I am a Brooklyn Tech alumnus. Class of 1993. My older brother is a Brooklyn Tech alumnus. Class of 1988. I am African so you can assume he is the same. My best friends, business partners, and associates are also of African American descent and also former Technites (what we affectionately refer to either current or former students of B.T.H.S). Needless to say, I hold a strong personal affinity for B.T.H.S. so imagine my delight when the recent hoopla erupted regarding racial disparity at my alma mater?
As an unofficial ambassador of the school, I received numerous texts and emails as the #blackinbrooklyntech hash tag began to trend on social media. For those not in the know, the trending hash tag began when the minority student body, believed to be experiencing racially insensitive language and behavior from both faculty and students, took to the Internet as a manner of social protest. I typically don’t tend to chime in on news stories until I’ve gathered a certain amount of information relating to the story so I read all I could and attended the appropriate meetings before responding.
Brooklyn Technical High School is an institution, and like all institutions in America, it is subject to institutionalized racism. Lets also be clear here. Institutionalized racism is not a faceless, ominous entity floating through the annals of the west wing. It comprises the individuals who make up the student body and the faculty as it relates to Tech who engage in such discriminatory behavior or language. With that said, can we really believe that a specialized high school approaching 100 years of existence that used to be an all boys (and most likely all white) school wasn’t at some point plagued with racism by virtue of environment? Even the most liberal of liberals in the 1930’s and 40’s were mildly supremacist by virtue of social evolution, or a lack thereof. With that said, I personally did not associate racism with my experiences there and whether I was aware or not, Tech had probably made considerable advancements by the time my formally scrawny behind decked the halls in 1989.
Brooklyn Tech didn’t feel racially charged when I attended. Upon my arrival and throughout my academic career, I can only once recall one racial incident personally that transpired. It occurred in my Electrical Engineering class from a faculty member (Mr. Becker) who proceeded to inform me that Abraham Lincoln should be my hero because he freed my people. Firstly, and as stated earlier, I am African, Nigerian to be specific. My “people” came here on Air France via Nigerian Airways, so unless the captain who flew either jumbo jet was named Abraham Lincoln, I am no more indebted to him for my individual emancipation than I am Mahatma Ghandi.
I did not report this incident, which probably allowed lord knows how many other racially insensitive comments to be made by this teacher to other students. My only recourse was to locate the closest African American face and confirm if my anger was just. I found one black face (no pun intended) and we locked eyes and exchanged the exact same incensed look that could only be translated as “He won’t survive the fall if we throw him out the window, and we’ll get arrested so it’s not worth it, but did this man really just say that to us?!!?”
This is all an assumption but I am wiling to bet my Tech-given intelligence that this issue, like most modern day issues, seems prevalent not because it recently arose but because the current communication mediums that brought about exposure simply did not exist prior and most incidents had gone under-reported. Coupled with the decline of the Af-Am minority student body when I attended (35-40%) vs. now (8%) and the increased overall student body (1,200 additional students, raising the overall population to 5,200) and one may begin to understand how these types of incidents can increase in frequency. A dwindled population will certainly lead to an environment where ignorance festers. In any instance, where there is under representation, prejudice is often not too far behind.
As always, and when choosing where to pledge your allegiance, one must weigh both sides as I saw many of my former classmates doing and proceed accordingly. Were the modern day students overly sensitive? Was this a figment of their imagination? IMHO, no they weren’t being sensitive and were just. Students will speak they mind and they absolutely should make their voices heard. When we had our sit-in during the Rodney King riots in the center section, it was one of the most defining events I had participated in at that point in my adolescence. I did what was in my power as a student and wouldn’t want that taken away from anyone.
As for the faculty, were they engaged, responsive and fostering a nurturing environment for diversity? IMHO, yes. The faculty can also only do what is in their power and not only listen but also acknowledge their students. These are, after all, not your ordinary students. These are the future leaders of tomorrow. These are the Nobel Prize Laureates, engineers and future innovators of society. What I believed to be rhetoric preached to us as students was in fact true as was evidenced by several members of the current mayoral administration in attendance at the alumni meetings who also happen to be former classmates. Faculty can only do what is within their power and within the confines of the institution and they seemed to be doing so.
