One of the most positive by-products of being raised in a small town of less than fifty-thousand people, of which approximately twelve-percent were African-American, was the development of a tradition that made acknowledging my own people, or as my mother affectionately termed them, the ‘Us’s’, as routine as breathing; regardless if we knew one another or not, I was raised ‘to speak’ to ‘Us’s’.
To my surprise this simple process of making eye contact with a fellow African-American as they approached, smiling at them, and pleasantly saying ‘Hello’ is a nicety that the vast majorities of people never learned or have abandoned somewhere along this long-winding road known as life.
It is a peculiar sensation to see one of ‘Us’s’ approaching and at approximately ten-feet out, they do one of the following: (a) lower their head, (b) look away, or (c) stare straight forward to avoid any form of acknowledgement. Although I initially chalked the experience up to a person having a bad day, however, after seeing it occur to not only myself, but also others walking in-front of me, it dawned on me that I was underestimating what this dance of avoidance actually meant among ‘Us’s’.
I have decided that it means one of two things: (a) the person does not think that Black people are worthy of being acknowledged — a reflection of how they view their own people and therefore themselves — (b) they are seeking to be invisible in all of their blackness — another sign of how they view themselves.
Although many may consider the alluded to avoidance non-consequential, in actuality, it reflects how far many African-Americans have strayed from the traditional inter-personal relations that we as a people have held near to our hearts through slavery, Jim Crow, and the ascension of conservatism in the latter half of the twentieth-century. To my shock, many of us refuse to even acknowledge one another with the non-verbal head nod that has traditionally held so much power and offered so much reassurance among ‘Us’s’ when we were far outnumbered in business meetings, conferences, and collegiate classrooms.
What are we to do to get ‘Us’s’ back to a point of at least acknowledging one another on site. I propose our own public display of solidarity, similar to the ice bucket challenge that so many ‘Us’s’ participated in as we by-passed maladies such as sickle cell anemia affecting our community, however, I will save that commentary for another time.
The challenge that I am proposing is very simple. At least five times a day, as you approach one of ‘Us’s’, do the following.
- Make eye contact with the person approaching
- Say ‘Hello’ to them.
I am certain that many of you, most likely those who refuse to acknowledge their brothers and sisters, are wondering ‘Why is this important?’ The mere act of acknowledging your own kind is important for multiple reasons.
- It is the correct and polite thing to do.
- It acknowledges their, and your, humanity.
- It is a reiteration of our common historical past and future destiny; we are inextricably linked with one another whether you like it or not.
So the ‘challenge’ I am proposing is a simple one that does not take more than a moment of your time. You are being called upon to do the simplest of tasks, take a moment, acknowledge your brothers and sisters, smile, and simply say ‘Hello’. Your failure to perform a simple act that takes no more than a moment of your time will tell all of the ‘Us’s’ what we need to know about you.
Dr. James Thomas Jones III