When I started hearing stuff about Martin Luther King Jr. and the race riots, protests and marches, I also heard about lynchings and dogs, hydrants and fire hoses, and thought that was worse. And as long as I hung around Catholics I found myself among, I wasn't alone in that view. Going to public school was when I got a different sort of education on the matter--we're talking southern part of Illinois, where the Civil War gets re-enacted and it's the rebels that get the cheers.
Fortunately, I also learned early on how to test for the validity of statements made by asking questions. Well--it was fortunate back then, at least...and thus I learned the fine points of segregationist propriety and exactly what it meant to precariously ride that line between what was and what wasn't proper. It's from this that I also have a considerable admiration for Follies artist Bert Williams, who succeeded in being a hit with all races quite in spite of that.
Graduated grade school, going into college, registered for a new class in a new department called Black American Studies, which is where I first became enamored of buried history. Right out of the gate I learned stuff never covered in grade school and it's where I first acquired an appetite to find out more stuff about what's never usually taught, and launched myself on a quest for more of that. Forget historians--I wanted to get into time travel, along the lines of the first Doctor Who as portrayed by William Hartnell even though, at the time, the Doctor was portrayed by Tom Baker (another favorite). History that isn't in any book was what I was looking for.
I've said in an earlier entry that I've lived in black neighborhoods, owned a house in one, lived in housing projects and such, and read a book titled "Black Like Me"--a book that should be on every school's mandatory reading list, IMHO. Whitefolk like me can maybe use a coloring agent to change the color of their skins for temporary, but blackfolk are black all their lives--and knowing this also makes me realize that the charge that I'll never know what being black is like may be true in principle, but I have to say that living as one white person in a black community can be very similar in a number of respects.
First of all, when you're the only white person in a sea of black faces, it's a profound feeling of being different and obvious that you never forget. Recognizing that a black kid in a sea of white faces in a white school right after desegregation is enforced can't be different than that is akin to walking a mile in that kid's shoes. Living in a black neighborhood will also give you a whole different perspective on the police, too. How they deal with policing a white neighborhood compared to a black neighborhood is irrefutable as well, so when whitefolk hear complaints about cops from blackfolk, they're inclined to pass the complaints off as nonsense because that's not been their experience.
Not their experience. Recognize that the experiences are indeed different, and in the interest of justice, shouldn't be. We may have seen clear to elect (and re-elect) a black president, but we still have differences in experiences due to segregation. The March on Washington had among its ranks some white folk, and were I old enough at the time, I would have been one of 'em. There are more whitefolk now that would happily join the blackfolk in the strife for actual equality than there used to be, but we still have a long way to go before all whitefolk come to realize that the way they live is NOT the way everybody else lives, and it really IS their business to care about that. It's in the interest of justice.
Black American history isn't pretty, no matter how much the aforementioned certain somebody works hard to pretty it up and tries to pretend that Bert Williams never happened, and that what he achieved wasn't noteworthy. When Black American history is prettied up like that, the March on Washington loses both its purpose and its significance.
A few more things I know about Black American history that is living history, as it's ongoing: too often the "break" that a black person gets into big money is either sports or comic type entertainment, and just because a black person earns bread & butter as, say, a minstrel, it doesn't mean that he/she has no talent in other departments. I can't stand boxing, but I'm a big fan of one particular black boxer. That's because he took what started out as a family sit-com and morphed it into an outstanding drama. I'm talking about Roc. He'll always be known as a boxer, no doubt, but a stellar dramatist? I'm sure he'd suffer the same fate as Bert Williams on that count.
What I also know for a fact is that even though the Wayans brothers made their big money on the TV show In Living Color via spoofery and tomfoolery, they printed up tee shirts to donate to college science clubs for black scientists. It's from the black engineers at Arizona State that I picked up my highly prized Homey D. Clown tee shirt. Pretty up black history pretending stuff didn't happen? I don't think so. This homey don't play that.
September Update: Bill Cosby about why we should remember the Birmingham church bombing. It's pertinent to why we shouldn't pretty up black history.
And another reason has cropped up: Dr. Shiping Bao, who got fired after testifying at Zimmerman's trial for killing Trayvon Martin. He's filing a wrongful termination case against his former employer, but I'm afraid he's going to get a rude awakening about Right To Work states. Even if Florida isn't a Right To Work state, it's still an Employment At Will Doctrine state. All traditionally conservative-run states are.
In my first post about the Martin-Zimmerman matter, I did observe how astonishing how Dr. Shiping Bao, an expert and expected to be dispassionate, turned into something of a hostile witness--hostile to the defense--and I was wondering what the backstory on that phenomenon might be. The truth of that is now out via The Grio, it appears.