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Hello Jen,

My ancestral connection to slavery is through my grandma’s grandfather Daniel Brown (1833 – 1885).

Daniel was a founding father for me and my sister and first cousins, second cousins and third cousins. He started from nothing and, over a lifetime, acquired over 500 acres of land in Chesterfield and Charlotte Counties, Virginia. Not only did he lift his children and grandchildren above the tumultuous fight for survival, his foresight and vision also ensured his grandchildren would not have to start from scratch as he did. My grandma and her cousins would take property holdings for granted and, like many Old Money families, this gave their descendants a head start in life.

When I read a book like Old Money: The Mythology of American’s Upper Class by Nelson W. Aldrich, Jr., I recognize stories of past ancestors and the elevating influence of the “Dead Hand” over generations.

I am disaffected by those who look at issues of race and racism through a purely “systemic” and “structural” lens since they are incapable of seeing my truth. Daniel was a founding father in the best sense of the term and his life story undercuts the force of institutional racism. There has always been a place for black foresight and vision. Why wouldn’t the woke be absolutely thrilled that a former slave – a man who could not read or write – bent the world according to his will for the benefit of generations into the distant future? The man died in 1885 and we still live in his wake over 135 years later.

When I share the tales of Daniel’s triumphs, the woke say Daniel was an outlier, an anomaly. They say his triumph against adversity is of no value to oppressed black people today in 2021!

Diminishing and discounting my ancestor doesn’t sit well with me. He’s not just my ancestor. For myself and a couple of hundred close and distant cousins, Daniel informs us on how to perceive and understand the world. How prejudiced must someone be to tell me my ancestor must be discounted and dismissed in the name of “social justice”?

Slave owners never saw the humanity in the descendants of slaves. When the woke turn a blind eye to a high-achieving black ancestor, it causes me to wonder if the woke are as incapable of seeing the humanity in black Americans as the old slavers were.

Before one can be an ally of black Americans, one must see the humanity in the descendants of American slaves.

Stuck in a snowstorm in Mammoth, California,


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I remember when I was very young, my mother had a rattan swinging chair. The kind that suspends from the ceiling. It was in my parent’s bedroom, next to the bathroom where she would spend time getting ready. I spent hours there as a child swinging back and forth and twirling around and around in much the same way as she twirled her blond hair around old metal curlers.

My mother, born into an era that applauded housewives as pinnacles of American morality, played her role dutifully, but you could tell there was an underlying tension. I believe she resolved it in the narrative she created for me. On a rather normal day that held no particular significance, I sat bouncing in the chair as my childlike mind explored my future. Maybe I’d be a nurse. After all, that was a profession many of my preschool playmates envisioned. Not one to buck the trend, it seemed good enough for me.

My mother did not have any problem with my pre-school nursing ambition. Still, she stopped her grooming to look at me. To pause and really see me, bouncing there in my underoos. She quietly, but with much determination, told me, “you can be anything you want to be. You can be president”.

I think that is the first time that I realized my own agency. Really? President? I had no idea.

Of course, being president was going to take some work on my end. My mother’s high expectations of my endless possibilities generated a determination on my part, not necessarily to be president, but to reach my full potential.

Soon after the idyllic days of the rattan chair, my dad decided to take a post as the Air Force Attaché in Rangoon, Burma. This was perhaps the second biggest development in my personal narrative. My little world expanded as I attended school with Koreans, Filipinos, the British and a cornucopia of other nationalities. My first two “boyfriends” were Thai and Filipino. I had the hots for the son of a Burmese Air Force liaison. I got in the most trouble with the Koreans.

At the age when stereotypes may usually develop and solidify, I was exposed to humanity across cultures. And ultimately, this exposure determined my trajectory, not to become a nurse or president, but to connect across disparate cultures in search of our common humanity.

Like you, the stories of oppression, systemic racism, and white supremacy, were just not a part of my experience. Granted, my experience was not your average American experience. However, having witnessed the brutality of the totalitarian Burmese junta, coupled with the commonality I found in the dreams and aspirations of my multicultural posse, I returned to America forever changed.

And perhaps this is why I am so uneasy with our current racial commentaries and discourse, or at least those that our media likes to highlight.

For example, in the past week, I’ve been reading a lot on a new trend that declares math is racist: one plus one may equal two, but if a child reaches a different conclusion and you correct them, you may be a racist. I read these stories in disbelief. I can’t help but wonder if the media is only picking up on fringe movements, or if this is really something that has wider appeal.

