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Being Brown May 17, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

 

“…we lived in an integrated neighborhood and I had all of these playmates of different nationalities…. I just couldn’t understand what was happening because I was so sure that I was going to go to school with Mona and Guinevere, Wanda, and all of my playmates.”

 

– Linda Brown, quoted in a “Black/White and Brown” produced by KTWU Channel 11 (May 3, 2004)

 

For a long time, most of my life, I didn’t get it. How could I get it, as odd as it is to understand, it was outside of my experience.

I am related to some of the smartest people I know –and I know a lot of really smart people. My father has a PhD and taught doctors, his mother was a school teacher, my maternal great-grandmother and both grandmothers taught Sunday school, and my mother worked with doctors and lawyers – so I didn’t get why they made such a big deal about my grades or my education. I appreciated it when my parents arranged things so I could enroll in special programming (like “Research and Development”), but sometimes I kind of took it for granted. Going to a private school, for instance, was just what my brothers and I did sometimes. Granted, one of my brothers ended up in private school after my parents were informed he would be bused to a “Black school” as part of a desegregation plan in the 80’s (which I thought was beyond silly, but I didn’t spend too much time thinking about why the plan existed (in the mid-80’s!!!). I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

My maternal grandfather owned bars in Houston, like the Sportsman, and supper clubs, like The Club Supreme, which was part of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” (venues owned and operated by and for African-American audiences during segregation). I grew up hearing about the great talents he booked and about people like Sammy Davis, Jr., Harry Belafonte, and the Supremes stopping by the house for dinner. Sometimes I would walk into Club Supreme, look down the dark and dusty ballroom to the stage at the back and imagine what it was like in its heyday. When I walked next door to the Sportsman, owners/editors of newspapers, bankers, and business owners seemed to not only know my name, but also my GPA. Sometimes I thought it was weird – especially when they would tell me they were holding a job for me when I graduated from college – but mostly I just thought part of being a grandfather was being proud of your grandchildren; I figured he must talk about me to his customers because that’s what grandfathers did. I didn’t get it; it was outside of my experience.

“I was kind of afraid at first. I didn’t talk about it very much, I guess, because I was afraid it would get back to someone who would make trouble.”

 

– Linda Brown, age 17, in a 1961 New York Times interview

In May 2004, I finally started to get it. It was the 50th Anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka and as people were celebrating, remembering, and producing documentaries, I was doing the math. In doing the math, I finally really understood that Black people not being able to go to the school of their choice wasn’t part of some distant history lesson. It was part of living history – it was part of my family history. The teachers, administrators, farmers, businessmen and businesswomen, police officers, doctors, nurses, insurance agents, authors, truckers, military personnel, farmers, and preachers in my family successfully did what they did – not because they had the economic and educational advantages that they gave me, but in spite of not having what I took for granted. My parents grew up in the South, in the shadow of Brown v Board, in a state where the Attorney General actively worked to keep school segregation legal despite the U. S. Supreme Court’s landmark ruling. The people who worked behind the bar and sat on the barstools at my grandfather’s clubs knew me not because my Paw-Paw was some random grandfather proud of his random grandchildren, but because they all understood what I did not: my brothers, cousins, and I were symbols of progress and change. We were proof that the world – or at least our little corner of the world – was getting better, more equitable and more just.

When my grandfather died, people seemed to come out the woodwork. I kind of expected the elders. What I didn’t expect were the people my age, people who wanted to remember and celebrate a businessman in the community who had financially supported the education of young people in the community. They came to celebrate and remember, because they got it.

“None of us got where we are solely by pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. We got here because somebody – a parent, a teacher, an Ivy League crony or a few nuns – bent down and helped us pick up our boots.”

 

– Supreme Court Justice (and former NAACP chief counsel) Thurgood Marshall referencing his SCOTUS successor in a Newsweek interview (dated October 28, 1991)

Linda Brown, the student at the center of Brown v Board, was actually part of three school segregation related lawsuits: the one SCOTUS ruled on today in 1954; Brown II in 1955; and a case filed by the adult Linda Brown in 1978 (Brown III), which was re-opened and appealed through the late 80’s / early 90’s. The first case, officially filed as “Oliver Brown, et al v Board of Education of Topeka, et al,” was a class action lawsuit filed by Thurgood Marshall, the NAACP’s chief counsel, for thirteen parents on behalf of 20 school-aged children. However, the case itself was a test case and symbolic of several cases across the country. The case in Kansas was selected by the NAACP as the pilot case, because it was considered more Midwestern than Southern, the Brown’s neighborhood was desegregated (but the local school was not), and Oliver Brown was selected as the named plaintiff because he was a man. (The idea being that a male plaintiff might be considered more seriously by the courts and the ruling might carry more national weight if inequality could be proven outside of the South.)

