No Need For Race "Conversation"; We Need More Black History Lessons

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Teaching African American history would eliminate the need for a national discussion on race because it would give American’s a better understanding of their history. That understanding would eliminate many of the misperceptions and stereotypes that Whites have about African Americans.

[On Race Matters]

As everyone surely knows by now, conservative journalist, Andrew Breitbart circulated edited excerpts of USDA employee Shirley Sherrod’s speech during an NAACP sponsored event. Breibart was attempting to counter the NAACP’s appeal to Tea Party leaders to speak out against racist elements that associate themselves with the Tea Party; he wanted to demonstrate, he later said, that the NAACP tolerates racist language within its ranks.

Breitbart’s attempt backfired when Sherrod’s entire speech was released. What Breitbart tried to sell as Black racism was actually a touching story of racial reconciliation from a woman who grew up in the segregated South and whose father had been murdered in cold blood by White men.

As often happens when issues involving race become national headline news, the talk of the need for a "national conversation on race" arises. Journalists and politicians have been on airwaves speaking of the need for such a dialogue. However, I’m not so sure that such a conversation would be beneficial, practical, or able to take place.

First of all, if you select 10 African Americans at random and ask them to discuss racism, you’re liable to get 10 different view points. I’ve actually witnessed this first hand during conversations among friends. Even as the news media continues the narrow-minded practice of turning to Reverend Al Sharpton or Jessie Jackson to represent the African American opinion when issues involving race get national attention, the truth is that no one can speak for an entire race of people.

Like most people, African Americans see issues of race through the prism of their personal experiences.

There was a time when certain elements of the African American experience were the same, regardless of where you were from or what your economic status was. If you were Black you were not allowed to live, eat or stay in certain places. That type of state and federal supported racism demanded that African Americans bond together as a people to overcome discrimination. Without those overt racist conditions in place, people naturally act in ways that promote their own best interest.

That’s not to say that racism doesn’t still exist, of course it does. However, while America still shows a lack of intellectual curiosity regarding racial improprieties such as the conviction rates for African American men, it largely rejects overt racism. This national shift in attitude that paved the way for Barack Obama to become president has also changed the narrative for many African Americans. Race is no longer seen as an obstacle to many young African Americans.

When incidents of racism do occur, we need to expose them publicly. The perpetrators need to be exposed and held accountable. In New Orleans, Mayor Landrieu has asked for help from the federal government to investigate and expose racism within New Orleans’ police department. This came as the result of political pressure from the city’s African American population. So far, 13 police officers have been indicted with more indictments to come.  

While I agree with the NAACP when they speak of racist elements in the Tea Party, I think showing clips of Tea Party members making racist comments and holding racist signs at rallies would have been much more powerful than asking Tea Party officials to reject racist elements in their ranks. Pictures and signs being broadcast into America’s living rooms would have forced the Tea Party to either repudiate racist behavior by their members or be labeled a racist organization. The NAACP would not have had to make any claims. The images would have spoken for themselves.

Racists need to be treated just like any other bully. Hit them back as hard as you can and let it be known that they have a fight on their hands. A national conversation on race would not change the fact that racists and racism exists.

Lastly, a national conversation on race will not keep young African American males in school past the 9th grade. It will not stop the distribution and use of drugs in African American communities. No government or conversation can correct those things.

More than a conversation, I’d like to see a commitment to African American History in our school systems. America has never been able to honestly discuss the history of people of color in this country.

We can speak of Germany’s atrocities against the Jews because it doesn’t require us to look in the mirror, but telling the truth about the African American experience paints too ugly a picture of White America. We don’t want our kids to know that traveling salesmen sold pictures of lynched and charred African American bodies or that the lynching of an African American man was a family event in some places.

Teaching African American history would eliminate the need for a national discussion on race because it would give American’s a better understanding of their history. That understanding would eliminate many of the misperceptions and stereotypes that Whites have about African Americans. Even more important, a better understanding of history would give African Americans a better understanding of themselves. Understanding one’s history is a key ingredient in the dignity of any people.

We can, however, look to examples like the one set by Sherrod. There are lessons to be learned in the dignity that Sherrod demonstrated when confronted by her bosses to resign. It’s the dignity that’s been passed down from generation to generation of African Americans.

It’s a dignity that didn’t allow her to fold. A dignity that dictated that she fight for what was right. A dignity that helped her overcome the type of hate that would have been understandable given her life experiences.

Sherrod demonstrated the type of dignity that doesn’t require a national conversation because it lives within her and demands respect from people that come in contact with her.

We don’t need a national conversation, we need a history lesson.

"Teaching Truth To Empower."

For free classes in guerrilla journalism taught by Black Star News Publisher Milton Allimadi, call (347) 257-7330 or just show up with a pen and notebook or laptop every Monday from 6PM-8PM at True South Bookstore at 492 in Brooklyn's BedStuy neighborhood.

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