Rather than blame the faculty or blame the students or pick sides, I would like to take ownership and accept my roles and responsibilities as alumni. No offense to any alumni currently engaged in bringing about an awareness for higher education, but I submit to you that we ALL could and SHOULD be doing more. There are more African American graduates of Brooklyn Tech than there ever will be students and faculty combined! EVER!! If we were operating on sheer numbers alone then who collectively has the ability to cause a seismic shift if we deem the current conditions inappropriate and non representative of our diverse history? #bthsalum
I was recently asked a fairly simple question. Is there any literature that exists which;
- Informs potential student and their parents of the admissions process?
- Provides alternatives if you don’t past the test on your first try?
- List the preparatory courses available?
- List the benefits of attending Tech?
Sadly, I did not know the answer to these questions at initial point of inquiry, which further attests to my lack of pro activity on this issue. I have since acquired much more information regarding this.
When my brother went to take the specialized test, he did so of his own volition. After having had quite the miserable time in junior high school (I.S 391 / Mahalia Jackson… in Brooklyn.. in the mid 80’s..nuff said), he had decided at the ripe old age of 13 that he would sign up for the specialized examination and take it without alerting my parents. He was punished for not being where he was supposed to be as a result but he passed the test and was admitted. When I took the test, my parents had spared no expense and enrolled me in Stanley Kaplan, which taught me how to navigate the S.H.S.A.T (specialized high school standard aptitude test). That is the difference between an informed parent and one not in the know.
I speak of Brooklyn Tech with a deep adoration even almost 30 years after entering the building. I have gotten into countless arguments with students of other specialized high schools who shall remain nameless (rhymes with Iverson) as to who reigns intellectually dominant in NYC. Former Tech students have often been accused of behaving cult like in the manner we still congregate in all corners of the earth. We are seemingly everywhere and quite boisterous about our alma mater. Be it an official stamp of intelligence (real or imagined) or the camaraderie formed with other students who had to walk seven flights up to the lunch room after swim class in the basement, Tech was home and will remain home emotionally.
Brooklyn Tech holds a special place in my heart and yelling “Tech” with fond adoration is no longer enough to retain the rich and diverse history of this institution. If we alumni do not take action, the Tech name will become a scar rather than a badge of honor and we may not matter in 20 years.
Chadwick Boseman Forever!!
It is clear that Chadwick Boseman chose iconic roles like Thurgood Marshall, James Brown, Jackie Robinson and Black Panther with deliberate intent and for a specific purpose. In an age where positive roles for Black actors is often sparse, Chadwick managed to land and portray historical figures that made most respect his talents if not revel in his ability to transition effortlessly for one character to another. Even I had to give his African accent a solid B+ (It’s the highest grade the Nigerian Standards Bureau can give for an African accent to a non African FYI.)
Holding out and preparing for these dynamic roles came with both great frustration and incredible resolve I’m certain. Not to mention the taxing ordeal of battling Colon Cancer as the grueling scheduling of filming and increasing responsibility for positive representation loomed. Even under extreme duress, Chadwick’s commitment to others appeared to outweigh his own tribulations, unbeknownst to us all.
Black Panther may have been just a movie to some and that may be because some can easily rattle off 10 movies with a king of non Af-Am origin. It represented a lot more to others. Albeit imagined, imagery on cinema often accomplishes more to augment the social narrative and society itself than actual reality. If negative stereotypes influence perception then positive ones absolutely have the same converse effect.
Even in jest, the cultural misappropriation of raisins in potato salad on SNL skits directly spoke to the tampering of black culture to which T’challa championed, represented and aptly responded “Oh hell Nah Karen!”
If you don’t understand the relevance of representation, it’s probably because you are thoroughly represented. After all, no one is ever grateful for every breath they take until they are gasping for air.
R.I.P Chadwick Boseman. Thank you for breathing life into the possibility of Black excellence.
