Donna M. Jackson: Sociologist Redefining Empathy and Value

Examining the Black Community, Donna M. Jackson emphasizes the importance of reclaiming our self-worth.

Let’s get honest with ourselves for a moment. Let’s get real with the feelings that we’ve let simmer on the back burner long enough. Constantly focused on cooking up our next idea that will hopefully take us to better positions than where we are in life. Yes, goal setting is important to helping you map out success, however often there is still something missing or a disconnect in how we reach them. What is that lingering feeling, pulling back our shoulders with every strive forward? Black Sociologist and author of Race, Poverty and Progress: An American Paradox, Donna M. Jackson helps us examine this by unfolding the contexts of Black lives in America.

Why is the written word important to you? “To me, it’s permanent and I realized that I’m not. It had allowed me to see a little immortality in there.” -Donna M. Jackson

There are two things that can make a writer’s job challenging: Having a writer’s “block” with no spark to write from, then there is moments when they may be overwhelmed with thoughts, causing crowded pages of words in excitement. Interviewing Jackson and completing her book swiftly shifted me into the second category. As another proud Black woman, born and raised in the Midwest, her story felt personal for so-so many reasons. As a child, Jackson found herself curious about many people, ideas, and things. While being shaped by the world, she began focusing her efforts on examining the lives and culture of the Black community.

Advice to young writers:One of my truisms is, you can’t give someone something that you don’t have. You don’t have to revamp yourself into someone else.“-Donna M. Jackson

 When asked about what brought her to this point of dissecting our existence, the discussion began to unwind expeditiously. After leaving college with a B.A and M.A. in Sociology, Jackson states that she began looking for the thread that runs through people’s lives. “It’s important to write about the happiness that is found at so many levels. To celebrate the ownership of our destiny and to find pride in our own stories”, she proclaimed. The idea of ownership of our own destinies became even more thought provoking as she continued speaking to her life and career path.

In the end, I have to redefine progress for myself in order to be content with my growth in life.” -Donna M. Jackson from Race, Poverty and Progress

 Through living, education and experience, Jackson found sociology to be the key to taking control of your own destiny. Thankfully, she has come to a point of sharing her profound findings with the rest of the Black community through her recently published work, Race, Poverty and Progress: An American Paradox. The necessary work breaks down these three pillars of our society and the forced perceptions that have been reflected in the Black community.

The book gives a transformative look at what has shaped us in approximately the last 60 years in this country. Opening on “Race”, she states, “The tricky part about group racial identity is that it can be prescriptive; telling you what you can and cannot do. It may mold and overshadow individual identity to an uncomfortable degree (Jackson, 37)”. This was one of many times throughout the work that she addresses the need to understand where we are collectively but also where each of us are individually in relation to achieving “the American dream”.

 Jackson questions how capitalism plays a role in the ways we think and the value we place on ourselves in a country that was built by Black hands but places nothing in them in return. She further expands on the effects of how the poverty the community may be stricken with, connects to the progress or lack thereof that we have seen. Her work also examines how society places more emphases on those with more money or notoriety vs the lopsided amount of “regular” people.

When we look back at the past, we tend to have selected memory: we remember all the great people and everyone else gets swept up in a pile of refuse…the unnamed unknowns. So, I wonder about the regular people…not the ones featured in the history books. Are regular people not just as important? (Jackson, 118)

Jackson truly reinforces how understanding ourselves individually is an integral part of living with purpose and what an evaluation of what our own progress looks like. “This rebranding of Blackness is a perpetual act that has morphed into many things during my lifetime. I have always seen it as a striving toward self-love (Jackson, 185). The quest we are on will always be our own but along the way, it’s possible to think that what we deem as progress has gotten lost in translation. Her work is a call back to us, a realization that everything of most value is already inside. We will never be left out or behind on what is already ours.

Michelle L. Hill
Michelle L. Hill

Explorer of new worlds. Lover of Black music, art and culture. Writer and Editor for The Black Sunflower.

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