Learning from the Ancestors: Or, We’ve Been Here Before

Stock Photo of Black History Month Design

I believe in the cyclical nature of time — that the past influences the present, the present influences the future, and the future influences the past. Of course, I know that many people see time as linear, but it’s hard for me to structure my life in that way, especially since I know that my ancestors dreamed me into being.

I think about Harriet Tubman, a leading abolitionist who constantly risked her life to ensure that hundreds of enslaved people were able to experience freedom. I think about the last words…

Almost 200 days after Breonna Taylor’s murder, we finally have a verdict — wanton endangerment. Basically, the courts charged Brett Hankinson (not Jonathan Mattingly or Myles Cosgrove) with “wantonly engag[ing] in conduct which creates a substantial danger of death or serious physical injury to another person…under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life.” The issue with this verdict is that he wasn’t indicted on charges for murdering Breonna. He was charged because “the shots he fired had passed through Ms. Taylor’s apartment walls into a neighboring apartment, endangering three people there.” …

Picture of Voldemort from Harry Potter

I was rereading Felix Ever After, an amazing book written by Kacen Callendar about a transgender teen who is grappling with identity and self discovery. As I read, an excerpt gave me pause:

What might’ve started as a joke feels a little more serious to me now. “He won’t even recognize himself when I’m done with him.”

“You’re such a Slytherin.”

“I know,” I say, grabbing the second bottle of Chardonnay, “but, you love it.”

I paused because I thought about the work of “she who shall not be named” — who has consistently doubled down on her transphobia —…

On July 16, 2009, Henry Louis Gates Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The officer, Sgt. James Crowley, was responding to a 911 report about a man breaking and entering into the house. Crowley arrested Gates outside his own home after he was shown both Gates’ Harvard ID and local driver’s license. The arrest was not for breaking and entering, however, it was for disorderly conduct.

In 2015, Steve Locke, a visiting assistant professor at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, was racially profiled and subsequently detained by Massachusetts police because he “fit the description” of…

I remember reading John Howard Griffin’s book, Black Like Me, when I was in high school. The recommender, a white teacher, had told me that it was a poignant book about race in the United States. She applauded the author for his bravery, for his resolve to wear Black face in the 1950s segregated south just to see what it was like to be Black in America. She was amazed that a white man could be so empathetic about the race problem that he would want to experience it himself.

I didn’t understand why a white man would have to…

Breonna Taylor was murdered over 150 days ago by Louisville police officers Jonathan Mattingly, Brett Hankison, and Myles Cosgrove, but Kentucky’s attorney general has yet to file charges. The state’s refusal to prosecute represents a long history of Black women’s dehumanization in the United States, but Taylor’s murder and the lack of justice for her death presents a quandary during a time when politicians, television producers, and everyone in between call for Black women to save the United States from the clutches of evil.

Although seemingly separate occurrences, it is important to hold both these truths together because the simultaneity…

S.R. Toliver

I write about Black women and girls, speculative fiction texts (books, film, tv), and social justice. Follow me on Twitter @SR_Toliver.

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