Dear Racism, I am my Grandmother Azie Lee.  (In Response to BS "Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These Hands." t-shirts)

by Rachael Edwards

There is a T-shirt image that is floating around the interwebs. The t-shirt reads, “Dear Racism, I am not my grandparents. Sincerely, These hands”. The first time I came across this image was in the hub of where most of our internet content derives from, Tumblr. I remember reading the shirt because I had seen similar ones before like “Nah.” - Rosa Parks.  I didn’t have a problem with the Rosa Parks one, I thought it was a fresh take of imagining what youth would say if presented with that scenario today.  However, this t-shirt rubs me the wrong way, and for a number of reasons.


To begin with, my generation has to understand that we did not create resistance. The movement that is happening now, whether you call it Black Lives Matter, Black Liberation, or whatever echoes liberation movements before this. To be specific, Civil Rights Movement, Black Panther Movement etc. We are not the first ones to boldly challenge racism.  Particularly this  t-shirt gives way to false assumptions that our black grandparents, our great grandparents, and ancestors were docile. Um. Can you see why this is problematic? That is an unfair assessment also considering there is no historical backing that supports the claim that our grandparents were docile.

My Grandmother,

Azie Lee Oglesby

was born in the 20’s. Her parents were sharecroppers in North Carolina and she had a ton of siblings. When my siblings and I were younger, we used to go over to her home on the weekends, she would tell us stories of how overt racism was when she was younger. One time she told us about when two white girls were teasing and picking with Azie Lee’s younger sister.

Azie Lee never played.

She fought the two white girls and I remember her telling us that her parents scolded her because of the fear of being lynched  or that the house would be burned down. Fortunately enough, that did not happen.


My father once told me a story about when race riots were happening in Baltimore in 1968  that my Grandma Azie would go into these spaces with machetes in her trench jacket. She ain’t never played with white folks. She was not docile. She was not meek. She didn’t toy with racism.

Another reason why these t-shirts are problematic is that the creators and the wearers of them are dishonoring those who came and fought before us. Our ancestors went through back breaking chattel slavery, just to be freed and tossed into the throes sharecropping, Jim Crow, Segregation, crack epidemic, and mass incarceration. They fought. Some of them are still fighting. How dare we assume they were docile?

Were the four little girls who died in the Birmingham church bombing in 1963 docile? Was Emmett Till docile? Was MLK? Malcolm? Assata? Angela? The list can go on forever.

We, as a people are already doused in miseducation of our history, let’s not put more fuel to the fire with this dishonoring rhetoric. Our grandparents and ones before them fought like hell and many died for it.

Don’t let me catch you on these streets with that shirt on.

Signed,

These Hands.