My undergraduate degree from UW-Madison was in Afro-American Studies. (Yes, the department used “Afro” back in the ‘80s.) I spent years studying America’s struggle with race, equality, and power. I read all the literature of how we had worked and died and marched and had, to some extent, overcome. The memories of the famed civil rights movements felt so promising.
Today, I’m faced with a strange dilemma, one I never thought I’d face. Have we really made significant progress towards racial equality in this country? Has America lied to Black America about conditions? Has Black America lied to mainstream America about her needs? Have I lied to myself about things being better for all African Americans just because my mother has undergraduate and graduate degrees and saw to it that my sister and I earned college degrees as well? Have muffled prophetic voices been trying to tell us that things weren’t progressing as well as we had thought, or hoped ... but we just ignored them dismissively, hence branding them as divisive?
Some of my close White American friends are very disheartened —and even frightened — when their affluent African American friends speak of anger and frustration over race relations — or lack thereof — in America. They fear African American friends lumping them with White supremacist groups. Conversely, many African Americans are a bit shocked when their good-natured White friends question the existence of glass ceilings, racial barriers, and racial profiling by law enforcement professionals.
The truth is that we live in the same country, but we function in different worlds. Though occasionally cynical, I am not blind to the grand scheme advances made in this country by African Americans. One only needs to look at the current White House Administration to see that many major things have really changed. The most surprising thing to me is the realization that attitudes don’t necessarily change because systems do. We can legislate behavior but can do very little to legislate hearts. Guilt won’t change hearts. Name-calling won’t do it and rhetorical bantering won’t either. I am not sure that rallies can even change hearts. The best shot that I think we have of seeing others differently is really getting to know them on a personal and trusted level. This is risky, but so is cultural alienation and segregation.
I wrote this poem because we want so desperately to arrive at our destination that we fail to appreciate the scenery, the conversations and the journey. So many Americans feel that we’ve already arrived and should drop the discussion. Many others feel that we’ve only traveled the first three miles of a marathon and need to keep the discussion alive and warm. Regardless of our stance, the sad facts of unemployment, crime, incarceration, school dropout, etc., among people of color prove that we might be on the “highway,' however, we certainly have not arrived yet.
Are We There Yet?
by Dr. Alex Gee, Jr.
Society asks, “Aren’t we there yet”
With social programs, Aren’t we fair yet?
Can’t we get the poor out our hair yet?
And teach our men to grow a pair yet?
Never mind their pain that they still need to air yet?
And we hog up resources like we’ve none to spare yet.
..And we ask this question, like we’re not aware yet!
If this was your son, would we be there yet?
Society asks, “Aren’t we there now?”
So doors slam close and kids ask “where now?”
If we let kids quit school, they haven’t a prayer now.
And if we’re not careful to closely beware now.
With failing schools, our kids won’t compare now.
And if you think we have despair now...
Let government, churches and businesses keep up their hot air now.
It’s much too late in the game to simply coach from the chair now
Let’s get in the trenches and help them prepare now!
If you really want to know if we are there yet...
Let me remind you of the story of the tortoise and the hare yet...
The tortoise tho’ slow, knew a victory was rare yet
But kept his eyes on the prize tho’ the race was not square yet...
Straining and fighting and still lacking his flair yet....
Avoiding self pity and refusing to impair yet...
Believing his pace, tho’ not something to stare at...
His faith transcended a world that was still unfair yet...
Handing him a victory, but the hare his first losing affair yet...
This great reminder to us who refuse to err yet...
Must band together and boldly declare yet...
Those things may be grim, they’re not in irrepair yet
Let’s extend our hands to communities ensnared yet...
These are all our sons and daughters...of course we’re not there yet!!!