Don’t Be Scared of White People

I'm tired of American Apartheid videos of black people being brutalized by police simply for participating in ordinary everyday activity. South African politician Julius Malema earlier this year stated: "don't be afraid of white people"! He mentioned how everywhere in the world; "black people are treated like dogs and lifeless bodies". 

A few days ago, a 15-year-old boy was pepper sprayed, knocked to the ground, his head slammed against the asphalt pavement and punched in the face at a Florida Mc Donalds.

Earlier this month, Renardo Lewis, a black business owner was slammed against a glass pane, then to the ground and punched in the face knocking out some of his teeth while at a Georgia IHOP.

The actual IHOP video incident video can be viewed near the bottom of the page. IHOP seems to have systemic issues. Last year in Missouri 10 Black Washington University students were falsely accused of leaving a Clayton IHOP without paying and a Kansas City IHOP printed "NIGGA" on a Black customer's receipt.

Dining while black, barbecuing while black, selling lemonade while black, gardening while black, and just simply living while black are among the mundane activities that have recently garnered headlines as reasons why some white people have called 911 on black people.

These calls to police often result in violence against innocent black people, however, the people making these frivolous false police reports are never charged and the companies involved are not held accountable. Starbucks is the only company that took serious action and closed all its stores for diversity training to ensure no more "while black" incidents occurred at its locations.

Unless Mc Donalds and IHOP take decisive action and condemn the brutal police tactics that occur against their customers on their property, I won't be dining while black at those locations anytime soon.

Many Black organizations seem to be afraid to speak out in any meaningful way and hold Mc Donalds IHOP and others accountable when their actions cause harm to the black community. I suspect that many black organizations are afraid to speak out because they are afraid of losing white corporate sponsorship and donations. 

Julius Malema the leader of South Africa's Economic Freedom Fighter (EFF) party gave a powerful and moving speech about not being afraid of white people! He briefly appeared before the Newcastle magistrates court in northern KwaZulu-Natal and although he faced charges related to his comments to invade vacant land he still courageously renewed his call to action. 

Malema is charged with the contravention of the Riotous Assemblies Act for his utterances in 2014 and 2017, his case was continued to after the May 2019 elections. In June 2017‚ Malema told supporters in the northern KwaZulu-Natal town of Newcastle that white people could not claim ownership of land because it belongs to the country’s black African majority.

In 2014 he told the EFF’s elective conference in Bloemfontein: “We’re going to occupy the unoccupied land because we need land. For us to eat‚ we must have the land. For us to work‚ we must have the land. I come from Seshego – if there is unoccupied land‚ we will go and occupy the land with my branch. You must go and do the same in the branch where you come from.”

Institutionalized racism under Apartheid stripped South African blacks of their civil and political rights and instituted segregated education, health care, and all other public services, only providing inferior standards for blacks. Internal resistance was met with police brutality, administrative detention, torture, and limitations on freedom of expression.

During Apartheid, millions of blacks were forced off their land and resettled into slums on some of the worst lands. Ownership of land became firmly concentrated in the hands of the white minority.  In 2018 blacks made up 80% of the population but owned just 4% of individually held farmland and 30% of urban land. Whites comprise only 7.8% of the population but own 72% of farmland and 49% of urban land.

In 1994 South Africa transitioned from the system of apartheid to one of majority rule an Nelson Mandela became president. By 1996 the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), where perpetrators of violence, including torture, murder and other human rights atrocities provided testimony and requested amnesty from both civil and criminal prosecution. Amnesty also allowed White perpetrators to retain their land. There was more consideration given to a few white oppressors then was given to millions of black victims.

American Apartheid is more subtle but the effect is the same. Pick any major indicator, education, housing, employment, credit, business ownership, skilled trade, technology, science, law, medicine or any other and blacks woefully lag behind whites. These situations did not randomly occur, they were designed and enforces through government legislation and policy. We gave more aid to our former enemies of war Japan and Germany than we provided to Black people here in the United States. 

The old methods of peaceful protest do not work. Oppressors do not care if the oppressed have a parade and march down the street. Their system of oppression must be disrupted and the most peaceful way to do that is to hold companies that cause harm or remain silent responsible and impose economic sanctions. It's not enough to fire an employee that causes a chain reaction of undeserved police brutality, those firms involved must denounce the resulting oppressive police action. Instead of marching picket outside of the offending establishment and ask customers to take their business elsewhere.

