This letter is part of our "Letters to Our Ancestors" project. In celebration of the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, we've asked members of our community to share their own letters to our forefathers. With these letters, we hope to look back on the progress our community has made and give thanks to those who helped pave the way. You can see them all here.
It is with great humility and honor that I write this letter to you, my ancestors: Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, Sojourner Truth and the scores of men and women held in captivity whose names we will never know, murdered on Southern, manicured battlefields in the quest for autonomy, humanity and dignity.
Because of your lives of sacrifice, even while knowing that the full benefit would not unfurl in your lifetimes, we are now a people who can dream in color and live in freedom.
Though discrimination is rampant, the blueprint you all left behind has raised generations of Black people for whom forced genuflection at the altars of classism and racism will never be an option.
But it has not been an easy road.
Along the way we lost Malcolm and Martin and Medgar and Huey. We lost George, Emmitt, Trayvon and Jordan. Assata, Mumia and Geronimo were vilified and the Civil Rights Movement co-opted by those who would have us assimilate, rather than elevate.
Many of us have forgotten that our brothers and sisters weren't just shipped to the United States, but all over the world, and that blind patriotism, as with organized religion that was forced down your throats as soon as the ships docked, is a murky supposition that must be distilled for true intent -- lest it serve as invisible shackles.
As one of your sons, W.E.B. Du Bois, said, "I believe that democracy has so far disappeared in the United States that no 'two evils' exist. There is but one evil party with two names... " The Republican Party, since the success of Nixon's Southern Strategy, has exhibited a vulgar, racist element that has only become more apparent in time. The Democratic Party, at times, has proven to be patronizing and pandering, positioning black and brown pawns in the status quo's battle for the country, while never truly addressing our collective issues.
But we, your sons and daughters, are no fools. We see that obesity is higher in Black America as a glaring lack of whole food choices and abundance of unhealthy options dot our communities. We've noticed that our tax dollars are not going to rebuild our schools and roads, and that police officers, paid for with our dollars, have often proven to be our own sons' executioners.
We recognize the ugly truth that poverty and violence disproportionately affect our communities. And while we are fully aware of our personal responsibility, we are also knowledgeable of Iran-Contra and Reaganomics. We understand that the Prison Industrial Complex is the root of "The New Jim Crow" as aptly coined by one of your daughters, Michelle Alexander, and that taxation without representation is leading to an American caste system that we must fight at all costs.
The rise of Independents and the Green Party proves that we recognize the remnants of plantation politics and we can no longer be depended upon to chose left or right at the fork in the road, but forge our own paths.
That courage and intellect comes from you.
Your daughters have been told that we are too black, too curvy, too strong. And we have harnessed that hatred and used it as fuel to embrace our kinks, naps and curls, our hips, thighs and the warrior spirits that have nurtured generations. Study after study tries to tell us that we are ugly and unlovable, but we know better.
Because of you.
We are manifestations of your tears, hopes and fears. We are your griots, your living history. We can move with ease through institution in this nation, because you built it and it is ours.
There are some of us who have allowed success to be defined on terms not of our own making and the Animal Farm mentality which dictates that we become the problem once we get in positions to solve the problem has dimmed some of our brightest lights.
But that's alright.
You have taught us how to fight and persevere and excel when all seems lost. A man once said that at his death, he wanted to leave his children enough so that they could do anything, but not too much that they felt they could do nothing.
You have done that for us, and I thank you. From the bottom of my heart, I thank you.
Kirsten West Savali