When I read such stories there is something that does ring true. We create narratives for ourselves from our experiences. If over time, some teachers teach down to students of color, assuming that math is not their strength, or if children were born into families that do not support educational pursuits, then this can have an impact on the story that starts to play into the minds of our children. They start to believe that they aren’t able to compete educationally, and this saying rings true – “whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.”

What I’ve found in all my travels is that the principles of liberty and freedom are universal human values that transcend culture. I witnessed it in the yearnings of liberation that surfaced shortly after we left Burma, resulting in a massive crackdown in 1988. A year later, we saw it again in China in the 1989 Tiananmen Square protests. Then again in the “color revolutions” in Eastern Europe.

What I found so remarkable was that our country in particular, and other Western countries in general, birthed these ideas. It is due to these western values that the only foreigners we didn’t engage with during our time in Burma were the North Koreans. A despotic nation so fearful of value contamination, they were not allowed to co-mingle in the ex-pat community where Westerners were present. Heck, we even hung out with the Russians, and this was the height of the Cold War. In fact, it was a true Russian bear hug from the Russian military attaché that perhaps did the most to solidify our common humanity in my young mind.
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Although these values did not extend to everyone at our founding, it is because of them that we have evolved to expand rights to women, people of color, those of different sexual orientations, and so on. It is because of these values and the agency of abolitionists like Frederick Douglass that we fought a civil war and ended slavery. And these values spurred Martin Luther King, Jr. to lead the Civil Rights Movement. While not always timely, and often marred with bloody struggle, we continue to expand these values.

The challenge to these values is the institutionalization of a narrative of oppression. This emerging discourse locks us into patterns that are hard to unravel. Indeed, unraveling the institutions that upheld racism has been a historic challenge. Instilling the ethos of oppression and “learned helplessness” is akin to the dumbing down of students of color, and ultimately the most egregious of racisms. Oppression and helplessness instill a lack of agency.

Liberation, freedom and equality – which I assume are the goals of our new activists – are suffocated without agency. But we can change the narrative.

The stories of your ancestors are a start. The stories of daughters who were told they could be president are a start. The story of a black man who did become president is a start.

As we engage in a more honest review of our history, we must wrangle with oppression, but let us not forget the stories of uplift and strength, the stories of Daniel Brown and many others who blazed their own trails despite the truly gigantic obstacles they faced.

In transit from Hyderabad to Dubai,


J.D. Richmond is the founder of Truth in Between and the host of the Hold my Drink Podcast: navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility. She is constantly searching for context through correspondence and conversation.

W.F. Twyman, Jr. is a former law professor in search of truth in the public square.

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, with the help of White Fragility author Robin DiAngelo, recently released a few resources to assist conversations on race. More specifically, the idea was to promote a dialogue on whiteness. According to their resource, Talking About Race:“Whiteness and the normalization of white racial identity throughout America’s history have created a culture where nonwhite persons are seen as inferior or abnormal.”

Of course, there is no provision made for how nonwhite persons see themselves. As part of their effort to explain whiteness, they crafted a handy chart (see picture, sourced from the Talking About Race webpage). This chart has since been curiously removed from the Talking About Race webpage.

If we were to design a similar chart on blackness (not something we suggest as we don’t think these blanket identifications are very meaningful), what would be included? For example, if whites value hard work, are we to assume that other races don’t? Would it be considered racist to create such a chart? If so, why? We understand the argument that whiteness is “normative” and therefore something that needs more scrutiny. However, if the argument goes that (as the Smithsonian intimates) whiteness exists because of blackness, then a more thorough examination would allow for a contrasting chart for context.

Let’s examine just a few of these assertions, starting with Rugged Individualism.

  • The individual is the primary unit
  • Self-reliance
  • Independence & autonomy highly valued + rewarded
  • Individuals assumed to be in control of their environment, “You get what you deserve

The black American experience is replete with examples of individuals who lived by self-reliance:

  • Rev. Lemuel Haynes taught himself to read the Bible by candlelight and displayed such high intelligence that he was urged to attend college in the late 1700s. He became the first black man ordained as a minister in the United States.
  • Macon Bolling Allen, with no forerunner to light his way, left his home in Indiana, traveled to Maine and was admitted to the Maine State Bar on July 3, 1844. Allen was the first black lawyer and judicial officer in this country.
  • John Mercer Langston sought training in the law from an Ohio judge. Langston would later become the top lawyer in his Ohio county during the 1850s, the founder of the law school at Howard University, Acting President of Howard University, and the first black congressman from Virginia.
  • Mordecai Johnson had a strong vision for Howard University when he was appointed president in 1926. Johnson set upon his task to transform Howard and lobbied Congress relentlessly over the next two to three years and was to secure permanent congressional funding. For this achievement, he was awarded the Spingarn Award for outstanding achievement by a black American.

