I’m tired of hearing about yet another senseless killing of an innocent black man. I’m dumbfounded that, as advanced as Americans are in science and technology, many are still psychologically stunted in the Jim Crow era.
We know that racism is learned and not innate. There are examples everywhere that show how young children don’t even see the color of ones skin. So I began to wonder, when exactly, does this happen? Of course, if a family is racist, it begins at birth. But what about children born to more progressive parents? Or mixed families? In my case I can tell you exactly when it happened.
My son grew up in a diverse neighborhood. Our neighbors were white, black, Indian, and Asian. He played together with all the children in the tot lot behind our townhouses. Children of all races were welcomed in my home. My black neighbor, Kevin, who lived across the street was a very dear friend of mine and often came over to hang out. He was only known as “Kevin” even though he lived with a white man with the same name. It was very important to me that my son not grow up identifying people by the color of their skin or the shape of their eyes.
I enrolled him in Montessori school. One day I picked him up from kindergarten and he said, with genuine curiosity, “Mom, did you know Kevin is black?” “Yes,” I said, “I know that. How do you know that?” I tried not to show my fury as he told me, that at 5 years old, he learned it during Black History Month.
It’s not that I object to learning about the important contributions of blacks in history. In fact, it’s absolutely vital. My objection is that, by segregating it we are perpetuating race divide. Once we start saying ‘African American,’ ‘Asian American,’ etc., we immediately identify them as different from us. Aren’t we all just Americans? With so many mixed race people, I wouldn’t dare make the assumption that someone is African American or any other kind of American. By having a Black History Month we are minimizing the importance of other races as well. The USofA was built on the backs of, and with the blood and sweat from, people from around the world. Why can’t we just teach our children about people along with their photos? Why is there a need to categorize them? It’s their story, the ability to overcome and conquer despite the discrimination they faced and the injustices they endured, that are what’s important. It’s possible to say why they were discriminated against without attributing a color or race to it. Even whites were prejudiced against because they were Irish, or Polish, or whatever. For a long time, Italians weren’t even considered “white.”
I understand the inequity in the representation of important contributions by African Americans. I respect that until there was an uproar demanding inclusion, until 1976, history books in this country were very monochromatic. I get that bias is skewed not only in American history classes but also in current society, although it continues to improve. Black people need role models that look like them, that they can look up to and be inspired by. But, so do girls, Latinos, Asians, and every other ethnic group.
To me, what is most important is that the whole history is taught. Roots should be required to watch in middle school. I had black friends my entire life and when I watched it at nine years old, I was mortified that people were so cruel and could do such unspeakable things to one another. And all because of the color of their skin! It made me cry and angry and ask questions. It definitely impacted me. The atrocities that whites inflicted upon others needs to be ingrained and taught as a lesson on how not to behave. Just as with the holocaust.
It’s not healthy to dwell on the past, but it is important that it isn’t forgotten, or skewed, either. It’s equally important to teach about the brave, everyday people that protested the savagery and helped others regardless of their race, religion, or gender. Examples of coexistence and team work should be emphasized. It wasn’t until recent years when I learned that it was the Chinese who built the railroads in much of this country. They lived in atrocious conditions and were treated not much better than slaves. And what about the Jews and Native Americans? Disturbingly, history books are repeatedly being rewritten. Recently, the Native American atrocity, Trail of Tears was rewritten to soften the horrific episode. I don’t even remember learning about Wounded Knee in school. To this day we oppress, kill, and rob the Native Americans for their land–and make no mistake about it, it’s ALL their land. Then there’s Christopher Columbus who is celebrated as a hero when, actually, he was a merciless brute.
Perhaps, if Americans were taught the whole, raw truth about how this country became so ‘great’ people wouldn’t be so proud to be American. Maybe they’d be more empathetic. Maybe fewer caucasians would identify the country as, ‘white Christian being taken over by foreigners.’ Of course that would be counter-productive to our leaders who use patriotism to send us to fight battles of greed, both at home and abroad, that they wouldn’t let their own children fight. Divide and conquer. John Lennon’s Imagine comes to mind. I’m getting off-topic now.
How would my son’s and the next generations behave toward one another if schools just taught about important people and not separate them by skin color or gender? Would Ahmaud Arbery, Randy Evans, Stephon Clark, and the countless other innocents still be alive? Why was a bomb dropped on MOVE but not on Waco? I still wonder, if it weren’t for Black History Month, how long would it have been before my son learned that some of his friends were “black” and, therefore, dissimilar from him? It’s an inevitable consequence as it creates an awareness that didn’t exist before. And once you’re aware, you can’t be unaware. I think, “tainting the well” is an apt turn of phrase here. It was something that he hadn’t noticed up to that point in his life and I feel that the education system robbed him of a part of his purity. We can do better than this. We have to because all lives matter.