While we must keep the equality dream alive, it is past time to shake ourselves awake from dreamy delusions about race in America and just wake-up. “Wake-up, everybody!” As the old folks used to say, “You gonna sleep yourself to death.” The deaths here are a political death, an economic death, a liberty death and a spiritual death of purpose.
Some of us have tossed and turned trying to awaken from trance-like states that require our silence about racial realities. Others have slept soundly with visions of racial harmony dancing in their heads or they sleepwalk around in a dazed state refusing to acknowledge the racial problems in America. Well-meaning people in America, white and nonwhite of all colors, must wake-up and acknowledge that ongoing oppression has a past, a lingering present and, Lord have mercy, apparently a future.
“Sarah sleep in bed, Sarah got nappy head. Gone girl, shake that thang,” we used to chant as children. We were labeled “nappy heads” then and, implicitly, during this past election season, and we shook but not quite hard enough. We must have been thinking, “They said, ‘Shake it, don’t break it.'” Now, we are broken and trying to wake-up and piece the parts back together and I pray we will.
Sadly, some of us seemingly have been rocked peacefully to sleep and gladly deluded into thinking America is already post-racial. The slumbering deluded have tried to persuade the rest of us, who are already drowsily awake or been shocked awake, that the bad, state-sanctioned abuses from the past are far removed in time and place. Some have argued over the years that bad things only still happen to nonwhites in America who talk too much or too loudly, those who get “out of their place” and poor Blacks in the Deep South, and rarely even there now.
To the threats regarding our future, we should say, “Thank you for the wake-up call!” This wake-up call comes ringing so loudly that it jolts us awake, knocking us from figuratively lumpy, bedbug-infested mattresses to the floor and shakes us from the delusions we allowed ourselves to believe existed in reality as we tossed, slumbered and slept over the years.
While we toss and turn in bed, sleepwalking Americans try to falsely characterize our past by saying, for example, that slaves had it really good and were well-fed, well-housed and well-cared-for by doting white masters. To those lies, we must shout out:, “Thank you, too, for the wake-up call!”
The past slavery-time oppression and the oppressions today are quite connected, as they are collective, perpetuated implicitly and explicitly by state action, and are even perpetuated by poor and hungry whites, who are themselves oppressed but who can say, “At least I’m not Black” or not like bad Black dudes and bad Latinos. These poor whites, who themselves need Medicaid and other federal help, slumber sleep-living in their wildest dreams that their whiteness, or near whiteness, can save even them. They need to open their minds and hear the wake-up calls, too.
So, what are we to do? How do we find and walk in a state of hope? A good start is to “Wake-up, everybody!” and to seek wide-awake awareness for ourselves, our children and our communities.
Over 40 years ago, Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes sang “Wake-up, everybody, no more sleepin’ in bed! No more backward thinkin’, time for thinkin’ ahead. The world has changed so very much from what it used to be. There is so much hatred, war and poverty.”
So, to the shocks we received in 2016, as we shake ourselves awake this 2017, all we can say is, “Thank you for that loud, earsplitting wake-up call!” Then, we must not hit the snooze button or we may literally sleep ourselves and our legacy away.
I say, we might as well wake-up, get up and get busy working toward collective betterment. Wake-up, everybody. The worries keep us from resting well anyway.
Angela Mae Kupenda is a Professor of Law at Mississippi College School of Law. She teaches Constitutional Law, First Amendment, Race and the Law and Civil Rights. Her recent publications include “Increasing Black Wealth Takes Generational Sacrifice — It Always Has” on Ebony.com, (June 14, 2016) and “Higher Education: Putting Our Children on the Bus to Success” in The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (July 27, 2016).