For This Reason, I Vote

By Kevyanna L. Rawls
President, University fo Memphis Student Government Association

From 2011 to 2015, I spent approximately 7.5 hours of my day of every weekday at Little Rock Central High School. Known for its’ role in the Civil Rights Movement, Little Rock Central High School was the first high school to be integrated in Arkansas and captured national attention as local government officials tried to keep the nine Black teenagers, who would be referred to as the Little Rock Nine, out of the all-white high school. As the Black teenagers attempted to integrate the high school, they were met by protestors who spit on them, threw miscellaneous items at them, and were not allowed to enter the school causing the National Guard to step in. Our professors and administrators made it their duty to ensure that all students were knowledgeable on the situation that occurred at our school, the processes and steps that had to occur for integration to happen, and the barriers that stood between the nine Black students and the then all-White Central High School.

Kevyanna L. Rawls President, University of Memphis Student Government Association.

Although, I assume, this information was taught to us to remind students of how embarrassing of a time this was for the entire city and state, professors also used this as an opportunity to emphasize the importance of civic engagement in the democratic process. We would be naïve to believe that all individuals, despite race, in the south wanted integration to occur; however we can see the ways in which the anger and frustration citizens endured at the time was in part because of the power of the government at a state and national level. One could also argue that the individuals at the time did not hold the same values as they did, and is primarily responsible for the events that occurred in Little Rock, Arkansas during the 1960s.

For this reason, I vote.

As a Black woman, I believe that it is especially important for me to vote because of the intersectionality of my identities. In America we have seen the various waves of feminism that included gaining the right to vote for White women and the Civil Rights Movement that in part advocated for the right of Black men to vote, but of those two movements I fail to completely identify with either. As white women and Black men gained access to the ballot, women like Fannie Lou Hamer still needed to advocate for the Black woman’s vote at the cost of her own physical well-being and sanity. It is with this in mind that I am reminded of why it is important for me to be registered to vote and exercise my rights to do so. If voting was not important, why would individuals spend hundreds of years denying minority groups the right to do so? Why would barriers be set in place to disenfranchise minority populations, if voting had no impact on the society we live in? Although the issues are different, the necessity to vote and the consequences of not voting have remained the same.

By actively deciding not to register to vote,  one makes the decision to allow the rest of society to tell them what is best for them and decide what issues to focus on for the allotted time period. The decision to not participate in democracy is a decision to silence your own voice when everyone else is speaking for what they believe in. As I entered my first year of college, I vividly recall being excited to register to vote. With my birthday being in early September, I did not have the opportunity to participate in the elections the year before, but knew that voting was one of the most exciting things about turning 18. Registering to vote was something you could do when getting a new license after you turned 18, so I did it on the spot. I felt so empowered and remember the excitement that I felt when I was officially considered a registered voter.

#GoVoteGoTigers Pin

The first time I was able to vote was in the 2016 election and I was extremely nervous. At the time I had no car and knew that my parents would not be able to drive to Memphis to take me to vote, so I took a chance and requested an absentee ballot. The joy I had when I received the absentee ballot is indescribable. I simply recall going to my room and googling every candidate, searching for information about every bill on the ballot, and being able to genuinely take my time to learn more about the values of the individuals seeking to gain my vote. I assume this feeling is incomparable to going to an actual polling station to vote, but it reminded me of how I could make a contribution to my community in a positive way.

As the president of the University of Memphis Student Government Association, I believe that my position on campus is evidence of the significance of voting. As an elected representative of the student body, I was elected because I was entrusted with being able to represent students the way they would like to be represented and this is the hope we all have for our local, state, and national representatives. We expect them to have our best interest in mind when making decision. We expect them to be honest and transparent with us. We expect that they honor their commitment to their position and seek to enhance the quality of life for us through their decision. For this reason, I encourage YOU to vote. It is not about whose side you are on or who you have heard the most conversation about, it is about who can represent you and make the impact in your community that you would like to see despite their personal opinions. Allow them to be your voice by showing up at the polls on November 6th.


