The Ongoing Work of Black History and Racial Reconciliation Part One

My dad wasn’t a perfect father. That’s normal. I don’t think anyone is a perfect parent. We all do the best we can with the tools we’re given. We fail then learn and improve. My dad is a better father now than he ever was when I was a minor dependant. For all of the mistakes he made, he also got a lot of things right. One of dad’s biggest parenting wins is how he insisted my brother and I show love to people of the widest variety of ethnic backgrounds as possible. He instilled a value in Aaron and I demanding all people of all colors deserve our respect. He made sure we knew our black friends would always be welcomed in our home and treated with dignity.

He also lived by example. One of my dad’s best friends from college was a 7’ 1” African American dude named Duke. According to family legend, he was the first person outside my immediate family to hold me after I was born. I fit inside the palm of his hand and he held me at arm’s length like I was a basketball, pointed at me, and asked, “What am I supposed to do with him.” Apparently I was his first encounter with a newborn baby. The stories I was told about Duke are legendary. They helped form my perspectives about race. I always knew that if it I was safe as in infant in the hands of an African American, I would always be safe in the company of my black friends.
Duke is the tallest on the right. My dad is in the middle, in case you were wondering where my short genes came from.

Unfortunately, the black community where I grew up was small. Even today, less than 2% of Marysville’s population is African American. My opportunity to interact with black peers was limited. I also grew up in an era where the white kids at my school were comfortable using the N word as an insult. Despite regional biases, I worked hard to befriend the few black kids I knew. Like Nigel - the buddy who introduced me to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles when I was in third grade. Or Sony who was a star soccer player at my high school and worked at the grocery store with my brother. When I met new black people, I wanted to be friends with them because I felt safer around them than I did around white people.

How? Because black kids didn’t call me names. Black kids didn’t bully me. Black kids didn’t push me or trip me in school hallways. Black kids didn’t pick fights with me or beat me up. There was a reason for their peacefulness but I didn’t understand it back then. All I knew: my African American friends were safe and my bullies were white.

I’m older now. In my adult years I’ve become a student of history and culture. I’ve grown to enjoy seeking out the bits of history left out of school text books. I’ve learned how the darker stories of our past have influenced certain communities of our culture. I’ve also realize how excluding these stories from public education has ill-informed other segments of our population.

George Washington’s abusive treatment of his slaves
The mass suicide of the Igbo in Dunbar Creek
The New Orleans massacre
The abundance of black cowboys in the Wild West
Jim Crow Laws
The burning of Black Wall Street and the Tulsa race riots
The Tuskegee experiment
The FBI’s investigations into Martin Luther King Jr
Watts rebellion in LA
Jackson State killings
The Move bombing in Philadelphia
The creation of anti-drug laws
Mandatory minimum sentencing
Mass incarceration

This list barely scratches the surface of how the African diaspora has been mistreated or maligned throughout American history - and often perpetrated by our own government. Many of these segments of our history were unknown to me until I was in my 30s or older.

Then I became a data analyst and began studying statistics. I dug into the numbers around upward mobility, school spending, employment opportunities, wage gaps, wealth accumulation, and uneven policing practices. I looked at how this data affected different racial groups. These numbers tell a story of stacked odds and institutional disadvantages.

Looking at the evidence, the behavior of my childhood black friends made more sense. They were more likely to get into trouble for breaking the same rules as a white kid. And if they both got into trouble for the same thing, the black kid would frequently face harsher consequences than the white kid. I learned about this by analyzing the statistics as an adult. My black friends learned this truth through experience when they were still kids.

My dad did a great job raising Aaron and me to show grace and respect to people of all races. If everyone lived by these values, racial reconciliation wouldn’t be needed. However, reconciliation is still necessary because older generations continue to pass along their racial beliefs raising a new generation of racists. As long as bigotry rears its ugly head, there’s work to be done. As long as discrimination disguises itself in coded language and gets legislated through “reasonable” policies, we still have a struggle to face. And as long as young black men ask how they’re supposed to do their jobs under the hostile pressure of white supremacists, I cannot stay silent.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous6:57 AM

    More of us white people need to take a stand to improve racial relations… it takes strength and a lifelong commitment!
    Thank you for these words!