Bucks County Needs to Resist the Current Conservative Backlash to Racial and Social Progress

It’s timely and fitting that this year’s theme for Black History Month is “Black Resistance.”
Image courtesy of Shutterstock.

To resist is American. 

It’s what we’ve done from the very beginning. When I say ‘we’ I mean all of us as Americans – it’s how we collectively released ourselves from overseas rule by the British. When I say ‘beginning’ I mean America’s earliest days dating back to over 150 years before the revolution, when the foundations of what would become these United States were first established.

You see, resistance is sacred to Black America and has been since we were first kidnapped and trafficked here. If America as an institution owes its democracy to resistance, Black America as a people owe our very existence to it. We are still here and still persisting because of our ability to resist intentions to break us. Intentions that predate the very first days of the institution of America as a nation. We are going to need this propensity for resistance if we are to continue to overcome these same intentions today.

It’s timely and fitting then, that this year’s theme for Black History Month is “Black Resistance.” 

If we look back through the history of racial progress in this country, we see a pattern showing that after each advance there comes a backlash, a powerful and seemingly ubiquitous wave of opposition designed to roll these advances back. It happened after Slavery during the Reconstruction. It happened during the Civil Rights Movement two generations ago. It happened when Obama was succeeded by Trump and the rise of the alt-right. And I have reason to believe it’s happening right now, right here in Pennsylvania.

Backlash looks like attempts to reconfigure history to fit the conservative narrative. We saw this last year when Bucks County school districts challenged or even outright did away with DEI initiatives. Some of those same districts are now looking at the 1776 Curriculum to replace it, or cutting the number of required social studies graduation requirements to avoid having to teach an accurate representation of the truth of this nation, replacing it instead with a sanitized version.

Backlash looks like attempts to redraw maps to fit the conservative agenda. Attempts to gerrymander voting regions in Central Bucks flew under the radar for a long period of time, the desired outcome of which would have effectively denied citizens their right to vote in upcoming school board elections.

Backlash looks like attempts to stifle access to truth in education that makes conservatives uncomfortable. It looks like book bans and approving policies like 321. It is allowing far-right organizations designated as hate groups by the SPLC to influence what our students can say, express, learn and ultimately think.

So if this is the backlash, what does resistance look like?

Resistance to this looks like a coalition of concerned citizens raising awareness around gerrymandering, then petitioning and gaining enough signatures to challenge this effort. This is a real-world example of voter disenfranchisement that was stopped in its tracks due to resistance in line with Black interests around the right for all citizens to have equal access to the vote.

Resistance looks like continuing to hold our elected School board members accountable for policies like 321. It looks like uncovering and continuing to challenge the extremist groups that are working behind the scenes to shape school policy with taxpayer dollars. It looks like continuing to challenge the mockery of “neutrality” espoused by these organizations.

Resistance is being able to advocate for inclusive reading material that informs our students and our populace about more than one group’s contributions to history. It compels us to seek knowledge and get curious about our nuanced, complex, and often turbulent American history instead of pretending the truth around this history is actually some sort of agenda to harm white feelings.

In the wake of the summer of 2020 the we saw a new awareness around racial consciousness flow into the mainstream. And now, three years later, we are seeing, hearing, and feeling the tangible effects of a concentrated and focused backlash against what from all angles looks like both direct and indirect opposition to Black people, our legacy, our interests, and our contributions to and in this country. It is important for me to re-emphasize that here in Bucks County, where Black people are outnumbered by wide margins, we need white allies to listen to our concerns, take up the mantle of Black Resistance alongside us, take cues from us and our ancestors who also fought for equality right here.

But most importantly what we need is for all of us, Black and non-Black, to pull up our collective sleeves and to not give up the struggle. I know how exhausting it can be, believe me. From the words of the late, great John Lewis:

“Do not get lost in a sea of despair. Be hopeful, be optimistic. Our struggle is not the struggle of a day, a week, a month, or a year, it is the struggle of a lifetime. Never, ever be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.”

From the time dating back to the Underground Railroad, Bucks has had a prominent place in the history of Black Resistance. That history is far from over, and is in fact taking shape as I type this. There’s never been a better time or place to continue to resist than where you are right now.

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Kevin E. Leven

Kevin E. Leven is co-leader of the Bucks County Anti-Racism Coalition, A 501(c)(3) nonprofit charity organization dedicated to educating, informing, and taking action on matters of racial justice.

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