Written by Serie McDougal and Sureshi Jayawardene
REVOLUTIONARY CONTAGION ACROSS CAMPUSES
During slavery in 1851, Louisiana physician, Dr. Samuel Cartwright explained that some enslaved African people were suffering from a disease called drapetomania, which caused them to want to run away from white captivity (Cartwright, 1851). He explained that there were a preliminary set of symptoms of this illness and he called it incipient drapetomania. It included expressions of dissatisfaction with and resistance to White dominance. According to Cartwright (1851), slave owners needed to be aware of this pathology so they could stop it from spreading by administering the appropriate treatment, whipping.
Today, a different contagion of self-determination is spreading across campuses in the U.S. Students at the University of Missouri have realized their power and are effectively using it to transform the racist climate at their school. This has spurred Black student-led political action on numerous campuses across the country. And like the White supremacists of the 1800s, conservatives, including presidential candidate Donald Trump, have attempted to pathologize them by calling their resistance to oppression “crazy.” Just last Friday, a conservative media source summarized some of these student demands as “nutty” and “disturbing,” while acknowledging that many of them are “reasonable things for black and minority students to be concerned about."
AWAKENING THE GIANT
Overrepresented in college athletics, African American students face stereotypes that cast doubt on their interests outside of sports on campuses (Bonner, 2014). In the fullness of time, the United States is only a few hundred years removed from forced displays of physicality such as slavers who forced enslaved Africans to engage in athletic competition with other enslaved Africans as a form of entertainment for whites (Roden, 2006).
African people have used sports as a form of self-expression and physicality, a career path, a means of learning team work and discipline, a means of healthy competition and physical conditioning, and to pay for college education. However, abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote, as early as the 1800s, that Whites used sports to politically pacify Blacks and to prevent rebellion (Douglass and Garrison, 1846). Whites expected then, as many do today, that Black athletes be grateful entertainers who remain politically silent and submissive. The Back football players at Missouri acted in the revolutionary tradition of Black athletes such as Paul Robeson, Jim Brown, and Muhamad Ali who stood on the principles of self-determination, justice, Black community, and liberation.
EVOKING THE BLACK CAMPUS MOVEMENT
Further, the ongoing Black student protests on college campuses nationwide and subsequent demands to university administrators reflect the fervor of Black student protests during the Black Campus Movement of the 1960s. At that time, Black students called for similar shifts and commitments, in what Ibram Kendi (formerly Rogers) terms the “racial reconstitution of higher education” in America. Scholars have documented the Black Campus Movement in the 1960s and their highly generative outcomes such as a number of Black Studies departments and graduate programs which many of us are privileged to be housed in.
Because of these achievements, Black students are exposed to more culturally relevant curricula as well as learning environments that require careful thought and research that can improve Black communities. But, if these gains were made, what accounts for Black student protests today? Their demands, too, are similar to those made in the late 1960s. Central to these demands at approximately 37 colleges and universities in the past few weeks are issues of racism and White supremacy amidst other isms and phobias. In a recent blog post for H-Afro-Am, an Africana Studies network of scholars, Kendi wrote, “Despite th[e] recent burst in books on the subject, we still have merely scratched the surfaced on this massive Black campus movement. We have yet to detail what happened on the vast majority of the more than 500 campuses in 49 states that Black student activists rocked towards diversifying from 1965 to 1972. Even at Mizzou, there is no major history on the BCM. The story of those amazing Legions of Black Collegians, founded in 1968, has yet to be told.” Additionally, we need to carefully examine the go-to rhetoric of diversity and inclusion that universities tout as a quick response intended to quell student unrest. We need to parse out the symbolic gestures from real efforts that actually meet student demands. Amer Ahmed recently penned, “these same institutions maintain their rhetoric about diversity and inclusion in superficial ways attempting to do little as possible without truly having to change.”
THE GLOBAL BEAST: WHITE SUPREMACY
For Black students confronted with the effects of everyday forms of racism as well as more structural racist impediments to their wellbeing and learning, universities are proving to be a site of contestation beyond the United States. In early October this year, a crowd of 2,000 Black students at the University of Witwatersrand in Johannesburg, South Africa shut down the university just prior to the start of exams. The campus has remained closed since. They protested the cost of higher education for poor Black students who are struggling to remain enrolled in the university, as well as the university’s and government’s inadequate efforts to ameliorate these costs. In the spring, Black students at the University of Cape Town demonstrated to have the bronze statue of British colonial administrator, Cecil Rhodes, removed from its central position on campus.
