Presence Part 1

pre.sence /ˈprezəns/

Noun: presence
  1. The state or fact of existing, occurring or being present in a place or thing
  • a person or thing that exists in a place but is not seen
  • a group of people, especially soldiers or police, stationed in a particular place
  • the impressive manner or appearance of a person

When one considers the theme of Engaging African American Presence in Horsemanship, all of the above definitions apply. Matters of existence, visibility, place, impression, and appearance enter the imagination and dialogue. And because a sincere discussion of African American presence, in any context, necessarily directly or indirectly involves African American history, we make our first consideration there.

We do this admitting that most of us just don’t know much African American history. The telling of the story of America usually contains a skeletal African American narrative, giving the impression that African American history is secondary, not central, to the whole. Nothing could be further from the truth, however, and such treatment obfuscates facts and ultimately denies a sense of full citizenship and place in society to African Americans.

Such a limited approach to history (which has prevailed in our schools and public discourses) sustains a view and place of subordination and inferiority to African Americans. The broader effect is that nationally we lack agreed upon, cohesive historical wisdom and are left with a fragmented national identity.  This is the matrix in which discontent, division, and disarray on racial matters have thrived. The results are not only destructive to African Americans, but also to the society at large. We can do better.

Without compromising tact and diplomacy, we wish to suggest that the history of African American presence in horsemanship has followed the same pattern of historical thinking. And so we must objectively start by acknowledging it too, as a history that has been unknown, neglected, and underappreciated. In these pages, we will ponder  African American participation in equestrian sport as a type of the larger picture of African American presence in the American story.

We recognize in the horse industry and its development a pattern that excludes, omits, dismisses, disavows, or replaces African American presence. We consider that in light of the historical record, these deliberate and persistent practices are without merit (or honor), distort realities, create and sustain a destructive false narrative, and limit possibilities.

We humbly yet forthrightly share these observations with no intent of blaming, shaming, or malice, but for the sake of healing, opportunity, and quite frankly, love of the industry and its potential.

And so, while we hope to give an accurate and objective historical and contemporary account, we will not linger unnecessarily on unpleasant past realities. Instead, we will tell the history, highlighting a dynamic African American presence in equestrian sport and space.

African Americans were present at the genesis of equestrian activity in the United States and central to the development of the industry. Even so, the historical footprint of African Americans in the industry is undetectable or at best, obscure. To fill the void of accurate historical knowledge, in these pages, we present the untold history of African American presence in equestrian space not as “revisionist’ or “Afro-centric history” (as African American history is often pejoratively characterized), but with stories of real people, places, events, and activity.

At present, African Americans are considerably underrepresented in the industry. Any sincere consideration of presence not only makes the telling of a historical presence requisite but also engages questions concerning the currently limited participation and/or invisibility of African Americans in equestrian sport and industry. Hence, we will look at what has been, what currently is, and what can be the future of African American presence in horsemanship.

Reader, you are invited to imagine and ponder the notion of Equestrian Equality. Let us think of inclusivity as an achievable possibility as we read Langston Hughes’ poem I, Too

I, too, sing America.

I am the darker brother.

They send me to eat in the kitchen

When company comes,

But I laugh,

And eat well,

And grow strong.

Tomorrow,

I’ll be at the table

When company comes.

Nobody’ll dare

Say to me,

“Eat in the kitchen,”

Then.

Besides,

They’ll see how beautiful I am

And be ashamed—

I, too, am America.

 

 

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