Black History Month is the time that connections need to be made between the ancestors of Black heritage and the living inheritors. As educator Christopher Emdin wrote on our blog, the stories of past battles should never be told as if they are over or conquered. The stories are alive and playing out today. The connections are more powerful when they’re grounded in the context of history. In the spirit of Emdin’s observations, we’re offering a list of recommending reading to bridge the past with the present.
By Caroline Light: First passed in 2005 in Florida, “Stand Your Ground” laws provide criminal and civil immunity to people who use lethal violence to defend themselves when they are reasonably afraid for their own or another’s safety. Since their passage in over half the states, the laws have been shown to exacerbate our nation’s already unjust practices of adjudicating self-defense. The laws amplify the impact of existing racial and gender biases, by making it easier, for example, for white (or white-appearing) people to kill non-whites without legal repercussions. In spite of proponents’ arguments that SYG laws protect women from “abusers,” they rarely provide immunity for women who defend themselves from their greatest statistical threat, their own intimate partners and exes.
By Lori L. Tharps: Last week the Internet went crazy because in a revealing interview with Ebony magazine, Beyoncé's daddy, Mathew Knowles, admitted he was attracted to his wife, Tina Knowles, because she was so light-skinned, he thought she was White. While this may turn the stomachs of many a Black woman, it should not be surprising. Why? Because racism. Because White supremacy. Because colorism, people. Did you think that all things related to Queen B were somehow protected from the same 400 years of oppressive brainwashing that made people of color believe they were inferior because of the abundant levels of protective melanin in their skin? Sorry, Beyoncé’s powers don’t work like that.
By Anthony Graves: On August 17, 1992, I was twenty-six years old, a son to my mother, a father to three sons, a brother to four siblings, and a friend to many in my small Texas community. I was an athlete who loved playing sports. And if anyone back then had to describe me, they would probably say I always had a smile on my face. Like most people, I had never thought much about the death penalty. I thought bad things like that were for other people. I remember watching the news and sometimes hearing about cases where men were falsely accused and wrongfully convicted, but I never thought in a million years that could one day be me.
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
By Paul Ortiz: Racial capitalism is an economic system first theorized by Cedric Robinson building upon the work of the radical sociologist Oliver Cromwell Cox. As historian Robin D. G. Kelley noted, Robinson argued that capitalism in its earliest and subsequent iterations was dependent upon and entwined with “slavery, violence, imperialism, and genocide.” Through the twenty-first century, capital continues to generate “racial differences” between sectors of the working class in order to better exploit workers.
A Q&A with Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: The Lannan Lifetime Achievement Prize for Cultural Freedom is a prestigious award that I never imagined being bestowed upon me. Only eight other individuals have received it since it was initiated in 1999 to honor the great Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano. Subsequently, Arundnati Roy and Cornel West were among the awardees. I personally know and know of dozens of cultural freedom warriors whom I feel are more deserving than I am, so I am humbled as well as overjoyed.
A Q&A with Mary Frances Berry: Black women going public about rape is not new. Harriet Jacobs, in her 1861 autobiography, denounced her rape by her master. Ida B. Wells, in 1892, denounced the rape of Black women and girls by white men in her newspaper along with the lynching of Black men for false accusations of raping white females. Other Black women, including Anna Julia Cooper and Fannie Barrier Williams, also sounded the alarm. The files of the Justice Department and the NAACP contain complaints of the rape of Black women throughout the Jim Crow Era. Recy Taylor, like Harriet Jacobs, went public and spoke out about her own rape by six white men.
“It is our common tragedy that we have lost [Martin Luther King, Jr.’s] prophetic voice but it would compound the tragedy if the lessons he did articulate are now ignored.” So wrote Coretta Scott King in the forward of Dr. King’s final book Where Do We Go from Here, his analysis of American race relations and the state of the movement after a decade of civil rights efforts. Each year, we honor his life and his legacy on his birthday. 2018 will mark the fiftieth anniversary of his death—a time for us to take account of our troubled times and truly pay attention to the message of his lessons.
2017 has been ragged and turbulent, charged with a fraught political climate spawned by a divisive presidential election. 2017 witnessed assaults on progress in racial justice, backlashes against environmental protections, and more. When we needed perspective and lucid social critique on the latest attacks on our civil liberties, our authors were there. We couldn’t be more thankful for them. They make the Broadside, which reached its tenth anniversary this year, the treasure trove of thought-provoking commentary we can turn to in our troubling and uncertain times. As our director Helene Atwan wrote in our first ever blog post, “It’s our hope that Beacon Broadside will be entertaining, challenging, provocative, unexpected, and—maybe above all—a good appetizer.” We certainly hope that’s the case for the year to come. Before 2017 comes to a close, we would like to share a collection of some of the highlights of the Broadside. Happy New Year!
By Martin Luther King, Jr.: This Christmas season finds us a rather bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without. Everywhere paralyzing fears harrow people by day and haunt them by night. Our world is sick with war; everywhere we turn we see its ominous possibilities. And yet, my friends, the Christmas hope for peace and goodwill toward all men can no longer be dismissed as a kind of pious dream of some utopian. If we don’t have goodwill toward men in this world, we will destroy ourselves by the misuse of our own instruments and our own power.
