I was helping a student recently with a paper she was writing. It was on the poem "Ballad of Birmingham," about the 1963 church bombing.
In the poem, on the day she would be killed in church, a young girl asks her mother for permission to attend a freedom march. Her mother tells her no, the march would be too dangerous, and sends her to church instead.
My student wondered, "How could that mother have suggested church would be safe? Her daughter was black; nowhere is safe for black people in America."
It doesn't feel safe to be black now. Black people have to grapple with this grim reality as we try to define our place in a country which maintains itself through our subjugation.
What is the cost of us being around white people, and is it worth it?
Injustices such as the one which occurred at the Starbucks in Philadelphia have been happening for a long, long time. As recent examples of blatant racism have piled up -- in restaurants, apartments, golf courses, trains, college dorms -- I question whether integration is even a good idea.
Why should I want to be around white people? Why should I want white teachers when they’ve punished me more severely than my white classmates? Why should I want white children around when they’ve told my son they won’t play with him because he’s a black boy? Why should I want white college classmates when one said to me after I’d won a prestigious honor, “You won the Being Black Award?"
Being around white people is still a constant reminder that black life is undervalued by them. Integration is white people and black people living and working next to each other. In that sense, our country has been always integrated.
But show me when being integrated has worked out for us. If you were black around white people in the 1800s, you were probably a slave. If you were black around white people in the 1900s, you were probably working in menial positions. If you are black in the 2000s, you're probably getting the cops called on you.
The exceptions all of us can think of prove the rule. Being able to say, "I haven't had the police called on me," for example, brings out a staggering number of stories of black people who have.
Until we can count on white people treating us well, black people are better off keeping to ourselves.
Jamil Ragland is a freelance writer who also works at Hartford's Capital Community College. He lives in East Hartford.