Posts tagged history
America's Story

We all know its going to happen. PBS is going to change its lineup a little bit. OWN is going to have a special. Black boys and girls around the country will stand before their congregations and repeat the speeches of Sojourner Truth and MLK. Colleges and universities will bring in special speakers. We will soak it up, the learning, the celebration, the centering of black history month. But inevitably, someone somewhere is going to ask the question, "Why isn't there a white history month?"

Some will ask sincerely feeling excluded and confused. Many will ask out of sarcasm, believing themselves to be making a novel point about double standards. Most will not expect a response. Usually this "question" is asked not to talk seriously about the history of whiteness, but to avoid celebrating blackness. In the past I have responded to this question by discussing the importance of black history. I've also explored the ways whiteness created the need to center blackness in the first place. But this year, I'd like to try something new. I'd like to respond to the request... Below is your white history calendar. 

Now I'm not sure if folks really want a white history month. Because that would require telling the truth. It would require giving an honest account of America's story. In order to have a white history month, we would have to talk about white superiority. Ya'll know I'm not usually down for centering whiteness, but in this case, I think it is important that we understand the history of white superiority- how it started, how it has morphed, how it impacts today. So for one month, please feel free to share with anyone who displays a desire to connect history to today. 

Don't forget to lay ground rules though! I suspect there may be a little resistance by the time you get to Day 10 (or sooner). Keep scrolling for my list of online articles, essays, and videos. All you need is an internet connection to partake!

* I cannot guarantee how long these links will be active. Also, please be aware this is not chronological. I tried to group events together generally, but links certainly overlap in what they cover. I hope the overlap helps tie things together. Lastly, there is sooo much more to history than whats listed here, of course. Nonetheless, I hope this offers connection- between events and from Columbus till today.

12 Years A Slave

Over the weekend I went to see 12 Years A Slave. I thought I was ready. I went with friends- friends who talk about race and justice on a regular basis. I refused to listen to any interviews by actors or producers so as to not give any scenes away. Other than short "reviews" from friends on Facebook, I didn't indulge in any blog posts about the movie, even from people I adore like Christena Cleveland's post here and Lisa Sharon Harper's post here. I wanted to go into it with no one else's thoughts except my own, sitting beside friends I trusted with any emotional reaction I might have during the film. 

I also didnt indulge my desire to hear other's thoughts after I saw it. I didnt talk about it. I didnt read about it. I didnt even tell my husband the storyline when I got home. I decided to just sit with it in order to see what would bubble to the surface most often.  Now, after more than 60 hours of simply calling the movie intense, there is another word I would like to use: torturous. 

I mean that word in the best possible way, but there is no getting around that the movie was torturous for me. Honestly, that shouldn't be surprising. It makes sense that slavery, the n-word, the violence- everything you would expect in a movie called 12 Years A Slave might be difficult to sit through! But it wasnt those moments that I found the most torturous; it was the moments of waiting. So many moments of just waiting. Waiting to get to the next scene, waiting for relief, waiting for something- anything to happen. For all their beauty, there were so many scenes in this movie of stillness, when hardly anything or anyone moved, when little changed, when things werent moving forward. And it was so very uncomfortable. So very intense. So very excruciating. 

And here is what made me drive to McDonalds at midnight to get a large fry for some sense of comfort after this film- my ancestors have endured a lot of excruciating waiting. They waited in slave houses before being forced to board ships that would carry them across the Atlantic. They waited on ships that cut through the waves of the ocean, piled on top one another, chained to the ships core. They waited on auction blocks, naked, confused, angry. They waited on plantations, to plant and to harvest, to plant and to harvest, to plant and to harvest. Some waited to run, waited to read, waited for a signal, waited in the underground. Some waited for freedom. But not all. For some the only notion of freedom came with a spiritual waiting- for Christ to return, for the master to die, for an escape from this life, for entrance into eternal life. For centuries my ancestors waited in the institution of slavery. 

And even when slavery was abolished, there was more waiting. Waiting to be considered more than 3/5ths human. Waiting to be able to move about freely. Waiting for access: to public bathrooms, to movie theaters, to education, to hotels, to restaurants, to stores, to water fountains, to churches. They also waited to be lynched, to be accused, to be declared too dangerous to live. Some preached while they waited. Some sang. Some advocated. Some voted. Some met and marched and waited for something to change, for the scene to move on, for the background to change, for relief to come. For decades my ancestors waited... my great great grandfathers, my great grandfathers, my grandfathers waited. My great great grandmothers, my great grandmothers, my grandmothers waited. My parents waited in cars on the road when hotels weren't an option. My parents waited for the riots to end when MLK was assassinated. My parents waited for their schools to be integrated. My parents waited for white flight to end and the promise of equality to begin.  The waiting was not as long ago, as distant as we would have ourselves believe. It is close. It is personal.  

You see, the reason I had to eat seriously salty, warm McDonalds french fries is because we are still waiting. Never mind the inequality in the school system, health system, housing system, food system or justice system. Never mind the inequality in employment, income, and wealth. Never mind the waiting for equity in large institutional and structural systems.

We are still waiting for churches to expand their leadership.     

We are still waiting for Christian bookstores to reflect our intellect.  

We are still waiting for cultural costumes to be considered unacceptable.  

We are still waiting for white people to stop desiring to say the n-word.  

