Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Connections Between Then and Now

Much more often than I can bear sometimes, a White person will kick off one of the standard scripts on race with the line, "I'm really tired of hearing all about the history of slavery. I never owned any slaves. My father never owned any slaves. Why do Black people keep using history as an excuse not to go on with their lives?" Or some other similar more or less developed rendition of this thought. It's so common that I feel my brain immediately shift over, lock onto the file of standard addressals, and put my mouth in gear to respond. It's not history that's making African-Americans crazy, I say, it's the present (duh!) By the time we finish, they seem to have gotten it without a meltdown, but I have learned that sometimes they have and sometimes, by twenty minutes later, White Supremacy being what it is, they've lost it again. Frustrating.

Anyway, this is crunch time in an already overwhelming semester, but I've been walking around with a headful of thoughts lately on how neatly history connects to the present. Here are a few of those:

1) Eric Stoller hosted the newest Erase Racism Blog Carnival here. It's all about White Supremacy and much of it focuses on Thanksgiving, which was a wonderful idea considering the fact that most folks in the U.S. still "celebrate" that holiday without a backward glance at what it ultimately meant to the indigenous people who made the first feast possible. Eric's choice of topic inspired me to write my own post about Thanksgiving by the day itself.

2) Yesterday marked the anniversary of two important historical events: Rosa Parks' refusal to give up her seat on the bus in 1955 and Abraham Lincoln's State of the Union address in 1862. I see them connected, of course. Lincoln's address is what took the Civil War from being about State's Rights to being about slavery, though the only reason Lincoln took it in this direction was because he was trying to win the war and preserve the nation as one cohesive whole. He had emancipated the slaves in the seceeded states just 10 weeks before so that African-Americans could legally join the Union forces and take up arms against their former "masters." And he only did this because northern White men were becoming seriously disinterested in fighting the war themselves, at least partly because most of them didn't mind slavery all that much, if at all. Lincoln was smelling defeat, so he clutched at a straw, saying: "In giving freedom to the slave, we ensure freedom to the free... We shall nobly save, or meanly lose, the last, best hope of earth." Thus, he enlisted (literally) the aid of nearly two hundred thousand former slaves to put a finish to the war -- and they did. But, while this released them from the bonds of legal slavery, it did not institute either justice or parity for U.S. citizens of color. So Rosa Parks, nearly one hundred years later, still had to plan and implement a personal self-destruction of her individual right to privacy, employment, or peace by challenging the practice of keeping African-Americans "in their place." The final irony: both events, while defining moments in their respective ages and successful in their immediate results, have only changed the surface of our social milieu, leaving it to us to dig up the roots of racial oppression in the United States and free ourselves -- finally -- from the toxic poison that still and maybe even more effectively threatens our nation's survival yet.

3) For those who need more "proof" that Lincoln did not lay slavery to rest in all its manifestations, Kirshan Murphy over at Nubian Waves relates a story that will leave you staring at the floor.

4) Last, but far from least, a few days ago, I was reminded that forty years ago this week, Martin Luther King, Jr., called for a Poor People's Campaign against those whose interests require the continued oppression of all who work to make this country rich without being allowed to share fully in that abundance. An example of what he was saying: "...There are millions of poor people in this country who have very little, or even nothing, to lose. If they can be helped to take action together, they will do so with a freedom and a power that will be a new and unsettling force in our complacent national life..." It's most interesting to note that King was a major power player in the civil rights movement for more than four years prior to this new evolution, but the minute he started talking about poor Whites and poor Blacks organizing themselves as one unit in their collective interests, it took only four months for some individual (acting entirely alone, of course) to kill him. Catch just a whiff of the power that was on the move in this video clip. Can't help but wonder if that kind of power could be lurking just under the surface if poor people today would pick up the thread of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s last thought...

6 comments:

¿Yh8? said...

Oh soldier of light, don't ever lose faith. We are not alone within this Army of Unity!! — Thank yeh for your war cry.

With the connections of present to past, we gain our strength from our experience. From our connections from present to future, we gain hope from our strengths.

(This is a HATE FREE comment)

Changeseeker said...

So now you made me cry...

Thank you.

Casdok said...

Great post.

Changeseeker said...

Thanks, casdok, and welcome. Anytime.

Prof Z said...

This is why I am glad I am as old as I am - I can remember what MLK was saying in the last year of his life. It was not as easy to learn those kinds of values later on.

Changeseeker said...

Excellent point, PZ. This stuff has been well buried in a deluge of "I Have A Dream" speech renditions, has it not?