Monday, February 24, 2014

Black History Month: Why It Matters

There are people who really believe Black History Month exists to make the ancestors of slave owners uncomfortable. I can't

The lessons learned through 244 years of legal slavery and 81 years of Jim Crow aren’t solely for blacks seeking a knowledge of self, but for all who seek courage in the face of injustice. The fight for freedom and the continuing fight for equality isn’t gender or race specific. Telling the truth in the face of public scrutiny requires courage. If John Brown, Frederick Douglas, Harriet Tubman and countless others could risk their lives for freedom, why should I stop writing about injustice in our time because it makes me unpopular and some of my “friends” uncomfortable?

Every February certain political outlets restart their push to delegitimize black history month by calling it’s usefulness into question. I often see memes on social media that ask the question: why isn’t there a white history month? I wonder; how would a white history month curriculum differ from our current primary and secondary requirements in history.

I get a burning in the pit of my stomach when someone down plays the role of race in today’s America. Denial of a race problem isn’t the same thing as ending racism. I live in a community where, often, I’m the only black man in a restaurant, sporting event, or church- depending on which denominations service we attend. In my home town we’ve shuttered the doors of two black churches in the last 10 years. The oldest black church in our area (Mt. Pisgah) is down to two services a month with no full time pastor. The church I attend has seen its attendance fall dramatically in the last 15 years.

The biggest problem is a lack of opportunity for minorities. Many of my siblings and friends have had to make their lives far from home. The largest employer in our county (a resort that I won’t mention by name) and the county government itself has a horrible track record of employing minorities in high positions. Many of our parents worked in the service industry waiting the tables and making the beds in order to educate their children. I know people who got their degrees, returned home, and were offered the same jobs they held in high school.

The argument that the election of a black man is proof that racism is over is a disingenuous argument that asks one to forget all of the heated rhetoric and blatant racist attacks on him, his wife and their kids. If we had a Jewish president it would be unthinkable to protest at the White House with a Swastika, yet the stars and bars, nooses, and other relics of America’s dark ages are common place.

I want people to understand that denying opportunity implicitly or explicitly is a way of placing and keeping people in a caste system. Yes it’s true that opportunity in many of America’s small towns is scarce, but opportunity for racial minorities is almost nonexistent. My county is less than 5% African American. In my old Neighborhood (one of the two predominantly black neighborhoods) there’s one child of mixed race that catches the bus to school. The high school has fewer blacks enrolled than at anytime since segregation ended.

The picture at the top of this post is from a dedication ceremony in 2013, commemorating Union Hurst and T.C. Walker. (schools for blacks in our area) This is important to me because my parents and my future wife’s mother attended theses schools. My mother was Jim Crowed. Let that resonate with you for a minute. My mom! Not some person in a book a hundred years ago, but my mom. I will always tell the truth about these issues. I would rather sleep with my conscious than pretend the things I write about aren't real. 

We are a culture ducking and hiding from our feelings. Most of the people I know are on some sort of drug, whether it’s a legal prescription pharmaceutical, an illegal substance or good old fashioned alcohol. Many choose to ignore or run from the problems in life. When you are a black man in a community like this there is no hiding. There’s no amount of denial that can change the reality of the situation. So, yes, I choose to make trouble for all of the old teachers I had that think I’m obsessed with race or the leaders of religious flocks that find the fight for equality a laughing matter. 

Pictured below: Joyce Lewis and my future wife Renee Cardwell

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