All I Gotta Do Is Stay Black and Die

Article excerpt

All I Gotta Do is Stay Black and Die

When I received the invitation to be one of the contributors to this issue, I immediately felt a deep sense of unease. Upon deeper reflection, I realized that my feelings were in part influenced by the fact that, as a female faculty of color within the academy, to many I am and will always be -- the OTHER. In addition, as a practicing filmmaker, I deliberately approach the substance of my life as material for the creation of art, not as an "academic discipline" or one more opportunity to dialogue or to "transform the curriculum."

But for today, and for the purposes of this essay, I will step outside my self-defined "parameters" and become an historian. Because, as I started to write, I kept coming back to the realization that it is because of two major 20th century movements -- the Civil Rights and Women's movement -- that I can stand here today.

When Brown vs. the Board Of Education was about to be litigated, I wasn't born, or in the words of those consummate storytellers (African American women) I wasn't a "gleam in my daddy's eye." Yet that supreme court ruling would have a major impact on the kind of education that I would receive and, therefore, the choices and options that have been made available to me.

I am also very cognizant of the fact that this landmark case came into being because there were people who were willing to risk life and limb so that America would be forced to live up to its creed of equal opportunities for all her people; these people are my "heroes" and "sheroes." One "shero" I knew personally was my grandmother, a woman who taught her sharecropper sons and daughters to read by candlelight, a woman who demanded that her children and grandchildren master the English language, a woman who LIVED black history, so that I knew who John Brown was, even before I knew who George Washington was alleged to be.

My grandmother, Muldear, helped to shape and was nourished by a community that could give me no wealth, but would give me major riches, the richness of self, so that when I would have to go out and face a world that would be determined to convince me -- by omission and co-mission -- that I was an OBJECT, LESS THAN, THE OTHER, I would be ready -- because I knew that all I really would have to do was, STAY BLACK AND DIE.

Time passes and through a series of "lucky accidents" which only now I can begin to comprehend is not so unique to my life, but is the reality of the lives of so many people of color, I was "chosen" to be educated in one of the most prestigious academic preparatory schools in the country. The specifics of my personal "accident" are as follows:

I was a PINS, person in need of supervision, placed by the state of California in a juvenile detention center. While there, I was deemed by the staff to be such a behavior problem that a series of tests were court mandated to determine if I were to be placed in a long term juvenile facility until my 18th birthday, or a mental institution. However, the test reports determined that I was "gifted" and arrangements were made by the attending psychologist for me to be accepted into the "A Better Chance Program" and I was sent to an exclusive preparatory boarding school in New England, The Putney School.

After I got over my shock at finding myself truly in a "strange land," I began to embrace some of the education offered, as well as to challenge the mis-education I knew to be untrue. One case in point was the academic requirement that I study "American History." After two weeks of classes, I refused to continue. To their credit, the history faculty met and designed a year long seminar which I was to research and present as a final project. Its thesis project was the following: The year is 1865. Newly freed slaves are to be given the following five southern states: Florida, Georgia, North and South Carolina and Mississippi. Define a social, political, and economic construct for this newly created confederation. …