I’m reading this educational newsletter that my wife subscribes to, and there, on page seven, along with drawings of Ida B. Wells-Barnett and George Washington Carver and a teacher pointing to a portrait of an unidentifiable man to a couple students is “January is Black History Month.” And maybe it is. Maybe it starts on MLK Day and runs through February 28 (or 29). Six and a half weeks trying to talk about race and racism and power and prejudice in a way were everybody feels all right.
Don’t want to talk about slavery. “My people never owned slaves; they came to this country after the Civil War. How is that relevant? Besides, slavery is so 1865.”
Don’t want to talk about white skin privilege; that makes too many people uncomfortable, as one debates whether it even exists.
Don’t want to talk about prejudice. “The Civil Rights Movement took care of that. Besides, that was mostly in the South anyway, wasn’t it?”
Don’t want to talk about obscure black people “nobody ever heard of before. If they were REALLY important, they’d be in the REAL history books.”
Sure the heck don’t want to talk about reparations.
I know: we’ll do something with music and dance and food, which will make everyone feel good.
I recall reading recently someone suggesting that we have a REAL dialogue about Iraq in this country, as though we haven’t (and our leaders ignore us anyway, but that’s another matter.) Yet I don’t know what a real dialogue about race would look like in the 21st century.
If I sound a little peevish, in a Morgan Freemanesque sort of way, well, maybe I am. But I’m not of the “I am going to stop calling you a white man and I’m going to ask you to stop calling me a black man” school of thought. Race matters, still.
My wife and I were watching ABC’s World News a couple weeks ago, and we saw how a young filmmaker named Kiri Davis had replicated Dr. Kenneth Clark’s black doll/white doll experiment of a more than a half century before in a movie called A Girl Like Me; also, here. It was Clark’s study that helped bring about Brown vs. Board of education. When we saw the ABC piece, we both wept.
So, as we start the 45-day “month” of Black History, think about how people of different ethnicities can get real without rancor. And please let me know what that looks like.
Happy Martin King, Jr.’s Birthday. Oh, and see if you can find OTHER writings/speeches of the good doctor BESIDES “the “I Have a Dream” speech. Coincidentally, I’ll be talking about another one this very week.