Archive for the ‘blacks’ tag
The International Humanist and Ethical Union has determined in a recent report that nonbelievers can be killed for their nonbelief in seven states. If you think religion is bollocks, you may want to avoid these: Afghanistan, Iran, Maldives, Mauritania, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Sudan.
Of course, as this article from Slate points out, the hostility toward nonbelievers does not just persist in radical Muslim theocracies. Right here at home, seven states — what is it with religious people and their fascination with the number seven? Yahweh‘s favorite number, no doubt! — ban atheists from holding public office. These bastions of reason and logic include Arkansas, Maryland, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Tennessee and Texas. Many of these, as you will notice, were, unsurprisingly, in the old Confederacy, including my home state, which can pride itself on being the first to leave the Union and the last to rejoin.
Just out of curiosity, I did a little fact checking on Tennessee, and as plain as day, here is the statute right there in the current state Constitution (ARTICLE IX. DISQUALIFICATIONS):
§ 2. Atheists holding office
No person who denies the being of God, or a future state of rewards and punishments, shall hold any office in the civil department of this State.
I think it’s also curious that not only does a person have to be a believer to hold public office, belief in a future state is also required. Why would the latter part be included? Perhaps so that if and when this public servant inevitably fails his constituents in some way or another, he and they can take comfort in the thought that they will one day walk on sunshine with Jesus, free from the trappings of this world and its tough decision-making. No, the state wouldn’t want any nonbelievers in office approaching life on the notion that they had better get it right the first time and that there are no cop out solutions like prayer if, by chance, they happened to make life for millions of blacks a living hell for generations after they were supposedly emancipated, or if they allowed hordes of KKK members and other racists to run rampant in the South, scarring innocent women and children for decades. No, they might say: “It’s all permissible as long as we teach those people about the good news of the gospel; my mistakes as a racist, oppressive public servant in the South and their misery and the misery of their children can all be scrapped because one day we will be reconciled under the warm glow of heaven.”
Yes, black people are still second-class citizens in some pockets of the nation: Black wedding banned by Baptist church
Here’s an excerpt:
CRYSTAL SPRINGS, MS (WLBT) – It was to be their big day, but a Jackson couple says the church where they were planning to wed turned them away because of their race.
Now, the couple wants answers, and the church’s pastor is questioning the mindset of some of members of his congregation who caused the problem in the first place.
They had set the date and printed and mailed out all the invitations, but the day before wedding bells were to ring for Charles and Te’Andrea Wilson, they say they got some bad news from the pastor.
“The church congregation had decided no black could be married at that church, and that if he went on to marry her, then they would vote him out the church,” said Charles Wilson.
The Wilsons were trying to get married at the predominantly white First Baptist Church of Crystal Springs – a church they attend regularly, but are not members of.
“He had people in the sanctuary that were pitching a fit about us being a black couple,” said Te’Andrea Wilson. ”I didn’t like it at all, because I wasn’t brought up to be racist. I was brought up to love and care for everybody.”
The church’s pastor, Dr. Stan Weatherford, says he was taken by surprise by what he calls a small minority against the black marriage at the church.
“This had never been done before here, so it was setting a new precedent, and there are those who reacted to that because of that,” said Weatherford.
Weatherford went on and performed the wedding at a nearby church. …
Kudos to the pastor for performing the ceremony elsewhere, I guess, but how do you go back to your hateful congregation members after that ugly episode?
Greta Christina has a post up about her experiences from a recent Secular Student Alliance conference. During a portion of the event, participants sat at different tables, at which they discussed various topics as they related to the atheist/freethinker community.
The topic at her table was “Diversity — Minorities,” and Christina related some of the take-away points from the brainstorming session about how the community could be more welcoming to black people and other non-white ethnicities (As it happens, she used the term “people of color” throughout the post, with which I am not terribly comfortable because although it’s apparently no longer offensive to black people and others, it does seem to be, as NAACP spokeswoman Carla Sims has said, to be “outdated and antiquated.”).
Here is a truncated list of what members of the atheist/freethinker community could do to be more inclusive at conferences and meetings of like minds:
- Invite more people of color as speakers, at conferences and for individual speaking events.
- Don’t be afraid to talk about race.
- Do joint events with groups/ organizations of people of color.
- Support appropriate events hosted by groups of people of color, such as service projects.