While the unanimous 1954 ruling is celebrated as a landmark victory, it was more symbolic than anything else. The Supreme Court first ruled that there was no such thing as “separate, but equal” – at least not as schools existed at that time. Then, in 1955, SCOTUS ordered states to desegregate “with all deliberate speed” – but, here again there was no timetable and the interpretation of the very poetic phrase was left not to the NAACP or the plaintiffs, but to the states.

“It’s disheartening that we are still fighting. But we are dealing with human beings. As long as we are, there will always be those who feel the races should be separate.”

 

 

– Linda Brown, in a 1994 New York Times article (around 40th anniversary)

Look around today and you will see the legacy of Brown v Board. There is some positive, some signs of progress; there is also some negative. Were Linda Brown still alive today, she could easily file another lawsuit…on behalf of her grandchildren or even her great-grandchildren. Part of the legacy of Brown v Board is living in the shadow of the Plessy v Ferguson concept of “separate but equal.” We can say it’s the shadow that makes us appreciate the light; but, at some point we need more light.

“I didn’t understand what was happening then, but it was clear that Brown versus Board of Education was a necessary victory. It might have been a little flame, but it served to set off a mighty flame. To me, the impact of Brown is best seen in the increasing numbers of black professionals today. These are the people that, after 1954, were able to have some degree of choice. This surely made a difference in their aspirations and their achievements.”

 

– Linda Brown, in a April 29, 2004 speech (marking the 50th anniversary) at Chautauqua Institution

 

Please join me for a 65-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Sunday, May 17th) at 2:30 PM, to celebrate progress, to remember those who made it possible, and to raise awareness so that we understand what is needed to move forward together. You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class. Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify.

 

Linda Carol Brown

### NAMASTE ###

 

 

Let’s See… What We See May 16, 2020

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(“Ramadan Mubarak, Blessed Ramadan!” to anyone who is observing Ramadan. I typically talk about Ramadan at the end of the season, so keep your eyes open.)

“I stopped explaining myself when I realized other people only understand from their level of perception.”

– Anonymous

If you take a moment to consider the anonymous quote above from two different angles (first as if you are “I” and then as if you are “other people”), you realize that the statement holds true for everyone. In other words, each one of us can only understand (anything) from OUR level of perception (or awareness). We might even add “from OUR conscious level of perception (or awareness).” Patanjali states, at the very beginning of the Yoga Sutras, that yoga (the philosophy) quiets the mind and allows us to “rest in our own true nature” and that at all other times we identify ourselves as “the fluctuations of the mind.” Through the practice, we elevate our level of perception (and awareness) and, in doing so, elevate our level of understanding.

Yoga Sutra 2.17: draşțŗdŗśyayoh samyogo heyahetuh

 

– “The union of the seer and the seeable is the cause of pain (that may be avoidable).”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.18: prakāśkriyāsthitiśīlam bhūtendriyāmakam bhogāpavargārtham dŗśyam

 

– “The objective world (what is seen), consisted of a combination of elements and senses, and having a nature of illumination, activity, and stability, has two purposes: fulfillment and freedom.”

 

Yoga Sutra 2.19: viśeşāviśeşalingamātrālingāni guņaparvāņi

 

– “The ‘gunas’ fall into four categories: specific/identifiable, unspecific/unidentifiable, barely describable (by signs), and absolutely indescribable (because it is beyond reference).”

Yoga Sutra 2.20: draşțā dŗśimātrah śuddho’pi pratyayānupaśyah

 

– “The Seer is the pure power of seeing, yet its understanding is through the mind/intellect.”

Remember, Patanjali explains in earlier sutras that everything we do creates an impression (samskara) and that we have constructed the world and ourselves – as well as our understanding of the world and ourselves – from a lack of knowledge (avidyā) and attachment that is rooted in (either) pleasure (rāgah) or pain (dveşah). There is a part of us that is pure consciousness, but our connection to that part of us lies behind the veils of samskara. Until the veils are lifted, we will only ever see what the mind shows us. That is to say, we will only ever see what the mind understands – and the mind is often clouded.

 “You are the witness of all things, and are always totally free. The cause of your bondage (suffering) is that you see the witness as something other than this.”

 

Aşțāvakra Gītā 1.7 (The Song of the Man with 8 Bends-In-His-Limbs)

Please join me for a 90-minute virtual yoga practice on Zoom today (Saturday, May 16th) at 12:00 PM, when we will continue exploring the connection between what we perceive and what we understand.  You can use the link from the “Class Schedules” calendar if you run into any problems checking into the class.

Today’s playlist is available on YouTube and Spotify. (Note: The links are for playlists dated “March 31.” If you are so inclined, the playlist dated “05032020” also works for this practice.)

 

### OM OM AUM ###