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Black Heritage Month: Twenty-eight days of learning

February 5, 2016

Black Counselors Association logoMembers of the NIU Black Counselors Association are presenting 28 days worth of interesting pieces of African-American history in recognition of Black Heritage Month.

  • The term African-American is offensive to many black Americans. The term was created in an attempt to create an equivalent of “German-American or Italian-American.” However, blacks in America don’t have such an equivalent. The term, over time, has become the norm as a form of being “politically correct.” When applying some theoretical questions to this term, it can be determined that it is not even politically correct. For example, many blacks (and even whites) dislike the use of the term for black Americans for the following reasons; the term does not consider individuals who are black and from the Caribbean or Black people from other countries. How about white people living in America, but who are from South Africa? They would be considered African-American. Thus, many black Americans note a preference to be called black or brown. This is becoming increasingly true for today’s youth.
  • More black men are attending collage than are incarcerated. Ivory A. Toldson notes that if we replicated the Justice Policy Institute’s analysis by downloading enrollment data from the National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Post‐Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), we would find a 108.5 percent jump in black male college enrollment from 2001 to 2011. The raw numbers show that enrollment of black males increased from 693,044 in 2001 to 1,445,194 in 2011. Toldson notes that there is still a disparity in the education provided and graduation rates of blacks. He attributes that to a lack of skill and resources provided to blacks within their grade school years (i.e. middle school and high school). He suspects that if we deconstruct this myth and focus on the systematic constants that limit blacks from completing college, all the 1,127,170 black males who were enrolled in undergraduate programs in 2010 could have eventually graduated, bringing the total number of black males with college degrees to an increase of 71 percent, nearly achieving parity with white males.
  • George Washington Carver was not the only freed scientist and inventor. Benjamin Banneker was a free, self- educated mathematician and astronomer. He was born in 1731. He owned farm land near Baltimore. Banneker is largely remembered for his writing as he wrote several almanac and exchanged letters with Thomas Jefferson. One of Banneker’s greatest achievements was being called to assist in the surveying of territory for the construction of the nation’s capital.
  • The numbers of black people owning homes is far fewer than that of white people owning homes. In 2010, the U.S. Census bureau noted that 71 percent of whites in the U.S. are homeowners, compared to 52.3 percent of American Indian, Aleut, Eskimo; 58 percent of Asian or Pacific Islanders; and 47 percent of Latinos. Blacks are at the lowest percentage at 45 percent. This could be due to the median household income of whites being 60 percent higher than that of their black counterparts ($59,754 compared to $35,416). Unemployment is also significantly higher  for blacks (11 percent of blacks compared to 5.3 percent for whites).
  • The obsession with tan skin, big lips, small waist and especially big butts displayed in popular culture and celebrated by people not of color like the Kardashian and Jenner sisters started with the mistreatment and fascination of a Khoikhoi woman, “Sara” (Saartjie) Baartman. Sara was sold into slavery by Dutch colonists and was often forced to be displayed on London street corners half naked due to Europeans’ belief that her large buttock and unusual coloring was a product of “the greatest deformity.” Four years later, Sara was placed on display in a Paris zoo. She was placed in a cage completely naked. Later Sara was studied by George Cuvier, a naturalist who concluded that Sara was a link between animals and humans, further reinforcing stereotypes that Africans were oversexed and of a lesser race than human. At the age of 26, Sara died; her cause of death is unknown. The abuse of her body did not end at death. Her body was paltered, and her brain and genitals were place on display in a French museum. Sara’s body was not put to full rest until her remains were returned to Africa in 2002 thanks to Nelson Mandela. Imagine Nicki Minaj being treated in such a way!
