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  • Writer's pictureKaren Herbert

3 Black Voices That Will Open Your Mind and Your Heart

Updated: Apr 29, 2023

Black History Month is a good time for white people to listen to Black voices. Listen, believe, and then reflect. It is important to accept the truth of what we read and hear, no matter how uncomfortable that may be. This is not easy, but it is necessary in order to become an ally. Listening to Black voices has been the first step for me, and I am still learning. More needs to be done - but maybe you don’t know where to begin. Let me share a few of the voices and sources that I have been following for a few years and learned from. These voices and this history must not be canceled from school curricula and libraries!

Rachel Elizabeth Cargle

"Coming To Terms With Racism’s Inertia: Ancestral Accountability" by Rachel Elizabeth Cargle is a TEDx talk given in Bend, Oregon in 2019. Cargle, a Black American writer, lecturer, and activist, is the creator of the Great Unlearn and founder of the Loveland Foundation. Cargle's book, A Renaissance of Our Own: a Memoir and Manifesto on Reimagining will be released in May 2023.

Here are a few quotes from the TEDx talk that made an impression on me:

"Daily, I’m existing under the effects of what the white community did to Black people that it brought over here. What they did to set up a system in which white skin holds privileges and black skin holds consequences. (4:15) …. I quickly realized there is a cognitive dissonance that the white community has separated itself from the roots and the fruits of racism, even though it’s still very evident to the Black community." (5:40)

This is an eye-opening talk, and I recommend it highly. If you follow Cargle on Facebook, she is also curating a series of daily prompts during Black History Month. Look up on Google for yourself, then read and learn. The first two are “Middle Passage and Port Markers Project” and “Igbo Landing.” Follow the hashtag #DiscoverOurGlory2023 to see the daily prompts.

Nikole Hannah-Jones

"The 1619 Project" was published by The New York Times Magazine in August 2019. Developed by Nikole Hannah-Jones, the project was a historical analysis of slavery in America 400 years after the first ship arrived in 1619 to sell 20 enslaved Africans to the colonists. The magazine aimed to reexamine the effects of chattel slavery and contained several essays tackling topics like democracy, capitalism, the prison system, and more. I listened to the five-episode podcast of the essays, and there is now a 1619 curriculum.

"Before the abolishment of the international slave trade, 400,000 enslaved Africans would be sold into America. Those individuals and their descendants transformed the lands to which they’d been brought into some of the most successful colonies in the British Empire. Through backbreaking labor, they cleared the land across the Southeast. They taught the colonists to grow rice. They grew and picked the cotton that at the height of slavery was the nation’s most valuable commodity, accounting for half of all American exports and 66 percent of the world’s supply." (Hannah-Jones, pg. 16)

Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, Nkyinkyim Installation, 2018, National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama (photo: Michael Delli Carpini

Ijeoma Oluo

Author and speaker Ijeoma Oluo is based in Seattle and writes about race and identity, feminism, social justice, and much more. Her 2018 book, So You Want to Talk About Race is a New York Times bestseller. In the book, Oluo provides a primer on racism and white supremacy - breaking down the topics in a conversational way, speaking from her own experiences and pain as she grew up dealing with systemic racism. There are seventeen chapters explaining different issues, including one titled “Why I am always being told to “check my privilege?”

"Race is more than just pain and oppression. It’s also culture and history. Personally, my blackness is a history of strength, beauty, and creativity that I draw on every day; it is more than the history of horrors that racism has wrought. My blackness has its own language, its own jokes, its own fashion. My blackness is a community and a family and I’m very grateful for it. Humans are resilient and creative beings, and out of a social construct created to brutalize and oppress, we’ve managed to create a lot of beauty. We can fight racial oppression while still acknowledging and appreciating that." (pg 20)

That’s just one book out of many about race and racism that are worth exploring. Oluo has another book out, Mediocre: The Dangerous Legacy of White Male America. There’s no shortage of lists of titles to peruse - I found this list and want to read every one of them. Maybe not all in one month, but maybe a few a year. As a white woman, I know it will be difficult to read these but never as difficult as it is to be a Black person in 2023.

What about Black voices in fiction? Reading a story can be less confrontational but still inform you in different ways. Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche, is an engaging tale about a young Nigerian woman who immigrates to America to go to university. I was drawn in as she struggled with racism for the first time, and tried to find a community in her new country. The ending was not what I expected, but that is a good thing.

Listening to Black voices is just the first step. Hopefully, you will see the historical and ongoing injustices and gain empathy for the suffering that is caused by white supremacy. If you stop there, you might feel better about yourself but nothing has changed - Black people will still be oppressed in this country. There is more work to do to dismantle systemic racism: write your government representatives in support of anti-racism initiatives, show up to school board meetings and demand that all children get the same opportunities and there is diversity in the faculty and staff, offer to help if you see a Black person facing police harassment, vote for diverse candidates. Visit sites along the Civil Rights Trail - one of these is the National Monument for Peace and Justice. I wrote about my visit on this page here.

Rachel Cargle shared at the end of her TedxTalk:

"I’ve come up with my own personal equation for what it means to be an ally: Knowledge + Empathy + Action. It’s these three things that you must bring together in order to truly show up in solidarity. Taking out any part of that equation leads to either the ego or to performance. Both of those there is no room for when lives are on the line." (12:07)

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