If you have not already, please be sure to head on over to this post and check out Fiza Pathan’s touching review of I am Soul. I’ll be quoting her review throughout this post but reading it in full will help you add context to what I say here (there is also an audio version of the review on her blog).
“I have read many books and articles about the way a woman of color is treated in society, especially in Indian society. I have studied History and Sociology throughout my college career which gave me a lot of material to study about the situation of colored people in Indian society. But to be frank, I’m not that well equipped to talk or speak about Black American History or the Black American contemporary views on life, culture, society, history, politics, education, et al.” (Pathan, 2019)
Pathan is not the only reader to have confided she is not well versed in Black American History. People have told me on more than one occasion of their lack of extensive knowledge in this area. This does not surprise me. It is why writing on the experiences of Blacks in America is important to me. Like Paul of the bible, I am sent to the nations (Acts 22:21) to bring light to what America has tried to keep hidden for too long.
Americans underestimate how information is disseminated across the world. The news and the information we are exposed to in America is not necessarily the same information that is exposed to people in other parts of the world. Historically, news traveled through radios, television, books, and newspapers. What mainstream media wanted you to know is what you knew. If America didn’t want other countries to see how it treated Black Americans, those countries didn’t see it.
“I have started reading Black American literature in general after I turned 28 years of age in 2017, because of the poems and writings of Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Langston Hughes, Alice Walker, James Baldwin and Dorothy West. Yes, you’d wonder where I was and what I was doing with my life, but the fact is that, all said and done, I have just begun to realize the richness and depth of the Black-American experience. ‘I Am Soul’ by Yecheilyah Ysrayl is one book among many that are educating women of color like me from far off countries like India, especially recluses like me, and I’m glad I am being educated.”
– Pathan, 2019
Today, Social Media is a significant catalyst for uncovering the truth about what Blacks have endured and the many businesses and products blacks have invented and how those inventions have been credited to other people. While we must be cautious not to spread disinformation (See this post here), there is still a lot of good that has resulted from the social media revolution. Information is coming out at a rapid speed of both the good and bad historical facts so that there is a desperate need of keen discernment. One such example is the testimony from notable black writers that Blacks could not eat vanilla ice cream in the Jim Crow south, and that they only allowed us to eat it on Independence Day.
“People in Stamps used to say that the whites in our town were so prejudiced that a Negro couldn’t buy vanilla ice cream. Except on July Fourth. Other days he had to be satisfied with chocolate.”
– Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
While visiting Washington D.C. with her parents around Independence Day, poet Audre Lorde’s mom wanted to treat her to some vanilla ice cream, but they refused the family:
“The waitress was white, the counter was white, and the ice cream I never ate in Washington DC that summer I left childhood was white, and the white heat and white pavement and white stone monuments of my first Washington summer made me sick to my stomach for the rest of the trip.” – Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name
The “White Ice Cream,” rule is said to be more folklore than truth. But why? This is an example of a history hidden and then revealed because of the widespread use of Social Media. Prohibiting blacks from eating vanilla ice cream is not far-fetched, considering the pettiness of Jim Crow law. If blacks couldn’t swim in the same water as whites, it’s not so hard to believe they couldn’t eat white ice cream.
Fun Fact: The vanilla bean is brown and was cultivated and improved by an enslaved black man named Edmund Albuius. In ice cream, a small amount of vanilla is used compared to the other ingredients so that it still looks white (from the milk, cream, white sugar). If a larger quantity of vanilla is used, it would probably be more colored. Take these bars of soap.
“The soap above is scented with Vanilla Sandalwood Fragrance Oil, which discolors dark brown. The tan color will continue to darken over time.” – Bramble Berry, Soap Queen (3 days later, the vanilla in the soap turned it even darker…)
But let’s not digress. The point is, vanilla bean is brown, not white. Joke was on Jim Crow…
“While Jim Crow laws, extensively documented in print and historical record, are fairly well known, less well known are the unspoken etiquette rules for Black people, largely forgotten by anyone who didn’t have to live under them. During Jim Crow, Black people could pick up food at establishments that served white people, but they often could not eat in them. When custom demanded that Black people be served separately from whites, they were often required to have their own utensils, serving dishes, and condiments. So it was customary for Black families who were traveling to carry everything they might possibly need so that (with the help of the Green Book, the guide that helped Black travelers eat, sleep, and move as safely as possible) they could navigate America in relative comfort.”
– Mikki Kendall, Hot Sauce in her Bag, 2016
Black history has been just as raped and stolen and manipulated as her people. Black American History is more than slavery and Civil Rights, but slavery and Civil Rights is still part of that history and must never be forgotten. Black history is the birth of a nation, its upbringing, its captivity, and its overcoming. It is all of it. The good, the bad, and the ugly. We were not only slaves but also soldiers. Not only captives but also captains. We were/are a wealthy people, royal, smart, salt. We are seasoning and soil. But where were we born? How did we begin? What happened once we got here? These are the questions I seek to answer in my literature and articles so that the voices unheard in mainstream media can speak through me and prophesy the truth.
“‘I Am Soul’ to me is a book about being a part of a history that none can forget, but that slowly is changing the way we look at this race of people past, present and to a bright future, God willing.”
– Pathan, 2019
There is something special about the plight of the so-called Black American. What is to be revealed about these people stolen and transported to foreign lands in the bowels of slave ships? These people once stripped of their nationality and culture and are now returning to their natural heritage? Because of Social Media, this truth is easier to disseminate and verify. We have eBooks we can download in an instant, online journals and periodicals, and scholarly material at our fingertips. And we have Independent Publishing whereby artists can write and publish these truths without prejudice.
“Lastly, I would like to recommend this lovely and enriching book to everyone, irrespective of race, community, religion, caste and gender. I hope to review more books by Yecheilyah Ysrayl soon and hopefully, when I do so, I will be more capable of giving a more enlightened review as I will be reading more books about Black American history and literature in the future.” – Fiza Pathan
Maya Angelou, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Audre Lorde, Zami: A New Spelling of My Name