If you put a frog in a pot of boiling water he’ll jump out; however, if you put him in a pot of cold water and slowly increase the temperature, he adjusts to the increasing heat until his system can no longer compensate. Then, stressed and overwhelmed with what he has endured, he dies. The frog will stay in the increasingly unhealthy, dangerous situation because it happened gradually over time and he ignored his natural ability to sense the danger and get out of the situation.
Are African Americans behaving like this frog? In virtually every area that matters, African Americans are in hot water. We have poorer health outcomes (than our white counterparts). Our life span is shorter. We earn less, even with comparable levels of education. Our children score lower on important educational indices and are less likely to obtain college degrees. We are incarcerated at higher rates for longer periods of time. The inequalities are endless. All of these injustices didn’t happen overnight. For generations, systems and policies were established to minimize and marginalize the natural God-given abilities of people of color. How do you undo the damage caused by generations of living in hot water? The damage to the spirit, self-esteem, and core identity of African Americans is not easily erased. Many would say times are changing. But large-scale change does not come quickly or easily. That means that many African Americans today still find themselves in increasingly hot water.
The thing is the frog had the ability to get himself out of the hot water the entire time. He became used to the stressful situation and didn’t use his own God given ability to save himself. The frog’s basic instinct is to jump. He just didn’t do it. But that doesn’t mean he no longer knew how.
As African Americans, have we become so accustomed to the dangers in our communities that we have stopped trying to save ourselves. Are we waiting for someone else to turn down the heat and get us out of the situation? Just like the frog, we have in us, individually and collectively, the ability to save ourselves, our children and our communities. We need to dig deep and rediscover the strength and resilience of our ancestors and our culture. We need to teach our children the values that have driven the successes of the past rather than today’s values of instant gratification. We must teach our children that they are valued and valuable even when everything seems to point to the contrary. We have to give them back their ability to dream so they can imagine themselves, and our world, in a new way. They must learn to imagine a world where we are no longer behind. A world where we are treated fairly and there is equal access to quality education, health care, jobs and housing.
We need to give our children hope. It’s time to jump out of the hot water and save ourselves, our children and our communities. –dr. tanya a royster, psychiatrist clinician and administrator