When they cleared the site for our state capitol in 1791, there weren’t enough men to haul materials and saw lumber. Guess who they turned to? Not only did slaves perform general labor, they also did skilled trade work like carpentry. The list of employees who built our nation’s capitol didn’t acknowledge the African-American workers as architects or any other positive identifier. They were labeled as “Negro hire”. Construction credits contained over 100 names of slaves and their wages (as little as $5 a month). According to Google, “the Capitol Dome was constructed with 8,909,200 pounds of ironwork bolted together in a masterpiece of American will and ingenuity.” Capable, talented, and worthy Black men cut stones and laid bricks so that this infrastructure could exist, yet their wages were paid to their White slave owners. On February 28, 2012, Congress unveiled a marker to commemorate the important role played by laborers, including enslaved African Americans, in building the United States Capitol.
230 years post-construction, a confederate flag gets carried through this building, a noose gets erected outside on its West End, and vandalism occurs. All this hate given ample room to manifest in a place that houses the business of the American people. All this triggering activity on a sacred landmark built by slaves that has a sycamore tree dedicated to Emmett Till on its acreage. This is the place they stormed because they wanted dominion over everything. Furthermore, in 2021, to everyone out there trying to “take back their country”, we are still Negro hire.
The reality is that that has never been the case when it comes to the work ethic of Black and Brown people. Unfortunately, many of us will never know our true worth or our rights because of systemic racism, an overdue awakening in our country.
There are Black people out here hurt and damaged because racism does a number on us. It certainly did a number on me. When I first realized I was dealing with racial trauma, I went on a healing journey that began with writing down all the things I was afraid to say aloud. In the written form, I called everyone out who had a role in the near-death experiences God kept me through. I then turned to psychotherapy because it costs Black people to be in collegial relationships with people who have confederate flags inside their homes and hearts. Therapy gave me practical tools to chisel through these hard realities and to be a better manager of my emotions. Much love to my Black woman therapist. And to God, who continues to show me the power of forgiveness.
Writing, however, has always been where the real therapy happens; even now; especially when it comes to processing day-to-day racial injustices. Whether creative, academic, or autobiographical, trauma released and written down, I know for sure, gives way to freedom. Writer-me is often enraged, while the living-me is as nurturing as dame nature can be. Watching them storm the capitol though. I was hurt. Then mad. Then very confused. The thing about anger; it’s too one dimensional for me. If I’m angry, I’m likely chasing down positivity at the same time because I believe that as a change agent, your call-in is just as important as your call-out.
I do think it’s time to call-out those who are neither cold nor hot when it comes to racial injustices. Your fence-straddling is also killing us. It’s a subtle form of violence that says disenfranchisement is okay. Your every-now-and-then attempts to dismantle racist practices is equivalent to waiting 212 years to simply acknowledge the vital role African-Americans had in building the nation’s capitol. Black people have had to adapt their entire lives to your governance and standards (educational, cultural, religious, physical). We live with names that belonged to White families. We’ve had to pull Black boys from southern rivers and little Black girls from church fire debris. Our peaceful demonstrations have led to Bloody Sundays and us dying in police custody every other day. Surely you saw what I saw. Waver no more. Commit to us the way we were forced to commit to plantations, Shakespeare, and the corporate structures that damn near killed us. Yes, the change-work, like any freedom journey, involves conviction and shame. It’s scary, but beautiful, and necessary.
Addendum: Calling in those of us who watched Wednesday’s event unfold and felt hurt, triggered, and bewildered. Because damn, that’s a lot of people who wish to see you oppressed (or dead) in order for them to maintain “their America”. I’m calling you in to assure you that race hatred— any kind of hatred— has its consequences. I know we can’t unsee the events that occurred at the capitol, just like we can’t unsee the officer acquittals and double standards. I also know we are tired of delayed reactions and sentiments, but remain steadfast. Write things down. Speak your piece/peace. Know your rights and hold leaders accountable. Take care and focus on your own communities and be accountable to them. Seek counseling if necessary, because Wednesday, January 6, 2021, was the closest I’ve ever felt to a real-life Klan rally. A nationwide one. And it’s 2021.
Clinnesha is a wife, mom, daughter/sister/auntie, literary artist, humanities scholar, and social entrepreneur. Her advocacy work is at the intersection of black/feminist thought, arts, culture, and community.