These are just four out of thousands, if not millions, of examples we could give of black rugged individualism, not white rugged individualism but black rugged individualism.

What about the Protestant Work Ethic?

  • Hard work is the key to success
  • Work before play
  • “If you didn’t meet your goals you didn’t work hard enough”

From Booker T. Washington to George Washington Carver and from William T. Coleman, Jr. to Charles Hamilton Houston and many more, a strand of the Protestant work ethic has always run through black American culture. It was perhaps this assertion that led to the chart’s removal. The suggestion that black Americans don’t, or shouldn’t, value hard work is anathema to many black Americans’ life stories. Whiteness doesn’t have a monopoly on hard work.

And this work ethic along with other “white” traits aren’t the sole domain of those in America. As just one example, take the Igbo people of Nigeria. The Igbo culture is distinguished by ambition, achievement and striving. Some notable Igbos that exemplify this spirit include:

Let’s look at one more disputed example from the Smithsonian’s chart, Future Orientation.

  • Plan for future
  • Delayed gratification
  • Progress is always best
  • “Tomorrow will be better”

The Black American experience is flush with examples of individuals who set their eyes on the future. In honor of Black History Month, let’s lift up just a few of those who ushered in a better tomorrow for black Americans.

  • Because of the “future orientation” of Bishop Richard Allen in 1794, millions of worshipers would come to know the warm embrace of the African Methodist Episcopal Church throughout the world today.
  • Due to the steadfast desire of Hampton Institute graduate Booker T. Washington to uplift his people from the aftereffects of slavery in 1881, the lives and careers of thousands of black teachers would be made possible through that graduate’s creation, the Tuskegee Institute.
  • Out of the nadir of the 1910s came a Dunbar high school graduate, Charles Hamilton Houston, who upon completing his education with an S.J.D. at Harvard Law School in 1923, returned home to fight public school segregation throughout the 1930s and 1940s. After his death, his labors bore fruit and the U.S. Supreme Court declared in 1954 that public school desegregation was unconstitutional.

The racial caricatures conveyed in charts and discussions on racism fail to move us towards a better tomorrow. Instead, the emphasis on race has created more division and has lumped humans together into homogeneous masses based solely on the color of their skin. In essence, this serves to not only erase black culture and achievement, but also to undermine the universal connection of our common humanity. It is this recognition of our humanity that is the drumbeat of true racial reconciliation and equality in a liberal society.

To the coming of a better time,

J.D. Richmond & W.F. Twyman, Jr.

J.D. Richmond is the founder of Truth in Between and the host of the Hold my Drink Podcast: navigating the news and politics with a chaser of civility. She is constantly searching for context through correspondence and conversation.

W.F. Twyman, Jr. is a former law professor in search of truth in the public square.

After the tragic death of George Floyd, many people are working to tackle issues around racial equity and justice. As part of this endeavor, many groups, including the American Bar Association’s Civil Rights & Civil Liberties Section, have created a 21-day Racial Equity Reading Challenge. The idea is that it takes 21 days to change a habit, so taking time every day to better understand racial justice issues will assist our progress towards a more equitable society. We agree. We stand firm behind racial unity and justice. The problem we see is that so many of these reading lists lump black American thought into a homogeneous mass, failing to encompass alternative voices that are contrarian to the current racial dogma. We have taken the ABA Racial Challenge, modifying it slightly to include a day to review issues in law enforcement, and have provided supplemental readings/videos/podcasts from other prominent black voices (among a few others) for each day. We believe that the only way to really achieve racial unity and justice is through having genuine and uncomfortable discussions around a variety of views, engaging in Critical Thought missing in Critical Race Theory, that moves us past empty slogans to arrive at real solutions… together.

To the coming of a better time,

W.F. Twyman, Jr. & J.D. Richmond


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  • Project Implicit, Implicit Association Test (IAT), (This exercise requires navigating the sign up for the tests, which includes answering a series of questions for the researchers, but it is recommended that everyone do at least these tests: RaceSkin Tone, and Weapons-Race. Also, everyone is encouraged to add these tests if you are able: Asian American, Native American, and Arab-Muslim.)
  • Supplemental: Olivia Goldhill, The World is Relying on a Flawed Psychological Test to Fight Racism, Quartz (December 3, 2017)

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