Their determined efforts led to international attention through a social media campaign tagged #RhodesMustFall. Students stressed that the statute was not merely something that caused discomfort, but the ultimate symbol of institutionalized racism at the university. They demanded the Executive Council—the highest authoritative body at the university—remove the problematic Rhodes figure, but also take seriously the deeply entrenched racist values and norms. This was soon followed by #FeesMustFall, and the students won their demand of a 0% increase in tuition fees. In September, Black students at the University of Nairobi protested against delayed Higher Education Loans Board (HELB) loans which prevented their continued enrollment. Similar to demands for transformative change at US institutions of higher education, students on the African continent are also seeking “decolonization,” “transformation,” and ultimately a “racial reconstitution” for improved and culturally sensitive learning environments and opportunities. Certainly, the declared solidarity between #RhodesMustFall, #BlackLivesMatter, #ConcernedStudent1950, and similar campaigns that lend themselves to themes of diasporic spirit and Pan African politics. What we are also witnessing in an unprecedented way is the degree to which the roots and severity of institutional assaults on Black life and learning are plaguing the African world.
Bonner, F.(Ed.) (2014). Building on resilience. Sterling, VA: Stylus Publications.
Cartwright, S.A. (1851). Report on the diseases and physical peculiarities of the Negro race. The New Orleans Medical and Surgical Journal, May, pp. 691–715.
Douglass, F., & Garrison, W. L. (1846). Narrative of the life of Frederick Douglass: An American slave. Wortley, near Leeds: Printed by J. Barker.
Roden, W. (2006). Forty million dollar slaves. New York, NY: Three Rivers Press.
Rogers, I. (2012). The Black campus movement: Black students and the racial reconstitution of higher education, 1965-1972. New York: Palgrave.
The American Cancer Society’s New Guidelines for Mammograms: What this means for African American Women
Written by Sureshi Jayawardene
October is breast cancer awareness month. During this time awareness campaigns advocate nationally for early testing and diagnosis. The American Cancer Society (ACS) has been key in these efforts and, in the past, has taken an aggressive approach to screening, recommending that women age 40 and older have mammograms and clinical exams annually. However, on October 20th 2015, the organization issued new guidelines for mammograms. They said that women should begin mammograms later and have them less frequently. According to their announcement, the ACS recommends women with an average risk of breast cancer start having mammograms at age 45 and continue annually until 54. Following this, they recommend screenings every other year so long as women remain healthy. In addition, the organization states that women who have experienced no symptoms or breast abnormalities need no longer have clinical breast exams. A clinical breast exam is when a nurse or doctor feels for lumps. The ACS also notes that mammograms are less useful for younger women and inconsistencies such as false positive results can unnecessarily lead to additional testing including biopsies.
BLACK WOMEN AND BREAST CANCER
These guidelines have been met with some disagreement from organizations especially concerned with minority communities. For instance, the Mayo Clinic indicates that breast cancer affects Black women at a younger age than other groups and that tumors can be significantly more aggressive. African American women are also less likely to take action early enough. Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative highlights the role of health insurance in this situation. According to her, African American women are 45% less likely to have health insurance than White women and have a 40% greater mortality rate as a result of breast cancer. In their recent study, Keenan et al (2015) state that these racial disparities in tumor outcomes between White and Black women might be explained by more aggressive tumor biology in Black women. Each year, approximately 6,000 Black women die from breast cancer. If the mortality rate for Black women equaled that of White women, these deaths would be reduced by 2,400. The ACS should take into consideration the racial disparities of breast cancer so that early detection and other treatment mechanisms can be made available for Black women. If African American women are able to have early detection of their cancer – which is the period when they are most successfully treated and women can receive quality treatment – fewer women would die.
CULTURE AND BREAST CANCER PREVENTION
Health professionals and researchers need to look at cultural factors as an initial step toward addressing the failures of breast cancer prevention and control strategies (Guidry et al., 2003). While ethnic and ancestral factors may differ among women of African descent, “there remains a set of shared beliefs, values, and experiences that researchers should understand when evaluating the importance of culture in breast cancer prevention and control” (Guidry et al., 2003, p. 319). To this end, such programs need to be consistent with cultural components in the Black community. Some of these include attitudes toward kinship bonds, flexible family roles, religiosity, education, and work (Guirdy et al., 2003).
Community-based interventions can be effective in connecting Black communities to health agencies. These often work to establish social networks, serve as a resource, and offer social support (Guidry et al., 2003). Some of the most noteworthy community-based initiatives include Save Our Sisters Project, the North Carolina Breast Cancer Screening Program, and the Witness Project. Not only have these programs been sensitive to the culturally specific needs of their Black women patients, but have positively influenced breast cancer screening behavior among their target population (Guidry et al., 2003). Thus, attending to the cultural and psychosocial factors in through community health services can yield positive outcomes for Black women in terms of breast cancer awareness, treatment, and support.
