What happens when we fail each other as people — as a country? What do we do when some of the most important truths about who we are is hidden?
There is no more important time than right now to deal with the scourge of racism. The psychological and emotional effects are devastating to our whole culture. We must begin this task with honest and serious messages and some painful historical facts. America doesn’t do shame very well, and by hiding our shameful past, by hiding the truth, we can’t really progress as a nation or as a people.
We have to talk about it now, or face a world where tolerance and unity are ignored. Any productive discussion must begin with a clear understanding of how justice, accountability and healing affect all change — then and now. In order to do that, we must provide a level of knowledge that will bring important facts to light, facts that will advance a more truthful dialogue about the grim dynamics of Race in America.
With knowledge comes responsibility. Knowledge and responsibility are mates, they share the same heart, one cannot exist without the other. Once you know something, you can’t un-know it, so you become the caretaker of that knowledge — a steward of the truth, so to speak.
There is a life-force, a knowledge, and a spirit in black culture that can’t be completely understood without understanding the black experience in America. And though it is impossible for white Americans to completely understand the African American experience, and likely a challenge for black Americans, our task as a country and as citizens is to learn, from as many sources as possible and to embrace the experience with as much understanding as it deserves.
By acknowledging the importance of the black culture in our history and fostering a spirit of goodwill and hope, we can bring to light some of the accomplishments, true history and intrinsic value of a culture whose American experience has been vastly misunderstood and overlooked.
We can assume that, in this country, slavery initiated a mindset of bigotry and that mindset of extreme bigotry caused an unfounded prejudice that is still with us today. For black Americans, in a country that profiles their failures over their accomplishments with staggering statistics, effecting positive change, even on the local level, is a daunting task that is fraught with struggle. Regardless, what has endured speaks to the depths of the human spirit, the fundamental need for human dignity, and the right to belong, no matter what the circumstances.
African Americans won’t give up the fight. They have witnessed extreme racial prejudice, brutality, isolation, segregation, lower pay, poor schools, wide spread poverty, corruption and joblessness, yet a spirit has survived, a spirit of community and an example of grassroots efforts that deserves to be honored and taught.
We can’t even begin to understand how racism has affected our society if we don’t know the facts from all perspectives — and we can’t begin the healing, on all sides, until we acknowledge the inconsistencies and injustices perpetrated against African Americans. In order to go forward as a people, we must know who we are and where we have been so that we can face the global community with our nationality intact.
A good first step would be to establish a repository, both virtual and real. A place that can link us all to the stories, works and documents that details everything from the first slave to George Floyd. It would also be a place where the arts and culture of the black community is lauded, readily available and easily shared. This repository would be vital to a mandated educational process in our schools. This can’t be emphasized enough.
With a well thought-out curriculum, there can be a nationalized awareness of African American culture, arts and history, a different perspective on American history, and a more profound understanding of how whites and blacks interact and why racism is a dangerous thing. This would broaden perspectives, solve problems and bring closure.
Truths about our past can be painful, but are important to know so we can guard against them ever happening again. Germany now brings their students to the Nazi death camps exactly for that reason.
The real success of a curriculum like this won’t be evidenced by tests, evaluations or reports, but in the long term by how much these students are able to assimilate the lessons learned in the material and become, no matter their heritage, better and more informed citizens with a genuine appreciation of our true cultural heritage, even inspiring real change within their own respective communities.
We will do this because we understand that the attitudes and actions students bring with them into their adult lives will shape the future of our society.
It is vastly important that we get along in humane and equitable ways and that we must not just guard against discrimination and racism by laws and regulations, but in our hearts as well. We must make a personal commitment to this every day if we are to make real and lasting change in this country.
Sandra Pfeifer is a social issue documentary filmmaker and media artist who has lived in Pope County for 40 years.
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