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Monday, January 20, 2014

The Past : The difference between understanding it, and not letting it go.

Today is Martin Luther King Day.

The day when we, collectively as a country, remember the actions of a great man.

Do you know that all 50 states didn't celebrate this holiday until 1993? That's right. Just 11 years ago there were still people that didn't think it was a day worth celebrating. (Sadly my home state of Arizona was always reluctant.)

I read a very interesting article on FB this morning about Dr. King's contribution to black people in the South. What he really did for them. You can read it HERE. The basic premise of the article though, is that Dr. King helped end the mental terrorism of BEING black in this country. I would listen to stories from my grandparents, who moved to Ohio before WWII. The places you didn't go. The hotels you couldn't stay in. The people you avoided. The way you spoke to white people. All based on the fear that one wrong move, or statement, or perceived slight towards a white person could leave you arrested at best, beaten or hanging from a tree at worst. These were real, legitimate fears.

Over the years I've heard many people say things along the lines of 'Black people should get over it', or 'That was a long time ago. Why are we still talking about this?'

To be clear. I don't hate white people. I don't walk around with some secret seething anger over what 'the man' has done to me and my people. That would be foolish, and a waste of energy. In college a white classmate once apologized to me for slavery and I looked at him like he was nuts. I asked him, 'Did you own slaves? Did your family?' His response was of course no. 'So what exactly are you apologizing for?'

I'm not looking for apologies. I'm not looking for reparations. I mean what would I do with 40 acres and a mule? It is important though, to remember what happened in this country. While movies like '12 Years A Slave' may make you uncomfortable, you should see it, or read about what happened to people like Solomon Northup. Read the stories of what it was like for people living in the South under Jim Crow laws. Read the history of the Harlem Renaissance, the Civil Rights movement, the Antebellum period of the South. No matter how uncomfortable it makes you, it is a part of our collective American history and we need to know what happened.

I teach Boomer about American history when I can. I teach her about Black history when I can. She needs to understand that she can go to school wherever I send her, and that she is allowed to read, because someone before her fought for that right. Her great-great-great grandmother could read. It was illegal, because she was a slave, but someone taught her. Her great grandfather was the most brilliant man I know, but he wasn't able to go to college. He made sure all his children did, and then in turn made sure I did. We have to know our past. We have to.

So there is a difference between understanding what happened in our past, and not being willing to let it go. That being said, if anyone reading this is under the illusion that race is no longer an issue in this country. Go search the tweets about Richard Sherman last night. Especially those with the hashtag #nigger.


Meagan said...

I think today is a very important day to honor. It is our history. Mine and yours. No matter what color skin we have. I agree that racism still exists today. Not just regarding black people. Why can't we just love everyone?

Cee said...

Although I am not American, the importance of this day is not lost on me - in fact, I think it can actually be extremely poignant to someone with an outsiders perspective. We travelled across the border frequently when I was growing up and my experiences with race relations in my own country versus race relations in the US were very different. Every country still has room to improve - the idea that these issues have gone away is a very foolish one, indeed.

Amanda - Voyage of the MeeMee said...

I agree that it's an important day. And I agree with your views on seeing it as something in the past. We should definitely LEARN from it, that's for sure. It wasn't right. It would've NEVER been right. There definitely are people that still think and do shitty things b/c they're just shitty human beings. Sadly, that'll never go away entirely. :/

Gwen said...

It kills me that people dare to say that racism no longer exists. I haven't seen 12 Years a Slave yet, and I'm simultaneously nervous about it yet can't wait to see it. One of my all time favorite movies is Glory, but it's not one I watch over and over because it makes me cry so much.

MarlaJan said...

Racism most defintely still exists, and everyone who doesn't think so needs to good dose of reality. I haven't seen '12 Years a Slave,' yet plan to. Just like any movie about the Holocaust makes me uncomfortable (I'm Jewish), I'm sure this will, too. But you're right, it's imperative we all know know and understand what went on in this country, and who brought us to where we are today.
I read the most interesting article on the Richard Sherman interview, I'll have to find it and send you the link. I mean, when I first heard him ranting, I was like "Holy shit!" but it had nothing to do with his skin color! He was in the moment. Lord knows we've have ALL come off as dick biscuits when we are riled up in the moment!

Tiffany said...

Although I am way late reading this post (always catching up...ayyyy) it was absolutely wonderful to read and enlightening. These things DO make us uncomfortable but we have to learn as much as we can and teach our future generations EVERYTHING.

Oh this Richard Sherman stuff is just ridiculous. Its like the fans need someone to crucify. I hope he shows everyone how amazing he is at the superbowl!