By Dina Gilio-Whitaker: By now it’s obvious that Donald Trump is acting out a twisted vendetta to erase every trace of Barack Obama’s eight-year legacy. The creation of the Bear’s Ears and Grand Staircase- Escalante National Monuments are part of that legacy, which were efforts to protect vast swaths of relatively pristine and undeveloped land in southern Utah in one of his last acts as president. That’s one frame for understanding Trump’s recent reversal of the monument designation for most of that land—approximately fifty percent for Staircase Escalante, and eighty-five percent in the case of Bear’s Ears. Altogether, the national monument designation protected roughly 3.5 million acres of public lands.
By Gayle Wald: Speculation is a risky but inevitably necessary business for biographers. When I was working on Shout, Sister, Shout! The Untold Story of Rock-and-Roll Trailblazer Sister Rosetta Tharpe, I made a decision not to stray too far from what I could verify from historical and contemporary sources (even while acknowledging that these, too, are imperfect). So when confronting the question of what motivated Tharpe, a musician embedded in the sonic culture of black Pentecostalism, to record secular songs and perform on secular stages beginning in her early twenties, I chose to tread carefully.
By Jeanne Theoharis: The air was hot and sticky. Surrounded by clergy, Rev. William Barber lambasted the voter suppression that had compromised the 2016 presidential election. “Long before Russia hacked our election, our government was hacked by racism.” Since Barack Obama’s election in 2008 and the Supreme Court’s 2013 stripping of the Voting Rights Act, Barber explained, twenty-two states had passed new laws making it harder for people, particularly people of color, to vote.
By Rashod Ollison: When I first read James Baldwin at about age sixteen, I didn’t quite understand everything in Notes of a Native Son. But I knew the powerful prose was important and that I would return to it. Baldwin at that point had been dead for close to a decade. I’d come across a dog-eared paperback of Notes of a Native Son in the public library, where I worked after school. I imagined Baldwin a robust man whose presence was as commanding as his work. When I saw pictures of him as I began to explore more of his writing in college, his pronounced features—his intense globular eyes, his ingratiating gap-toothed grin—clarified something about his work for me. He always saw well beyond the surface unlike any other writer of his generation or any other writer since.
With the anticipation of a mouth-watering feast and time away from the office to lounge with family and friends, Americans come together for Thanksgiving. It’s the holiday where conversations about our national origins abound. But much of the US’s widely accepted origin story is skewed by the lens of settler colonialism and has silenced the voices of Native Americans. With Native American Heritage Month, observed every November since 1990, we can reflect on the history and contributions of Indigenous peoples. “Writing US History from Indigenous peoples’ perspective requires rethinking the consensual narrative,” historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz tells us in An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. “That narrative is wrong—not in facts, dates and details—but rather in essence.”
By Brando Skyhorse and Lisa Page: In June 2015 a surprising number of Americans stopped to gawk at a thirty-seven-year-old “African American” woman named Rachel Dolezal who, after an almost decade-long act, was outed by her parents as a white woman who chose to pass as black. The national response, culminating in a Today show appearance, was extreme. Some were outraged by her deception, while others drew parallels between her right to live her “truth” the same way Caitlyn Jenner embodies hers. Rachel—or “#BlackRachel” as she trended online—never once “broke character.”
By Sasha Pimentel: I didn’t know that my poetry collection For Want of Water had been selected as winner for the National Poetry Series for a good week or two after Gregory Pardlo had chosen it, but that was my fault. I’d spent the summer with my family in Sonora and had turned my phone off. When we returned to the United States, I was walking through the airport when the caller ID from “Princeton, NJ” flashed on my phone, and I answered it because I was curious what sort of telemarketing came from Princeton. It was Beth Dial from the National Poetry Series. I remember plugging my unphoned ear with my finger to hear her through the terminal’s noise. I couldn’t believe it.
By Molly Velazquez-Brown: Fall has always been my favorite season. I love the feeling of a cozy sweater and a cup of warmed mulled cider mixed with ghost stories and the crunch of changing leaves. I am comfortable living my truth of autumn everything. But here’s what I don’t love about the season. The offensive Halloween costumes that come disguised as “spooky” fun. I’m not talking gory bloody “it’s-hard-for-me-to-look-at-how-grotesque-your-costume-is” offensive. I mean the mocking of a culture. The belittling of a race—or more often, several. The reduction of peoples to single stereotypes. Growing up Mexican-American, this is a problem I have encountered my entire life.
Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his “What Is Your Life’s Blueprint?” speech to students at Barratt Junior High School in Philadelphia. In it, he lays out three important steps to follow in order for the students to reach their full potential, no matter their status life, and calls on them to actively commit to the struggle for freedom and justice. King’s words are inspirational for students of any age, of any era. Especially now during our troubled times. In honor of the speech’s anniversary, we’re looking at the ways the empowering message of his speech resonates and guides us still today.