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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim, Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

‘We are an altar of stars’


Black History is more than pain and struggle

Lately, I’ve been reflecting a lot about my blackness; what it is perceived to be in this world, what I thought it meant for most of my life and what our ancestors would have wanted us to know and believe about the melanin we exist in.

As a child, I remember learning about slavery and how black bodies were reduced to commodities that were exploited and disposed of for the advancement of whiteness.

I was in the first grade when I first watched the film “Roots” by Alex Haley. In the film, Kunta Kinte is abducted from his village in Africa, sold into slavery and taken to America. However, Kunta fought back.

I vividly remember the scene where his masters brutally whipped him so that he could forget who he really was. The master wanted to change his name to be “Toby” and each time they asked Kunta what his name was, he said, “my name is Kunta Kinte,” not the English name that the enslaver wanted him to have.

So, they continued to beat him more. Eventually Kinte is beaten so badly and grows so tired that he finally gives in and says, “My name is Toby.” My 6-year-old self was distraught seeing him with no more fight left in him. That image became etched in my mind.

Over the course of the film, Kinte escaped four times, and his enslavers finally caught him the last time. They wanted to hurt him to make sure he wouldn’t escape again. So, they gave him the option to either be castrated or get his foot cut off. Kinte chose to get his foot cut off; a scene that I couldn’t fully process at the time but now see the significance of.

To Kinte, he would rather have one foot than to have his potential offspring taken away from him.

Fast forward to 2012, when I was 14 years old sitting in my living room with the TV in the background as news broke out about the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed African American teenager who was killed by a former neighborhood watch captain in Sanford Florida. As the years progressed, names were continuously added to the list that signified black bodies having no value in this world, especially in this country. Hashtags have been created, protests formed and a growing list of unconsolable mothers and fathers.

I’m now 22. I still turn on the news, read articles and live the experiences in which our narrative keeps singing the same tune of struggle and pain.

For a while I got lost and numb to it. I spent a lot of time thinking about that scene where Kinte chose to cut his foot off rather than not be able to have children and how he probably hoped that the lives of future generations would look a lot different than his.

Though we’ve come a long way since African slavery, our struggle is still here, between our bodies left lifeless and slavery taking new forms (for example, through mass incarceration). It’s exhausting, and it’s easy to get lost and to become numb.

However, I have to check myself. I try to do so every time I find myself getting lost in this stolen, rewritten and tainted history. I have to wake up. I have to remember who I am, who we are, despite all attempts to make us forget.

We were not slaves. We were kings, queens, people with a rich history so deep and so vast that despite over 500 years of effort, it cannot be contained. It cannot be reduced. It cannot be erased. We are still here and still fighting. But above that, we are still shaping this world like our ancestors did. Just like every corner of this country was built on their backs, we, too, are the creators of almost everything that makes this world go around.

I was watching a video on Instagram titled, “A world without black people is a world without…” basically everything. It’s like chicken with no seasoning and no pots and pans to cook it in.

We are everything our ancestors dreamt of and everything our oppressors are terrified of. My favorite poet, Nayirrah Waheed, puts it into words for me. She says: “to you. my people of color. you are an altar of stars. remember this. always. do not ever forget this.”

Never forget this. We are magic and excellence, generations of it. This melanin we reside in isn’t just a cross we bare, it’s an honor bestowed on us.

And despite the difficulties that come with who we are and where we come from, next time someone asks you, “What is your name?” remember it isn’t struggle or pain. It’s power, purpose and perseverance.

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