By Walter Smith
Freedom’s Journal, the first African American newspaper, emerged out of a need to counter racist, degrading and pro-slavery commentary that was published in the mainstream press.
Papers such as the New York Inquirer, New York Courier, National Advertiser, Evening Star and Sunday Times all wrote articles degrading the newly freed slaves, portraying them as ignorant children who needed the support of whites to survive and who were happier as slaves.
They were depicted as inferior to whites and a threat to society if set free.
Founded in New York, Freedom’s Journal’s editors, John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish declared in their first issue, “Too long have others spoken for us, too long has the public been deceived by misrepresentations.”
They wanted the newspaper to strengthen the autonomy and common identity of African Americans in society. That was 187 years ago.
Still today, people of African descent are characterized as dangerous criminals and less than desirable citizens of the country in which they reside.
Forbes Magazine publishes an annual list of the most dangerous cities in America, and every year the list is topped with cities that have heavy Black populations.
Detroit Michigan tops the list. Detroit is 84 percent Black. Because of color based racism, African Americans are charged with committing the most violent crimes, viewed as sub-human beings and are held responsible for the tremendous burden on the US welfare system.
Before we buy into that premise, I offer you the following statistics: In the United States, African Americans constitute roughly 13.1 percent of the entire population.
Of that, 9.5 million are children enrolled in public school; 3 million are enrolled in college. 256,000 serve in the military, 845,000 are in prison and 2.6 million are under the age of 6.
In absence of scientific data, we can assume that of the 42 million Black citizens in the US, 21 million can be eliminated from a life of violence and crime because of age and socioeconomic status.
Considering the above analysis, that leaves less than 1 pecent of the US Black population to create the criminal and social havoc that is attributed to its Black citizens.
We as Black publishers know our communities and our neighborhoods, and it is our responsibility to negate this theory.
Recently, the National Newspaper Publishers Association, held its winter conference in Isla Verde near San Juan, Puerto Rico.
One of the publishers decided to rent a bicycle and take a bike ride on the bike trail through Pinones.
Pinones is a local recreational area on route 187 between Isla Verde and Loiza.
This rustic area has beaches, mangroves, restaurants, and an 11- kilometer nature trail.
Biking through Pinones is a favorite activity of locals.
It is the scenic route to Loiza winding its way along the sea shore for 13 miles, past the various kiosks where one can sample various local delicacies and “Coco Frios”. (Cold coconut water).
In the bike rental process, the publisher was instructed not to go to Loiza because it was the most dangerous and unsafe town in Puerto Rico.
This allegation simply is NOT true. Loiza’s residents are Puerto Ricans of color.
Puerto Rico has a rich history evolving around African slaves and emigrants.
One place in particular is Loiza. It was settled by Nigerian slaves of the Yoruba tribe in the 16th century.
Loíza is a center for African-inspired traditions.
The town and municipality of Loíza remains the largest culturally Afro- Caribbean community in Puerto Rico, and their customs and culture retain strong ties to their historic heritage.
Sports and art are prevalent in the town, personified by world renowned artists Samuel Lind, Jose Ayala, the Artist of masks, and Jerome Mincy, the pride of Memphis Tennessee and legendary Puerto Rican basketball star.
The list goes on including attorneys, doctors, university deans and other professionals who have their week-end residences along the ocean front in Loiza.
The people of Loiza are hospitable, friendly, and accommodating.
With all that said, and the cautionary instructions of the bicycle rental agent, there still exists a need to refute the myth that ALL people of African descent are undesirable and dangerous criminals.
This writer has maintained a home in Loiza, Puerto Rico for the past nine years, frequented most of the restaurants, drank with friends at the local bars, shopped in the local supermarkets and shopping malls, hosted numerous parties, and has not witnessed one incident of violence or crime.
This is not to say that crime does not exist in Loiza.
Crime exists all over the world, and one has to exercise caution and good judgment always.
However, in the US and wherever its color based racism is exported, it is assumed that the presence of people of African descent dramatically increases the area’s crime rate.
In the rural areas of Puerto Rico one never hears the descriptive “white” or “black” Puerto Ricans. They are all Puerto Ricans.
However, in tourist towns and resorts where color based racism has been imported, it is prevalent.
Like Freedom’s Journal, we must get back to the business of protecting our image as people of African descent and to negate the premise that our basic instinct is towards crime and violence.
The negative characterization of one African descendant is a negative characterization of all African descendants.
As long as we allow color based racism to survive, no person of African descent will ever be respected for their true place in society.