I don’t know how it is in other countries, and I know some of you who follow this blog live outside of the United States of America. I can only talk about what we do here, as that’s the only experience I have. And here we have difficulty talking about race in a useful way. It’s prickly for many, and our historical and current abuse and terrorization of Black people rightfully makes it a hard topic to approach well.
So Here, we are very divided. A portion of our people spend a lot of time ignoring, quieting, and otherwise dismissing the concerns of Black people. Another portion of us spends our time doing the bare minimum, to try and keep Black folks “happy,” and by happy, this portion of the population unfortunately means quiet–so the real work can get done. It is exquisitely painful to write that. And yet it is true.
And there is a handful (comparatively) of our population who wants to pull an emergency brake on all systems of our functioning until these indiscretions and abuses, and the systems that continue causing them are thoroughly 1) acknowledged, 2) financial and emotional repairs are made, and 3) our systems that continue to harm are meaningfully addressed/interrupted.
And while there is progress over the years, there is so much interference that growth is painfully slow and prone to backslide.
The second group above, the well-meaning ones who don’t know Black community members, have not worked to find and nurture community with Black people and families, and therefore have not been in proximity to the pain of Black community when shared under conditions of trust, do not understand the toll and burden put upon the bodies, minds and spirits of Black people and families. Upon Black children.
And so it’s not ever a top line item on the agenda. It’s a nebulous concept and not tidy. So it languishes. And the pain continues. And many of us remain blissfully, intentionally blind to it. Year after year.
People try to join the third group for many reasons. Some will end up there and soon realize this place of the work is not a social club. It is unpopular. Negative words are used to describe the third group.
Enough people sort of get it, that we have healing to do in the US, and especially when it comes to matters of race. And let me be clear…we are only talking about people living in Black skin today. We have healing to do in how we have treated people of all races here. And in many, many other capacities. This one powerful, agonizing thing, though. That’s what this piece is about–Our treatment of Black people in America.
People have good hearts (most people). So people try. And we’re messing up a lot.
Usually messing up happens when people get into the work of acknowledging, repairing, and interrupting patterns, but for themselves. To be and look like better people. To improve their personal or professional brand and seem hip and woke to their clients. To attract more Black clients. To compete. To feed ego. To be the best ally, the most aware, and to win the mammal vs mammal games we play.
And messing up can be innocent. But then it is important to sit down. To listen. To feel that warm rush of shame and embarrassment. To process that separately. (Two issues happening at the same time, right? 1) Our own embarrassment to have made a fairly predictable mistake every Black author has warned of since way back and 2) The harm we have caused.)
It’s confusing too, because different Black friends advise me….completely differently. And different Black leadership advises us…completely differently. If we are privileged to have earned the trust of many, or a few, Black advisers and friends, and we have built a life of listening to Black people, then we are so incredibly lucky. Take time to listen. Take time to support these people you respect and love. Take your name off the placard, unless they have asked you to put it on. And even then, really question why your name is going onto the work at all. Internally. What is it you are going to do–for your Black colleague/friend?
Not for your own brand. Not for your “proximity to Blackness” resume.
I struggle with the way we pin one day or one week or one month onto those we consider “marginalized people.” I understand the importance of celebrating Black people. But it is with great weariness, that I watch people read stories about Black historical figures and immediately forget the names of the people they’ve read about. And treat brilliant, beautiful Black people in our nation’s history with indifference.
I wonder if we can stop acting our way through this.
How many of us ever sit with the overflow of emotions that come when we learn how we’ve suppressed the history of Black engineers, authors, organizers, heroes, scientists, and teachers? How often do we sit with the way we invite, and then silence and/or ignore Black voices? How often do we notice the indifference, numbness or even disdain we carry when the topics of race and racism come up?
How many of us stare a little at the words Black history is American History and feel nothing at all? How many clench their jaw because it’s too hard to stop and contemplate? And how many just share a post or read one book or talk about one or two Black people in history and then just move on?
If you know me, you know I’m experimenting with being quieter about race these days, and mostly because I’m watching our social platforms become flooded with people trying to monetize racial justice. I’m watching Black women have to fight to have one word go unchallenged, and usually by white women. I’m watching the mess that is us, and I’m trying to learn about it.
I don’t have to look very far to see Black folks be challenged for simply existing. It happens all of the time. The quieter I am, the more of it I see and hear.
Our greatest act of manipulation here in the US is to tell people it’s not happening, and I think that is what we need to understand and remedy before we can truly celebrate Black history month. It’s been said thousands of times–but Black history should be taught every month, tucked right inside the curriculum written for US History.
But first–assess where you (each one of us) are sitting with your why. Why are you doing it? If the answer is–because you have to, then let’s talk about that a little more. Silence is complicit, but faking it is harmful and which is worse? (Rhetorical–because the answer is that it’s more honest to say “I am trying to understand,” or “I am overwhelmed and trying to find my starting point,” than to say “Look, I understand this,” when you do not nor ever really intend to.)
And if you’re looking for tools, more and more are being developed by Black community members all the time. You have to look for them, and then use them. Google is a remarkable tool!
We like Woke Homeschooling, by Delina Pryce McPhaull and Teaching Tolerance (this links to an article entitled: Why We Need Black History Month), but there are many more places to find lesson plans, books, and stories about Black Americans.