About the Author

Kevyanna Rawls is a senior English and African American Studies double major with double minors in Spanish and Sociology. Currently, Kevyanna serves the SGA President for the 69th general assembly. As an advocate for equity and justice, Kevyanna uses her platform to advocate for underrepresented populations and address student concerns on the campus of the University of Memphis. Kevyanna’s involvement with advocacy and social justice have motivated her to pursue an education in law and the ways in which laws may enhance the experience of individuals in America while negatively impacting the lives of others. Kevyanna intends to attend law school in Fall 2020 and later become a civil rights’ attorney.

On Black Womanhood at the Intersection of Black Existentialism and Black Feminism

By: Reina Henderson

The criticism and vitriol swarming around Serena Williams after her  passionate reaction to the umpire of the finals match between her and Naomi Osaka is nothing new for black women. Right or wrong in her assertions and regardless of wherever one may lean on one side of the debate or the other, there nevertheless remains the familiar traces of specifically-worded critiques all too common when it comes to black women. Whether intended or not, the caricature image, a satire of the event for the Australian newspaper The Herald Sun, employs racial stereotypes in order to make fun of her. Exaggerated full lips, the exploitation of her anger (utilizing the image of the ABW or “Angry Black Woman”), even the whitewashing of Naomi, a biracial half-Haitian, half-Japanese woman, into someone blonde and white (emphasizing her complexion’s proximity to whiteness) demonstrates a subtle minstrel in all but name.

Black womanhood resides at the intersection of black existentialism and black feminism, and a key element of struggle that black women contend with is white standards of beauty and image. The experiences of black women in particular bear special note due to the understanding that black women are born with two strikes against them, their race and their gender, if living in much of the Western world. bell hooks and Toni Morrison explore this concept in-depth. bell hooks explores this in her book Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism where she discusses problems of racism, sexism, and the diminishing of black womanhood from white women in the feminist movement, from black men in the racial equality movement, and from Western society respectively.[1] Repudiation from black men and white women toward black women in these spaces exacerbates the fight of black women who already must contend with a white patriarchal world.

Black women, therefore, have also experienced oppression from white women and black men relegating them outside of the movements claiming to challenge the society with which they already contend. Without proper support being in such a unique position, hooks’ solution is to form a sisterhood of black women to take on the mantle of the fight. Not through self-segregation, but to become aware of the struggle and position and seek first fellow black women to relate to and promote each other. If none will wholly, or only marginally, take up the cause of advocating for equality with black women, then it is up to black women themselves to do so even if it must be alone.

Toni Morrison delves even deeper into the issue including when it comes to black female image and beauty. Although her novel The Bluest Eye is fictional, it is based on truths and experiences of black women in conflict with white standards of beauty.[2] Pecola, the main character, is a dark-skinned, full-lipped, and coarse-haired young woman. Throughout the novel, she is often teased and called “ugly” making her wish to have bright blue eyes like the white dolls with which she grew up playing. Eventually in the novel, after giving birth to a premature baby sired by her own father through rape, she develops a psychosis for which people around her take pity on her. However, due to her psychosis, she thinks her newfound attention is because she has finally obtained the blue eyes she always wanted.

Morrison’s fictionalized account exposes black women’s experiences of being constantly told that black womanhood and beauty is inferior to white women.[3] The farther one is from that white female standard of beauty of being blonde, thin, pale, and blue-eyed, the uglier she is considered to be. This affects both the psyche and the appearance as many black women have attempted in various ways to conform to the white female standard of beauty believing themselves inferior in reality. Although not explicitly stated, the implied solution from Morrison is for black women to love and embrace their natural features, and bond with other black women sharing the pain like Claudia and Frieda, Pecola’s friends, do for her. In other words, a black woman is beautiful with all her natural features. [4]

When an image like The Herald Sun’s satire begins to circulate, it is indicative of this underlying perception of black women. Serena is molded into the ABW while Naomi can be stripped of her black features and portrayed as the “proper” white contrast to Serena. This piece is in no way intended to make a statement on the racial beliefs of the artist who has denied, since publication of the image, any racial basis for his cartoon. Nevertheless, intended or not, the image is infused, perhaps absent-mindedly, with these stereotypes and aids in their perpetuation. Thus, it makes an understanding of the consequences of such portrayals all the more necessary.

