A loud fallacy that couldn’t be more wrong.
Racism has always been an infamous paramount in American history. Recently, America is being forced to confront its’ racist and inequitable practices. Communal outrage and demonstrations have followed the magnification of several unjust murders of African Americans by the hands of the police and community vigilantes. Social media platforms are seeming to exclusively consist of images of protests, “Karens’ Gone Wild”, half-assed rehearsed statements of “solidarity” from the very same companies that ban their employees from wearing any form of Black Lives Matter apparel, and a slew of other performative gestures from sports associations that are doing just enough to pacify black people into thinking that our concerns matter to them.
Speaking as a black woman, the newly ongoing conversation of racism and social injustice has been a mentally fatiguing up hill battle. Lately, I find myself either feeling guilty when taking a break from necessary conversation, or exhausting the little energy I have left by being apart of every discussion that is race related. Repeatedly, I emotionally scar and traumatize myself by witnessing anything that verbally or visually depicts the horror story Black Americans have lived in this country for hundreds of years. There are times that I feel bound by some unspoken responsibility to be a relentless advocate for my people. I’m still figuring out how to fine tune the gift of being an emotionally empathetic black woman.
I’ve been waiting for an appropriate time to address the emerging of the untimely fallacy that is, “we are not our ancestors”. We are living in a moment in history where the racial climate in America is arguably at its’ most sensitive that it’s been post Jim Crow era. Admittedly I have been reluctant to share my views on this inaccurate euphemism in efforts not to distract from the national conversation at hand. Many times I have wrestled with the notion of saying nothing at all. As we make small but noticeable progression toward our fight for racial equality in America, I’ve continuously felt that the time was in-opportune to pause external exchanges about race and talk amongst our own. However, it was John Trusler that said, “Do or say it now, there is no time like the present.” So here we are.
I’d like to preface my next statements by saying that I am in no way speaking for my black ancestors. As I am a month and some days away from turning 25 I am well aware of my juvenescence that some may equate to immaturity. While I respectfully disagree, I understand where those thoughts stem from. Be that as it may, I want to refrain from making a presumptive accusation that this poor phrasing was coined by a Black American that happens to be my age or younger. Truthfully speaking I am unaware of its’ origin. Neither do I really care. As a matter of fact its’ derivative holds no significance. The statement is simply false.
We are not our ancestors. Despite current optics of race relations in America, whether we want to admit it or not we are awarded numerous privileges (though these rights should not be classified as a ‘privilege’, for the purpose of the text we will use this term), that our ancestors did not have. And not only did they not have said privileges, some of them never saw these civil rights become a reality for a Black American. We are living a life that for some they could only dream.
I argue the premise that we are not our ancestors primarily because our ancestors were stronger than us. Seeing that it is impossible to quantify strength that is not physical — allow me to explain.
Black American forefathers were strong not because it was a popular decision or because it was trendy. They were strong because they had absolutely no other option. Any slight conveyance of vulnerability — especially by black women, was taken as a sign of weakness and ultimately exploited. Fear aroused the white man. Racism was unmasked. There was no ruse or guise used to camouflage white supremacy. Discrimination all the way down to which drinking fountain they were or were not allowed to use made it abundantly clear that African Americans were not welcomed or desired anywhere for any reason. Racism without restraint left no room for weakness. Strength was a survival skill. It was not a glorified abstract measure of one’s means to endure adversity.
One of the attributes I admire the most about my predecessors was their discipline. They mastered self control and had a spirit of patience that is almost unfathomable to a millennial like myself. Also, they understood the power and magnitude of strength in numbers. They were steadfast and sought change and racial equality no matter how long it took. Their will was demonstrative of their dedication to the fight.
Here’s an example. Likely one of the most famous civil right protests in American history is the Montgomery Bus Boycott. Though Rosa Parks became the figure head for this particular movement, the boycott was birthed from a 15 year old girl named Claudette Colvin who refused to give up her seat to a white passenger on a public bus in Montgomery. Refusing to give up her seat, Claudette was subsequently arrested. Nine months later Rosa Parks did the same thing and Parks’ arrest marked the genesis of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The boycott lasted for 381 days! The local ordinance segregating African Americans and whites on public buses was repealed. It was reported that 90 percent of African Americans participated in the boycott. This significantly reduced bus revenue complicating business.
The most important principal to understand here is that public transportation was a primary, if not sole source of transportation for African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama. And yet this was still not a deterring factor to begin or end the boycott. Unwavering resilience is something that our ancestors possessed, effortlessly. Not to say that African American successors lack resilience, we just are not as supple out of necessity in the same capacity than those that came before us.
To state that the lives of Africans Americans under the age of 40 are un-paralleled with those of previous generations is fictitious. Regardless how far it appears we have come to racial equality in America, we still have a very long way to go. One might say that we haven’t even entered the race. i9
My intentions are not at all to be divisive. However, that is the feeling I get whenever I hear “we are not our ancestors”. Just because we differ in our methods of protest, and our rhetoric is not entirely the same, and one generation may be viewed as more respectful than another, we are all in pursuit of the same goal. “We are not our ancestors” denotes undertones of weakness and fragility. Neither of which are the nature of our forefathers. This phrase is insensitive and disregarding of the advancements made by our ancestors. We should unsubscribe to the suggestion that if we are the good negro, or if we are meek and conforming, or non-violent, that we will be given what we urgently petition for.
We are our ancestors — evolved. We use what has been passed down in our lineage to create current and innovative ways to continue an age old fight. Our renewed hope for America that every woman and man would be equal is what gives us continual ammunition to exercise our inherited strength daily.