Decades ago, my mother and father's car was damaged by a grocery cart in the parking lot of a St. Louis supermarket. Since there were signs posted stating the store was not responsible for damages, the store refused to pay for damages. My parents printed leaflets, made signs and picketed the store causing them to lose substantial amounts of business. The store eventually offered to pay for repairs, however, my parents declined their offer and continued the information picket to teach the store a lesson so they would treat customers differently in the future. 

About ten years ago, I responded to an online used car advertisement by a new car dealer. I phoned to make sure the car was still available, traveled there on my lunch break and agreed to purchase. I returned later that night with a cashiers check but was then told that the priced advertised online was wrong and that they would not honor that price. I completed a Missouri Attorney General complaint form.

The next morning I faxed a copy of the form along with a letter explaining if they did not respond by noon, I would file the complaint. I provide details of a planned information picket on the public right of way outside their dealership on Saturday morning.

By 10 am I received a phone call apologizing and that the original agreement would be honored. When the car was picked up that evening, the dealership president explained he was unaware of the situation until my fax arrived and that he had the vehicle checked out and that several repairs had been made and he even had a second key made. 

Imagine what might happen if the family and friends of Renardo Lewis picket outside the IHOP. According to a news report, an IHOP brand spokesperson responded to the video of the arrest, saying, “Our top priority is the safety of our guests and team members. After an individual at the Marietta IHOP became belligerent and made multiple threats to those in the restaurant, including the use of a weapon, the franchisee’s team quickly followed protocol and alerted authorities. We’re grateful to the police for their quick response and for keeping the guests and team members in the restaurant safe.” 

The video of the arrest is below.

Even when you face oppression, you are not powerless. If you don't take the time to exercise your power, you automatically concede it to your oppressors and enemies. 

Jessie Simmons: How a schoolteacher became an unsung hero of the civil rights movement

 By Valerie Hill-Jackson, Texas A&M University

Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons was full of optimism when she and her family moved from an apartment in a troubled area of Detroit to a new development in Inkster, Michigan in 1955.

With three children in tow, Jessie and her husband settled into a home on Colgate Street in a neighborhood known as “Brick City” – an idyllic enclave of single, working-class families with a shared community garden.

The plan was simple. Like many African Americans who left the South as part of the Great Migration, Jessie’s husband, Obadiah Sr., would find a stable factory job just outside of Detroit. Then Jessie would put to use the bachelor’s degree she had earned in upper elementary education from Grambling State University in the township of Taylor – just a few blocks from their new home.

File 20190301 110110 1gxxe8e.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Jessie Dean Gipson Simmons, shown top center about age 37, c. 1961. [Clockwise: daughter Angela, sons Obadiah Jerone, Jr. and Carl, and husband Obadiah Jerone, Sr.; daughters Carolyn and Quendelyn are not pictured] Simmons family archives, Author provided

But the plan went awry. Jessie first applied for a teaching position with the Taylor school district in April 1958, but was denied. The same thing happened in March 1959. And a third time in May 1959. The repeated denials may have set back Jessie’s plans, but they also set her up to fight an important battle for justice for black educators at a time when many were being pushed out of the teaching profession.

I interviewed Jessie’s family as part of my ongoing research into the history of black women teachers from the Reconstruction Era to the 21st century.

Fighting back

The battle began when Jessie filed a grievance with the Michigan Fair Employment Practices Commission, or MFEPC, on Sept. 1, 1959. Jessie’s grievance detailed her conversation with the superintendent Orville Jones in March 1958, in which he told her “there would be vacancies in 1959.”

In August 1958, the Taylor Township Board of Education – the body overseeing the school district where Jessie wanted to teach – took up the matter of employing Negro teachers at a board meeting. The reason the item was placed on the agenda? The Superintendent at the time, Orville Jones, “felt that any handicap” – he deemed race as a handicap – “be pointed out to the board.”

The chair of the school board, Mr. Randall, stated applications were “considered in the order of the dates they were received.” Since the Taylor school board was now on record regarding its hiring practices for teachers, Jessie used that statement in her grievance.

Jessie’s decision to file a grievance would be a costly one for her family. The couple had planned on two steady incomes. In 1959, now a mother of five children, Jessie took a job as a waitress and a cook in a cafe to make ends meet. Her job drew scorn from family members in Louisiana who knew she was severely underemployed. And though her children didn’t know it at the time, Jessie and her husband “gave up meals so the children could eat,” according to Jessie’s oldest son, Obidiah Jr.

