So You Want to Be an Anti Racist Part 5: Freedmen’s Bureau to Good Hair.
1. Freedmen’s Bureau — “What?!” You might say. “There was once an entire government agency — at the cabinet level no less — dedicated to promoting legal protections, voting rights, family reunification, education, and jobs for Black people, not to mention a mandate to end domestic terrorism by groups such as the KKK? The first was the Freedmen’s Bureau, established by Abraham Lincoln and tasked with the above mandate (although the Justice Department was also founded by Ulysses S. Grant to help dispatch the KKK). The Freedmen’s Bureau even saw a number of successes during its time, however, its mission was cut short by members of congress from the south, the Redeemers, who were part of the Southern Redemption, an effort to reimpose the power of whites over blacks in the wake of the freedoms promised to freed slaves through the Emancipation Proclamation and Reconstruction.
2. Gaslighting — Another concept like “birdcage” that found traction in discussions in gender studies first but has been handy at capturing a phenomenon that takes place in regards to racial justice too. In the context of race, gaslighting comes up when people of privilege/white folks tell Black, Indigenous, People of Color, what they are feeling or experiencing isn’t really racism. Wondering if you’ve ever done it? Well if you have ever used the following phrases when a friend or colleague has pointed out an instance of racism, then yes, you’ve done it: “You are too sensitive;” “They were just joking;” “That is not what they meant;” “You have to consider their intention.” The lesson here is to let BIPOC be the experts on their own experience. Otherwise, you’re contributing to further psychological harm.
3. Gentrification — This is the economic development of a neighborhood in which the original inhabitants (usually minorities) are forced out by rising real estate prices, taxes, and predatory landlords/developers. This definitely happens, way too often. But the topic also gets oversimplified and reduced to social media posts of new buildings going up next to old ones with captions denouncing “racist gentrification,” without any context of what might actually be going on in that particular neighborhood. Neighborhood development isn’t bad in itself. The problem is that community development is one of those phenomena that is racist by outcome. The solutions are not only social, but economic. As the article at the link points out: “If there is no widespread displacement [of residents], and the shifts in the neighborhood are carefully planned through with community input and involvement, gentrification can be a good thing for the community, increasing ‘socioeconomic, racial, and ethnic integration.’ However, this is rarely ever the case,” [emphasis mine].
4. Good Hair — The idea of what is “good hair” is linked to colorism and white standards of beauty. It boils down to the idea that only straight hair (you know the kind white people have) is attractive. This is just ridiculous and stupid. Being forced into this narrow range of what is acceptable/professional is arbitrary and racist. Sadly, it still happens every day. More natural styles such as braids, locks, and afros are still “banned” in many schools. Chris Rock directed and produced an outstanding documentary on it called (you guessed it) Good Hair. If you want to watch a short animated film on the deep meaning invested in hair within the Black community, click on this Oscar winner “Hair Love” (spoiler alert, it’s a pick me up, but you might need a Kleenex too).
Ted Neill, MPH, is a writer based in Seattle. He has written extensively on HIV/AIDS in Africa and the Greatest Generation. His recent novel, Reaper Moon, examines the intersection of faith, politics, and racism during a global viral pandemic. His YA novel, Zombies, Frat Boys, Monster Flash Mobs does the same, except with zombies, frat boys, nerds, and ninjas. His illustrated kids’ series Mystery Force features kid protagonists saving the world despite (and sometimes thanks to) the visible and invisible disabilities they live with.