About Reina Henderson

Reina was born and raised in Chattanooga, TN. She attended high school at Boyd-Buchanan School in Chattanooga, a co-educational private Christian School, from which she graduated in 2012. She studied a year at Salem College in Winston-Salem, North Carolina before transferring to East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, TN. Here, she double majored in History and Philosophy, and graduated in 2017 earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in each major. In 2015, she became a member of Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Incorporated, and while in her undergraduate chapter she served terms as both president and secretary. She currently attends the University of Memphis as a graduate student studying for her Master of Arts in History, and is a graduate assistant at the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change. Upon graduation, she intends to pursue her PhD in History and eventually become a professor.


[1] hooks, bell. 1982. Ain’t I a Woman: Black Women and Feminism. London: Pluto.

[2] Morrison, Toni. 1970. The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[3] Morrison, Toni. 1970. The Bluest Eye. Holt, Rinehart and Winston.

[4] Henderson, Reina. 2017. To Empower and Uplift the Race: A Historiography of Black Existentialism. Unpublished paper, The University of Memphis.

Photograph 1:Williams S. RG18 (17). 1 June 2018. Author: si.robi. https://flickr.com/photos/16732597@N07/41168711240

Photograph 2: Toni Morrison speaking at “A Tribute to Chinua Achebe – 50 Years Anniversary of ‘Things Fall Apart'”. The Town Hall, New York City, February 26th, 2008. Date 18 December 2008, 20:44 (UTC) Author Angela Radulescu

The Environment of African American Education

By: Jason Martin

Most African Americans are expected to work and are not encouraged to attain higher education. W.E.B Du Bois once wrote, “Most men today cannot conceive of a freedom that does not involve somebody’s slavery.” Lack of education among African Americans has continued the cycle of oppression. Starting in the 1600s in the Virginia colonies and throughout the Antebellum period in the United States, many African Americans were lynched, lashed, or sold for attempting to obtain any kind of education. After the Civil War in the late 1800s and early to mid- 1900s, African Americans in Southern States were still largely denied access to an education due to white supremacy. When people are kept ignorant, they are easy to oppress. Slave owners applied this philosophy of tyranny to limit our ancestor’s learning and psychological process of freedom and empowerment. Today, this philosophy of tyranny through ignorance continues to exist in how we African Americans define our identities and accomplishments.

According to the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation (CBCF) and CBS SAN FRANCISCO, young African American men are falling behind their Caucasian and Asian peers in the classroom. PBS reports only 54% of African Americans graduate from high school, compared to more than 75% of Caucasians and Asians The twelfth-grade reading scores of African Americans are currently lower than for any other racial and/or ethnic group. African American males ages 18 and older make up just 5.5% of all college students. Of the young African American males who do make it to college, only one in six will receive a college degree. If only one in six will receive a college diploma, how are the remaining five students financially supporting their families or themselves without a college degree? What will their incomes and retirement funds look like 30 years from now? “According to the United States Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, individuals who achieve the following degree levels earn the following median annual salaries (2012 data): Ph.D. or professional degree, $96,420; masters, $63,400; bachelors, $67,140 (depending on the degree area); high school diploma, $35,170; and less than high school, $20,110. Thus, on average, bachelor’s degree holders earn about $2 million over a 30 year career, while those with advanced degrees, including masters, doctoral, and professional degrees could earn $1.9 million to $2.9 million respectively. Compare those earnings to the earnings of those with only high school diplomas, $1 million over a 30 year career, and those with less than high school, a measly $600,000 over a lifetime.[1]

Clearly, education is a requirement for a successful life. The less African Americans further their education, the more poverty they’ll experience. African Americans experience poverty at higher rates than the general population. The majority of African Americans dominant the poorest parts of America cities. Feeding American data concluded, “Twelve percent of African Americans live in deep poverty (less than 50 percent of the federal poverty threshold), compared to seven percent of all people in the United States.” Many of them are work multiple occupations for low income and have few opportunities for advancement. This cycle shall continue in African American culture until our psychological process of learning rejects the slave owners’ philosophy of tyranny that has contained us in ignorance.

Brief Bio:

Jason Martin is a sophomore at the University of Memphis. Martin is working on an undergraduate degree in Psychology and hopes to one day obtain a PhD in Therapy.  Martin is a proud member of the Hooks African American Male Initiative (HAAMI). Martin enjoys writing poetry, studying philosophy, and writing screenplays.    