10 Easter Eggs of Segregation in Lovecraft Country Episode 1
We’re all familiar with movies hiding easter eggs throughout their films sending winks and nods to pop-culture references. Sometimes it will be a tip-of-the-cap to an author, actor, or creator. Sometimes it is paying homage to an inspiring series, book, or film that’s near and dear to the director’s heart. This week I’ve seen a first. A T.V. series that has several easter eggs depicting segregation and oppression that only eagle-eyed aficionado’s of the black struggle might have caught on to.
Lovecraft Country is littered with important details that would fly over many people’s heads, and as I watched it again, I caught more nods to the true oppression of many African-Americans during the post-World War II era.
As a film buff, nothing makes me happier than watching a review, breakdown, or hidden easter egg video on a TV show I enjoy. Yesterday I did the same with Lovecraft Country, and while many of the melanin-deficient reviewers on youtube touched on the themes of literature, horror, and fantasy, many understandably missed some of the most important historical references.
Here are 10 Easter Eggs of Segregation in Lovecraft Country Episode 1.
1. H.P. Lovecraft’s little poem.
While we all know H.P. Lovecraft as an innovator of modern horror, fiction, and fantasy in literature, many people (including myself) didn’t know about a poem he wrote that spoke horribly about African Americans. Lovecraft Country alludes to the poem, but never recites it. Once they mentioned the title, I went straight to my Google Search. Below is the poem called: On the Creation of N*****s (1912)
When, long ago, the gods created Earth
In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
Yet were they too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
Th’Olympian host conceived a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N****r.
I’m sure Jackie Robinson beating the S**T out of Cthulhu at the beginning of the episode was a collective middle finger from the black community to Mr. Lovecraft.
2. Seating for Black People
While this may not come as a surprise to many of you, a lot of people are ignorant to the fact that, yes, black people were made to sit in the back of the bus. Many know the story of Rosa Parks’ defining moment, but for decades this was the way of life for black people. Where insult to injury is predicated in the show is when the bus breaks down and the bus driver gets a local pick-up truck driver to ride the stranded passengers into the city. Immediately in the next scene, the only two black passengers were seen walking down the road into Chicago.
3. Propaganda for the Negro Soldier
In Lovecraft Country, the above poster is not shown in this episode, but instead, it’s a black soldier telling other young black men that if they enlist, they can see the world. While Atticus walks by the soldier, there’s a glance of recognition as if Atticus was once one of those impressionable young men, and he knows their being lied to. Black men had to be enticed to enlist by different methods than whites because it was hard to show patriotism to a country that still to that day had kept them oppressed. So, they would show a poster of Joe Louis joining the fight…why don’t you? Get to see the world! Little did they know seeing the world would involve PTSD, death, and despair.
4. The Negro Motorist Greenbook
The synopsis according to IMDB.com is: “Lovecraft Country follows Atticus Black as he joins up with his friend Letitia and his Uncle George to embark on a road trip across 1950s Jim Crow America in search of his missing father.” While this is true, it’s not the whole story. Why are they embarking on this trip? It’s to help update what many people may know as, The Negro Motorist Greenbook. Yup, just like the movie, The Greenbook. If you don’t know, this book was originated by Victor Hugo Green as a travel bible for African Americans. It provided details of safe roads to travel, places for food, repairs, and lodging where they wouldn’t be turned away or even worse, assaulted.
5. James Baldwin’s monologue on racial divide
During one of the scenes in Lovecraft Country, we see a montage of our protagonist’s road trip. In the montage we see different moments where they face discrimination, others facing discrimination, and the hardships of ignorant people with all the privilege in the world monopolizing on their entitlements. Usually, during movie montages, a composer would play a score to envoke emotions during the collection of scenes. Lovecraft Country went in a different direction. Instead, they played the monologue of James Baldwin’s renowned speech at Cambridge University where he debated with William Buckley on the subject of the United States racial divide. James Baldwin was a brilliant playwright, novelist, speaker, and activist that eloquently described the plight of the black man as it still stands today. Merged with the scenes during the montage, it speaks volumes about the state of America.
