Photo Courtesy of gregkucera.com
It tickles me when one of the children in the family hears a song that their parents and I know to be sampled from a “back in the day” original and the kids think it’s new. How many of us have debated the true origins of ‘Blurred Lines?’ (Thankfully, a court reminded the selectively forgetful, integrity-challenged Robin Thicke that Marvin Gaye is the song’s originator.)
One could argue that the reason that our children believe that what they’re listening to is new is because we haven’t done a good enough job of exposing them to our music. This analogy also holds true for many youngsters who are amazed at the 21st Century racism happening before their very eyes. Because they’re growing up in this so called post-racial America, seeing police officers get away with murder seems improbable, impossible even.
It’s not new.
Many blacks of a certain age have shied away from discussing Jim Crow and slavery with our children because of what I call “oppression-fatigue.” It’s my theory for why certain movies underperform at the box office. (Let’s please make ‘Selma’ the exception!) Black people have grown tired of seeing themselves depicted as oppressed and whites scoff at being perpetually identified as oppressors. One part of the argument can be heard when you hear whites say that neither they nor their parents had anything to do with slavery or Jim Crow because they weren’t around back then.
But when blacks’ only view of our past is from a victim’s perspective, we miss the opportunity to use our history as fuel in the way that Jewish people use theirs. The purpose for looking back is not to depress, but to motivate; not to confirm whites’ mistaken beliefs about their superiority, but to validate by our resilience and enormous courage that we’re outstanding.
Our story about slavery and Jim Crow cannot stop at “look at what they did to us.” It has to be “look at how we emerged from this brutal, dignity-crushing institution to be the vibrant, creative, brilliant people that we are.” Everything that we’ve accomplished, from medicine to golf to the White House, is awesome; but juxtaposed against what we had to endure to become who we are, how can that not motivate our children?
It’s time for us to borrow from our Jewish brothers and sisters, who are adamant about teaching their children the atrocities of the Holocaust, but also, importantly, that their ancestors’ intelligence, ingenuity and determination is alive in them.
I was angry when I saw 12 Years a Slave. Not just because of what happened to Solomon Northup, the free black man tricked into living a dozen horrendous years as a slave. I was angry because I had not heard his story before it was depicted in the movie. I did not know that his book existed and that made me feel a profound level of disappointment; with myself and with the school system.
His, and stories like it are probably available at one of South Florida’s priceless historical venues which are featured in this section; the African American Research Library in Ft. Lauderdale, Spady Cultural Museum in Delray and the Black Archives in Miami. I will be adding visits to these gems to my family’s monthly to-do list because even though Black History Month is relegated to the shortest month of the year, it’s no reason that we have to limit our celebration to February.
Now more than ever, we must embrace the entirety of our American experience and define it accurately, 365/24/7. Recent events make it crystal clear that people who do not know their history are doomed to repeat it.