- Don’t glom onto people of color when they show up at your group or event. (People of color sometimes say that, when they show up at all- or mostly-white atheist groups or events, they’re swarmed by overly friendly people who are SO DELIGHTED that a non-white person has shown up, in a way that’s overwhelming, and that’s clearly directed at their race. Don’t do this.)
- Don’t expect individual people of color to speak for their entire race.
- Listen to people of color — actively. …
- Don’t assume people of color are religious.
- Co-protesting – show up at protests about racism, and about issues that are strongly affected by race, such as economic justice or the drug war.
She then included this addendum outlining a different comment policy for that particular post to which readers should adhere (italics mine):
This conversation is for people who already agree that increasing racial diversity is important to the atheist community and the atheist movement, and who think positive action should be taken to improve the situation, and who want to discuss how to go about that. If you want to debate this core proposition — if, for instance, you think the atheist movement should be entirely race-blind, and that paying any attention at all to race and racism is itself racist — this comment thread is not the place.
I don’t know that I agree with that entire statement, thus the reason I am posting on my own site and not commenting on her blog.
While I think it is highly commendable and admirable to be proactive in welcoming blacks, Hispanics, etc., into the community of nonbelievers, as well as discussing topics of race in an open and respectful manner — if that’s a goal the community wants to pursue — I don’t necessarily think that racism can die — as well it should — until we move past race itself, just like BET or Black History Month, both of which, to me, insult black people by giving them their own special television station and their own special month of the year, as if black history and culture can’t be celebrated and remembered all year and on all television stations. It can, and it should be.
So, while some of the goals in racial inclusiveness are certainly admirable, I think we are approaching a time where the notion of “race” needs to go the way of the dodo and be replaced, simply, with “culture.” For, if we want to learn about how different groups of people live their lives and interact with the rest of the world, we can do that through learning about their culture and about what makes their particular culture unique, and by that token, worthy to be celebrated in its own right. I think when we frame the discussion, admirable as it might be, in racial terms, we may be in danger of taking one step forward and two tentative steps back.
I recently highlighted a June 5 Tweet from @GodlessGuyX, a black man,who said:
I was moved by this statement because as a student of the Civil War, Reconstruction, the Black Codes, the Jim Crow laws and the struggle for civil rights in the 20th century, one might think that black folks would warm to the precepts of progressivism, and yes, nonbelief, because it is clear as day that it was those ideals, not conservative policies, that ultimately helped lead African Americans out of bondage, both literally, socially and politically.
And further, I find it striking that black people, by and large, continue the onward Christian soldier march when it was Christians who historically initiated and supported the continuation of the slave trade and the plantation economy that supported the South in the 17th and 18th centuries. Further still, believers have been on the front lines arguing against the rights of black people (in modern times, Hispanics and now, gays) through the generations. And all the while, surprisingly, folks of African descent have largely embraced Christianity and the god that has failed to liberate anyone, and actually according to the Bible, indentured servitude is A-OK.
I have yet to touch on spiritual freedom, but as I have said before, from the Christian perspective, humans have no freedom. One either accepts the story of Christ and lives forever or he burns. From this perspective, there is no free will, just extortion. So that even more compounds the problem of why more African Americans don’t realize that they are supporting their own worst enemy, which has historically been not just the state, but as ever, religion.
As I’ve nearly finished reading, “John Brown, Abolitionist: The Man Who Killed Slavery, Sparked the Civil War, and Seeded Civil Rights,” one of the most important questions about the raid on Harpers Ferry remains: did enslaved blacks living in the area around the federal arsenal respond favorably or not to Brown’s plan to first, liberate slaves in the area and then have them fight alongside whites for the end of slavery in the country?
The plan, as outlined by author David K. Reynolds, was to seize control of the arsenal and its weapons, head to local plantations, free local slaves, arm them and allow them to fight for their freedom with their white supporters. The growing number of whites and blacks would seek refuge in the Appalachian mountains, where they would conduct a type of guerilla warfare against the federal forces that were sure to come. They would conduct rogue operations across the countryside to enlist more and more slaves to the cause, thus growing their numbers and their influence. Eventually, as Brown schemed, the South would grow weak-kneed, and Congress would eventually enact legislation to overthrow the peculiar institution in the States.
The main question was this: Would slaves trust Brown, a white man, and rush into an insurrection or would they recoil to the familiarity of the plantation and the comfort of their families and friends therein? They were, after all, being asked to trust a white man, probably the only white man they had met in their entire lives to have claimed to be on their side. The riddle, at least for them: was he really on their side?
