In 1919, Renaissance poet Claude McKay (1891-1948), creatively and quite tactfully articulated a response to the unrest and chilling cruelty of racial conflict that was gripping America.
The rioting and unrest in America in 1919 was not perpetrated by men and women of African American descent (Blacks), but rather by America’s white citizens in protest to the accomplishments and achievement of those of a darker persuasion.
Conversely, since the end of Reconstruction (1877), many in the majority have often shared, “Why can’t those people (Americans of African descent) just pull themselves up by their own bootstraps?
For one to actually accomplish that task, “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” does require one to first have on boots.
Too often in this land of prosperity individuals have been denied boots (rights) and even more so, many times those boots have been taken from individuals making it quite difficult to compete the task, yet they have tried.
Through it all, those of African descent in particular and those people of color have not sought revenge, but a fair and equitable opportunity to compete. And they say collectively, “Quit taking our boots!”
Note to America: African American’s were not seeking revenge in 1919 nor today in 2020, 101 years later. People of Color, African Americans, Indigenous people, the true Americans are seeking Justice! A fair opportunity to compete and be respected.
McKay, in an attempt to calm his white friends and the majority at large wrote:
“Think you I am not fiend and savage too?” Think you I could not arm me with gun – And shoot down ten of you for every one – Of my Black brothers murdered, burnt by you? Be not deceived, for every deed you do, I could match – (out match)! Am I not Africa’s son? Black of that black land where black deeds are done?
But the Almighty from darkness drew my Soul and said; even thou shalt be light. Awhile to burn on the benighted earth. Thy dusky face I set among the white. For thee to prove thyself of highest worth. Before the world is swallowed up in night. To show thy little lamp: Go forth! Go Forth!
It is both ironic and tragic that 101 years after Claude McKay addressed racial conflict, hate, the inhumane torture and killing of Blacks in America as noted in the passage “Think you I am not fiend and savage too? Of my Black brothers murdered, burnt by you?”
This was America in 1919, white mobs, lynch groups that literally hunted, tortured (usually castration) as well as dismembered body parts of African Americans and left them hanging from a tree.
McKay’s writings confirms the systemic issue of racism in America. And the countries inability to protect its citizens as noted in the 14th Amendment (Equal protection of all citizens under the law).
McKay further states and warns, “Be not deceived, for every deed you do, I could match (out match) am I not Africa’s son?
Revenge, (let me repeat, Revenge) in spite of the cruelties and injustices inflicted on them, was not the aim or goal of American’s of African descent.
While there have been revengeful acts in return of the cruel dehumanizing nature of bondage (slavery) as witnessed by the revolt lead by Nate Turner in 1831 and the attempted revolts by Denmark Vesey and Gabriel Prosser.
Turner, Vesey and Prosser, as well as over 287 revolts were held to challenge and speak against the cruel and inhuman construct of slavery; the Peculiar Institution that would render a man, less than a man. A family less than such and all people of African descent as chattel (property) to be bought, sold, bartered, beat and even killed without penalty.
To act in such a manner should be deemed appropriate? After all the Colonist revolted in 1770, and later Boston Tea Party as well as speaking out on multiple issues of “Taxation without Representation….. “An Eye for an eye?”
Just as McKay quickly altered the conversation, after affirming, “IF” those of African descent wanted to enact violence or revenge, they (he) had the ability and even the right, however, “the Almighty had a different plan.
“Thou shalt be a light, awhile to burn on the benighted earth. The dusky face I set among the white.”
“To the White Friends,” breathe! Take a deep breathe and relax. No one is coming for you or yours. Put your guns down!!
There is still much work to be done in the realm of social justice, civil and human rights, police accountability and plain fairness in these United States of America.
Every citizen should be treated equally and fairly, it should not matter what zip code area one lives in. We are here together, working for the betterment of society today for our children and the next generation.
Notable: McKay also authored the classic “If We Must Die?!” British Prime Minister Winston Churchill recited this poem to the battle weary British troops defending London.
DL White is an author, educator, historian and youth/family advocate concerned about the next generation of Readers and Leaders. He was instrumental in the development of an early reading, word discovery and enhancement program (First Friday Read In) in association with a Head start program in the Greater Phoenix Metropolitan area. DL serves as the State-wide chairperson for the NAACP’s ACT-SO Program. A youth academic enrichment program regarded as the “Olympics of the Mind.” DL can be contacted via his email in response to this article or any of his involvements dwhiteQ2@gmail.com