America’s broken promise to Black people

There’s a familiar promise embedded in my head: You can become anything.

Parents, teachers, pastors, graduation speakers, and even melodically-gifted Sesame Street muppet characters repeated that promise to me when I was a child. But as a Black kid growing up in Oklahoma, I’d also hear another refrain, one that rebuffed “proper English”: We can’t have nothing. I knew I’d spend my life balancing the promise of endless possibility for personal achievement with the reality that Black folk in America can’t seem to have anything — or at least, we can’t have anything permanently.

My parents and grandparents came to America in the 1960s and ’70s from Jamaica.


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