My View: Harmful messaging in Black slogans with Annetta Catchings

My View: Harmful messaging in Black slogans with Annetta Catchings
Annetta Catchings

This year I had the pleasure of seeing my son off to begin his freshman year at the University of Mary Washington. As we were driving, not a block away from his dorm we were greeted with a sign that read “End Racism.” As a parent who knows how hard my son worked to make it to this place, I was offended for him.

I know you’re probably asking how could something that seems innocuous on the surface be offensive to me. Simply put, it was not the time nor place for it!

This should not have been the slogan my son was greeted with. Where was the equivalent “Be all you can be?” Or how about the iconic UNCF slogan, “A mind is a terrible thing to waste.”

My son had completed 12 years of schooling; graduated with an advanced diploma from one of the most competitive high schools in Northern Virginia; scored pretty well on his SAT and was recruited and earned a spot on the university’s tennis team. He did exactly what most student did to get there. In other words, he had not been a victim of structural or systemic racism.

The question in my head was, “Who is this message for?” I’m pretty sure it wasn’t directed at their Black students. Not that Black people can’t be racist because we can and we are sometimes just as guilty of it.

But let’s be honest. Whenever we discuss racism, particularly in this current “woke” climate, it usually involves a white cisgender male oppressor and a Black victim. And that was the problem I had with the sign. It was inappropriately vague and yet highly suggestive. The implications would have my son view himself as having the potential of becoming a victim of racism rather than having the ability to be a perpetrator of racism himself.

Slogans like “End Racism” and “Black Lives Matter” may be well-intended mantras but are packed with harmful and hateful subliminal messaging. And while they may help the social consciousness of white kids, in my opinion, it generates selfpity, doubt and skepticism in minds of young Black ones.

In fact, what I am hearing from some in my community is anger and a feeling of helplessness. This in spite of the fact that Blacks are actually doing quite well and are closing the wealth gap. Odd how we seldom talk about these advancements – so I will.

I’ll use myself as an example. I was born in Detroit, Michigan and six months later my mother, who was 16 at the time, moved us both back to her mother’s home in Mississippi. I finished high school, spent four years at a historically black college where I interviewed with and was hired by a major airline. I was 21, and I’ve managed to maintain that career, with distinction, for 30 years.

The discipline and hard work paid off. It allowed me to become a new homeowner here in Old Town. I remember my grandmother would always tell the story of how she and my grandfather bought their first home in Highland Park, Michigan. She would let it be known they bought “when the white people lived there.” She smiled whenever she said it, and now I know why.

Our first week after moving in, my son and I walked several miles to the different landmarks, statues and museums. We walked through Fredrick Douglass cemetery and the African American Heritage Park and I sensed we were part of a community that recognized and appreciated the contributions of my people. I felt the honor of continuing the work they started.

I looked at my son and told him, “The best way to end racism is to not go looking for it. You have everything you need right here on this campus. Your only roadblock will be the one you don’t allow yourself to get around. Now bloom where God has planted you.”

On my way out I ignored the signs and hopefully he will too.