Breathe, Baby, Breathe: Clearing the Way for the Emotional Emancipation of Black People

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This is an excerpt from the article, “Breathe, Baby, Breathe: Clearing the Way for the Emotional Emancipation of Black People, written by Dr. Cheryl Tawede Grills, Enola G. Aird, and Dr. Daryl Rowe and published in 2016 in the Journal of Cultural Studies, Vol.16 (3).

In response to the all too frequent police killings of Black people and the many injustices of racism, Black people can protest and march. They can sign petitions. They can weep. But until they confront and work hard to overcome and overturn the lie of Black inferiority, they will not change a society and systems that profoundly devalue Black lives.

Black people can debate. They can legislate. They can litigate. But they must also focus on the root cause of what happened to Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Jordan Davis, Trayvon Martin, Miriam Carey, Yvette Smith, Tanisha Anderson, Sandra Bland and so many other young Black people cut down in their prime—the fact that for almost four centuries across the globe, Black people have been seen as less than human. Re-visioning the historical present toward a different, more positive end must include a laser-like focus on root causes and on reclaiming the humanity of people of African ancestry. 

Although the enslavement of Black people in the United States ended nearly a century and a half ago, the attitudes and behaviors that promoted and supported it remain a part of the cultural ethos of this country and the world. At the heart of this cultural ethos is the lie of Black inferiority devised four hundred years ago to justify the enslavement, colonization, and subjugation of African people. It is at the root of the persistent devaluing of the lives of Black people in the United States and around the world. It informs public policies and practices (e.g., three-strikes, zero tolerance in schools, twenty-year minimum sentencing, racial profiling and police brutality) that fuel all manner of social disparities and disproportionalities. It has allowed the devaluation of Black life to continue unabated and become so much a part of living that Black people become numb to their own oppression.

Psychological and emotional liberation are the keys to complete freedom and a transformed future for Black people. Marcus Garvey, Carter G. Woodson, W. E. B. DuBois, Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Steve Biko, and even Bob Marley, repeating the words of Marcus Garvey, in his challenge to us to “emancipate ourselves from mental slavery,” have all counseled Black people about this essential task. Liberation requires critical awareness of all the forces that continue to oppress Black people centuries after the removal of the physical shackles of enslavement. Through an intentional process of emotional emancipation, Black people can develop critical consciousness to defy the lie of Black inferiority, embrace the truth of Black humanity, and rid the world of the lie for all time.

The killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, took place just a few miles away from Calvary Cemetery, the burial place of Dred Scott, in whose case the Supreme Court of the United States sanctioned the idea of Black inferiority. The insistent cries that emanated so powerfully from Ferguson, and still resound, represent a spiritual call to Black people everywhere to finally rise up to work to over-come and overturn the lie of Black inferiority and its twin, the lie of White superiority.

In a society in which Black people are increasingly acknowledging the suffocating quality of racism, insisting on breathing—intentionally and deliberately—is a radical act. Emotional Emancipation Circles are gatherings in which Black people are invited to breathe freely so that they can think more clearly to understand their condition, and begin the crucial work of replacing the poisonous four hundred-year-old narrative written by Others and driven by the lie of Black inferiority, with a new life-giving narrative that embraces and attests to the truth of Black humanity (Rowe & Aird, 2014).

Emotional Emancipation Circles are spaces that invite Black people to overturn—once and for all—the deadly mind-set at the root of the killings of Black people and the myriad injustices against people of African ancestry (Aird, 2014). Breathe, Baby, Breathe.

Follow the link to read the full article, Breathe, Baby, Breathe: Clearing the Way for the Emotional Emancipation of Black People.

(Flickr photo by sarahivynewman)

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