Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Social Studies class got it all wrong.


Have you ever read a recipe, planned a great meal, followed the directions, and had it turn out terrible? There is always a chance the recipe was a good recipe but somewhere along the line you messed it up, forgot something, or maybe you just don’t understand the kitchen well enough to cook well.

That sums up my education of the civil rights movement.

The civil rights movement was not love and peace, it was rights.

It wasn’t, “please stop hating me and let me sit next to you on the bus”, it was, “stop hanging people and let me have a job.” How did I miss that? I was paying attention. I was genuinely interested. I was taught the civil rights movement had something to do with everyone getting along. I thought it was about the content of our character and not judging others. MLK and the freedom riders won that war. Mission accomplished right?

So why are black people still angry?

The fundamental misunderstanding was, and I think still is, about how bad it really was for black people. The problem wasn’t not being accepted, few people thought that even possible. The problem was feeding your kids. The problem was owning your own house for a fair price. The problem was being able to walk down the street without fear of violence. The problem was a justice system that assumed your guilt and took very little effort to protect you.

Hurt feelings were trivial compared to a lynching. Hurt feelings are trivial compared to working hard every day while knowing you will never reach a level of comfort.
I was not fully taught how bad it was AFTER slavery and I don’t think I’m the only one.

I don’t think I’m the only one because I still hear people, when confronted with a complaining black person (on TV of course), say “slavery was over 150 years ago, get over it.”
The majority of all white people were relatively untouched by the racial tension of those days. Most of us remain relatively untouched (outside the media) by black people PERIOD.

Do we really think people marched, got arrested, and risked their life over a seat on a bus?

That was the battle, we passed some laws, then what?

Do we really expect “them” to like “us” just like that?
Sure it may have been 40 years since then but what has anyone done since then to encourage black people to like white people? Did we suddenly turn nice and accepting? Have we (whites) done enough by simply refraining from burning crosses? Yes that is a fair question because THAT was the problem, not just dirty water fountains.

Serious question… Who out there is, or has ever, done anything proactive to promote a healthy social relationship between black and white?







(you may be surprised by my answer)

14 comments:

SOILA. said...

"It wasn’t, “please stop hating me and let me sit next to you on the bus”, it was, “stop hanging people and let me have a job.”"


I think it was IF you CANT "please stop hating me and let me sit next to you on the bus" then at least "stop hanging people and let me have a job" (so I can survive and feed my(self) family)

"So why are black people still angry?"

I'd like to believe that I’m not an angry black person but, I do get frustrated of always being stereotyped.

Being "foreign"/African/black, I have all these stereotypes thrown @ me all the time and as much as I try to shrug them off and move on with my life, over time, these "little" things do start to take a toll and weigh me down to where I may want to have very limited interaction with people. I will also add that I get the stereotyping not only from WP but also from BP as well.


Re laws: I feel like the laws were passed just so people are not blatantly dehumanizing others but bottom line is, while things may have changed a tiny weeny bit, for the most part they remain the same only in our time, dehumanization is being done in a bit of a subtle manner compared to yesteryears.

In the privacy of their homes, people are honest about how they feel about "them" and fundamentally, it's still very much how their forefathers felt about "them" during slavery times and pre-laws time.

I'm of the belief that a lot of the racial tension/awkwardness/hate is planted in people from a young age in their homes and if people wanted to make a change, they could start by instilling acceptance in their kids.

It would be nice if we could all stop hating each other and be able to “sit next to each other in the bus” but truly, in our homes and our segregated neighbourhoods, we are still instilling in our kids our forefathers beliefs about “them” making society remain the same for the most part.

Nice post btw.

John Moore said...

The period after slavery--actually after reconstruction, which was a very good period in race relations--is known as the nadir because most people feel like it was worse than slavery. I don't know. But for a great book on the nadir, one that will really get you feeling the pain of those who lived through it, read Leon Litwack's Trouble in Mind. I'll lend it to you if you'd like.

But what social studies class got right was that the civil rights movement was about love, but we need to understand what love is. Dr. King said that love, as people use the word regularly, is nothing more than emotional bosh. Describing that kind of love, he said that "Love without power is sentimental and anemic, while power without love is reckless and irresponsible." The statement that got me interested in King in the first place was something like "We have to love our enemies so much that we refuse to let them hurt us anymore." That's a different understanding of love.

To understand the power of love, think about this. In 1954. the Supreme Court unanimously ruled that separate educational facilities are inherently unequal, and they ordered school to integrate. Ten years later, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which included among other things, the desegregation of lunch counters, water fountains, restaurants, motels, theaters, etc. Here in 2008, our schools are more segregated than in 1953, yet public facilities like water fountains, restaurants and movie theaters are integrated beyond recognition from 1963. Why?

One could say the stakes are higher in education, and in fact, I heard this reasoning in college (I took many Ethnic Studies classes). Others might say that it goes to show you the relative impotence of the Supreme Court to affect society as compared with Congress. But I think the primary explanation is different. (By the way, the previous explanations come from academia, where they have completely rejected Martin Luther King. I was assigned Malcolm X's Autobiography three times, but was never assigned a single page of Dr. King.)