6. Ice Cream stand Scene
In one of the scenes in the montage, we see a black man and his children waiting at an ice cream stand for service. Right over them is a sign that says “colored” and on the other side of the stand is a group of white people with ice cream being tended to by the servers. This scene looked extremely familiar to me. When I did some research, I realized this scene was based on a famous photograph by Gordon Parks, photographer and journalist who well-documented scenes of the segregation and civil rights era. Years ago I saw his work in its full brilliant quality at the High Museum in Atlanta. The color and detail brought a realism that a black-and-white photo could never do. It made this a real thing.
7. Mother and daughter under the neon sign
This scene once again pays homage to another photograph by Gordon Parks. A mother and her daughter dressed elegantly as if they were going to church, standing under a large neon sign that says ‘Colored Entrance’.
8. The billboard across from the gas station
While Atticus and company are at a gas station filling up their car, they are approached by a gas station attendant pretending to be a gorilla to mock them. Leticia holds Atticus back from approaching the man as the attendant intensifies his ignorant behavior and she forces Atticus into the car. As they pull off, you can see a Billboard for Aunt Jemima in the background. Aunt Jemima has always been a misrepresentation of black culture through the lens of the white man and advertised to his fellow man as the overall perception of black people. The image of Aunt Jemima is a source reflection of the learned behavior of the gas station attendant.
9. Sundown towns
Two years ago was the first time I’ve ever heard of a Sundown Town. No, not through a history book, but as a warning about staying too late in a little town in Texas that exists today! If I didn’t hear about this first hand, I would’ve thought it was a theme of the past, but no. There are currently county’s that do not condemn the abuse of black people once the sun goes down! While the billboard here might be a relic from the past, Sundown Towns are definitely alive and well across America!
10. White walls
Not only is this one telling, but it also holds all kinds of subliminal messages. While the group finds a Green book safe haven for dining called Lydia’s, they are surprised to find the restaurant is now called, Simmonsville Dinette. Still, they walk in and are greeted by unwelcoming faces. While the server goes to the back for what seems like their coffee orders, Atticus realizes that the walls are painted white. He asks his uncle to remind him why the white house was white. His uncle tells him about the war of 1812 when British soldiers torched it and when slaves were tasked to rebuild it, they had to paint it white to cover up the burn marks. This tells us two things. Lydia’s restaurant was burnt down and rebuilt by trespassers (obviously for being a safe haven for blacks in this all-white town) and the blackness of this restaurant was erased and covered up by the ‘white’ paint. My goodness, I could go on and on about this one!
I was expecting this series to be littered with easter eggs, but knowing they have incorporated easter eggs specifically about the black movement and struggles has me fired up to see what else is in store for these characters. Did you see any easter eggs that I missed? Comment and let me know.
OPEN LETTER TO CONGRESS
Dear Members of Congress,
The tipping point is here and we need to put aside our political differences to save this country right now! Silence and remaining behind party lines is no longer an option. A unified address by our elected officials in Congress on the issue of police brutality and equality under the rule of law is required to begin the healing process as well as ensure the future of this nation.
There are three steps that immediately need to be taken to bring this to fruition. The arrest and charging of the three remaining individuals involved in the death of George Floyd must occur as the first step of good faith. The second step requires clear and transparent action items stated to the public in order to address the issues at hand. Those action items should include:
- The revision of Qualified Immunity to specifically address the problematic assertion that “Qualified Immunity means that government officials can get away with violating your rights as long as they violate them in a way nobody thought before – Institute of Justice“
- The reforming of Civilian Review Boards with the purpose of increasing the decision-making abilities on the disposition and discipline of police officers.
The third step is the creation and funding of a systemic racism task force with the goal of dismantling systemic racism.
- Accelerating judicial system reform
- Equating the public education system
- Eliminating redlining
These are just the preliminary steps that will begin the framework of the changes we need enacted to better the experiment called the United States.
I look forward to seeing a response in the form of action on the behalf of the citizens of this country.