  • White artists stole music lyrics and riffs from black artists. Here are a list of artists who had to make big payouts to other artists, or at the very least credit them for royalties. The list will shock you! Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” (1969) was originally written by Willie Dixion and preformed by Muddy Waters in 1962. George Harrison’s hit “My Sweet Lord” (1970) was originally the Chiffons “He’s So Fine.” The Beach Boys “Surfin’ USA” (1963) was Chuck Berry’s “Sweet Little Sixteen” (1958), and Michael Bolton’s “Love is a Wonderful Thing” (1991) was the Isley Brothers’ “Stagger Lee” (1966), When the Isley Brothers sued Bolton, his co-writer Andrew Goldmark and Sony Records for plagiarizing their song of the same name, the defendants were ordered to pay $5.2 million, the largest payment in music history. I love the beat of Katy Perry’s “Dark Horse” (2013), but it was originally the beat from rap group Fame’s “Joyful Noise” (2008).
  • The “N-word” is unique in the English language and is still offensive. On one hand, it is the ultimate insult: a word that has tormented generations of Blacks. Yet over time, it has become a popular term of endearment by the descendants of the very people who once had to endure it. Among many young people today, the N-word can mean friend. Theories about the continued use of the word include efforts to reclaim the word, the desire to use the word because of its media popularity, that the word should not be used at all, that the word is for blacks to use only and even some arguments that everyone should be able to use the word as an effort to reclaim its meaning. “At some level,” said Neal A. Lester, “there has to be some self-critique and critical awareness and sensitivity to difference. Just because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean that I do it even if and when I surely can.”
  • Helen Williams was the first Black woman to break through to mainstream fashion in the United States. In the beginning, she worked for Black magazines such as Jet and Ebony; however, her earlier years were full of struggle as mainstream models were white only and black models had to be fair-skinned. Williams moved to Paris in 1960 and modeled for famous designers such as Christian Dior and Jean Desses. When she partnered with Dorothy Kilgallen and Earl Wilson Williams, she was able to cross over for the first time in press such as The New York Times, Life and Redbook. By 1961, her hourly head shot rate was $100.
  • “Soul Food” is a term used for food traditionally prepared and eaten by blacks of the Southern United States. The style of cooking originated during American slavery. African slaves were given only the “leftover” and “undesirable” cuts of meat from their masters (while the white slave owners got the meatiest cuts of ham, roasts, etc.). Salves also had only the vegetables they grew for themselves. Cooking was one of the few ways slaves could express love and appreciation, and to celebrate with each other, hence the meaning “soul food is good for the soul.” Dishes or ingredients commonly found in soul food include: biscuits, black-eyed peas, butter beans, catfish (dredged in seasoned cornbread and fried), chicken (often fried with cornmeal breading or seasoned flour), chicken livers, chitterlings or chitlins, chow-chow, collard greens, cornbread, cracklins, fatback, fried fish, fried ice cream, grits, often served with fish, ham hocks, hog maws, hoghead cheese, hot sauce, lima beans, macaroni and cheese, mashed potatoes, meatloaf, milk and bread, neckbones, pigs’ feet, ribs, rice (usually served with red beans), sorghum syrup, sweet potatoes, turnip greens and yams
  • Jean-Michel Basquiat was a Neo-Expressionist painter in the 1980s. His work and style received critical acclaim for the fusion of words, symbols, stick figures and animals. He is the youngest artist to showcase his famous paintings in Germany. Soon, his paintings came to be adored by an art loving public that had no problem paying as much as $50,000 for a Basquiat original. Today, an original Basquiat can be worth millions. In fact, rapper Jay-Z purchased the original painting “Mecca” by Basquiat for $4.5 million in 2013.
  • Kylar W. Broadus has enjoyed a prolific career as an activist, writer, lawyer, professor, lobbyist and public speaker. As an attorney, Broadus practiced with a focus on LGBT law, particularly, transgender rights. In 2012, Broadus was awarded the Susan J. Hyde Activism Award for Longevity in the Movement at the Task Force’s National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change. Later that year, he made history by becoming the first openly transgender person to testify before the U.S. Senate. He was speaking in favor of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA), which would prohibit employment discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity. He established The Trans People of Color Coalition (TPOCC)  a non-profit organization and the only national social justice organization that promotes the interest of trans people of color. Broadus now serves on The National Gay and Lesbian Task Force as senior Public Policy Counsel of the Transgender Civil Rights Project.
