauvin verdict, “If it wasn’t for this 17-year-old (Darnella Frazier) who took the video, Derek Chauvin would in all likelihood still be on the police force training officers. Sadly, this has been going on for a while, and it’s just now coming to light for a lot of Americans because of video evidence.”

Video evidence is bringing attention to another case where the police were not truthful in their initial statements. In 2019, Louisiana State Police said that they tried to pull over Ronald Greene for an unspecified traffic violation, but he led them on a high-speed chase. State police officers initially told his family that he died on impact after crashing into a tree during the chase. Still, according to the AP, “State Police released a one-page statement acknowledging only that Greene struggled with troopers and died on his way to the hospital.”

However, video evidence from one of the officer’s body cams disputes these initial reports. Not only did Ronald Greene not crash into a tree that night, but it also shows that he did not resist arrest. What the 46-minute clip does show, however, is a trooper wrestling Greene to the ground putting him in a chokehold and punching him in the face while another can be heard calling him a “stupid motherf——.” What it does show is Greene saying, “I’m sorry,” as another trooper delivers yet another stun gun shock throughout his body. What it does show is a trooper taunting Greene by yelling, “Look, you’re going to get it again if you don’t put your f——- hands behind your back!” What it does show is another trooper, after Greene had been handcuffed with his hands behind his back and legs in shackles, dragging him facedown.

What it does show is that no one thought enough about this man to render any aid to him as they left him unattended, facedown, and moaning for more than nine minutes. What it does show is Greene wailing as he is face down on the ground while one trooper sits on top of him, pressing his hand onto the back of Greene’s neck and punching him in the face. What it does show is another trooper punching him in his lower back. What it does show is another trooper once he got back into his patrol car, talking on the phone with someone saying, “And I beat the ever-living f*** out of him, choked him and everything else trying to get him under control and we finally got him in handcuffs when a third man got there and the son of a bitch was still fighting and we was still wrestling with him trying to hold him down because he was spitting blood everywhere. And then all of a sudden he just went limp.”

As this case gains more attention, we are also discovering more evidence of an attempted coverup. According to the AP, Lt. John Clary, “the ranking Louisiana State Police officer at the scene falsely told internal investigators that (Greene) was still a threat to flee after he was shackled, and he denied the existence of his own body camera video for nearly two years until it emerged just last month.” The internal investigation determined that the “video evidence, in this case, does not show Greene screaming, resisting, or trying to get away. The only screams revealed by the video were when Greene responded to force applied to him.”

As people continue to fight for police reform, the initial police statement has come under scrutiny. Long believed to be an accurate description of events, it is no longer the case. The truth of the matter is that some police officers do lie on their reports, and, as the case in Louisiana demonstrates, they have systems in place to cover up their lies. It took 474 days before Louisiana opened an investigation on the abuse and eventual death Ronald Greene suffered at the hands of state troopers. One could only guess what would have happened if there were no video. A recent survey showed that confidence in law enforcement fell under 50% for the first time in 27 years. When we go inside the numbers, we discover that while 56% of white adults have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence with law enforcement, only 19% of Black adults do. As Gallup writes, “This 37-percentage-point racial gap is the largest found for any of 16 major U.S. institutions rated in Gallup’s annual Confidence in Institutions poll.” So, if we are serious about police reform, we can start by holding police officers accountable when they give false police reports.

Andre E Johnson

Andre E. Johnson is the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute Scholar in Residence and Associate Professor of Communication at the University of Memphis. You can follow him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram