A Long Way to Go: Conversations about Race by African American Faculty and Graduate Students

By Darrell Cleveland | Go to book overview

15

“WHO DOES SHE THINK SHE IS?”
GROWING UP NATIONALIST AND
ENDING UP TEACHING RACE IN
WHITE SPACE

Denise M. Taliaferro Baszile

At age nine, as I sat and listened to my parents, grandparents, aunts, and uncles talking about George, I became upset. From what I could gather, George was an old man who had been a janitor for some big company in Detroit. Much to my family's dismay, he had recently been fired because he was accused of “stealing” a trash bag from work. I remember asking my mother to explain; but no matter how many times she repeated the details, I was perplexed. How could an old man lose his job over a trash bag? This was the first time I heard my God-fearing grandmother say something I would hear her repeat time and again, “If he was a White man, this wouldn't be happenin' to him.” Although at age nine, I did not understand the full extent of my grandmother's refrain, I understood enough to be sufficiently annoyed that I sat down and wrote a letter to the Detroit Free Press expressing my outrage at George's situation. I was convinced, then, that the whole matter could be cleared up, if only they knew how unfair it really was. I never received an answer to my letter; and as far as I know, George never got his job back.

This was my first act of political activism, and it changed me forever. It marks the point in my life where I started to be attentive to the racial inequality that constructed the spaces in which I lived and learned and became more aware of my family's understanding of and responses to racial injustice. Because I grew up in the segregated city of Detroit in a family active in Black national politics, my understanding of race and racism has always been highly politicized. Many of my family members were key in the establishment of the Republic of New Afrika, a revolutionary nationalist organization which fights for, among other nationalist

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