The Reynolds bio is a fine contribution and has done a great deal to advance the popular misunderstandings and biases that have reigned as a result of older, biased works. On the other hand, Reynolds himself followed certain conventions in his writing that are likewise problematic, including the quotation you feature. It is absolutely not a given that enslaved people did not respond to his efforts in Virginia, or that he “misread” the black community. If Brown misread blacks, it was that segment of educated, elite leaders to whom he appealed for assistance. …
As to the enslaved people, I refer you to Osborne Anderson’s 1860 booklet, A Voice from Harper’s Ferry … He says that blacks turned out enthusiastically, and would have greatly supported Brown had he not gotten himself bogged down in gunfighting in the town.
Osborne Anderson was one of Brown’s black raiders on the Ferry, and his first-hand account seems quite important when thinking about this question. Following is a passage from his pamphlet, “A Voice from Harper’s Ferry,” in which Osborne notes that “hundreds” of slaves were ready had Brown adhered to the original plan, left the arsenal and took to the mountains (He lingered for too long inside with the prisoners).
Here’s an excerpt:
OF the various contradictory reports made by slaveholders and their satellites about the time of the Harper’s Ferry conflict, none were more untruthful than those relating to the slaves. There was seemingly a studied attempt to enforce the belief that the slaves were cowardly, and that they were really more in favor of Virginia masters and slavery, than of their freedom. As a party who had an intimate knowledge of the conduct of the colored men engaged, I am prepared to make an emphatic denial of the gross imputation against them, They were charged especially with being unreliable, with deserting Captain Brown the first opportunity, and going back to their masters; and with being so indifferent to the work of their salvation from the yoke, as to have to be forced into service by the Captain, contrary to their will.
On the Sunday evening of the outbreak, we visited the plantations and acquainted the slaves with our purpose to effect their liberation, the greatest enthusiasm was manifested by them –joy and hilarity beamed from every countenance, One old mother, white-haired from age and borne down with the labors of many years in bond, when told of the work in hand, replied: “God bless you! God bless you!” She then kissed the party at her house, and requested all to kneel, which we did, and she offered prayer to God for His blessing on the enterprise, and our success. At the slaves’ quarters, there was apparently a general jubilee, and they stepped for- ward manfully, without impressing or coaxing. In one case, only, was there any hesitation. A dark-complexioned free- born man refused to take up arms, He showed the only want of confidence in the movement, and far less courage than any slave consulted about the plan. In fact, so far as I could learn, the free blacks South are much less reliable than the slaves, and infinitely more fearful. In Washington City, a party of free colored persons offered their services to the Mayor, to aid in suppressing our movement. Of the slaves who followed us to the Ferry, some were sent to help remove stores, and the others were drawn up in a circle around the engine-house, at one time, where they were, by Captain Brown’s order, furnished by me with pikes, mostly, and acted as a guard to the prisoners to prevent their escape, which they did.
It is true then that some in the press misrepresented what had happened. As Reynolds notes, the Chambersburg (Pennsylvania) Valley Spirit, a Democratic paper at the time, had this to say:
Brown’s expectation as to the slaves rushing to him, was entirely disappointed. None seem to have come to him willingly, and in most cases were forced to desert their masters.
As a Democratic paper (Remember that Democrats in the mid-19th century were nearly, if not wholly, in favor of the continuation of slavery), it’s understandable that the paper would make such a claim.
But here is a Harper's Weekly (a politically moderate publication) columnist who witnessed John Brown answering questions after the raid. Brown
confidently expected late reinforcements from Virginia, Kentucky, Maryland, North and South Carolina, and several other Slave States, besides the Free States—taking it for granted that it was only necessary to seize the public arms and place them in the hands of the Negroes and nonslaveholders to recuit his forces indefinitely. In this calculation he reluctantly and indirectly admitted that he had been entirely disappointed.
Reynolds, in his analysis, does note that some blacks did join Brown’s numbers during the raid:
To be sure, there were instances of black who joined the liberators enthusiastically. Osborne Anderson [See the previous comment from DeCaro above] recalled that Lewis Washington’s coachman, Jim, fought ‘like a tiger’ and was killed in the battle against the proslavery troops. Anderson also said he met some slaves along a mountain road who joined Brown’s force when they learned of its mission.
