A few weeks ago, I was sitting on a panel with a rabid white woman who repeatedly insisted that Black people “get over” history. Like a dog with a bone, she had a point she would not let go. “Slavery happened. What does it have to do with today,” she said, her voice rising.
“You people need to just get over it.”
Apart from the innuendo in “you people,” the notion that we “get over it” is abhorrent. The ravings of one random white woman might not merit comment, except her ravings have been rephrased, in terms both mild and strong, in the academy, in society and in public policy.
For example, in early May, Alabama state Senator Charles Davidson sat down and wrote a speech — and unfortunately his pen was in working order. He was planning to defend the flying of the Confederate flag over Alabama’s capitol building, but in the process lie attempted to dabble in history. Davidson wrote, “People who are bitter and hateful about slavery are obviously bitter and hateful against God and His Word, because they reject what God says and embrace what mere humans say concerning slavery.”
He continued by adding, “The incidence of abuse, rape, broken homes and murder are 100 times greater, today, in the housing projects than they ever were on the slave plantations in the old South.” Then he capped it off by noting, “The truth is that nowhere on the face of the earth, in all of time, were [people] better treated or better loved than they were in the Old South by white, Black, Hispanic and Indian slave owners.”
Foot in Mouth
Davidson was running for Congress, but after he put his foot in his mouth (he never actually delivered the speech, but he distributed copies of it), he bowed to the pressure of outraged Alabamians and withdrew from that race protesting that he didn’t mean to offend anyone and that he wasn’t a racist.
And the sky isn’t blue, birds don’t fly and the Pope is a Methodist!
If he isn’t a racist, he is certainly historically myopic and intellectually challenged. Like the woman on the panel, he was telling Black people to “get over” history by hiding behind the Bible to make his point.
The others who would tell us to “get over” history are those who challenge the existence and content of Afrocentric education, African American Studies Departments and other manifestations of the African-American presence on campuses. The arguments against affirmative action, multicultural curricula and ethnic studies are that race shouldn’t matter anymore.
Even the Supreme Court has dabbled in the notion that race does not and should not matter — indicating in a recent case that race statistics do not support claims of selective prosecution in narcotics cases. Despite the fact that 90 percent of those convicted in federal court for crack offenses are African American, the Court noted that numbers don’t matter.
The fact is that, even as the number of African-American students attaining higher education has increased, the barriers to achievement have changed. Campuses no longer refuse to admit African-American students, as they did just a generation ago. Now they admit them into environments that sometimes seethe with hostility about affirmative action, “preference,” ethnic studies requirements and other matters, Too many students have reported incidents of hostility in their dormitories, of hazing by classmates and roommates, and of campuses that, in the name of colorblindness, close their eyes to these racist incidents. Some students have reported faculty members who use ethnic slurs in the classroom, and hide behind free speech when they are questioned. Indeed, the Alabama senator might well be a professor at some university or other, since in the name of free speech many a “historian” has opined that slavery really wasn’t that bad.
A generation ago, we could call this ignorance simple miseducation. Those who engaged in historical revisionism didn’t know any better. But if they don’t know better in the last part of the 20th century, given all of the research and writing and conversation about race matters, history and policy, then they just don’t want to know.
In order to preserve our nation’s historical myopia, then, African-American people are exhorted to “get over” history which, to let an Alabama state senator tell it, really wasn’t that bad. In a country that reveres history with such tributes as a Vietnam Veterans Memorial and a Holocaust Museum, why should African-American people be the only ones exhorted to “get over” history?
A closer examination of history might better shape our nation’s public policy and raise questions about the warped notion of race neutrality that comes from the Supreme Court, the Alabama Senate, the Congress and the California Civil Wrongs Initiative.
When Dr. King spoke about the “content of our character,” he said absolutely nothing about ignoring history. Indeed, he noted that the “distortion of the status of the Negro is as ancient as our history books and as recent as today’s headlines.” The distortion continues in too many classrooms, on too many campuses, in too many places where conversations about race neutrality are really an insistence that history be revised.
COPYRIGHT 1996 Cox, Matthews & Associates
© Copyright 2005 by DiverseEducation.com