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One Is Not Enough...

Feb 8, 2018 Tony Hammack

February. The month best known for leap years and love.

It is also known as Black History month. It is a dedicated time to celebrate black history and black culture.

I remember in first grade, my class took part in a black history event at my elementary school. We watched videos of MLK and we did some play to honour black culture.- (It was 18 years ago, there is no way to remember those details!)

Yes, I was in a play honouring Black history, but let me contrast that with the way I was raised.

  • I was born into one of the most gang-ridden neighborhoods of Detroit, MI.
  • My father is African American. (So, if my math is right, I am one-half black and one-half white. Thank goodness for my 2 degrees in math.)
  • I went to Danelly Elementary in Montgomery (K5-2nd) which was 92% African American.

I thought that since I was mixed and went to a mostly black school as a kid that I was immune from this racist bias.

I unfortunately was not.

In elementary school, I was taught either literally or subliminally through conversations, television shows, and/or movies that “black people (especially on the street) were poor, less-valued in society, thugs, and/or hoodlums.”

In middle and high school, I learned from my “buddies” (white teammates) that black people were the root of many jokes and were valued only because of their athletic performance. White Christian private school, who would have thought any different?

You know what, there were some black students. I was wrong with saying there were none. But, those black teammates acted “white”, so they were cool.

I wish I could communicate my sarcasm and disgust better, but I just could not believe what they said. I never agreed with what they said, but their ideals did rub off on me. I developed unknown prejudices.

And when there were some racist jokes about me, I thought it was no big deal. I wanted to fit in and be liked. So, I ignored all that to gain their acceptance. I spent 4 years wasting my time gaining their friendship. What a waste!

Yet, I was taught to be prejudiced, and I am black. Irony, I know. But, I thought I was not. I thought I was “liberated” from these biases and prejudices. I thought through my education that I saw past colour.

I have read MLK’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail” and “I have a dream” speech multiple times. I have heard his countless other speeches. I have watched videos on his Selma march.

I also read and studied the Emancipation Proclamation and 13th-15th Amendments for history classes.

I have studied the Civil Rights movement and visited the Civil Rights Museum.

I thought I was “woke.” I thought I was free. I thought I saw beyond what Southern culture secretly still teaches us. (I live in Alabama, so…)

No, I am a guy who forgot his heritage. A guy who saw colour. A guy who still had prejudices.

The enforcement of Jim Crow laws in the United States ended in 1965 with the passages of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Segregation was abolished. African Americans can now freely enjoy all the liberties and protections that the Constitution provided to its citizen. But in Alabama, that dream was not truly realised still. Two years before 1965, George Wallace - the “revered” governor who has his name on many buildings and institutions in Alabama - declared in his inaugural address: “…I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever.” He is also the same man who stood in front of the University of Alabama refusing executive orders from JFK to allow African American students attend university classes. How can a culture move past that prejudice?

Yes, 1965 is when discrimination legally ended. Yet, that legacy lives on.

When I lived with my Grandmother after moving from Detroit, my Grandmother was almost not allowed to bring us into her church. I have family members who are still racist and uneasy with knowing my heritage. One of my ex-girlfriends was in the presence of co-workers who said “they do not understand why white girls are with mixed and black guys.” I have had some potential relationships fail because I was mixed.

And I am light-skinned! If I have gone through this stuff, I CANNOT imagine the hateful, derogatory comments that my darker friends deal with.

I was in a conversation with some friends about the Traevon Martin shooting and the BLM movement. They said the most racist phrase I have ever heard, “He was black, he probably deserved it.”

Wow. Just wow.

Different concentrations of melanin and different skeletal structures should never determine the worth of any man.

In 1976, Black History month was established to celebrate black culture and history.

In the grand scheme, this is a hollow measure to placate a historically disenfranchised people. One month out of the year do we celebrate black culture. The other 11 months we forget about black culture.

  • We dismiss the unjust police brutality of African Americans.
  • We dismiss that African Americans are POORLY underrepresented in today’s media.
  • We dismiss African American communities in the poorer inner-cities for “deserving” their poverty.
  • We dismiss African Americans in our local communities. We do not want “too diverse” churches and schools. We do not want our sons and daughters to date and marry black people since they are “one of them” and “not like us.”

The lyrics from “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” by Nina Simone (1967) are simple and true:

I wish you could know
What it means to be me
Then you'd see and agree
That every man should be free.

If those who perpetrate racism in any form were on the receiving end, those actions would stop immediately.

It takes a lifetime, a lifetime to honour African Americans’ contributions to society. A lifetime to right the years of injustice. It takes a lifetime to quell the whispers of racism still in our society.

MLK said, “History will have to record that the greatest tragedy of this period of social transition was not the strident clamour of the bad people, but the appalling silence of the good people.”

We are still in that state of transition. Racism and division still exist even if it subtle. Our kids are still taught to fear black people. Heck, my father is black and I was still prejudiced.

Allowing one month of celebration of black culture means absolutely nothing if it is followed by 11 months of silence. I hope we joyously celebrate black history the rest of this year and the years to come. May we never forget the history of our brothers and sisters.

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