Still, it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that most of the blacks responded with indifference or fear. When Cook took some eleven freedmen with him to the schoolhouse to meet Owen and the others, it was not long before all of the blacks had fled back to their farms. In fact, the defense lawyers for Brown and his confederates cited the blacks’ fear or apathy in an effort to refute the charge of inciting insurrection. One of John Brown’s attorneys used this argument, and John Cook’s lawyer, Daniel Voorhees, made it central to his case. Far from endangering slavery, Voorhees argued, the raid supported it. Witness the outcome, he said. A supposed Moses appears and promises freedom to the slave, but “the bondsman refuses to be free; drops the implements of war from his hands; is deaf to the call of freedom; turns against his liberators, and, by instinct, obeys the injunction of Paul by returning to his master!”
To be awakened late at night by whites, in consort with blacks, who offered weapons for liberation must have been a baffling experience for many of them.
Besides the few blacks who reportedly joined Osborne Anderson on the road, none are known to have volunteered to join Brown’s group.
And in questioning after being captured, Brown was asked by Virginia congressman Alexander Boteler:
Did you expect to get assistance here from whites as well as from the blacks?
Then, you have been disappointed in not getting it from either?
Brown, with “grave emphasis,” as Reynolds notes:
Yes. I — have — been — disappointed.
Thus, while it is true that he misread black abolitionists and other white supporters in the north, it seems that by his own admission, he did not receive the support he had expected from blacks in the area either. Or to restate my response to DeCaro:
I think the point Reynolds may have been getting at what was that while some (slaves in the area) were enthusiastic supporters of Brown, Brown’s assumption that droves (i.e. “hundreds”) would turn out to fight against slavery was an overestimation on Brown’s part since most of them had been beaten down, sometimes physically, or at the least, socially and emotionally, for decades and generations by white people. It must have not been an easy thing for many of them to willy-nilly trust a white man who claimed to want to fight with them to end slavery.
So, while Anderson may have been correct in saying that hundreds from plantations were poised to rise up, it seems peculiar that, if they were so enthusiastic about the plan, why they wouldn’t have simply joined Brown at Harper’s Ferry, added to the numbers there, beat back the resistance Brown had faced, and then helped Brown and company make their escape, visit more plantations, head to the mountains and so on. Brown and company held the arsenal for a remarkably long time with such a skeleton crew. Hundreds more might have tipped the scales in their favor.
ABC News and The Associated Press report that the Atlantic Coast Conference has pulled baseball tournaments from being played in Myrtle Beach, S.C. in 2011-2013 in light of the Confederate battle flag being flown on the State House grounds. For years, the NAACP, which I argued here was all-but irrelevant today, has imposed “economic sanctions” (The organization seems to have dropped the term “boycott” to describe its sanctions) on South Carolina for its continued presence of the Confederate flag on the grounds. The flag was placed there via a bill passed by an all-white legislature in 1962. Since, the NAACP has lobbied for the state to remove the flag. In 2000, lawmakers did take it down from the State House dome — it was formerly third from the top, under the state flag and the United States flag — and place it on a memorial site honoring the fallen during the Civil War. But to remove it completely from the grounds and place it in a museum would require separate legislation.
The State newspaper on Thursday published a telling letter to the editor from a writer describing himself as a “white Republican and graduate of an SEC school.” He had this to say on the topic:
Here’s what I’ve concluded after searching my soul. I don’t need to wait for the NAACP to make me understand that the Confederate flag deeply offends a huge percentage of the population of South Carolina and thus needs to be removed from the State House grounds. A person’s celebration of culture, history and heritage need not needlessly offend many of our fellow citizens. — Jay Glasgow, letter to the editor writer, July 16, 2009
In retort, a commenter on the newspaper’s Web site wrote (parenthesis mine):
Making an honourable (sic) symbol that many BRAVE (using all caps makes points more valid, doesn’t it?) men fought and died under a so called symbol of racism does not make it so. This flag at the monument is historically correct as it is a battle flag … I challenge you to stand up to the tyranny that manifests itself today to those who condemn our people who struggled against an invading army in a war that both sides should have avoided. … The real intelligence here Mr. Bubba (another commenter) is seeing that our heritage is being attacked and doing something about it. Black soldiers also fought for the Confederacy ,too.The monument educates the public on the REAL history of this struggle. — By Pawmetto
Some, like the following, again make the claim that the war was not about slavery:
A little history lesson: The succession of the southern states was about a lot more than slavery. The southern states had every right to succeed. It was that right that convinced the states to unite in the first place. — Pammiesue
Unfortunately, the writer, while stating the war was fought for “a lot more than slavery,” never gets around to mentioning any other causes.
