Why dredge up old stories?

Over the past few months, I’ve heard variations of this comment a number of times: “Why dredge up old stories? Why not just let the past stay in the past?”

The problem with that kind of thinking is that it ignores the impact those stories of the past are still having today.

On a recent trip, I listened to the audio version of the book Blood at the Root, read by the author, Patrick Phillips. He became interested in the history of the county he grew up in as a child–Forsyth County, Georgia…an all-white county.

The event that caused it to be a “sundowner county” occurred in 1912, but the impact of that event lasted beyond 1987. It was a heritage of hate, fear, bigotry, and intolerance that lasted for generations, passed down from father to son.

It was a difficult book to listen to. It would have been difficult to read in print, but hearing the words that were spoken…the graphic descriptions of the violence perpetrated against innocent people…made it a powerful experience.

There is evidence that the impact of trauma can be passed down through the generations genetically and through the ways those parents and grandparents deal with those traumas. That means that these “old stories” don’t just die away and should be put aside. We are still living with the results of those traumas–and that can help us understand what is happening today with the seemingly sudden explosion of racial anger.

It’s not coming out of nowhere. It’s been building for a long, long time. We’ve just been doing our best to ignore it.

So how do we get rid of the impact of these stories?

Yael Danieli and Brent Bezo, psychologists who have been studying this question, both say one of the most important steps is to acknowledge and discuss the atrocities. Doing so allows the survivors to process their pain and helps the families understand and make sense of their parents’ and grandparents’ behaviors.

So are we ready to do so? It’s not going to be easy. It’s going to require those of us who are white to rethink a lot of what we’ve learned. It’s going to require us to hear uncomfortable truths–to acknowledge our own complicity in creating a society which has perpetuated trauma for minorities.

But unless we do so, unless we are willing to truly listen to those stories we would rather keep hidden away, nothing will change–and we will continue to be a society that perpetuates the rights of a few against the cries for help and change of the many.

Suffer little children…

Do you remember your first day of school? How excited you were to be going? Wondering what new friends you were going to make? Did you walk there with your mom and / or dad, talking excitedly?

Can you imagine being 6 years old and looking forward to school…and on your first day being escorted by four big armed men? Going through a crowd of people shouting hate at you? Arriving at school to discover that no one was willing to be your friend? That you were the only student in your class? And to go through that day after day after day?

Or can you imagine going to a boarding school…excited to learn about another culture? Wanting to understand who these other people were and how you might be able to make friends with them? Only to have your beautiful clothes taken away and be put into a shapeless uniform…to have your hair cut? To be given a new name and told that you were never to use the name given you by your family? To be punished for speaking your own language or worshiping the way you knew? To face the risk of sexual and / or physical assault on a daily basis? To be told that you were worthless?

Or can you imagine standing on a platform with your mother and your siblings, being poked and prodded? Then seeing your siblings pulled away one or two at a time? Seeing your mother’s tears and hearing her cries as you clung to her? And then being separated from her…and never seeing her again? Can you imagine your body not being your own?

Can you imagine being forcibly removed from your home? Told that you had to dispose of your belongs except what you could carry? Forced to live in a somewhat converted animal shed with many other families? Surrounded by high fences that were guarded by soldiers? Seeing your parents cry as they recognized the loss of everything they had worked for?

These are not situations that happened in another country…or centuries ago.

They are us…and they are recent.

Ruby Bridges–the little girl–was born in 1954.

Native American children were still being placed in schools designed to “assimilate” them through the mid-19th century…and until 1924 were not considered to be citizens of the United States. In some states Native Americans were not given the right to vote until 1957.

Ruth Ellis, an LGBTQ activist who died in 2000, was the daughter of slaves.

Japanese-Americans were interned in a number of camps in the United States following the attack on Pearl Harbor, even though there was no evidence of any anti-American behavior. George Takei was one of those 117,000 American citizens who were interned.

We cannot say that “all this” is in the past and we should just move on. It isn’t. We are still dealing with the impact of these events today.

We cannot ignore this history. Nor can we continue to claim ignorance of it. It is our history–belonging to each and every one of us. While there is much to celebrate in the American ideal, it is important to remember that it was also built on the brutal destruction of families, creating trauma that continues to impact all of us today. And unless we are willing to acknowledge that, we will continue to deal with the fallout.

I am reminded that the One I follow told his followers this (using The Message translation of Matthew 18:6):

But if you give them [the children] a hard time, bullying or taking advantage of their simple trust, you’ll soon wish you hadn’t. You’d be better off dropped in the middle of the lake with a millstone around your neck….Hard times are inevitable, but you don’t have to make it worse—and it’s doomsday to you if you do.

We  need to acknowledge our past…with its good and with its evil and brutality. Then and only then will we have the strength and the courage to begin to heal.

 

This is 2020, isn’t it?