In 1960 the MFEPC held a public hearing for the grievance filed by Jessie and Mary Ruth Ross – a second black teacher who was also denied employment by the Taylor board of education. According to the Detroit Courier, Jessie and Mary “were passed over for employment in favor of white applicants who lacked degrees.” Records uncovered by the MFEPC found that 42 non-degreed teachers hired between 1957 through 1960 were all white and “had a maximum of 60 hours of college credits.” Jessie and Mary, on the other hand, were both degreed teachers with some credits toward a graduate degree.

How the Brown decision hurt black teachers

While the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision is often celebrated and considered a legal victory, many scholars believe it had a harmful effect on black teachers. In 1951, scholars writing in the Journal of Negro Education rightly warned that Brown “might conceivably” impact “Negro teachers”. Nationwide, school district leaders pushed back against Brown in two ways.

First, school leaders slow-walked the implementation of Brown – for many school districts as late as the mid-1980s. Second, black teachers across the country lost their once-secure teaching jobs by the tens of thousands after Brown when black schools closed and black children integrated into white schools. In the South, for example, the number of black teachers had soared to around 90,000 pre-Brown. But by 1965 nearly half had lost their jobs. A 1965 report from the National Education Association, a leading labor union for teachers, concluded school districts had “no place for Negroes” in the wake of Brown. School officials railed against Brown and refused to hire black teachers like Jessie, turning them into what sociologist Oliver Cox described as “martyrs to integration.”

My own research confirms that the forced exodus of black women from the teaching profession was ignited by Brown. Discrimination by school leaders fueled the demographic decline of black teachers and remains one of the leading factors for their under-representation in the profession today.

First ruling of its kind

At the eight-day public hearing, Jones admitted that “the hiring of Negro teachers would be something new and different and something we had not done before.” He stated he felt that the Negro teachers were “not up to par.” The hearing eventually revealed that applications for “Negroes” were kept in distinct folders – separated from the submissions of the white applicants.

After more than a year, the MFEPC issued a ruling in Jessie’s case. The decision got a brief mention from Jet Magazine on Dec. 1, 1960:

In the first ruling of its kind, the MFEPC ordered the Taylor Township School Board to hire Mrs. Mary Ruth Ross and Mrs. Jessie Simmons, two Negro teachers, and pay them back wages for the school years of 1959-60 and 1960-61. FEPC Commissioner Allan A. Zaun said the teachers were refused employment on the basis of race.

The attorney for the Taylor board of education, Harry F. Vellmure, threatened to challenge the ruling in court – all the way “to the Supreme Court if necessary,” according to the Detroit Courier. The board stuck to its position that Jessie and Mary were given full and fair consideration for teaching jobs and simply lost out to better qualified teachers.

As a result of noncompliance with the MFEPC’s order, Carl Levin, future U.S. senator and general counsel for the Michigan Civil Rights Commission, filed a discrimination lawsuit against the Taylor school district on Jessie’s and Mary’s behalf. Even though the matter did not reach higher courts, Vellmure filed several appeals that effectively slowed down the commission’s order for seven years.

As the lawsuit dragged on, Jessie became an elementary school teacher with the Sumpter School District in 1961. By 1965, she left Sumpter for the Romulus Community School District. According to Jessie’s children, they would continue in the Taylor school district and were known as the kids “whose mother filed the lawsuit against the school district.”

In 1967, after seven years of fighting the Taylor school district in local court, Jessie and Mary prevailed. They were awarded two years back pay and teaching positions. Saddled by hurt feelings after a long fight with the Taylor school district, Jessie declined the offer and continued teaching in Romulus.

The Simmons moved into a larger, newly constructed home on Lehigh Avenue. Jessie gave birth to her sixth child, Kimberly, one month before moving in. Although the new home was only two blocks south of their old home on Colgate Avenue, Jessie’s four surviving children recall that their lifestyle improved and their childhood was now defined by two eras: “before lawsuit life and after lawsuit life.” And by 1968, Jessie earned a master’s degree in education from Eastern Michigan University.

Unsung civil rights hero

At her retirement in 1986, Jessie’s former students recalled that she was an effective teacher of 30 years who was known as a disciplinarian with a profound sense of commitment to the children of Romulus.

Jessie’s story is a reminder that the civil rights movement did not push society to a better version of itself with a singular, vast wave toward freedom. Rather, it was fashioned by little ripples of courage with one person, one schoolteacher, at a time.The Conversation


The Loss of Black Women Teachers.

Valerie Hill-Jackson, Clinical Professor of Educator Preparation and Director, Educator Preparation and School Partnerships, Texas A&M University


This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license.