Time to address the trauma caused by racism
Equity Corner by Adonai Mack
July 12, 2021
“Color is not a human or personal reality; it is a political reality.” — James Baldwin
Almost a year ago I expressed my thoughts, feelings and exasperation at the ongoing police brutality in this country. Mostly, this occurred from ongoing conversations related to the death of George Floyd, which seemed to be the catalyst for much change and discussion of race in our country.
From a national election to an insurrection at our nation’s capitol, this whole year feels like a dissertation on race relations. This led me to look for ways to learn and heal from the racism that has been a consistent theme throughout my life. Little did I know that when I embarked on this journey, I would begin an exploration of who I am, the trauma from racism, the anger I have held for such a long time and the memories that I had long forgotten. I also learned how to heal.
In an effort to learn, I sought out a great friend and colleague, Tovi Scruggs-Hussein. I was offered the opportunity to enroll in her course entitled Racial Healing and Allyship, a course that fosters a movement of allies contributing to the global healing needed for all of humanity to prosper in consciousness, connection and courage. Her team works to get you doing what most say is hardest to do: have difficult race-based conversations with compassion and growth for actionable behaviors, resulting in systemic change.
The following was an assignment to explore my racial biography. It was emotional, enlightening and therapeutic. Tovi and her team do some incredible work to assist with the internal work for people to heal from the trauma of racism and grow into allies willing to disrupt our systemic barriers to success for people of color. ACSA is now working with Tovi to offer her course to ACSA members this coming August. I encourage you to register.
I hope you find my racial biography inspirational for you to examine your own racial biography.
The racial biography of Adonai Mack
I really can’t remember not being black or that the color of my skin was more than obvious. It’s always been something that has been part of me. Both good and bad. I came from a generation of privileged black folk. W.E.B. Du Bois would likely call my family part of The Talented Tenth — a concept emphasizing the necessity for higher education to develop the leadership capacity among the most able 10 percent of black Americans. Even with this, being black in America has come with its gifts and challenges. As I have explored my racial identity through my racial biography, I now see the impact of white supremacy (although I didn’t recognize it until recently), the negativity of colorism and my own reaction to all of this.
So who am I? Well, I believe I am the grandchild of a West Indian grandfather, a creole grandmother (i.e., a mixture of African and French bloodlines) and a grandmother mixed of African and European blood. Did I recognize this as a child? No. I never even realized the irony of both my grandparents’ unions being similar racially: dark-skinned black men marrying light-skinned — could pass for white — black women. As I got older, I remember being told a story of my mother’s mom riding a train from the southern part of the United States to the north. She fell asleep surrounded by all black people and woke up surrounded by all white people. At a specific train stop, the black people had to move to the rear of the train and no one told my grandmother to move. No one knew she was black.
As a child my family moved from “black” Oakland to “white” Davis. Little did I know this was the start of some fairly consistent negative and racist treatment. In hindsight, my childhood was filled with so much racist behavior and microaggressions that not until I attended Morehouse College was I constantly surrounded by consistent positive experiences and messages about being a black man in America. Don’t get me wrong, my family was always engaged in positive African-American traditions. MLK marches, Kwanza celebrations, family stories of migration from the south to California, enrollment in Jack and Jill, black golf and ski clubs, black family celebrations, and reading many black stories and authors. I was always provided experiences that would reinforce the greatness of coming from African descent. But even with this I was taught two key things: 1) I was definitely different from anyone with white skin, and 2) I had to work twice as hard as white people to be considered equal. That was something drilled into me at an early age.
I had a variety of experiences growing up being a black boy in this country. There was the time I got called nigger in the 4th grade. All I remember is that there were lots of tears and lots of fists. There was the time that I was not recommended for pre-algebra even though I was with the accelerated math students the year before. Or the time I was cut from the basketball team and told that the choice was between me and the only other black player. Or the time I was pulled over for driving my dad’s car and the officer and I got into an argument over the registration. My dad was a school superintendent and had his car provided for him by his district. Or the time my classmates referred to me as Fuzzy Wuzzy in reference to a story about a bear called Fuzzy Wuzzy. Yep, I had an Afro that they all liked to touch.
Reflecting on that time in my life, I had one goal — to leave Davis. I was never planning to look back. I was definitely tired of being constantly surrounded by white people and dealing with the nonsense of being 1 of about 15 to 30 black kids in an 1,800-person high school. I was blessed to essentially experience the complete opposite environment. I enrolled in Morehouse College — the all-male Historically Black College. Whoa, was I ready. I left Davis and never looked back. Matter of fact, I only kept in contact with three people I went to high school with … two that were white girls and one who was Mexican (not Latino, Mexican — his words. Likely because he loves his heritage as much as I love mine).
At Morehouse I grew into the man I wanted to become. But it was a challenge. I realized I had spent so much time around white people that my persona was more akin to being white than the color of my skin. My language, my clothes, my experiences, my story was that of a white teenager that “happened” to have darker skin. But my first history class was all it took to begin a change — reading historians like John Hope Franklin, Frederick Douglass, Cheikh Anta Diop and Booker T. Washington. Learning my history, breaking down the whitewashed history of my K-12 schooling, I felt my eyes were opening. I went from the white black dude to the blackity-black black dude. Everything about me was African or African American in nature. From my Nefertiti earrings and Ankh around my neck to my Malcom X shirt with the American flag on fire to my shirt with the statement, “No White Lady, I do not want your purse.” I was as black as I could get. I was sitting down for the national anthem long before Colin Kaepernick kneeled. I never went to see “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Fried Green Tomatoes,” “Steel Magnolias,” “Schindler’s List” or even “The Color Purple” (it was directed by Steven Spielberg). I was watching “Malcom X,” “Boys N the Hood,” “Dead Presidents,” “Poetic Justice,” “New Jack City” and “Friday.” I was reading “Black Boy” (Richard Wright), “Devil in a Blue Dress” (Walter Mosely), “Waiting to Exhale” (Terry McMillian), “Invisible Life” (E. Lynn Harris) and “Kindred” (Octavia Butler). I was listening to NWA, KRS-1, A Tribe Called Quest, Ice Cube, X-Clan and, of course, Public Enemy.
I grew to love being black as much as anything. And I realized how special it was to be black. I had a cousin tell me that she had a friend who purposely grew to love eating black licorice just so he would never hate anything black. I eat black licorice too. I have actively and purposely fought to mentally love my blackness. I am not swayed by the media highlighting only light skinned men and women in magazines or never seeing black families or people in commercials except for malt liquor and cognac. I am not swayed by white supremacist thinking or culture. I even chuckle now when I get the purse clutched and the over-the-shoulder look when I walk behind white women, even when I am wearing a custom-tailored suit.
I still get angry about racism, but I also take people for who they are. If you are good with me, I am good with you. I care that you might be Mexican, white, Palestinian, gay, queer, non-binary, an immigrant, Chinese, German, Filipino, male, female or have a disability because I am going to celebrate you. And I hope you celebrate me being a black man.
Adonai Mack is ACSA’s Senior Director of Equity and Diversity.
Racial Healing and Allyship Workshop
What: Live, online course for educational leaders looking to heal from systemic racism and explore what it means to be an ally in eradicating racism. When: Aug. 3, 10, 17, 24 (3-5 p.m.) Cost: $190 ACSA members Register: onlinelearning.acsa.org/courses/racial-healing-and-allyship-workshop
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