On a beautiful day in Washington DC, I met up with two friends to visit the African American Museum of History. This would be the capstone to my civil rights tour, and I was hoping for a synthesis of all the history I had been studying, all the authors I had read the past winter and spring.
It was overwhelming in so many ways that a blog post is never going to be able to explain how I felt. It was all there laid out in a timeline of exhibits: the sad and sordid history of slavery, the promise of Reconstruction and the discrimination of Jim Crow, the struggle of the Tuskegee Airmen, the fight for civil rights in the 1960s, all the way through to the inauguration of our first African-American president.
This quotation by James Baldwin, displayed on a wall over the civil rights section of the Musuem, starts to cover what I’ve learned this past year.
I cannot see this drawing without feeling the horror and the complete insanity of enslaving people. Look closely: it is instructions on how to pack the maximum amount of live people below decks on a slave ship from Africa to America. Each of those little markers was a person. A person. I can’t find the words to go on.
Every part of the country took part in it. The North was far from blameless, as you can see by the numbers below. The economy of our nation depended on cotton, which depended on slave labor. America grew, and grew wealthy at the expense of people’s lives.
Our country still suffers from what we started with the taking of free people into slavery in the 1700s. Racism, discrimination, mass incarceration, it’s all related and it’s all relative fo what happened in our collective past. We need to change it. WE need to change it.
White people, it is beyond time for us to step up and recognize our privilege comes at the expense of “others” who are not white, who did not and do not get the exceptional advantages we have been handed simply because we were born white and not black or brown, Muslim or Asian.
Here’s the link to some good books my Racism and Civil Rights reading list. Learning and listening are good first steps for white people like me. It’s a long road and I feel like I’ve just stepped onto it, but I am willing to do the work: listen, learn and change myself and the world around me.
Change will not come if we wait for some other person or… some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.