  • Charlotte E. Ray became the first female African-American lawyer in the United States in 1872. Ray started her law office, specializing in commercial law. To attract clients, she advertised in a newspaper run by Frederick Douglass, a leader in the abolitionist movement. In 1879, Ray moved to New York, where she worked as a teacher in the Brooklyn public schools. She championed a number of social causes outside of her classroom, becoming involved in the women’s suffrage movement and joining the National Association of Colored Women.
  • Churches were the first source of land ownership for slaves in America. Religion offered a means of catharsis. Africans retained their faith in God and found refuge in their churches. Organized politically and spiritually, black churches were not only given to the teachings of Christianity, but they were faithfully relied upon to address the specific issues, which affected their members. For many African-American Christians, regardless of their denominational differences, Black churches have always represented their religion, community and home.
  • Only about one-quarter of African-Americans seek mental health care, compared to 40 percent of whites. Here are some reasons why: distrust, misdiagnoses, inadequate treatment, lack of cultural competence by health professionals, socio-economic factors and a lack of African-American mental health professionals. Only 3.7 percent of members in the American Psychiatric Association and 1.5 percent of members in the American Psychological Association are African-American.
  • According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are 20 percent more likely to experience serious mental health problems than the general population. Common mental health disorders among African-Americans include major depression, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), suicide and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). African-Americans are more likely to be victims of violent crime, are 40 percent  of homelessness population and are exposed significantly higher to other risk-related conditions.
  • In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released a study finding that more African-American fathers live with their children (2.5 million) than live apart from their children (1.7 million). African-American fathers surveyed who live with their children noted significant increase in the following activities compared to their white and Latino counterparts: fed or ate meals with their children daily; bathed, diapered or dressed their children daily; played with their children daily; read to their children daily; and helped their children with their homework or checked to make sure that they finished it daily. However, it should be noted that trends in absent fathers within the black community can to be attributed to practices of family separation during slavery, poverty and incarceration.
  • The history of police brutality among blacks has been believed to be correlated with the establishment of law enforcement in the United States. During the 1800s, groups of white men organized into “slave patrols” in the southern colonies. These slave patrols were responsible for controlling, returning and punishing runaway slaves. The slave patrols helped to maintain the economic order in the southern colonies. These slave patrols are generally considered to be the first modern police organizations in this country. In 1837, Charleston, S.C., had a slave patrol with over one hundred officers, which was far larger than any northern city police force at that time.
  • Freedom Summer officials involved in the freedom summer efforts of 1964 established 30 “Freedom Schools” in towns throughout Mississippi to address the racial inequalities in Mississippi’s educational system. Mississippi’s black schools were invariably poorly funded, and teachers had to use hand-me-down textbooks that offered a racist slant on American history. The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1,000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3,000. The schools became a model for future social programs such as Head Start, as well as alternative educational institutions.
  • During the 1960s state officials systematically kept blacks from voting through poll taxes and literacy tests, and through cruder methods of fear and intimidation, which included beatings and lynchings. Freedom Summer marked the climax of intensive voter-registration activities in the South that had started in 1961. Organizers chose to focus their efforts on Mississippi because of the state’s particularly dismal voting-rights record: in 1962 only 6.7 percent of African-Americans in the state were registered to vote, the lowest percentage in the country. The Freedom Summer campaign was organized by a coalition called the Mississippi Council of Federated Organizations, which was led by the Congress of Racial Equality, and included the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee.
