In the 1980s, there was a slogan “it’s a black thing you won’t understand.” However, history is not a black thing, it is an American thing so you need to understand. In the words of MLK, “our destiny is tied up with the destiny of America…we are caught up in an inescapable network of mutuality.”
I want to use Black History Month to go beyond the usual black contributions. It is generally true that people do not do anything without a self-interest. Even with the best intentions, self-preservation is always lurking in a dark corner under the guise of goodwill or karma. I am not exempt. So allow me to appeal to the self-preservationist in you. United we [America] stands and divided we fall.
Some are saying, why do you have to always bring up racism? Forgive and forget. It is the same as an unfaithful spouse asking why the other spouse keeps bringing up past infidelities that is water under the bridge. Because the water under the bridge is about to overtake the bridge. There is a myth circulating in America that we no longer have a race problem. I guess the men working on the World Trade Center never received that memo because co-workers scrawled racial epithets on the bathroom walls. What is supposed to symbolize America’s resilience is graffiti by American workers with messages of hate and bigotry.
The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie – deliberate, contrived and dishonest – but the myth – persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic. – JFK
Overt racism that existed in pre-Civil Rights era may be more or less “water under the bridge,” but I would argue that covert prejudice and racism is more dangerous than overt racism. At least with overt racism you immediately know where you stand. Covert racism is the snake. On the outside, it is all warm and goodness, but the inside still holds on to old stereotypes and prejudice. Another analogy, covert racism is “George Wickham” in Pride and Prejudice pretending to have the goodness of a “Mr. Darcy.” In the words of the Temptations, “smiling faces, smiling faces tell lies sometimes they don’t tell the truth… your enemy won’t do you no harm, cause you’ll know where he’s coming from, don’t let the handshake and the smile fool ya’.”
In a previous blog, I referred to America as a jambalaya. Only in America can nothing become something regardless of money, race or religion. America is the great equalizer. Like New York, America is a place people love and love to hate. Hate it or love it, one thing that other nations cannot deny is that it is the land of opportunity for all – race, gender, or religion. In other countries, even westernized capitalist nations, you must be born into a certain class, society, money or certain opportunities are not available to you. Here in America, moxie, chutzpah, and determination can be as good as gold. We love an underdog. America became a shining beacon because like most couples, we have had some unsavory history that almost sent us to divorce – Civil War. To deny that as a nation we don’t have the best history, particularly when it comes to our native people and formerly enslaved people, is a fallacy and akin to a person saying past infidelities don’t count.
What currently insists on truth is disproved, because Lie or her younger sister, Deception, often hands over only the most acceptable part of a memory, the part that sounds plausible on paper. – Gunter Grass
The problem of post WWI Germany was saying they had an economic problem and the reason for ethnic/racial cleansing was to resolve economic problems. America is going through some tough economic problems. I fear that in people’s desperation for jobs and security, they are turning to old ghosts. You already see it happening in Europe. Countries once touted for tolerance are now becoming less than tolerant and blaming current economic woes on immigrants and ethnic minorities they once welcomed in their countries. Denmark and Switzerland are confiscating property from asylum seekers as payment for entering the country.
The past may not repeat itself, but it sure does rhyme. – Mark Twain
What history teaches is that men have never learned anything from it. – Hegel
I hear American politicians and others say things so racially tinged and then have the audacity to say it was not meant to be racial. This was most notable after President Obama’s re-election in November. Twitter was abuzz with tweets referring to the President as a monkey and some flat out used the “n” word. First, if you do not like the President’s policies, why not attack him on those issues? I have not always agreed with him, but why was it necessary to resort to racial slurs to attack his policies. Second, Barack Obama is bi-racial, half Caucasian. Why have people chosen to refer solely to his African ancestry in attacking him? If you believe the rhetoric/myth, an African-American president has signaled the end of racism in America. The world watched America in 2008 because they knew if it could happen, it would happen here. And it did happen in the land of the free and home of the brave, that a person of color was elected by the people as president of one of the greatest and powerful nations. That is what sets America apart from other nations.
America has a rich history that also has a sordid past – slavery and our treatment of Native Americans. Instead of trying to hide the sordidness under a rug, let us acknowledge this country could not be what it is but for the contributions of blacks and Native Americans.
We, America, are a big interracial family. Sometimes we agree, sometimes we argue, but in the end – we are still family. Contributions from all of our family members makes us great. For the month of February, America acknowledges a family member that was often neglected, abused, and mistreated: African-Americans. As slaves, they built the literal foundations of American freedom – the White House and Capitol. After slavery, from nothing (no forty acres, no mule) they contributed to American firsts in science, medicine, politics, technology, and the arts. African-American contributions went beyond the black community, aiding the struggle of women, immigrants, and other disenfranchised people. America, this is your history. We have not reached King’s mountaintop.
Let us all hope that the dark clouds of racial prejudice will soon pass away and the deep fog of misunderstanding will be lifted from our fear-drenched communities and in some not too distant tomorrow the radiant stars of love and brotherhood will shine over our great nation with all of the their scintillating beauty. – MLK
I salute: Lewis Latimer, Granville Woods, Dr. Daniel Hale Williams, Dr. Charles Drew, Mary Eliza Mahoney, Dr. James Derham, John S. Rock, Thurgood Marshall, John Mercer Langston, Bishop James Augustine Healy, Augustine Tolton, Dr. Ralph Bunche, Garrett Morgan, Matthew Henson, Vivien Thomas, Elijah McCoy – the real McCoy… and many more of African-Americans who contributed to the black history, American history, and world history.
This originally appeared on Ronda’s blog, Ronda-isms.