 

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.

Student submissions published on the Hooks Institute’s blog are intended to create a safe space for students to express their opinions on civil rights issues of our time. In doing so Hooks Institute student blog publications have been left largely unedited as to keep the student author’s personal voice intact.

[1] U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2015). Employment 2012 and projected 2022, by 
typicalentry-level education and training assignment. U.S. Department of Labor. Retrieved 
December 7, 2015, from http://www.bls.gov/emp/ep_table_education_summary.htm

The Long Arch of Inclusion in the Military

By: Technical Sergeant Thomas Graham, MSW Candidate

I will admit that I had difficulty with how to approach equality in the United States military today. At first, I was color-blinded; the U.S. military today is a rainbow of racial inclusion.  So why would I need to fight for racial equality in the military?  I am very aware this has not always been the case in our country’s history.  Every major war and battle sees its own form of discrimination, bigotry, and hatred.

Stressing the need for interracial solidarity in the post-war world, African-American and white soldiers got together as part of the army's general educational program at a heavy bomber base in Italy. March 1945.
Stressing the need for interracial solidarity in the postwar world, African-American and white soldiers got together as part of the army’s general education program at a heavy bomber base in Italy. March 1945.

Inclusion is a major component in building comradery in the ranks; each unit is built on the belief that they are the best at what they do.  In fact, over my 13 years of service between the Marines, Air Force, and Tennessee Air National Guard, I have never been in a unit where the commander ever told the troops that this was the worst command he had ever been a part of; we were always the best.  So inclusion is the heart of a unit, but that must mean we have to exclude others so that we can have a target to be better than.  Now each service in our military will joke about the others, but when it comes time to win the fight all the branches come together.  More importantly, when it comes to exclusion we have to have an enemy, and propaganda has helped us to see and hate that enemy and built beliefs about other cultures, races, and peoples that were and are false.  This same propaganda also colored the military’s belief system. I could go through each decade of our country’s existence and point out those who were excluded, but it might just be easier to list the groups: American Indians, African Americans, Spanish Americans, German Americans, Japanese Americans, and Muslim Americans.

In every conflict, these Americans were targeted as being inferior, savage, and alien to American morals, goals, and beliefs; but through a flaw, that is inherent to the U.S. military, a three pronged insurgency has always conquered these military belief systems.  The first prong was the individuals discriminated against.  The military, because of its fears and beliefs about these individuals, would build whole regiments of the excluded individuals who still fought for this country.  African Americans in the Civil War and Japanese Americans in War World Two are just two examples and in these and other cases those individuals proved that they were gallant, brave and to be admired. The second prong is the officer class. These are the educated and older individuals who are chosen to lead.  Both of the attributes that qualify someone to be an officer also help to fight injustice in the military.  Through education and experience discrimination will always fail to hold the front lines against inclusion.  The final prong is youth, with each new generation of warriors, old guard beliefs fade away and tolerance grows in the ranks.

Even now this battle can be seen waging as the military begins the battle of including the L.G.B.T community as equals.  I have heard those individuals of the old guard who fear serving next to someone who lives and loves in a way that the old guard fears but I also see the inevitable that inclusion will always win, but only if we work towards justice.

Brief Bio:

Tommy Graham HeadshotThomas Graham is a second-year Masters of Social Work student at the University of Memphis and a U.S. veteran. Mr. Graham has proudly served 13 years as a member in the US military. He is happily married to Leslie Graham and father to three beautiful girls: Isabella, Saffron, and River. In his time at U of M he has also played an important role in the Veterans Resource Center, developing the new student orientation for veterans. He is currently interning at the Memphis VA Hospital in suicide prevention and will be part of the first Crisis Intervention training for the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department. Mr. Graham will graduate with his MSW in May 2016.

The Hooks Institute’s blog is intended to create a space for discussions on contemporary and historical civil rights issues. The opinions expressed by Hooks Institute contributors are the opinions of the contributors themselves, and they do not necessarily reflect the position of the Benjamin L. Hooks Institute for Social Change or The University of Memphis.Student submissions published on the Hooks Institute’s blog are intended to create a safe space for students to express their opinions on civil rights issues of our time. In doing so Hooks Institute student blog publications have been left largely unedited as to keep the student author’s personal voice intact.