By Michael Hunt
Being Black in the United States of America is difficult. Having to make bold statements that lift your humanity is one of the hardest and loneliest issues to combat. Everyone should accept that “Black lives matter,” especially when people proclaim that all lives matter. Yet, we as Black people have to say it boldly because Black lives are not valued. As a nation, we should want to dismantle White supremacy in the pursuit of justice for all when we say, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” Are these truths self-evident?
In high school, I became aware of how unjust the world was to Black people. As a youth member of the NAACP, I walked, protested, sat down, and sang freedom songs even before the Black Lives Matter movement came into being. I have vowed to always use my voice to call for justice where seeds of injustice have been sown.
In all online meetings since June 2020, I have used a virtual background that a colleague shared. It is black with blocked white lettering in the top left corner that says “Dismantle White Supremacy.” A bold yet simple statement that, for me, is self-evident and true. It is not just a silent protest calling for White supremacy to be eradicated, but a demand for self-reflection.
Well, for me this tearing down of White dominant culture must start at a place that I hold so dear. This year marks the 20th year of my graduation from the great Baltimore Polytechnic Institute (BPI) also known as Poly. It is one of the oldest educational institutions in Baltimore, and has a deep history and mission of educating “highly motivated students [Black men and women] for success in college and in life.” As a proud son of Baltimore, I want to see the dismantling of White supremacy within this and many other institutions that were founded when “separate but equal” was the norm.
I hear the voice of Audre Lorde reminding us that, ”Your silence will not protect you.” Therefore, I have intentionally become more involved in the alumni association and the equity team. I am charging us to be discontented in centering Whiteness for financial benefits, but instead to stand for racial justice. We must push against holding onto capitalist-centered communal structures and White fragility over racial equity.
Within my graduating class (Class of 2001), there are brilliant minds, caring spirits, and generous entrepreneurs who don’t see themselves in the alumni association’s work because they perceive the call for unity as shallow because the association has not dealt with the racism and the White supremacist mindset that has been integral to Poly’s story and traditions. The collective impact of the racial tension is noticeable, and centers around the silencing of Black voices whether concerning the business of the alumni association or Black students and alumni seeking institutional changes.
I say it is time for us to return to our great alma mater and stand up as it is not the time to quit. We must push against any White supremacist tactics seeking to silence our voices by suppressing our presence and experiences. Calling for unity cannot happen until we openly examine the institutions’ practices and reject the notions of professionalism as defined by White normative experiences. I may not have the financial generational wealth that others bring to the table, but my cultural wealth is substantial. We stand on the shoulders of Dr. Carl Clark, Everett Sherman and Edward Savage. They were among the first Black students at Poly. They are now among the great cloud of witnesses, rallying behind us, saying, “fight on and do the work to dismantle White supremacy that made our journey tedious and difficult.” Imagine the lack of support from the Poly administrators during the 1950s when they broke this racial barrier. We stand on their shoulders, and yet I speak out now so that future BPI students may use my shoulders.
We live in a country where it’s normal to set up diversity events without truly seeking to hear and act on the needs, concerns and joys of our Black and Brown constituents. And let’s be honest, if you are among those who disagree that White supremacy should be dismantled, then you are complacent in the acceptance of the harm done to those of us who have had our humanity challenged. Your silence speaks loudly and says more about your character and your heart. Therefore, we will not allow those who are not seeking racial equity to control the narrative any longer. So, let us rise and unite and be silent no more.
Michael Hunt is director of the McNair Scholars Program and a student in the Language, Literacy & Culture (LLC) doctoral program, University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).
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