I mean, how can I be when…
This Country Has Yet to Address Its Past
The U.S. government mandates that all children from ages 5–18 (depending on state law) attend school. But many schools don’t teach us the full truth about America’s history: that this nation was built on the backs of African slaves and that for centuries White people abused and killed Black people, in order to impose their power over them for economic gain, free labor, and/or sexual pleasure.
A 2015 McGraw-Hill History Book Refers to American Slaves as “Workers”
397 Years of Shackles…and Counting?
Hundreds of thousands of Blacks were killed during the 246 years of American slavery (1619–1865) and several more have been murdered since.
But what does this have to do with Black people being killed today — even considering the shooting of Terence Crutcher just yesterday?
Slavery ended 151 years ago, you may be saying. That’s a long time ago, you may be claiming. Yes, that’s true, but the spirit of subjugation and the systems of oppression are very much still alive today. Hear me out…
Remember those heinous Jim Crow laws that stripped Blacks of their most basic rights? Well did you know that those were just abolished 52 years ago? That means that, depending on your age, you and/or your parents were likely alive at that time.
Scary to Realize How Close We Really Are to the “Racism of Long Ago”
And perhaps it’s not that far-fetched of an idea to consider that the prejudice practices of police forces during the Civil Rights Era (also just 50 years ago) may still permeate some police cultures today?
Seriously, let’s just sit with all of this for a moment. The White European settlers of America fervently believed, lived out, and passed on a system of oppression against Blacks for 346 YEARS (beginning in 1619 when the first African slaves arrived in North America and “ending” in 1965 when Blacks were granted the right to vote). So what do you think? Is it possible for a 346 year-old racist philosophy and way of operating to just Poof! disappear in a matter of 51 YEARS? (51 years encompasses 1965 — when the Voting Rights Act was signed into law — to the present day 2016). If so, then that would mean…
You believe that America can erase its racist ideology and traditions 7X faster than it developed them. That right?
The Missed Opportunity in American Schools
Because many of our schools don’t expose the full truth of America’s origins and educate students on how that past has influenced our present day, students never get a chance to learn about the institutionalized racism and White supremacy that’s been baked into this country’s DNA.
And because our schools don’t address these topics, White parents never have to confront them. Can you imagine if they did?
Hey Dad, I’m having a test on Friday on White privilege. Can you help me prepare?
So what ends up happening is that the majority of those White children — who never learned about the systems of oppression the White settlers established to disenfranchise Blacks (several of which still exist today) — grow up to be White adults, who live in majority White neighborhoods, work with majority White colleagues, marry majority White partners, and socialize with majority White people.
Because the majority of White people don’t socialize with Black people (and haven’t for the past 397 years)… it likely feels foreign to White people to put themselves in the shoes of a Black person and truly empathize with the Black experience in America.
Many White people are not in a position to understand institutionalized racism and White privilege, because they were never taught it, assessed on it, or asked to acknowledge its existence. They’ve had the luxury — from childhood through adulthood — to be conveniently blinded to their privilege.
And so when a White person sees a Black athlete kneeling during the singing of the national anthem (written by a slave-owning, anti-abolitionist no less), they may very well be outraged. How could Kaepernick disrespect our country like that? It’s been so good to us!
But what that White person may not realize is that this country’s been so good to them — the one who’s always been in power. Kaepernick’s lived experiences as a Black man in America isn’t the same as theirs. It never has been the same, since the slave ships arrived on America’s shores those many years ago.
YOU Can Be a Part of the SOLUTION
I fully recognize that the U.S. school system is not to blame for America’s race problem. America had a race problem far before any federally mandated public school system was established. I do, however, believe that being the only institution that all 5–18 year olds in the country must participate in, the school system offers a unique opportunity to enhance our country’s understanding of our history and use it to create a better future. With the right curriculum, teachers, parental support, and infrastructure, I believe the school system can be one lever we pull to help us work through our past, understand how it plays into our present circumstances, and develop future leaders that will create a more equitable and empathetic America!
Here Are 4 Immediate Actions You Can Take to Help:
- Call, write, or visit your school leadership, school board, congress members, or state senators. Demand that they invest in curriculum, teacher development, and infrastructure that optimizes for a more complete learning of America’s history.
- White people, please socialize with more Black people. Black people, please socialize with more White people. Coming together more often will help us all develop empathy for the “other,” which fosters pro-social behaviors, like offering support.
- Don’t “unfriend” those you don’t understand or who don’t seem to understand you. Often times, people quickly default to de-friend mode whenever something appears in their newsfeed that they don’t agree with — especially when it comes to race relations in America. When you do that, though, you’re cutting yourself off from an opportunity to potentially learn from someone with a different lived experience than yours, build a bridge of understanding, and best case scenario, find common ground. If you continue down the de-friend path, your social networks may soon become an echo chamber, where you’re just talking to people who already agree with you.
- THIS ONE’S THE MOST IMPORTANT: Suggest another solution! I truly believe we’re stronger together, so please don’t be shy about leaving a comment below outlining what you think can be done to improve race relations in America. And who knows, maybe it’ll turn into a set of aggregated solutions we can all play a part in carrying out.
Thanks for taking the time to engage (I really appreciate it!) and remember…
If not us, who? If not now, when?