Reclaiming our Humanity by Brandale Randolph, Executive Director of Project Poverty and curator of TedxLubbock and Keynote Speaker of Texas Tech’s Black History celebration.
Thank You. I would like to thank Dr. Marbley and the rest of the Black Faculty and staff here at Texas Tech for extending this invitation to speak on such an important occasion. I am deeply honored to be surrounded by such esteemed individuals as yourselves and want to thank each and every one of you in attendance. Especially, my best friend, my right hand and the most brilliant and beautiful women in the world, my wife Angela.
“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” MLK. And this matters and I am grateful for the opportunity to speak on this.
My STORY…. Played basketball, fouled dude, he pulled a gun but he eventually decided to let me live.
First, despite the millions of clichés and euphemisms that people use to describe poverty and until my book on Poverty is released this spring, I will to defer to Professor Amarta Sen’s groundbreaking characterization of poverty. He states that, “poverty is the lack of capability an individual has to function effectively in society.” So when I use the word ‘poverty’. I am not just speaking in the context of income nor am I referring to those with or without a certain mindset. I am speaking about all of us who have something in our background that restricts or limits our ability to function effectively in our societies. Something is just ‘off’ and often we pass that down to our children. That is the ‘poverty’ that I am talking about.
When I use the word ‘violence’, I am talking about the definition used by the World Health Organization. In their definition Violence is “Intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against a person, or against a group or community that either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment or deprivation.” So, in this way, violence is not just murders, rapes, and assaults but also, and more importantly, those other intentionally hurtful things that we often say to each other that causes of psychological harm.
This story illustrates a simple truth. Violence expands poverty and could possibility restart the cycle that goes from violence to poverty to violence to poverty to violence and so on and so forth. On the surface, the act of violence was him going to his sweatshirt and grabbing his gun and putting into my chest. That was the intentional act that was meant to cause psychological harm and deprivation of life. The poverty started in the aftermath. As a 13 year old how was I then expected to function effectively after that? My life was almost taken. How was I expected to concentrate in my classrooms knowing that death may be around the corner? How do I function around young men who dress like he did? How do I feel about guns and the police? Who would later take the life of my younger brother? During this period I was now malfunctioning in society. In other words, I was in ‘poverty’. The choice now is whether or not I would also grab a gun and live my life the way that he did.
This is the choice that many make and when confronted with a similar situation as the one that they may have fell victim, to they then choose violence which will throw someone else into poverty and the cycle will begin again.
This also happens to other victims of violence, especially within our community. It’s the children who are either physically or psychologically abused by their parents when they are young, who then treat their peers the same way when conflict arises. It’s the battered wives and girlfriend who cringe when men get angry. It’s the parents who have had to bury their children who, avoid being around children. They are now malfunctioning because of violence. It a cycle and we all have to them make the choice to break that cycle or continue it.
Think of the cycle between poverty and violence, like a chain. The weak link in any chain is usually at the beginning of the cycle. The cycle of poverty to violence to poverty and back to violence begins when someone is robbed of their humanity. When I use the term humanity, I am strictly talking about the state of being human regardless of how one behaves, because that is how we are born. Either we are human or we are animals.
It is quite possible that it was me that robbed him of his humanity when I fouled him. That put him in poverty because he couldn’t function effectively knowing that this 13 year old and others were laughing at him. So he proceeded to continue the cycle and pull the gun. This is not unlike when parents rob children of their humanity when they beat them like they are training animals for the most minor infractions. Or when men objectify, harass women on the street or sexually assault them, simply because they see them as attractive creatures and not humans worthy of a certain level of respect. Or when the parents in our community succumb to the most inhumane of act of all, burying their young. As in the case of Shirley Chambers, a woman in Chicago who, after last weekend has now buried all four of her children due to gun violence. They were robbed of their humanity.
But if we go there, let us go all of the way there. In our community, when we are robbed our humanity and rob others of their humanity it often stems from when we were robbed of it long ago. This seed was planted long ago.
Many of us come from a legacy where our ancestors, HUMAN BEINGS, were beaten, raped, tortured, whipped, lynched and murdered…treated in ways that would make many have sleepless nights if it were being done to animals. It was during the transatlantic slave trade that our ancestors were brought over and treated like or even worse than animals. We were dehumanized. This continued on during Jim Crow, during the Civil Rights movement and even today as we find ourselves disproportionately undereducated, under and unemployed, incarcerated and now slaughtered on our country’s streets…like animals. Animals, not human. Like animals, maybe that explains why America rarely sheds tears over our dead children because maybe they still see us as subhuman in some way shape or form. So with this level of dehumanization all around us, there should be no question of why there is dehumanization among us. I believe that, many of us don’t even look at ourselves or each other as human. This is probably why we refer to each other in terms of some of the worst subhuman and derogatory racially charged labels in existence. Its isn’t what we are called that bothers me; it is what we answer to. We answer to these labels because maybe deep down we believe that is what we all are. It’s disheartening at even the least among us will understand that we don’t all share the same beliefs, life experiences, complexion, education, mental capacity or exposure but will causally apply the same dehumanizing labels on us all. Saddest, is that we take these labels and put them on us without any hesitation. It’s time we take them off and reclaim our humanity.
Humans understand that other humans do not deserve to be murdered, beaten, raped, robbed, harassed and verbally threated by other humans. It is only dehumanization that allows it. And we continue dehumanize each other. Stop it. How can we look at others and say that we deserve the safe communities that other humans enjoy? The same opportunities for quality education, vocational training employment, training, protection from crime and biased prosecution that other human receives when we can’t even look at ourselves and then other each say that we too are human?
We, as a community may never unify based simply on the complexion of our skin but we can unify based on our humanity. Let’s give ourselves and each other, back our humanity. Not simply because it is the right thing to do but simply because we are worthy of it.
So, before we give our abused children, expensive clothes, tennis shoes, violent video games, medications and guns, to comfort their pain, let’s give them back their humanity. Let every abused child that we encounter know that they did not and do not deserve to be beaten like an animals and we will protect them. Our children are not our whipping posts. Our children are our greatest gifts from God.
Before we lecture women on what to wear, how to act, how to think like a man, how not to get raped and on what they should do with their bodies, let’s give them back their humanity. We need to let every woman, especially our little girls know that they do not deserve to be objectified because they are not objects, they are human. Our women are not the real life Barbie dolls of our communities, they are our equals.
Before we give our grieving parents our sympathy, empty rhetoric, outrage, prayers and tell them how to grieve or respond to whatever violence that has occurred, let’s give them back their humanity. We need to let them know that is simply inhumane for any parent to bury their child. Every grieving parent needs to know that the death of their child matters to us as if they were our own and they did not die in vain. We need to stop yelling, crying, begging and marching put real work in to ensure that these tragedies don’t happen to any more of our children. The grieving parents of our neighborhoods are not our shame; they must become our motivation to reclaim our humanity.
We are not animals. We are worthy of our own humanity. Take it back. Take it back for yourselves and give it to those in our community who have been robbed of it. As humans, we are worthy of the right to live, learn, grow and prosper. We have denied ourselves and each other our humanity for far too long. Let us now go and reclaim our humanity and put an end to the violence in our community.
Brandale D. Randolph author “Me & My Broke Neighbor: The 7 Things I Learned About Success Just By Living Next To Him” available on Amazon.com