An Open Letter to Young Black Americans
By Sevastian Winters
Since the day that a white man first took a black man and put him on a ship, black people have been subject to every sort of crime and injustice. On the day that you were born, your heritage had already been robbed from you. When you started school, you were taught to respect white men of European descent and until you had learned enough of European history to get you to 1849 when Ms. Harriet Tubman drew her first free breath, it was as if, other than as slaves, black people had no names…as if they never never existed.
You learned about Charlemagne, but you never even heard of Ezana of Axum . You heard of Alexander and yet never of Askia the Great. Have you ever heard of Facilides? You’ve heard of Aesop and his many fables, but did anyone happen to mention to you that Aesop was African? Did they remember to tell you he was a slave? What did you learn about Akhenaton? Yaa Asantewa? Did they mention to you that Mesopotamia is the cradle of human life and that you will find it in Africa? Your heritage was robbed from you and your education skewed.
When you learned of the Emancipation, did you learn that Lincoln was a hero? Nevermind that he turned the slave out with no more than the clothes on his back. No money. No house. No job. No skills. No property. no education. He set the Negro loose and yet still not free…and not for the benefit of the slaves themselves, but to punish the rebel slave owners who thereafter reeked havoc on the former slaves with low wages and deplorable working conditions. Whereas before emancipation, the white man said “Work for me or I will beat you to death”, after the signing of that famed document, the same white man said “Work for me or I will starve you to death”. And yet Abraham Lincoln is handed to you as hero. Is it enough that he turned you loose? Should he not have also enacted legislation that would have resulted in making the black man free?
And so here we are, today. With some grand exceptions, such as presidents, and governors, Congressmen, mayors and entertainers, and a slowly growing middle class, too many African American citizens are still bound by injustices in the legal system, injustices in practice despite equality in law. Too many are still stuck in a cycle of poverty, no property, very little education, no job, few skills and with the highest incarceration rate per capita of any of America’s many races. Black people make up 12% of our nation’s population and 42% of our prison population. 1/3 of black men alive today will spend part of their lives in prison. In Detroit, a city made up of 84% black people, 47% are functionally illiterate. 40% never graduate from high school. Property values are at a level so low as to be considered criminal, 30% are unemployed, Drug use and crime are 5 times the national average. The black man was turned loose, but it is time for him to be free.
Never before in the history of man has personal excellence been so important. On the day of your birth, you were handed a raw deal. You were dealt a bad hand of cards. You were given a game wherein the rules were stacked against you…and so too were the odds. But all of that in mind, in the height of slavery, Frederick Douglass Freed himself, educated himself, and gained audience with the President of the United States. Aesop a slave 1000 years earlier influenced the philosophy of people like Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and more.
YES… the White man has it out for you unfairly. Nobody is going to do for you so you’ve got to do for yourself. You can’t say ‘oh the white man busts us bigger for crack than himself for powder’ if you are going to pick up the crack pipe. The white man won’ t put that pipe in your hand. The white man won’t make you decide to skip school or act like a fool when you’re there. The white man won’t make you wear your pants with your drawers hanging out. The white man won’t force you to spray paint walls that don’t belong to you. The white man won’t make you carry a gun or a knife. The white man won’t make you get a girl pregnant and then forsake your responsibilities. The white man won’t make you go on welfare instead of going out to get a job or start a company of your own. The white man won’t make you steal a car or drink that alcohol, or bet on fighting dogs. A white man won’t make you throw trash on the ground or steal things that don’t belong to you. The white man won’t make the black man do any of those things, but the white man WILL catch you and punish you MORE when you do those things than he does his own kind. You don’t have to like it… but that’s the way it is right now. Those are the rules, whether they are fair or they are not. So if you are gonna act a fool, don’t blame the white man when he treats you like one.
When a man, no matter his color, disrespects you, smile and instead respect yourself. Who is he that it should matter what he thinks? If a man punches you in the face, put your hands to your sides and tell him to try again. Why? To tell him clearly that he may injure your body but he will NEVER injure your soul. When you do well and someone in your community tries to tell you that you’re “acting white”. Tell them they missed it… that you aren’t acting white. You’re acting like Dr. King, like brother Malcolm, like Dr. Cosby, like Dr. Condileeza Rice, like Thurgood Marshall, like Morgan Freeman, like Oprah Winfrey, like Booker T. Washington, like George Washington Carver, like the Honorable Elijah Muhammed, like Muhammed Ali. Tell them that you are acting like the proud black men and women who came before you. Tell them you are doing well in school because when the black man won the case of Brown vs. the Board of Education, the students who accepted violence and ostracism in order to desegregate schools, that they didn’t get punched in the head with the idea in mind that you would go to school and act like a fool.
The odds are stacked against you from the day of your birth. It is not fair. It is not just. You were robbed of a heritage that you will have to fight to regain. That sucks, but that’s life. Some people were born missing limbs. Some were born blind and others deaf. Some were born stupid and some were born poor. You were born black. It’s up to you and only you to decide whether that is an advantage or a disadvantage. The strongest iron is forged in the hottest fire. The deck is stacked against you. You can live as a slave to your broken heritage, choose to speak with poor diction, wear your pants with your drawers hanging out, learn only the basics of what it means to read and do math, shirk your responsibilities and piss on the graves of all of those who fought, bled and died to make you free. You can do those things, or you can choose personal excellence. You can strive in all of your days, in every way, with every minute to be worthy of those proud black men and women who came before you and suffered to give you what little opportunity they could. The white man is going to try to hold you down. Some in your own community are going to try to hold you down. The criminal justice system is going to try to hold you down. My question for you my young black fellow citizens is this: Are you going to let them do it?