I spent Saturday night at a casual dinner that, if this were Harlem or Chicago or any major city in 1920’s, would have been called a gathering of Race men and women. For those of you who have never heard the term, it was used in the early twentieth century to describe educated professionals who dedicated their lives to the betterment of Black people in general, especially in regards to the fight for justice and civil rights. Our group was full of college administrators and professors, physicians, education advocates, and policymakers. They definitely didn’t represent the poor, uneducated, hopeless Black America that Donald Trump has been shouting about in recent weeks. And while I was surrounded by the more educated and affluent of our community, the conversations were about uplift and justice for all. We acknowledged that while our country has made tremendous strides, something must be done to eradicate the racism and racial disparities that still persist in this country.
As I sat at the table next to my dad, he gestured to the folks sitting across the table, saying that as a country we have spent a lot of time talking about race, and that’s the problem, it’s just talk.
I admit, sometimes I’m tired of talking about race which I know is hard to believe when you examine any facet of my life: I spent six years studying African-American Literature, five years teaching and writing about it, my family has organized Underground Railroad study tours for two decades, we’ve published an African-American community newspaper for over forty years, and I have attended Black churches for almost half a century. While I am full of pride, there are moments when I just don’t want to think about race…don’t want to hear about it…don’t want to talk about it. And just when I think I can escape “race talk”, even for a moment, just like the character Michael Corleone in one of my favorite films, “they pull me back in.”
First a colleague forwarded an article on Black women and breastfeeding. Evidently while more women are breastfeeding, a racial gap persists, with Black newborns consistently having the lowest rates of breastfeeding initiation and duration. Because they are not drinking breast milk, these children, a little over half of the entire Black population, are missing the preventative health benefits and immunological properties it provides. With disparities in education attainment, incarceration, and healthcare, it was an example that those disparities that plague some of our most vulnerable families and communities, start with disparities at birth.
Then there were the articles in my newsfeed: Trumps latest lame attempt to woo Black voters…Internet trolls latest online racist harassment of actress Leslie Jones…and locally a racial incident between Black and Latino students that caused one of our high schools to be placed on lockdown for an afternoon.
Even when I talked about the future with my friend, a top science fiction writer who happens to be Black, I couldn’t escape a discussion of race. She admitted that the situation in the world of speculative fiction – a broad category of narrative fiction that includes elements, settings and characters created out of imagination and speculation rather than based on reality and everyday life – is plagued with racial conflict. She even created an award to foster joy and kindness and cultivate a healthy and vibrant community by honoring someone who made a positive change in the science fiction community.
On Monday I found myself starting and ending the day with other modern-day Race men and women who are collectively moving beyond talk. They are developing their very own “Justice League” here in the Inland Empire, combining their efforts to empower, educate, and elevate the community with a goal to eradicate some of the injustices that plague our region. In the coming months I will be writing more about these leaders and other leaders in our community who, like me, are tired of talk and ready for action.