Saturday, December 13, 2014

An Open Letter to My Ancestors

Dear Ancestors,

To those on whose shoulders I stand, I apologize. From the deepest part of me, I am sorry for the mess that we are in in this country. You knocked down the door of segregation and pushed us inside, but we didn’t know what to do once we got here. We thought our work was done. We gulped the Kool-Aid and didn’t know that it was spiked. Now we’re confused and disillusioned. But there is still hope for us. You didn’t give up; we can’t either.  

We messed up. We think that because we have advanced degrees, live in integrated neighborhoods, drive luxury cars, and send our kids to private schools that we have arrived. We think that because we can afford to have someone clean our homes have a diverse group of friends and maybe even have White friends and family members that we can eat at the big table. We thought we were in the House, but now know that we are still in the kitchen.

If we had not forgotten our history, we would not be surprised by recent events. We first came here as indentured servants, but when it was discovered that the color of our skin made us easily identifiable, we became an even cheaper source of labor--free. Most of us descend from Africans who came here as cargo; property, and we’ve never been able to completely wash away the smell from that trip. Hard Truth: We are the shit on the bottom of America's shoe. And no matter what we do, the stench of who we are stays with us.
Many of the founding fathers were slave holders: Thomas Jefferson, John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin, and George Washington among others. When Jefferson penned the words “all men are created equal” in the eyes of the Constitution, he was not speaking of African Americans. We were designated as 3/5 of a person for the purposes of property value. We were no different from the farm animals. Not much has changed. 

We should have known better, and maybe we would have done better. Doing the work that needed to be done instead of sitting comfortably on the legacy you left us. We nodded off into the good life thinking that we had accomplished something only to learn that we haven't. We are despised in the country of our birth. We are made to feel like outsiders and agitators dare we speak out against the injustice that is as American as apple pie and Chevrolet. 

The road to freedom is paved with your blood and your broken bodies. But your spirit lives on in us. How could we forget that? We are here because you chose to survive. We are here because you didn’t fall for the okey-doke. For every major victory, there has been backlash. From the Emancipation Proclamation to the election of Barack Obama, we have faced strong opposition to change. We have been, beaten, lynched, raped, bombed and the victims of other unspeakable acts of violence against us, and yet we are still looked at as savages of some sort. That’s why we kill each other, right?

 When Barack Obama was elected President of these “United” States and everyone was wondering if he was ready to be president, I was wondering if we were ready for him. We were not. Never in the history of this country has a President been so disrespected. I’m still trying to recover from the fact that three major networks decided not to air the President’s speech. Who does that?

Assimilated to the point of indoctrination, some of us are inebriated on the idea of inferiority. We actually believe that in America there is difference between Black people and Niggers, not understanding that we are ALL Niggers in the minds of many. From Phyllis Wheatley to Charles Barkley, some of us have drunk too much Kool-Aid and think that our arrival in this country is the best thing that happened to us since home-made buttered biscuits. I have to give credit where credit is due: the brain washing was thorough and complete. Once we learned to hate ourselves there wasn’t as much work to do to keep us in line.

The reality of our situation is that we have only been desegregated. We have never been fully integrated into American society. The society in which we were born into and still live in is racist. And that’s the norm. We can’t forget that. It is what it is. We can’t change the origin. We have to know that and keep moving.

I had to sit back and marinate on what’s happening because at first I was upset. I kept wondering where I was. I was thinking: This is America? Then is I realized, This IS America. I had to remember what so many of you have been telling us for years: without struggle there is no progress. So, I’m glad to see so much social unrest. I’m glad to see us struggle. For I know that progress will follow.

I’m sorry that we lost our way. I’m sorry that we forgot our place. But I know that we’ve always made a way out of no way. You showed us that. We were not expected to survive, much less thrive. But we have always been able to use that which was turned against us in our favor. So, while we might be the shit on the shoe, we also know that it’s our manure that made it happen. America is America because of the shit on her shoe. So, that makes us The Shit, right?


  1. Replies
    1. Jennifer Brown BanksDecember 14, 2014 at 12:29 PM

      WOW! BRAVO, Ms. Gates!

  2. Thank you for the truth. Great job, Stephanie!!