What is history teaching us? Does the lesson need to be repeated? Who is listening if we are witnessing the same old divisive tactics, wordplays and assertions?
I have lots of questions for those who are afraid to talk about America’s history.
I am always suspicious of those who refuse to answer questions about their past. I tilt my head a little while watching them paint pretty pictures of themselves. I wonder, “What is that in the background? What do you want me to look past?”
I was raised in the South, in a place where you don’t air your dirty laundry. You didn’t wash it out in the house either. There was denial and punitive silence for those who refused to go along with the story.
Just smile and wave at the neighbors across the street. Just dress the kids up and go to church on Sunday mornings. Just play along and pretend that we all get along.
For the sake of our family, let’s not bring that up. Let’s not unpack that stuff. “Not tonight” really means not ever because it reminds us of our hypocrisies, our inconsistencies and that we are not really who we think we are.
Instead, we have lots of cleaning and scrubbing to do if these stains are to come out and if our lives are to smell like new. But it won’t happen during office hours — not 9 to 5 but for the rest of our lives.
This work is not for mindless, capitalistic consumption but an invitation to clean up our acts. We must see ourselves as we really are by looking at who we have been. We’ve got to talk about the stuff that other people say behind our backs.
Yes, address the whispers and treat it all as wind at our backs. Deep listening can propel us forward if we have the courage to listen to the stories.
Maybe we all know, like William Shakespeare, that “the past is prologue.” Maybe some of us realize history is the context for our present reality. I know it is hard to talk about, but it requires more of us to act like it’s not happening.
February marks a month-long celebration of African American history and highlights this minoritized community’s accomplishments despite the dehumanizing standards of slavery, segregation and today, the hyper-surveillance of their bodies.
But many Americans don’t see the point of telling these stories. They only want to hear half of it. Cut to the good part and tell it how we remember it.
Lucille Clifton’s poem, “Why some people be mad at me sometimes,” captures the conundrum succinctly:
they ask me to remember
but they want me to remember
and i keep on remembering
Isn’t it ironic that we are encouraged to “never forget” the atrocities committed on American soil on 9/11 but not those committed against African Americans throughout America’s history?
These two memories are not treated the same, and we must ask ourselves why. Because in both instances Americans died.
Meanwhile, some states have banned the teaching of “critical race theory” (CRT) as if it was ever a part of our educational system’s curriculum. ABCs, 1, 2, 3s and CRT.
What began as a law class and was defined by law professor Roy L. Brooks as “a collection of critical stances against the existing legal order from a race-based point of view” is the latest bogeyman in America’s classrooms.
But teachers are not barricading their doors and children are not hiding under their desks because of race. Instead, it is but another means to incite fear and to keep our divisions in power and in place. The truth of what we should be afraid of is largely ignored.
“Black History Month” was first celebrated as “Negro History Week” where the stories of struggle and triumph were told to ensure that they were not erased. Now the stories are largely commodified, remembered by corporations with commercials, celebrity-studded concerts and a few television series.
Carter G. Woodson, its creator, wrote in the Mis-education of the Negro: “When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his ‘proper place’ and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”
Because how we remember, share and teach our history will determine if we really want to live in a free society. It also shows if we have been listening or if history needs to be repeated.
Editor’s note: A series of articles will appear at GoodFaithMedia.org next week calling attention to Black History Month.