  • Prior to being enslaved, Africans braided and styled their hair in certain ways to reflect a person’s family background, tribe and social status. For example, when men from the Wolof tribe in Senegal and Gambia went to war, they wore a braided style. What’s more, many believed that hair, given its close location to the skies, was the conduit for spiritual interaction with God. In the 1930s, Rastafarian theology developed in Jamaica from the ideas of Marcus Garvey, a political activist who wanted to improve the status of his fellow blacks. Believers are forbidden to cut their hair and instead twist it into dreadlocks. During the 1960s the afro hairstyle, emerged during the civil rights movement as a symbol of rebellion, pride and empowerment. Along with the afro, dreadlocks remain the most distinctive black hairstyle among other ethnic groups today.
  • Before Serena Williams, there was Althea Gibson. Althea Gibson was the first black player allowed to compete at the U.S. Nationals in 1950. She powered through the competition to become the first black player to win Wimbledon and the U.S. Nationals in 1957, then won both events again the following year. After retiring from tennis, Gibson became the first black woman to compete on the Ladies Professional Golf Association tour in 1964.
  • Oscar Micheaux was a filmmaking pioneer. He made movies and wrote books that challenged racial segregation and created an alternative outlet for black moviegoers. His novels included; “The Conquest: The Story of a Negro Pioneer,” “The Forged Note” and “The Homesteader,” which became first full-length feature produced by an African-American filmmaker. Micheaux’s films include “The Homesteader,” “Within Our Gates” and “Betrayal,” Micheaux’s last film, which was the first African-American-produced movie to open in white theaters.
  • Blacks have been trailblazers in business since the 1800s. Joseph Randolph was the creator and president of an insurance company that catered to the needs of blacks who did not wish to join the Mutual Aid Free African Society, but had additional benefit needs. He opened the African Insurance company in Philadelphia in 1810. In addition, David Ruggles, both a participant in the liberation of slaves through the underground railroad and a journalist, opened up the first black bookstore in New York City.
  • Studies on race and gender suggest that race plays an essential role in mental health outcomes for blacks and that it is a marker for mental health, health behaviors, attitudes and beliefs (Williams & Williams-Morris, 2000). For example, some of the three most common stressors presented in the depression literature on adult African American men are: racial discrimination, violence, and incarceration.
  • Light skin versus dark skin emerged as an issue at least as early as 1712 thanks to Willie Lynch. Lynch, an influential British salve owner in the West Indies, spoke of ways to break apart the tightly unified black man and woman. Lynch’s plan consisted of crossbreeding whites and blacks through forceful relations with black slaves. His efforts also are known for destroying the mother language of black people and practices to limit the understanding of the English language. “Being a fool is one of the basic ingredients of any incidents to the maintenance of the slavery system,” Lynch said.
  • Inez Beverly Prosser, Ph.D., was the first African-American woman to receive her doctoral degree in psychology. Her dissertation findings revealed that black students benefited more in segregated schools because they were more likely to receive affection, support and a balanced curriculum versus an integrated school where they were likely to have problems adjusting academically, socially and in accepting their identity. Her work was influential in the Brown v. Board of Education Supreme Court decision that later took place in 1954.
  • Many make the false comparisons that civil right leaders Dr. King and Malcom X (aka el-Hajj Malik el-Shabazz) approaches and views on civil rights and oppression as the nonviolent (Dr. King) versus “by any means necessary” (Malcolm X). However after making a religious pilgrimage to Mecca in April 1964, Malcom X began, in his own words, to “reappraise the ‘white man.’ ” From that point forward, Malcolm moved away from black separatism and wholesale denunciations of whites, and instead embraced a more humanistic approach to fighting oppression.
  • Claudette Colvin, at the age of 15, was actually the first black person to refuse to give up her seat on a Montgomery bus to a white person, in violation of local law. Her arrest preceded civil rights activist Rosa Parks’ actions (on Dec. 1, 1955) by nine months. Some black leaders believed she was too young and too dark-skinned to be an effective symbol of injustice for the rest of the nation. NAACP leaders thus endorsed Parks’ boycott to start the Montgomery Bus Boycott.