I was going to let some of these comments go, but I should digress for a second. First, the Confederate soldiers, by and large, weren’t brave necessarily (some of them probably were), they were conscripted, or made to fight, by the first draft ever passed in American history. They were green (just like a lot of Northern fighters) and many of them abandoned the army. At one period, the South had an abundance of arms and equipment, but not enough men to use the stuff! It’s not exactly as if able-bodied men were flocking from their farms and families to join the Confederate cause. Most of them were forced to fight, and most of them didn’t even have a dog in that fight, as the Confederate cause was largely that of the slave owners. One of the first sentences a professor uttered to us during a Civil War class at Clemson University was, “The Civil War was caused by slavery and anti-slavery.” So, while states’ rights was an issue later, it wasn’t the issue. It was the reciprocal issue arising from the slavery question as a consequence. Northern lawmakers, of course, couldn’t allow slavery to expand into the western territories because they knew how corrosive a system slavery was to establishing any semblance of an industrial society. A minority of northerners had staunch moral objections to the peculiar institution, but most simply rejected slavery because of the former problem. Nor could lawmakers allow the South to invade parts of South America with intentions of setting up an entire sphere for slavery, in what would have been known as the Golden Circle, an ironic title in itself, since the kingdom would have been borne on the weight of black folks’ shoulders. And to speak on the black soldiers, most of them, as soon as they could, defected to the Union side, and again, like most of the white soldiers, they were made to serve. By that point in the history of slavery in America, I would imagine that at least some of the slaves had developed an institutional mentality, the same that long-time prison inmates develop, which suggests they are happier inside the institution (jail, plantation) than outside in the free world because it’s all they had known.
But back to the comments. Here’s another responding to the letter to the editor:
Applause for your thoughts, Mr. Glasgow! Sadly, most South Carolinians don’t have the intelligence to see as clearly as you do. SC will drown in its ignorance before aknowledging (sic) the error of leaving the flag up. — bubba
Finally, the most enlightening comment I’ve read thus far on this topic came from Sammy in response to another article about the NAACPs “sanctions” against South Carolina, who was noting, like The State’s letter writer, that the flag should be removed for good:
… a personal favorite moment of mine was when some guy in a car saw my anti-Bush bumper sticker and screamed “America! Love it or leave it!” He of course had a confederate flag on his truck. The irony was rather delicious. — Comment by Sammy, reader of ABC News article
Media Matters recently posted a video clip titled, “Buchanan has ‘no problem’ with legacy systems, says ‘working class whites’ are ‘the ones discriminated most today,’” in which he supported Ivy League colleges which let kids in because of who’s child they were, not just on academic merit. Or, as Buchanan put it, their “clout.” He also said “white working class folks” (to correct the Media Matters headline) are “discriminated against most today” (to again correct Media Matters):
To put it bluntly, inserting race into the issue makes Buchanan’s claim, which cites no evidence, seem even more distasteful. How does he justify in one sentence, talking about how privileged college kids (the majority who earn bachelor’s or higher degrees are white) are and should be admitted to prestigious institutions based on clout and connections, provided they pass a test, and in the next sentence, talk about the rights of working class people (Using the word “folks,” as many politicians do, to sound more convivial and down to earth)? I would be curious to know how one defines “working class” in the first place. Blue collar? White and blue collar? Anyone who can hold down a job making less than Obama’s $250,000 benchmark?
Buchanan uses the “working class” line (like so many others interested in pushing a political mindset) to apparently lionize those of the laboring order (Buchanan is not, of course), when Buchanan, in nearly the same breath, appears to favor the notion of success by proxy. I’m reminded of John Lennon’s “Working Class Hero,” which Buchanan would probably write off as some socialist anthem.
According to Lennon himself, the song is about the pressure to succeed, to go to college, to pick a career, and how maddening that pressure can be, when in the end, one’s efforts are often in vain (“But you’re still fucking peasants as far as I can see …”) unless, of course, one is willing to “learn how to smile as you kill | If you want to be like the folks on the hill …” But that’s, of course, a paraphrase and an estimation of what Lennon actually meant.
