Do you remember “The Little Red Hen”?
The Little Red Hen, is a story about this hen who made a pan of cornbread. She had to plant the corn, tend the corn, harvest the corn, dry the corn, husk the corn, grind the corn, then take the meal, mix the meal, bake the bread and finally the bread was done and it was time to eat. Now all along the way, she would say “Who will help me ______, the corn,” and the other barnyard animals would beg off, “‘Not I,’ said the cat,” “‘Not I,’ said the pig.”
Until it came time to eat. This story is life.
There’s been a lot said about Black (under)representation at Sunday night’s Grammy awards. We’ve read celebrations of Dave and Kendrick’s Black AF opening, we’ve read the thinkpieces and responses to Cardi-B and Bruno Mars’ success and why they are winning off Black music. We’ve read that Jay-Z was robbed – but one little, underreported tidbit was the
statement former Fifth Harmony ingenue Camila Cabello made when she took the stage to present. Most media outlets who covered her moment credit her for “honoring dreamers,” but do not acknowledge how she dishonored the memory and legacies of untold numbers of Black people. In her speech she said, “This country was built by dreamers for dreamers chasing the American dream.”
THIS COUNTRY WAS BUILT BY ENSLAVED AFRICANS FOR WHITE IMPERIALISTS FRAMING A CAPITALIST SOCIETY. Period. Full fucking stop.
This clarification seems a small nit to pick on a night full of problematic outcomes. But it is a thread that when pulled, unravels the fabric of shrouded racism and anti-blackness.
My ancestors, Black men, women and children, brought here in chains against their will, endured centuries of inexplicable, unimaginable and inhumane treatment while transforming this country from a mess of British disjointed colonies into a functioning, thriving nation of its own. Black bodies were both the fuel and the machine that produced America. And this was not a labor of love. This was not the fulfillment or pursuit of a dream.
It was a living nightmare suffered by the millions of men and women who arrived on these shores as property, and the millions more they brought into the world, babies born into bondage, who never had a glimpse of what a dream could be without the context of slavery informing their very perception of themselves.
To paint over this Black tableau with a glossy, colorful celebration of a dream is a disgrace to the painful reality and very consequential history of my people in this nation. Ours was not the story of hopes and dreams. As Lincoln once said, ”Free labor has the inspiration of hope; pure slavery has no hope.”
Dreamers and other immigrants came to this nation and labored in pursuit of their dream, and certainly there is room for the stories of Dreamers, but the stories of Sons and Daughters of Bondage will not be cast off the shelf to make room for them. The stories of Dreamers will not overwrite the stories of those who inspired the dream and built the foundations upon which those dreams stand. Your narrative of dreams is not bigger than my narrative of survival and triumph. You will not deny my history.
I’m mad I even have to write this, but apparently, Black people must constantly remind the world:
EVERYTHING in this nation that works today was made possible by slavery. The subways that run from Harlem to Wall Street were built by slaves as were the banks at the end of that line. The White House was built by slaves, the entire economy of the south. The bastions of higher education that still won’t teach the history of my people with critical importance were erected either by the sweat of their brow or the price on their head. And it is sickening and exhausting to have to keep reminding white people and people of color who don’t identify as Black, but have reached their dreams by standing on Blackness, of this truth.
The outrageousness of Cabello’s claim – that this nation was built by dreamers, for dreamers – is precisely why we find ourselves arguing about whether or not there is a place at the table for a Bruno Mars when Jay-Z needs room to breathe. It’s why we question the legitimacy of a Cardi-B when we we’re still tying to find a seat for SZA. We have a long history of making room at our table for everyone and as nearly as long a history of looking up from the floor at recent invitees or uninvited guests who shoved us from our seat, made themselves comfortable at the table we built, and ate up the cornbread we made.
To Cabello and those like her who have found themselves seated at the table of success with a spread already laid out before them I say this: We can’t let you eat off Blackness if you can’t even acknowledge where your meal came from. Bow your head and say grace to the providers that fed you or else you can starve – you did not plant this corn, you did not harvest this corn, you did not grind this corn. So this bread is for me and mine. WE are the stuff your dreams are made of.