In the 1980s, there was a slogan: "It's a black thing. You won't understand." History is not a black thing. It is an American thing, so you need to understand. I want to use Black History Month to go beyond the usual nod to great pioneers like Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass. It is generally true that people do not act without self interest. Even with the best intentions, self preservation is always lurking under the guise of goodwill or karma. Allow me to appeal to the self preservationist in you to explain why every American needs to celebrate Black History Month.
United we [America] stand and divided we fall. Some are thinking, why do you have to bring up race? Forgive and forget. It is the same refrain as the unfaithful spouse asking why the partner brings up past infidelities. That is water under the bridge. America, the water under the bridge is about to overtake the bridge. There is a myth circulating that we no longer have a race problem because we have an African American president. President Kennedy stated it best. "The great enemy of the truth is very often not the lie - deliberate, contrived and dishonest -- but the myth -- persistent, persuasive, and unrealistic."
Overt racism that existed in the Civil Rights era may be "water under the bridge." However, covert prejudice and racism is more dangerous. 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 while the inside still holds on to old stereotypes. Covert racism is like George Wickham in Pride and Prejudice. Wickham pretended to have the goodness of a gentleman when he was everything but one.
In a previous post, I referred to America as a jambalaya. Only in America can a "nobody" become a "somebody." America is the great equalizer. America is a place that people love and love to hate. However, one thing that other nations cannot deny is that it is the land of opportunity for all regardless of race, gender, or religion. In other countries, you must be born into a certain class or opportunities for upward mobility are not available to you. In America, moxie, chutzpah, and determination can be as good as gold. We love an underdog!
America has some unsavory history that almost sent us to divorce -- the Civil War. To deny our past actions, particularly when it comes to native Americans and African Americans, is a fallacy. Our sordid past matters because it causes mistrust among citizens. We cannot hide our past. We must embrace it and face it head on or we fall victim to believing that we do not have a race problem. "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." In 2008, the world watched America because they knew if it could happen then it would happen here. And it did happen in the land of the free and home of the brave. A person of color was elected by the people as president of one of the greatest nations. That is what sets America apart from other nations.
America has a rich history and a sordid past. Sometimes we agree. Sometimes we argue. But in the end, we are still the United States of America. Contributions from all of our citizens make us great. For the month of February, America acknowledges a group of citizens that were often neglected, abused, and mistreated, African Americans. As slaves, blacks built the literal foundations of American freedom -- the White House and Capitol. After slavery, from nothing (no forty acres or a mule), they contributed to American firsts in science, medicine, politics, technology, and the arts -- see Lewis Latimer, Granville Woods, Daniel Hale Williams, Charles Drew, Mary Eliza Mahoney, James Derham, John S. Rock, Thurgood Marshall, John Mercer Langston, Bishop James Augustine Healy, Augustine Tolton, Ralph Bunche, Garrett Morgan, Matthew Henson, Vivien Thomas, Elijah McCoy. 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 mountain top, but we are closer. Allow me to introduce you to James Weldon Johnson, a poet and writer of Lift Every Voice and Sing. Black history is American history. Let every American:
Lift every voice and sing
Till earth and heaven ring,
Ring with the harmonies of Liberty;
Let our rejoicing rise
High as the listening skies,
Let it resound loud as the rolling sea.
Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us,
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun
Let us march on till victory is won.
Stony the road we trod,
Bitter the chastening rod,
Felt in the days when hope unborn had died;
Yet with a steady beat,
Have not our weary feet
Come to the place for which our fathers sighed?
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past,
Till now we stand at last
Where the white gleam of our bright star is cast.
God of our weary years,
God of our silent tears,
Thou who has brought us thus far on the way;
Thou who has by Thy might Led us into the light,
Keep us forever in the path, we pray.
Lest our feet stray from the places, our God, where we met Thee,
Lest, our hearts drunk with the wine of the world, we forget Thee;
Shadowed beneath Thy hand,
May we forever stand.
True to our God,
True to our native land.
This post originally appeared on Ronda's website, Ronda-isms: Good Bad Ugly.