Thursday, February 16, 2012

Thoughts on Black History

If you haven’t participated in or supported at least two events by today’s halfway point in this Leap Year African American History Month, then get your act in gear. And this injunction is intended for you irrespective of your race, ethnicity, place of national origin, gender, age, or sexual orientation. [See the last paragraph].

Black history is of course American history. I, for one, would hate to be ignorant of a substantial portion of my fellow neighbors. I never cease to be amazed at how little so many of us know about so much of American history, especially as it relates to black people. It’s simply not possible to understand much of anything in today’s world without an appreciation for what has taken place.

This country is home to just about the most ahistoric people on the planet. An American culture that exalts youth, instant gratification, and the next big thing, has little appreciation for the traditions that inform far older cultures on distant continents, i.e. Europe, Asia, and Africa.

We give only lip service to history in our society. We’re so far out of touch with the country’s origins that we credit folks who offer up pseudo historical accounts [think Newt Gingrich and George Will] as having big brains or being super smart, when all they are doing is relying on some coded account of events that supports their present day political views.

All too often those historical accounts are coded to express American superiority and exceptionalism, the notion that the United States is uniquely virtuous, indisputably blessed by Providence, justifiably entitled to rule over lesser nations, and endowed with a right of  supreme veto.

February, thanks to Carter G. Woodson, offers us at least four weeks a year when healthy antidotes to that warped view are at least on the agenda.

You may already have missed one of this month’s best such antidotes, “Slavery By Another Name”, which aired this past Monday on PBS television. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize winning book by Douglas A. Blackmon, the show offered an understanding of how southern state governments colluded with private enterprise to establish a system of peonage after the Civil War that in some ways was more brutal than slavery had been.

It was hard to watch the program and not relate the world it revealed to today’s system of incarceration. It seems that we are becoming increasingly exceptional in our knack for the forced rendering of a distinct segment of humanity into an alternate or surplus labor force for private economic profit. Read either Blackmon’s original work or that of Michelle Alexander [The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness]   And we offer a hat tip to Deuteronomy 8:3 Café for hipping us to this work, a predecessor to Blackmon’s: Slavery Revisited: Blacks and the Southern Convict Lease System, 1865-1933 by Milfred C. Fierce.

If you missed last week’s panel discussion of “Slavery By Another Name” at Karamu last week featuring both the book’s author and the film’s producer, you have a second chance to view a portion of the documentary and participate in a community discussion. On Saturday, Feb. 25 there will be a panel conversation at New Bridge, 3634 Euclid Ave., Cleveland OH 44115 around the film and related topics. Guests and panelists include: Susan Hall, community relations director for the Western Reserve Historical Society,  county councilman Julian Rogers, civil rights attorney Dennis Niermann, motivational speaker Basheer Jones, radio/tv personality Sandra Bishop, and filmmaker Marquette Williams. Call 216.867.9775 for info.

Finally, we commend to all Real Deal readers this recent piece from Diverse Issues in Higher Education: Why Ethnic Studies Courses Are Good for White Kids Too.

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