Last time I looked at my calendar, the year said 2020.

So why are we still having discussions and hearing comments that sound like they came from 1820 (or so)?

I’m not going to list them here–I don’t want to dignify them that way. If you’re really interested, just watch the news.

But seriously…haven’t we learned anything about humankind yet? About the fact that skin color has nothing to do with character? that a particular group of people of one skin color isn’t inherently superior? and another skin color inherently inferior?

When I read some of the comments on Facebook or hear news reports, I think that I’m somehow in some sort of a time warp. These people are dressed the same way I dress…they’re not wearing what we call “period” clothes. And they are using the same words that I use. But what they are saying has come from a time frame of 150-200 years ago!

I had thought…hoped?…that we were learning. I had thought…hoped?…that we were finally moving past the legacy of the Civil War.

But instead of moving forward, it feels like we’ve moving backward. We’re discovering that we never really “won” the Civil War.

I don’t want to live in glorified remembrance of the antebellum period. I don’t want to find the “glorious Lost Cause.”

I want to acknowledge the terrible mistakes we have made–and the legacy they have left for us to deal with.

I want to learn from our history…not whitewash it.

I want to have the hope that I had at the beginning of this new century that we were going to work together to create a world of equity for all people…whether they were citizens of my country or citizens of the world.

I want to live the dream that America dreamed for so many years…a dream that we have never been perfect at, but the dream that was the foundation for so many dreams that came after.

I want to live these dreams:

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door. – Emma Lazarus

I say to you today, my friends, so even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream.…I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character. I have a dream that…one day right there in Alabama, little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers. – Martin Luther King

I want to live in the light of our dreams…not the darkness of our fears.

8 minutes 46 seconds

I attended a peaceful march for justice this afternoon. After we had made our way to the final point, we were asked to stand, sit, lay down, or kneel for 8 minutes 46 seconds.

I chose to kneel.

Intellectually I knew it would feel like a long time, but I wanted and needed to experience it.

It seemed to last forever.

It was not comfortable; I found I had to shift my position slightly a couple of times.

I cannot imagine what it must be like to feel comfortable kneeling on someone’s neck for that long…to listen to them beg…to watch them die.

I cannot imagine what it felt like to have a knee pressed into my neck for that long…to beg for help…to not be able to breathe…and to die.

8 minutes 46 seconds.

If you have not knelt for that long, please do it.

Please understand that the protests are not just for that 8 minutes 46 seconds…but for the years black people’s lives have been under white knees.

Please understand that until we are willing to recognize that fact, we are part of the problem, not part of the solution.

8 minutes 46 seconds.

Is that the tipping point? Is this when we will finally begin to hear?

8 minutes 46 seconds…

What is my privilege?

I’m trying to educate myself more about the racial divide in our country. Recently I came across a way of expressing how much I take for granted that is not available to many others.

Here’s the various privileges and my paraphrasing of the descriptions:

  • Economic privilege – the possibility to pass wealth on to my children and to not worry about whether I can provide the necessities for my family…and also have enough for what would seem luxuries to many others (vacation, health care, etc.)

    This is true for me. I do not consider myself “rich”–but compared to most of the rest of the world, I am. I have a home, health care, the ability to buy food and clothing, enough to have private transportation and be able to go on vacations.

  • Spatial privilege – being able to move around without fear of violence.

    Somewhat true for me. As a woman, I am more vulnerable than men–but I am definitely less vulnerable than minority individuals.

  • Educational privilege – knowing that public education will meet my needs and that I can get a quality education.

    Definitely true for me. I received an excellent education–and have been able to get two advanced degrees.

  • Intellectual privilege – my accomplishments will be recognized as being my accomplishments, not as “a credit to [my] race.”

    Again, true for me.

  • Historical privilege – when I open a history book, people of my race are represented accurately and given credit

    Again, true for me. As I have gotten older, I am realizing just how much I did not learn from my history books–how much history was presented from only my perspective, diminishing the accomplishments of individuals from other backgrounds.

  • Generational privilege – the ability to search for and find my ancestors

    I’ve been enjoying doing some family research, finding out more about my great-great-great-great-grandparents (and further back). I can find them in historical records without too much difficulty, although sometimes figuring out which spelling of my last name might have been used! But in looking at those records, I also often see individuals described by only one name (a “white” one) with no other information that might help their descendants connect with them.

  • Bodily privilege – the freedom to look like I do and not have people judge me or want to touch me

    Again, this is mostly true for me. Yes, sometimes I may have someone ask if I have put on (or lost) weight, but that is not a constant question. And, except for when I was pregnant, people have generally not wanted or felt free to touch me without asking.

Once we can begin to recognize how much of our lives we (as white people) live without acknowledging how much freedom we have, then we can begin to see the differences that exist–and work to make sure others have the same privileges we do.