|Feb 21, 2013 - Issue 505|
here we are midway through Black History Month and already it seems as
though the nation has fallen into the black hole of ignorance about
black Americans. It reminds me about the line that someone “has a face
you forget while you’re looking at him.” America is forgetting about
black people while it looks at them.
February is the cruelest month, with apologies to T.S. Elliot who claimed it was April. February is a month in which the nation lies to itself about itself. We gather for lectures about black history and assure ourselves that we have made great progress from the Jim Crow days of black/white fountains and segregated busses. Nothing could be further from the truth.
True, we have a black president and a wonderful black family in the White House. We see successful, rich black faces all over our televisions and on our stages. White Americans observe all of this and say, “Gee, we sure have come a long way.” In some sense, yes we have. In other ways we are as locked in segregation as we’ve ever been.
Consider this: What if the Secretary of State stood before Congress and announced that a foreign nation, say Iran or China, had in place policies and laws that imprisoned one in fifteen men of a certain ethnic minority? That these policies were responsible for 60 per cent of the young people of this minority from obtaining even a basic education in vast areas of the country? That a quarter million men, women, boys and girls of this minority were shot dead in a thirty-five year period? That, in fact, members of this ethnic minority were more likely to be jailed than educated?
Politicians from both sides of the aisle would line up to introduce bills to sanction such a nation. The air would be blue with condemnation. We as a nation would demand that something be done.
That nation is us. There is no call that something be done. There is only acceptance. We have a new Jim Crow era that is as heinous as the old one. Under the old, pre-Civil Rights rules, a great number of Americans assumed that the situation for African Americans was bad but, hey, what can you do? It took courage, commitment and even bloodshed to create change. Here we are in 2013 with a great many of us saying, again, hey, what can you do?
For starters, we can look around our own communities and acknowledge reality. We can demand that our schools offer pre-school programs that teach kids to read, to get along with others, to see themselves as cherished individuals. We can offer help to single mothers by teaching them that they, too, are valuable as human beings and not just dysfunctional consumers of high sugar fast food. We can address the issue of African American boys who are on the fast track to a jail cell by focusing on their potential as responsible men, responsible fathers, contributors to their own well-being, and not losers who are the leftovers of America.
It has been proved time and again that oppression of an entire people produces a trauma that lasts generations. It happened to the Irish. It happened to the Indians of South America. It happened to our own Native People. And it happened to the Africans who were brought here in slave ships.
Perhaps we should scrap the idea of Black History Month and replace it with Black Future Month. Looking backward gives us a glimpse of past suffering and a few rays of inspiration from Doctor King or Frederick Douglas. But it doesn’t tell us anything about where we are today.
During February, African American children attend school assemblies where they hear the same stories and they use their crayons to draw pictures of Dr. King or Maya Angelou. The nine year old who today is drawing those pictures will soon find that America has not put away the chains. This boy will soon be wearing them and leaving hope and opportunity behind on a school wall.
Each and every one of us should look into the face of that boy or that girl to witness the innocence that we are squandering.
Where is our anger? Where is our outrage? Are we so beaten down by our dysfunctional government that we no longer even try? Are we on the left so ashamed of being labeled “liberals” that we cower in resignation?
America is going through a crucial period when we are redefining ourselves as a nation. There are many who say our best days are behind us and we don’t have the money, the gumption or the vision to be better. These people are hogging the narrative. We on the left must find it in ourselves to break our own chains and look into the eyes of the children who will have to live with what we do or fail to do.
We lost three-thousand of our citizens on 9/11 and went to war, spending a trillion dollars-plus. We’ve lost a quarter million young African Americans and we tell ourselves we don’t have the money to prevent another quarter million from being killed.
Are you kidding me?
Guest Commentator, Larry Matthews, is a veteran broadcast journalist.
He is the recipient of The George Foster Peabody Award for Excellence
in Broadcast for his reporting on Vietnam veterans. He is also the
recipient of a Columbia/DuPont Citation, Society of Professional
Journalists, Associated Press, and other awards for investigative
reporting. He is the author of five books including, I Used To Be In Radio: a Memoir. Click here to reach Mr. Matthews.