We are still waiting for shops to stop assuming we cant afford anything costly.  

We are still waiting for folks to keep their hands out of our hair- literally. 

We are still waiting for simple freedoms.  

We are still waiting for America to realize that slavery didn't initiate racism but that slavery, Jim Crow and our current inequities are results of racism. Racism is the seed that has allowed all these inequities to exist, and not until this seed is rooted out will we stop waiting.for.freedom. 

And the waiting is excruciating.  



*I apologize for any typos in the piece. This is so personal, I am having trouble editing myself. Please forgive any obvious mistakes, as there may be many. I'm going to go read the posts of Ms. Cleveland and Ms. Harper. You should, too. 


A Protest

So this is one of those blog posts that could get me into a lot of trouble. I have a friend who says that every racial reconciler should possess a little Martin (as in MLK Jr.) and a little Malcolm (as in X). The idea is that we need the balance of MLK's love and peacefulness as well as the demanding, unsatisfied voice of Malcolm. This post is falling a little closer to Malcolm.  

This week, many around the world will pause to remember the life and death of Martin Luther King Jr. We will stop to reflect on powerful, prophetic sermons that rocked communities. We will post images of marches, sit-ins, and freedom riders. We'll upload or favorite pictures and tweet our favorite quotes. And I will be among everyone else, loving the celebration of Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement he represented. 

When we truly pause to reflect on this time in American history, it really is astounding. With the advent of television, Civil Rights leaders, including MLK, used this growing technology to draw attention to their plight. They set-up the media to put on display the realities of living in segregated America. The media couldn't resist covering the Movement, even if they wanted to ignore it. Every protest was purposefully creative. At the very least they served three purposes 1. to galvanize the community of the oppressed 2. to move the hearts of the privileged and uninvolved and 3. to provide evidence to the unbelieving that America had a problem that needed to be fixed.  

While I am grateful for the ways this legacy lives on, the tradition and history that arises every time I hear the song, "We Shall Overcome", I still want more. I want us to embody the spirit of the protests, not just repeat the steps. I have seen many glimpses of new creativity- Facebook pictures the symbolize our support, apps that make fundraising easy, tweets that spread like wildfire. But I also still see an overwhelming number of small marches and old hymns that lack the courage, creativity, danger, sacrifice, and heart that moved the nation in the 1960s. What happened to our conviction to put racism on display, to show what it looks like, sounds like, feels like? 

It seems that many protests today are missing some of these essential ingredients. People gather together but they aren't always representative of the oppressed community, and they certainly aren't always planned and implemented by the oppressed, an essential component of sustainable galvanization. It also seems like a lot of protests are so focused on what they are against, that they have completely forgotten about moving people to care. The beauty of the Civil Rights protests was its incredible growth. White college students from the North were risking their lives because they were so moved to action, so moved to care. Today's protests have the "us vs them" language down, but have they forgotten how to turn "them" into "us"? And lastly, protest planners have to keep in mind that the world is looking for evidence- evidence of a problem. Can your protest put the evidence, the symbols, the faces, the feelings on display? If all three components can exist in today's world of amazing technology, communication and connection, we just might, finally, Overcome. 

My immense gratitude for those of old who marched, sat, kneeled, voted, preached, sang, and gave their lives so that I can lead the life I have. And my eternal support to the activists of today who are trying to change the world, one (creative) protest at a time.  


Ida M Flood
Ida Flood Harvey.jpg

Ida M Flood was born in February of 1884 in Virginia. She was the oldest of her siblings, and by the age of 16 was being raised by a single mother. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find what happened to Ida's father. There is a great deal of mystery swirling around her "mulatto" identity, as listed on every census record where her name appears. Following her father's death, her mother took over supporting the family by becoming a cook. At the age of 20, Ida married into the Harvey family. Despite the fact that Ida's father-in-law had been a slave, the family was quite well off. 

Following the civil war, Ida's father-in-law ran a thriving tobacco farm. The farm was so successful that the family hired white sharecroppers to work the land, and the family frequently took shopping trips to New York, proving that shopping is in fact in my blood.

By 1920 Ida's in-laws passed away, and she and her husband, Paul, ran the tobacco farm, along with extended family. They had 3 surviving children, Hattie Lee (my great grandmother), Grace and Paul. 

I am told that every Sunday Ida cooked a full meal for all the hired hands who worked the farm, skills she no doubt learned from her mother. The kitchen would fill with the smells of dinner and dessert- pies and cakes which my great grandmother helped cook but could not touch. There was a rule in this house- those who worked ate first and to their hearts' content. This family refused to treat the hired hands like slaves. The family would not feast in their faces, or leave them wanting food; they did not receive the left overs or the trash that the family did not want. They got the best, the first, and they could eat as much as they wanted. 

Though this was torture for my great grandmother, a child trying to resist the smell of cakes and pies, in case she received none, I am so proud to know this about my great, great grandmother. How easy it would have been to lord their power over the farm hands, to wallow in resentment of the past. Her own father in law, who she lived with for at least a decade, would carry the marks of slavery, and perhaps her own father as well. Ida refused to be like the oppressors of the past, and I love her for it. 

May we all aspire to be people who choose our way forward, not based on the wounds of the past- no matter how painful the memories. Let us instead give our best and give it generously.