Black History Month 2/9/23

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

And once again I forgot about Black History Month.  The start of February came and went, and it wasn’t until I saw an advertisement that it struck me that, yes, once again it is upon us. 

Maybe this is the purpose of Black History Month.  Being a white male, the struggles of my brothers and sisters who don’t share the privilege that I do always fade into the background.  Even as I contemplate the struggles of others, as unjust as they are, I know the thoughts will again fade into memory.  As odd as it is, that these concerns can fade into the background is in and of itself a form of privilege.  Every time I pass a cop in the median of a freeway, I always check my rear view to see if the police officer turns on his rollers, and there’s always a little bit of tension as I look.  And, yes, I’ve been pulled over (only once if you can believe that), and yes, it was a frightful experience.  And yet, even as I waited for the officer to approach my vehicle, never once did I worry that I might be yanked out of my car, thrown to the ground, beaten and possibly killed. 

My female friends, even the white ones, might understand what I am talking about.  Although I’ve never been afraid of somebody spiking my drink in a bar, or what might happen if I’m walking alone, they have.  It’s not something that you can just let slide into the back burner.  There is a stress with being a minority in our nation that is ever present that I cannot truly understand. 

But I can see it.  I can acknowledge it.  I can be aware of my own behaviors, regardless of my intentions, that may make others feel uncomfortable.  I’m open to learning, and suggestions on how I can do better, and I try my best to empathize with those who don’t enjoy the kind of freedom from stress that I do.  And, frankly, in this new age of anti-woke movements (which amounts to the right to act racist and offensive regardless of who it affects), I’m very frightened.  Politically, civil rights are backsliding, with new voter suppression laws, restrictions on health rights, and racially motivated killings, I feel as if any progress in the past forty years have been erased.

Today, the governor of Florida is attempting to whitewash history, turning it into an exercise in indoctrination by taking out anything that might make the American Arian race look bad.  As much as he is trying to make African American studies look like indoctrination, it’s just an attempt to open eyes to the truth.  I read a great truth that says that if history doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable, then you’re not studying history.  You’re studying propaganda.  (Yes, this is a paraphrase of the quote). 

History isn’t supposed to be clean and perfect.  America isn’t clean and perfect because people aren’t clean and perfect.  Even Christianity has its dark and shameful side, with the holy crusades and the unjust wars against Muslims, the Spanish Inquisition, and more recently the racist and violent interpretation of the Bible by groups like the Klan.  But to truly guard against continued and repeated atrocities, we must understand those of the past.  If we’re ashamed of our history, that should become our impetus to ensure that it never returns. 

In history class we learned about the American Civil War.  In that section of history, it was briefly touched on that the Southern states still had slaves, and yet today the tide seems to be turning towards teaching that the Civil War wasn’t about slavery.  While there are those who will point out that most Southerners never owned slaves, they seem to point out the profit of slavery that benefited the entire south, bringing money and resources into the region so even those who never owned slaves still benefited. 

What I never studied were the Tulsa Race Wars. Never did I study in history how racial tensions sparked riots in largely minority neighborhoods, resulting in over 1,200 building being burned, including mostly minority owned businesses and over 800 killed or injured.  This is a part of Black History that I only know about today because of Black History Month.  This happened in 1921, a hundred years ago, and yet one hundred years ago is not as far back as it sounds.  The race wars back then share frightening similarities with the BLM protests just a few years ago, with white protagonists looting and committing arson in an effort to make the mostly peaceful protests look more violent than they were in an attempt to cause an all-out race war.  Even the president called out the national guard against peaceful protesters for a photo opportunity where he hypocritically held a Bible, which is meant to be a symbol of peace and love, despite violence against the protesters. 

If we’re to move forward as a nation to a better place, we must understand the darkness from which we came.


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