New Essay Series Examines What It Means To Be Black In America

By Kenrya Rankin Jun 30, 2015

At a time when young black men are 21 times more likely to be shot and killed by police than their white counterparts and studies show that racial bias is alive and running the show in many arenas, it’s safe to say that the perception of black men in America is suffering. A new essay series from Perception Institute and Mic aims to change that.

Launched on June 29, 2015, “Shifting Perceptions: Being Black in America” examines the disconnect betwen the lived experiences of black Americans and how they are viewed, with an emphasis on disrupting negative attitudes people hold toward African-American men.

“In the five decades since 1950s and 1960s civil rights legislation, countless American intellectuals have grappled with the dilemma the late legal scholar Derrick Bell called ‘the permanence of racism,’” Bakari Kitwana, the executive director of “virtual community center” Rap Sessions and curator for the series, said in a press release. “The commentary in the ‘Shifting Perceptions: Being Black in America’ essay series builds on that foundation, but also interrogates the mainstream American race analysis which continues to make excuses for institutional and structural racism, while preventing black Americans from obtaining full citizenship.”

A new essay will be posted each weekday, through July 10. The first one was from hip-hop artist and activist Talib Kweli. Titled “From Ferguson to Freedom: Hip-Hop’s Role,” it examined how the need to maintain the idea of white supremacy contributes to nation’s deleterious view of black people and the sanctity of their lives. Kweli also encouraged artists to use their platforms to spark change.

My hope is that this shift is only the beginning. America seems to be on the verge of a great cultural upheaval. The old way of doing things when it comes to racist systems is being challenged by a growing group of young people. In this climate, much like musicians and artists during the civil rights and Black Power movements, hip-hop artists are in a unique position to help shape a new culture. Will they challenge the inner workings of the music industry? Will they change the content of their music? In this environment more than ever before, they have a chance to impact an entire generation.

Today’s piece from writer Jamilah Lemieux tells readers to “Stop Trying to Be Good—Be Black.” She writes:

I have made it my business not to charge black people with the task of humanizing ourselves in the eyes of whites. It doesn’t work. It implies that white approval is something we should aspire to have. It implies that white humanity and worth are somehow superior to ours. It is not our job to end racism, for we did not create it, nor can we be accused of sustaining it. However, I fully believe it is our charge to dismantle the anti-black attitudes that so many of us carry, in the service of our individual and collective liberation, and to check our respectability politics at any door in which we may enter…. Justice and freedom will remain evasive so long as we treat poor, uneducated and disenfranchised brothers and sisters with the same contempt that we face from our oppressors. So long as the standard by which we judge our brothers and sisters, ourselves, is one we didn’t create, we will be crushed by the weight of our inability to live up to it.

Others contributors to the series will include Haki Madhubuti, poet and founder and publisher of Third World Press; Maya Rockeymoore, president and CEO of Global Policy Solutions; and Mark Anthony Neal, African and African-American Studies professor at Duke University