Rogette Harris

Rogette Harris has been following American politics from a young age. As a teenager, she became involved with civil rights issues and became

Feb 17, 2021
Published on: pennlive
1 min read

By Joyce M. Davis

In their day, Marian Anderson, Leontyne Price, even the dignified Mahalia Jackson had to go through the back door to mesmerize audiences with their talents; a sign of their inferior status as Blacks in America society.

Today, acclaimed tenor Christyan Seay can walk through any front door of any Opera house anywhere in America, a sign of the progress Black Americans have made in the centuries-long march from slavery toward full equality.

But we ain’t there, yet.

That’s the consensus of respected Black leaders who participated in PennLive’s “Black Excellence” webinar that aired live Tuesday on Facebook.

State Rep. Chris Rabb, political activists Rogette Harris and Shavonnia Corbin-Johnson and businessman David Dix all acknowledged the history of achievements of African Americans to the nation and the gains that have been made in securing basic civil rights.

But each of these examples of Black excellence has a personal story of battling racism – overt and unconscious –- that still exists in American society and that still deprives too many Black people of a fair shot at the American dream.

'No America Without Black America'
An image stating 'No America Without Black America' is projected on to the pedestal of the statue of confederate General Robert E. Lee on Monument Avenue Wednesday July 22, 2020, in Richmond, Va. The statue has become a focal point for The Black Lives Matter protests in the area. (AP Photo/Steve Helber) AP

“Inequality and racism skips no one,” Harris said. No one, if you are Black in America.

Not everyone buys that, though. At least one reader who joined the discussion on Facebook Live rejected the idea that racism has any role to play in the lives of millions of African Americans.

“Everyone’s issues are created by their own actions,” the white reader wrote. “A person’s life is only what they make of it. I never had any[one] give me special privileges, so my suggestion is for people to work hard and make it happen like the rest of us.”

Amanda Lynn was quick to counter: “Because of your privilege (from being a white male), you don’t have the troubles that people of color do because of the color of your skin. That’s the difference.”

Lynn, who has clearly done her homework, tried to help the reader understand how he may have benefitted from a system that favored people who were white in some very basic ways. White people were never enslaved. The men, at least, were never denied the right to vote, to hold public office, to go to quality schools and to live wherever they wanted.

Ruby Bridges
FILE - U.S. Deputy Marshals escort 6-year-old Ruby Bridges from William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans, in this November 1960, file photo. On Friday, Nov. 14, 2014, 54 years later to the day when she first walked up the steps to the school, Bridges is scheduled to commemorate the event with the unveiling of a statue in her likeness on the campus. (AP Photo/File) ASSOCIATED PRESS

White men, at least, were never denied the right to work, and generations of white people were never denied quality healthcare, the right to eat at a lunch counter, drink from a water fountain or to use the bathroom.

The repercussions of these denials continue to reverberate in today’s society and to impact the descendants of people who were enslaved.

This isn’t an opinion, all of our speakers noted, it’s a cold, hard fact that is not all that hard to uncover.

KKK rally
The Ku Klux Klan, numbering about 55, marching through Houstons gay community under the protections of hundreds of policemen in Houston, Texas Saturday, June 9, 1984. No clashes occurred between spectators and Klansmen. (AP Photo/Ed Kolenovsky) AP

Black History Month, the speakers said, acknowledges the suffering of Black people brought to this country as slaves to build a great nation.

But, as Corbin-Johnson added, the month also acknowledges the struggles of the descendants of Black slaves who have endured centuries of abuse, oppression and legal discrimination even after slavery was abolished.

And Black History Month is a reminder that too many Americans are still complicit in the racism that lurks in our society, and that makes our police and criminal justice systems particularly threatening to Black people.

girl cries as she holds a sign that says say their names at a peaceful rally in chagrin falls
A rally that was originally scheduled for Tuesday afternoon, but had been canceled by the organizer, happened anyway in downtown Chagrin Falls on Tuesday afternoon, June 2, 2020. More than 100 protestors gathered to protest against the killing of George Floyd, and other black people who have been killed by police. David Petkiewicz, David Petkiewicz, David Petkiewicz,

It’s just a fact, the United States Sentencing Commission reports, that Black men face harsher penalties than whites for the same crimes. And African American men are harassed and face abuse from white police officers that far too frequently ends in death, i.e. George Floyd, Andre Maurice Hill, Patrick Lynn Warren, Casey Christopher Goodson, Sincere Pierce . . . and we could take up several pages with the names.

All of this means Black History Month is a time of both reflection and recommitment.

As Rep. Rabb said, it’s a time to reflect on the milestones and breakthroughs that have marked Black history, and to remember that the struggle for equal rights continues.

In 2021, Black people may not face the same brutality of whippings, lynchings and rape that our ancestors endured.

Harrisburg demonstration to protest the murder of George Floyd, June 1
A demonstration is held at the state Capitol by 'The Movement-Harrisburg's Protest to Protect all People,' to protest racism and oppression and the murder of George Floyd. June 1, 2020. Dan Gleiter |

But young Black people, now joined by thousands of “woke whites,” as some put it, still have to march and protest for full equality.

Because the simple truth is: “We ain’t there yet.”