Side note: Here is an interesting analysis of Green Day’s own take on the song. The comments that follow are intriguing as well. But as the posters and repliers don’t seem to note, song lyrics aren’t essays or news articles. They don’t always have a specific and defined meaning. Take The Beatles’ lines, “He’s got feet down below his knees” or “He wear no shoeshine, he got toe-jam football | He got monkey finger, he shoot coca-cola” or any number of lines from the White Album, great as it is. Stream of consciousness, daydreaming, drugs, personal stories or any number of factors can account for lyrics that don’t jibe or are hard to decipher.
But back to race, Slate offers an article on the seeming decline in Ivy-league schools, which notes the proliferation of solid programs at public institutions, like Northwestern, Stanford, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and University of Virginia. Buchanan likely has affirmative action in mind when he made his comments about the white working class. True, blacks generally have a higher acceptance rates at colleges than whites, but college attendees, especially of the sort Buchanan mentions, are hardly “working class folks.” College is a privilege, not a right (though it should be), in this country. As such, most don’t earn college degrees:
According to new tables released on the Internet titled Educational Attainment in the United States: 2004, 85 percent of those age 25 or older reported they had completed at least high school and 28 percent had attained at least a bachelor’s degree — both record highs. — U.S. Census Bureau
What about the black working class? Affirmative action is used too often as a crux to explain away some white people’s anger. Note these two bits from Policy Almanac:
Over the past three decades, minorities and women have made real, undisputable economic progress. Before the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the median black male worker earned only about 60 percent as much as the median white male worker; (10) by 1993, the median black male earned 74 percent as much as the median white male.
There has not been an improvement in the employment-population rate of black workers relative to whites since the 1960s. If anything, there has been a deterioration in the relative employment-population rate.
Next week, get ready to celebrate Administrative Professionals Day. That’s right. As I was purchasing a Mountain Dew and a pair of taquitos at the local RaceTrac, I saw a small banner on one of the cash registers telling me of this additional cause to celebrate.
Apparently, this “holiday” has been around some form since 1952, but in my book, it can be counted with the large number of useless (and meaningless) observances that have been created over the years. Lest this post begins to resemble a Wikipedia entry, I will keep the list small, but here are just a few:
- Labor Day (Sept. 7) — Pointless. Last I checked, work was a necessity to having food and a roof over one’s head. I think Administrative Professionals Day could probably be lumped into this.
- Arbor Day (April 24) — Trees? Where is the Grass Day? Or how about National Sky Day? Or how about oxygen? That’s just as vital as trees.
- Columbus Day (Oct. 12) — He didn’t discover America.
- Parents’ Day (Fourth Sunday of July) and Grandparents’ Day (First Sunday after Labor Day) — Although Father’s Day and Mother’s Day could be added to the list of days created to feed the greeting card market, I guess I will cede these two since, like Valentine’s Day, they have become so entrenched in our culture that we might as well leave them be, if for no other reason than that they are harmless, and in fact, make people feel good about themselves. But on the next few, I can’t say the same. …
- Black History Month (February), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) and National Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15-Oct. 15) — In the 21st century, isn’t it counterproductive and hypocritical to still set aside certain months to celebrate our various minorities when, more than 200 years ago, we declared them all to be our equals (although putting this high ideal into practice, we learned, became much more difficult). Black History Month, which Cynthia Tucker, a black woman and editor with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, called “quaint, jarring, anachronistic,” is the most unnecessary of these types of holidays. An African-American is now president, a black man is head of the Republican Party and numerous black people hold public seats in the federal House and Senate and in state and local offices. While racism has certainly not been stamped out, it’s time for us to move beyond cutesy recognitions such as this, for they move us backward, not forward.
- Confederate History Month (April) — While I like learning about Civil War history as much as anyone, the Confederacy is a failed attempt. Southern history is important, but call it what it is; to celebrate Confederate heritage or the Confederate battle flag is to celebrate a failed uprising and the distinction has to be made. The Hootie and the Blowfish song famously included the line, “Tired of hearing this shit ’bout heritage, not hate” and that’s precisely what a lot of folks tout. Southern heritage, that is, the legacy of the South as a region of the country, not as a seceded state, up to and following the Civil War, is a meaningful area to celebrate, but attach the battle flag to it, and it becomes a celebration of some of the worst atrocities this country has seen. So, for the folks who proudly display bumper stickers that read, “Southern by the grace of God,” that’s fine. I’m glad I was born in the South too, for it’s a beautiful part of the country with a rich heritage and which produced some great authors, but let’s not muddy the issue by summoning the legacy of a failed mutiny.
