We are seeing many changes in our communities, and even our schools. Consider the events that are currently taking place at the historic Prairie View A & M University, which is known as the largest HBCU in the state of Texas. The current President Dr. Ruth Simmons, who has been president of Prairie View since 2017, has decided to step down from her role four months earlier than the original date. Her last day would have been June 1st, now that has changed to the end of February.
The abrupt leave is due to differences with the Texas A&M University System Chancellor John Sharp regarding hiring over the rest of Dr. Simmon’s Term. It was noted that she could remain as president but only with “limited presidential authority.” She disagreed with this notion and decided to resign early. Dr. Ruth Simmons said, “My immediate response was that I could not and would not agree to being president in name only. No enduring good can arise from subservience to low standards and expectations.” Again, it all comes down to power and control.
Prairie View A &M was established during the Reconstruction period after the Civil War. It was the first college in Texas that was created for Black people. Prairie View went through many changes before it became a part of the Texas A&M University system in 1973. Although Prairie View is a Black institution, it is controlled by White people. Dr. Simmons and the new president who will be starting soon are Black, and they hold important titles, but they do not hold the power, nor are they in control.
In Jackson, Mississippi, 82.8% of residents are Black, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which has made it the blackest city in America. Even though this city is majority Black, a White supermajority of the Mississippi house voted to create a separate court system and to expand the police force within Jackson. This new “system” would be completely run by White officials.
The House Bill 1020 did pass and has now moved to the Senate. According to Mississippi Today, this is what the bill looks like:
With House Bill 1020, the White chief justice of the Mississippi Supreme Court would appoint two judges to oversee a new district within the city—one that includes all the city’s majority White neighborhoods, among other areas. The white state attorney general would appoint four prosecutors, a court clerk, and four public defenders for the new district. The White state public safety commissioner would oversee an expanded Capitol Police force, run currently by a White chief. The appointments by state officials would occur in lieu of judges and prosecutors being elected by the local residents of Jackson and Hinds County—as is the case in every other municipality and county in the state.
How do you have an entire system run by White people, when the city is majority Black? There are several issues with this. First, you are declaring that a Black city can’t take care of itself and must be saved by Whites. Secondly, you have no representation that actually looks like the community. Therefore, the Black voice is not heard and the Black vote has been eliminated. Thirdly, you are not improving the city by doing this, but instead, are making matters worse and taking this city and demolishing the progress they’ve made to live in a city that cares about the people who live there. The Mayor of Jackson, Mississippi, is 39 year old Chokwe Antar Lumumba, who called this practice “plantation politics.” If you aren’t familiar with the phrase, IGI Global defined it as, “The understanding that institutions including higher education are based on the practice of plantation life, slavery, and slave economy, whereby operationalizing the purchase, sale, safety, and invisible exploitation of Black bodies.” Under this new system, the Black folks that live there will be the slaves controlled by the masters, who are White people.
The Jackson Mayor also said that this bill reminded him of apartheid. It is the new apartheid. Apartheid occurred in South Africa from 1948 to 1994 and consisted of racial segregation under an all-White government. The majority population there was non-White South Africans. Does this sound familiar? During these times, Blacks had to be separated from Whites, they couldn’t vote or participate in politics, had to live separately, and couldn’t get involved in interracial relations. What is currently happening in Jackson is nothing new. It’s just new to those who don’t know their history.
Representative Walter Blackman, who is a civil rights leader, and who is the first Black American Republican in the history of Arizona elected to the Arizona House of Representatives expressed his thoughts regarding the bill. “This is just like the 1890 Constitution all over again…we are doing exactly what they said they were doing back then: ‘Helping those people because they can’t govern themselves.’” Rep. Blackman is referring to the “Jim Crow” era, which enacted laws to enforce racial segregation. The Jim Crow era lasted between 1877 to 1950. Black people didn’t control anything then and we still aren’t controlling much of anything now.
Slavery was abolished on December 6, 1865, and even though Blacks are no longer bound and chained, and forced to do extreme labor, nothing in America has changed. We now have “legalized slavery,” where Blacks control nothing, but the White man controls everything. Nothing in America has changed.
We see the same situation also happening in Washington D.C. The residents there also don’t have a voice because of how Washington D.C. is governed. Washington D.C. operates like a state, but is a district, with D.C. standing for District of Columbia. It was created under the US Constitution and was established as a federal district in 1790. The federal district does not have a government of its own like states in the U.S. but is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Congress. The residents of Washington D.C. are required to pay taxes, serve on juries, and so much more, but they still don’t have a voice in how they’re governed. DC Statehood said, “For over 200 years, we have been denied a voice in our national government and sovereignty over our local affairs. Admitting the residential and commercial parts of DC as a state will at last give us representation in Congress and control over our state and local government. It all comes down to power and control.
Black people must educate themselves about what is going on around our communities. What we can control is our own thinking, the knowledge we equip ourselves with, and by using our voice through our vote to make sure representation is present for our communities. Whether a person is Black or White does not matter because we have some Black people who have been in office and who have forgotten the fact that they’re Black, and don’t care anything about the Black communities. We must elect people in office who will make sure resources are distributed effectively, money gets put into our schools, small Black business owners will get the help they need, Blacks can go get loans and get approved for house ownership without any issues, and so much more. We must do our research on different political candidates and truly understand who it is we are voting for.
We must also know our history. George Santayana, an American philosopher once said, “Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” If we don’t learn about the hundreds of years that have come before us, we are liable to fall for anything. They want to take Black history out of schools, they want to control the textbooks and act like everything has always been golden. However, it is not the school’s responsibility to teach our kids Black history. They’re not going to do it anyway. It is up to us. It is up to the Black community to educate our community about the issues that have impacted us for many generations. And if we don’t wake up and pay attention, we will no longer be living in the present, we will be in the past.
In the words of Howard Zinn, an American historian, “If you don’t know history, it’s as if you were born yesterday. If you were born yesterday, then any leader can tell you anything.”