"I hate history because you can only go so far back in time before all of the black people are in chains and despair. It's embarrassing," was among the comments I often encountered as a graduate teaching assistant at both the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, and Jackson State University in Mississippi. Even as elders and members of the black literati collectively admonish that not knowing ones past, preemptively obscures their futures, the reality of blackness does not validate one's existence, vindicate one's condition, or embolden greatness among the present-day kindred of ancestors, however brilliant.
But in a space where people of color are at once exotic, the meat of cultural voyeurism, and competition for folks whose imperial expansion adulterated mother-tongues and mores, the Diasporic black experience continues to most aptly be defined as varying manifestations of the white man's burden. So how best to affirm the everyday accomplishments, the intellectual prowess, and the sheer resilience of blacks around the globe, while acknowledging the vile, racist, and dehumanizing malaise through which those things were achieved? Simple: With truth and parity.
There are few absolutes. Not all black people were disenfranchised; nor were all slaves. There were many whites who had both an aversion to slavery and a sincere belief in racial and social equality. African people around the world developed the very arts, languages and sciences for which they are now stereotyped as inherently unable to master. They are the skeletons, the arteries, and the DNA of every civilization under the sun, but hidden in plain view. This Black History Month, our goal at the Informer was to introduce readers to their foremothers and forefathers, as decidedly human, resilient, and exceptional. In our final Black History Month special section, we spotlight a few of the many cultures that encompass Diasporic Black History. Similarities abound and subtle cultural nuances suggest kinships across superficial geographic and language barriers.
One exercise with which my students were challenged when trying to determine how race or blackness functioned on a global scale entailed examining the relationship between the island nation of Haiti and the U.S. from its independence until the death of President John F. Kennedy. The students found that with almost every economic and cultural leap forward by Haiti, there was an equally defiant show of racist maneuvering – including gunboat diplomacy, American-funded attempts to overthrow the government, and constant cultural interventions that disrupted the customs of her people and marginalized Haiti's independence. The people, even after natural disasters and foreign exploitation, remain proud, vibrant and steadfast. Lola Poisson Joseph, founder and executive director of the Children and Families Global Development Fund, and wife of former Haitian Ambassador to the United Stated Raymond Joseph, graciously shares her insight into the Haiti few recognize or acknowledge in this edition.
And while Haiti fought to maintain her identity, other nations, including Guyana, quickly absorbed the English branding of imperial rule – its people becoming (in some cases) more English than the British themselves. When the Crown called upon its numbers to fight in World War II, people of color from the Caribbean to India, answered. At the close of the war, educational and economic opportunities opened in the "Mother Country," and thousands migrated or sent their children to areas in and around London, Cardiff, and Leeds. By the 1960s, the children of these migrants had forged collective identities that merged the best of their parents' and grandparents' cultures with that of their adopted homeland. In this edition of the Informer, journalist and motivational speaker Sherry Ann Dixon details her own migration from British Guyana to London.
At times the formation of racial and cultural identity rested solely in the interpretations of others. Such proved true for thousands of mixed-raced children – generally the product of black American servicemen and non-black women abroad. Barrington Salmon speaks with broadcast journalist Doris McMillon and other German-born children of such unions, who were known collectively as Brown Babies and became part of a trans-Atlantic immigration movement that paired them with African-American adoptive parents.
Please use the Informer Black History special editions as a springboard to additional learning. With the abundance of rich and positive black experiences worldwide, we hope you find something more in the past – no matter how far back you look, besides chains and despair.
Read & Enjoy,
Shantella Y, Sherman
Editor, Special Editions