In the constitution of the United States, penned in 1787, it states that that congressional representation is to be based on the “whole number of free persons” and “three fifths of all other persons,” a reference about African Americans. Known as the 3/5ths compromise, the founding fathers valued Africans enslaved in America and their descendants as less than human. Even though the 3/5ths compromise was officially repealed in 1868 by the 14th Amendment, its sentiment has been internalized by American culture throughout the generations and black life continues to be reduced in America today.
How else does one explain institutional racism or subtle policies, practices and procedures that benefit Caucasians and exclude people of color like redlining, racial profiling, and our misrepresentation by media? How else does one explain laws and policies that have blatantly disenfranchised African Americans like the Dred Scott decision that said African Americans were not U.S. Citizens, Jim Crow laws that mandated racial segregation and preached black inferiority, the Anti-Drug Abuse act of 1986 that provided more stringent punishments for the distribution of crack that is associated with blacks than the distribution of powered cocaine that is associated with whites, and voter ID laws that will disproportionally affect African Americans? Or how else does one explain the unjustified murder of 18 year old Michael Brown, another African American killed by a police officer just like Eric Garner, Marlene Pinnock, Sean Bell, Kimani Gray, Ousmane Zongo, Timothy Stansbury, Jr., Kendrec McDade, and Amadou Diallo?
Black life is not valued in America. Perhaps that’s why protestors in Ferguson have been seen carrying signs that state, “I am a man,” just like the sanitation workers in Memphis, TN that fought for the right to unionize when the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered. “I am a man” is the battle cry for human dignity. “I am a man” is the demand for police accountability (of course, not all cops are bad; however, the bad decisions and criminal acts of a few have the ability to mare the reputation of the entire department just like any other institution). “I am a man” is the demand that media stops depicting African Americans as thugs, sexual objects and criminals. “I am a man” is the demand that we end the cradle-to-prison pipeline and stop directing resources to building new prisons instead of preventive programs and treatments. “I am a man” is the demand that all men and women be treated equally. “I am a man” is the African American community’s recognition of our own worth and rallying the rest of the world to see our worth by how we vote, hold our government and create a more perfect union.
By the Reverend James C Simmons, M.Div, Pastor of Baber AME Church
After 16 hours of deliberation, on July 13, 2013, six jurors ruled that 29 year old George Zimmerman was justified in murdering a 17 year old, unarmed teenager named Trayvon Benjamin Martin and proved something African Americans have long known: Black life is not valued in America and often considered expendable. On July 13, 2013, history unfortunately repeated itself.
“There is nothing new under the sun” declares the Book of Ecclesiastes. On July 13, 2013, history repeated itself and Roy Bryant and JW Milam were once again acquitted of murdering Emmitt Till, a 14 year old murdered after being accused of flirting with a white woman. On July 13, 2013, history repeated itself and police chief Linwood Shull was once again acquitted of maiming Isaac Woodward, an army sergeant forcibly removed from a greyhound bus, beaten by police officers in an alleyway and permanently blinded while in thecity jail. Shull was acquitted even after he admitted to blinding Woodward. On July 13, 2013, history repeateditself and bus driver Herman Lee Council was once again acquitted of murdering Booker T Spicely, an African American solider in uniform that refused to sit in the back of the bus. On July 13, 2013, history repeated itself and countless white men that lynched black babies once again walked away free. On July 13, 2013, history unfortunately repeated itself.
Proverbs 22:6 states, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” For African American communities this Scripture has always meant more than just providing our children Bible instruction. For African American families “train up a child in the way he should go” has also meant teachingour children how to survive in a white world. “Train up a child in the way he should go” has meant teaching black babies they have to work twice as hard just to prove themselves. “Train up a child” has meant teaching our children to immediately place both hands on the steering wheel if pulled over by the police; say “yes ma’am” and “no sir” to white persons in authority; come home when the street light comes on and never draw attention to yourself. “Train up a child” has meant teaching our children you always fit the police description.“Train up a child” has meant teaching our children how to survive in the world.
Once again, the African American community must commit itself to training our children in the way they should go. We must commit ourselves to investing in our young people and teaching them to value their education. We must commit ourselves to monitoring bills our legislators create and act responsibly to protectour community’s interest. We must commit ourselves to creating a new education paradigm that does not funnel our children through the cradle to prison the prison pipeline. We must commit ourselves to being thevillage that raises our children. We must commit ourselves to diligently working to stop history from repeating itself.