WHAT CAN BLACK WOMEN DO NOW?
Given the new ACS guidelines and the additional health related burdens faced by Black women socially and economically, learning about risks for breast cancer are crucial. For Black women under 40, seeking your physician’s advice about your particular risk factors can be beneficial as well as finding out whether a base line mammogram is necessary. For women over 40, making a mammogram an annual occurrence is important. Under the Affordable Care Act, mammograms are a covered benefit with no cost to the patient. In addition, learning about local and regional community health initiatives and other resources can also prove helpful.
BREAST CANCER RESOURCES FOR BLACK WOMEN
Guidry, J.J., Matthews-Juarez, P., and Copeland, V.A. (2003). Barriers to breast cancer control for African-American women: The interdependence of culture and psychosocial issues. Cancer 97 (1 supplemental): 318-23.
Keenan, T., Moy, B., Mroz, E.A., Ross, K., Niemierko, A., Rocco, J.W., Isakoff, S., Ellisen, L.W., and Bardia, A. (2015). Comparison of the genomic landscape between primary breast cancer in African American versus White women and the association of racial differences with tumor
recurrence. Journal of Clinical Oncology. DOI 10.1200/JCO.2015.62.2126
Written by Serie McDougal
“We've got to strengthen black institutions. I call upon you to take your money out of the banks downtown and deposit your money in Tri-State Bank. We want a "bank-in" movement in Memphis. Go by the savings and loan association. I'm not asking you something that we don't do ourselves at SCLC. Judge Hooks and others will tell you that we have an account here in the savings and loan association from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. We are telling you to follow what we are doing. Put your money there. You have six or seven black insurance companies here in the city of Memphis. Take out your insurance there. We want to have an "insurance-in.”
- Been to the Mountain Top, Martin Luther King, Jr
On April 3, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his final speech. One of the last messages he delivered that night was on the dual benefit of Black economic solidarity. He said, “Now these are some practical things that we can do. We begin the process of building a greater economic base.
And at the same time, we are putting pressure where it really hurts”. Dr. King implored the Black community to spend our money with Black institutions to create a strong base that would allow us to meet many of our own needs. Moreover, King believed that this cooperation would also place economic sanctions on racist institutions for unmet demands for justice and their on-going racial discrimination. Some prefer to remember King’s call for reconciliation more than his demands for justice. However, this dying message from our dear ancestor couldn’t be more relevant than it is today.
STRIKING RACIST INSTITUTIONS
Black-owned businesses are essential to Black community empowerment because evidence shows that they generate wealth, and create investment opportunities and employment prospects for Black people (Conrad, Whitehead, Mason, & Stewart, 2005). In addition, U.S. consumer spending in the months of November, December, and January are crucial to many of the largest companies in the United States. Racist large corporations such as Wal-Mart Stores, Abercrombie & Fitch and General Electric, Wells Fargo and many others have also made people of African descent in the U.S. victims of hiring discrimination, lending discrimination, wage discrimination, and other offenses while continuing to benefit from the Black community’s $1 Trillion buying power. Given the significance of U.S. consumer spending, this makes the next three months, the perfect time to, in the words of Martin Luther King, “redistribute the pain” that the Black community has felt as a consequence of racial injustice.
MAGGIE'S LIST: MOVING BEYOND THE FORCED-INTO-UNITY THESIS
The forced-into-unity thesis is the belief that Black community empowerment can only come as a result of segregation and oppression. While it is true that many Black businesses grew and developed during the time of de jure segregation, many survived and thrived thereafter, despite the increased competition for Black consumer dollars that Black businesses faced when segregation ended. Today, Black businesses continue to suffer from being undercapitalized, conservative tax policies, and a lack of diversity and managerial training. An economic solidarity charge must be tempered by the warning that pure Black capitalism could simply exacerbate class divisions within the Black community if it is not grounded in the philosophy of collective Black liberation. However, the Black community can change this and more by using its trillion dollar buying power attached to the political agenda of Black collective advancement. But how? Quite timely, sister Maggie Anderson is launching her national list of Black businesses, and a smartphone app starting on November 1st, 2015. There are a great number of lists of Black owned businesses available electronically and at local Black chambers of commerce; however, Anderson’s is among the newest. Anderson is the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Our Black Year,” about how her family spent a whole year buying all goods and services from Black businesses. Since her family’s experiment, Anderson has dedicated her life to Black economic solidarity. Spending is not just about money because spending power is related and leads to political power. But power will only come when Black spending power is linked to Black political priorities.
Conrad, C.A., Whitehead, J., Mason, P. & Stewart, J. (2005). African Americans in the U.S. economy. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield.