Imagine being born into battle, a competition for survival. Only you aren’t aware of the competition. You never realized that a self-appointed opponent wants not just you, but all who look like you, to perish from the Earth. To no longer exist. Learning to navigate this was the young De’Zhon Grace before waking up, or coming into conscious awareness, of this anti-Black world. 

You see, like many of our children today, I grew up in a young household. Everyone was still learning a lot about life, both inside and outside the home. I learned about my people in a brief section of U.S. history, taught and written by the colonizers who disconnected us -- mentally, physically, and spiritually.  I learned only what they were willing to teach. Like my Black brothers and sisters, I did not enjoy the liberty or privilege to hold the fallacies they told, or sometimes even glorified. Consequently, alongside many of my Black brothers and sisters, I share the pain of having to glue together fragmented pieces of history to learn more about my ancestors prior to the trans-atlantic slave trade.

“As America continues to prey on our minds through miseducation, controlled media, targeted policing, economic exclusion and so forth, our babies experience hardships that not even an adult should bear.”

De'Zhon Grace
Economic Equity Fellow

Little De’Zhon heard of the great conqueror, Alexander the Great. The fearless leader strategically conquered civilizations, overtook kingdoms and burned down libraries. This part of history I was told. However, I was not taught that these “civilizations” and libraries that burned to the ground were ours, the Black people, the original people, including those who became the African Diaspora. Conveniently, history textbooks portrayed  Alexander’s heroic quests but failed to mention that his army killed our men, imprisoned our survivors, used our women for breeding and then burned down our sanctuaries. This is a part of our history. 

What burned in those libraries were not only the stories and tales of my ancestors, but the knowledge of the most high and the keys to the evolution of consciousness and conscience. These were Kings and Queens – and if gone through initiation, Gods and Goddesses. While their story was still alive, they attracted the minds of young students like Aristotle, Plato, Socrates – ancient Greek philosophers seen as fathers of consciousness. To learn more on this, you can read Stolen Legacy by George GM James. 

Prior to learning the truth, I believed the lies. Like many, I assumed our education system, as well as health care and other components of our welfare system, was just as reliable of a source of knowledge for my family as it was for my White counterparts. Given the omission of true history regarding my people, this is clearly not the case. 

My mother always stressed the importance of education as the vanguard to a world different than ours, one with opportunities to end the struggles within our community. Never did she imagine these institutions would fill my mind with anti-Black poison. She could not foresee the impact of our people’s history being told through the perspective of our oppressors. She just wanted to protect her son. But truth will always find its way to light. Once it did, nothing was, or ever would be, the same.

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The truth is, my Blackness is the threat my White colonizers fear. Those who resemble me are stripped of their power, robbed of their freedom, and provided a second-class living in this system that the blind call “equal.” The very same resources that most are able to trust, Black people cannot, even to the slightest degree. In fact, this entire nation was built on the premise of exploiting the supernatural capabilities of the Black population. Therefore, as a system, America was built upon the condition of the destruction of the Black family.

Ironically, it took me years to develop the words to articulate and validate concepts I always knew intuitively. As a dark-skinned Black child growing up, plenty of experiences exposed me to this truth. For example, despite living in Castro Valley for five years, after leaving my own home one day, a neighbor called the police to falsely accuse me of robbing it. Needless to say, when the White police officer saw me walking, I fit the description and in an instant found myself staring down the barrel of his gun. I was 17 years old at the time, but after that moment I could no longer view the world through the lens of a boy.

The truth is, Black children often experience traumas that destroy their innocence. Our little ones are forced to grow up quickly, and then America unapologetically views them as “super predators,” lacking conscience and empathy. Sadly, this anti-black ideology outlived the 1990s and can be seen in the inhumane responses to Black life. 

In 1955, Emmitt Till was 14 years old when he was beaten to death, had his eye gouged out, was shot in the head and then thrown into a river. Addie Mae Collins – 14, Carol Denise McNair – 11, Carole Robertson – 14, and Cynthia Wesley – 14,were all murdered in the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. In 2010, Aiyanna Stanley-Jones was seven years old when Detroit police wrongfully entered her family’s apartment with bullets during a no-knock raid and killed her as she slept on the couch. In 2015, Tamir Rice was 12 years old when Cleveland officers perceived his toy as life threatening and murdered him in front of his family’s apartment. 

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As America continues to prey on our minds through miseducation, controlled media, targeted policing, economic exclusion and so forth, our babies experience hardships that not even an adult should bear. This is the reality I grew up learning. I quickly understood that regardless of whether we, Black people, participated or not, war was brought to our doorsteps.

My favorite Black philosopher and great thinker, W.E.B. Du Bois, once said, in The Souls of Black Folk, that the great problem facing the 20th century is that of the color line. It disheartens me to say that today we still have this very same race problem. 

However, don’t feel sorry for us. On the contrary, we don’t want your pity and if I wasn’t a son of God, I’d reject your empathy too. But, empathy is needed for true change in character and harmony. The understanding and compassion that comes from attempting to put yourselves in the shoes of another human encourages love. This is the evolution of our species, a step in the journey to end this competition for survival, this war.

Love for thyself and love for thy neighbors will drive away the hatred that plagues this world, the dark paradigm of scarcity, of there being a limited amount of resources for us all – there being not enough space for my breath or yours. This is not true, and love is the key.

Practically speaking, we need the right environment to cultivate fertile soil for this altruistic type of love. The normalized “normal” is no longer acceptable. As ridiculous as it is to even have to claim our birth-given rights, we need ownership over our lives, our bodies, our homes, our businesses, our institutions, our futures. Anti-Black policies need to change and actions must follow -- actions to abolish systems of exploitation, starting with white supremacy and followed by mass incarceration. Leadership needs to Blacken and any space, place, or institution serving anti-Black – or even semi-anti-Black – ideologies need to be brought to light. We need reparations – not considered but actualized. We asked for change in the past and now is the time to pick up where our ancestors left off. We are no longer asking for anything, we are demanding change.

De’Zhon Grace is Greenlining’s Economic Equity Fellow. Follow him on Twitter.

Photo Credit: Thank you to De'Zhon Grace and his family for providing images.