It’s February and that means my son-in-law, who is African American and a spoken word poet, is booked solid with school appearances. He’ll share Black History through his poetry and hope these words will alter attitudes of mind, heart and spirit. By the end of February he will be exhausted, but he’ll have a year to recuperate.
Dr. Carl G. Woodson single handedly started “Negro History Week” in 1926. He chose a week in mid February because it was the birth month of two individuals significant to the change of life conditions for African Americans: Abolitionist Frederick Douglass and President Abraham Lincoln. It began as a week and expanded to a month because there is so much to tell. Woodson was a historian and inaugurated it because it's important for people to know their contribution to humanity. He hoped it would outlive its usefulness. Woodson was an optimist. But then he would have to be to have been born of slave parents and end up with a doctorate from Harvard.
Eighty-six years later it is still needed because it’s never been taken seriously by everyone and by that I refer mostly to white people who believe it is not our history.
When whites discuss American slavery someone will point to the barbarism of other cultures including African and that Africans sold Africans. All true. But what was unique and devastating about American slavery is rarely considered. In America ill conceived science and the Bible were used to not only justify it but to prove Blacks were not fully human. Slavery ended but those ideas were not retracted and continued to be taught and assumed for generations. It's why when I was in college there were girls from small rural towns who believed Blacks grew tails at midnight. They heard that all their lives and never questioned it.
We know what happens in a family when horrific abuse is committed and no one acknowledges it or gets counseling. Refusing to talk about it or minimizing the damage doesn't make it disappear. It effects every family member...the abused and the abuser and the ones on the perimeter. Some escape and find their own way to heal. But not everyone has that fortitude or even understands how sick they are.
I think whites are still ashamed and believe if we were black we'd hate us for what was done. That's something we need to get over. It is time to take that unflinching look at what happened, understand the impact, and begin the process of reconciliation.
I hoped we were coming to the point Dr. Woodson envisioned and could eliminate Black History Month because we were ready to be truthful. But last year a conservative group in Texas forced through changes in textbooks to portray slavery in a more positive light and this year the Tennessee Tea Party renewed an effort to remove slavery references and mention of the country's forefathers being slave owners.
We need to fight ignorance with knowledge. That is why it is important for whites embrace Black History. Whites need to call other whites on the lies.
That anyone survived the horrors of slavery is amazing. If whites can thrill at the accomplishments of black athletes and share in their victory and wear the T shirts, why can't we feel proud of Black Americans who survived slavery? And cheer those who have became successful despite institutionalized racism?
Fellow white folks, it’s February. Check your TV guide and watch a reality show that will restore your faith in the human spirit.
And then tell everyone.
This link will most likely upset you (I hope):
This one, "Be the healing", will inspire:
Photo: Getty Images