I’ll leave it at that, but you get the picture. We’ve got too many of these holidays and some of them are even offensive, or as Tucker said, “anachronistic.”
In a Feb. 8, 2009 column, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s Cynthia Tucker supplied her view of Black History Month, dubbing it, “quaint, jarring, anachronistic.”
Coming from a black person, this comment itself may sound jarring. But it’s really not. As Tucker notes, even after Carter G. Woodson’s original 1926 Negro History Week went into effect, black folks were still the but of racial epithets and racial acts. Lynchings were still imminent for many. Segregation was still very much in force. Then, as now, Black History Month or Week or whatever we want to call it, means little, for those recognitions do little to repair scars, smooth hatreds or open locked minds.
As a child, I certainly remember sitting through special lessons in class geared to teach us about the important contributions of black people through America’s history, from Stowe to Tubman to Douglas to Du Bois down to King and Jackson (Jess, not Michael, though Michael has made important contributions as well). But even then (although it probably didn’t occur to me at the time), it merely seemed like we were just throwing black folks a bone, as if to say, “Sorry about those 150 or so years of slavery and another 100-plus of oppression and inequality under the law. Here’s a month just for you. Enjoy!”
I wonder how black children or youths feel nowadays when it comes time for the lessons on black leaders throughout history. Do they feel proud? Undermined? Embarrassed? No doubt, those lessons are important and every child, black or white or brown or yellow should be well-grounded in our own history. But shouldn’t we now, in the 21st century with a black man holding the highest office in the land, move past all the silliness of giving certain groups special tokens simply for being a certain color? As the new president has continually stressed, black people’s history is so inextricably bound up with America’s history that none of us can escape it. And why would we want to?
Tucker also notes that many traditional textbooks “gloss over” certain ugly periods in our history like Jim Crow and Reconstruction and the Black Codes. I would say this is largely true. Frankly, I knew little, if anything, about Reconstruction, lynchings or Jim Crowe before going to college. Some of that lack of knowledge falls on me. I didn’t have the hunger for learning that I do now. But part of that falls on our educational system. I knew all about Black History Month, even as a tyke. But after that month was over, it was back to pilgrims, stage coaches and manifest destiny (Interestingly, we learned less about the human atrocities resulting from that “destiny.” We did, however, touch briefly on the Trail of Tears. Thousands of Native Americans relocated from their homes and thousands dead. But let’s quickly move on.)
In short, at this point in our history, we can now, and should, move past the necessity for Black History Month. Of course, as a white person, it seems tougher for me to theoretically and socially to say such a thing than it is for Tucker. But perhaps that’s the point. The fact that it seems harder for a white person to say that proves the point. It’s time to move on and integrate the history of black folks with the history of America, both in our textbooks and in our social conscious. Or, as Tucker concludes:
Americans young and old, black, white and brown, will understand that black history and the nation’s history are one and the same. — The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Watching the inauguration speech today, it seemed evident to me from Barack Obama’s tone and content that, while the speech included much of the inspirational verbiage we heard in Philadelphia’s Speech on Race and Denver’s Democratic nomination address, we were listening to a man who’s position in history — and his high calling amid numerous national and global crises — had been fully realized.
As was mentioned in a local newspaper editorial, the irony of the moment was palpable. Forty-five years to the day that Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech during the March on Washington, Obama stood in Denver and accepted the nomination to lead the Democratic ticket. A day after the holiday honoring King for his service to the country, we inaugurated Obama as the first black president.
King Jr. famously said: “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
Today, Obama stood inside both those moments. Surely, it was a happy, triumphant occasion for his family and himself. But it was also a day where the critical position he found himself in, as frigid air beat down on the crowd of a million or more — the largest ever to assemble in Washington — must have come crashing down around him.
Some Republicans have claimed he’s just another politician. And he may very well prove to be nothing more. And even if he is nothing more, we will still be able to say that, for a time, he made many hope and believe a better day was coming — that a betteer day and a more perfect union was within our grasp, just as 40 years prior, King helped us believe the same. Even if Obama turns out to be a dud, at least he gave us that.
But, of course, I sincerely hope (and think he will) turn out to be much more. He’s not a wonder-worker. But these things he brings to the table, which have been missing for awhile: poise, thoughtfulness, careful deliberation (almost to a fault), compassion and erudition.
As the next months and years play out, we should get behind him and remember his Inaugural Day words:
On this day, we gather because we have chosen hope over fear, unity of purpose over conflict and discord.