The true explanation is the power of agape love (understanding, redemptive, good-will for all humankind) animating nonviolent civil disobedience. Restaurants are desegregated, not because of the Civil Rights Act, but because Diane Nash and the rest of SNCC was beaten, poisoned, and harrassed while sitting in a white's only restaurant. Buses are desegregated, not because of the Civil Rights Act, but because John Lewis and the rest of the Freedom Riders were beaten to unconsciousness and then arrested for riding through the South, Black and White together. Etc, etc.

These people were motivated by love. They refused to strike back despite being repeatedly beaten. They refused even to lift a hand to defend themselves. That is a courage that no soldier, armed with a rifle, can ever know. They were our greatest generation.

Before you give up on the idea of love, you must read Martin Luther King's book Why We Can't Wait. It's only 150 pages or so, but it will change your whole understanding of the Civil Rights movement. If you are willing to invest a little more time, read John Lewis' Walking with the Wind.

brohammas said...

I havent given up on love, and sure many who participated in the movement were motivated by it. One reason why MLK was so influential at the time is he understood how to both pacify and motivate good willed white people.
Many joined forces, reached across racial lines to defeat a common enemy...to change laws and then enforce them.

Generally whites worked for an ideal world, and despite MLK's idealism, many blacks were only hoping for a stop to opression.

When things wound down, the white kids went back home to California and the black folk went back to trying to get jobs or work with a bunch of white people they saw as only grudgingly allowing them a little elbow room.

Why would they think differently?

When schools integrated, those with money left. I have had many people ask me why black people are Democrats and think Republicans are racist....
What would you think if all the white people in the south, who used to be democrats... hard line democrats, switched parties when the civil rights ammendmant was passed? Would you assume they have your best interest at heart?

I do not and will not give up on love and the role it has played, but my message is, especially to those trying to understand why things are the way they are now, is that when the freedom rides ended, the ball was dropped.

We wrote in the books that the fight was won and now we can be happy, when we arent there yet and have never been there.

I have lots of faith in white people and am convinced most have good intentions and desires. I even think many if not most have been taught that racism is not only wrong but evil. What I am afraid of is there is so little interaction... true honest and meaningful interraction between us, coupled with a common misseducation of white people resulting in "us" not getting it.

We think we fixed the problem.

We think its all behind us.

We think everyone should be happy and holding hands and don't get why "they" wouldn't want to hold our hands.

I fear in this lack of understanding what things were really about, those who held idealistic understanding of what happened, get thier view crushed, and then lurk back into a neo-1950 isolationism... with an added chip on the shoulder.

John Moore said...

The problem is far from fixed, that is clear. The ball was dropped, I'll grant you that too.

Part of the blame falls on the shoulders of our universities. That was what motivated my comment about reading Malcom X and not Martin Luther King in college (and by the way, I have taken my alma matter to task over the issue). Dr. King's philosophy of nonviolent love is so complete that it should be taught in every philosophy department in the country, yet it has almost no place. MLK's vision of the beloved community is so grand that it should be taught in every sociology department, yet it get's no mention there. His teachings in direct action are so powerful that it should be taught in every political science department, but there too it is missing. Instead, MLK is taught only in history--and then only in alternative histories like The African American Experience--while his teachings go untouched. We break out I Have a Dream once a year and pretend that because we took the day off in its recognition, that the dream must be fulfilled. The reason the universities have ignored Dr. King is that you cannot read King for even a little bit before you realize that he was first and foremost, Reverend King. Nonviolent love, the beloved community, even direct action and civil disobedience are so intertwined with Christian teachings in Dr. King's writings that you cannot ignore them.

But part of the blame for the ball being dropped can fall elsewhere. We settled for less than Dr. King's generation. White's weren't the only ones fighting for an ideal world. Dr. King's group, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, said its mission was: "To save the soul of America." If that isn't ideal.... But we settled for less than that idealism. John Lewis' Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was torn apart internally by Stokely Carmichael and we settled for the Black Panthers. We settled for race-men who set much narrower, and therefore much lower, goals. There is plenty of blame to go around.

Of course, it is much sexier to talk in terms of Malcolm X and Stokely Carmichael, of the Nation of Islam and the Black Panthers. MLK and SNCC seem passe in comparrison and we say Dr. King pacified whites. But make no mistake, Dr. King was the most radical, revolutionary figure in America in the 20th century (maybe ever) because love is the most radical, revolutionary, powerful force known to humankind and he learned how to make love politically and socially applicable.

Siditty said...

You education on civil rights, was much like mine. Heck my education in black history in school was like most. Black people were slaves, civil rights, Martin Luther King, and then racism went away magically. That is it. Even though black people have been here since the inception of this country, that is all many people know about black history.

The fundamental misunderstanding was, and I think still is, about how bad it really was for black people. The problem wasn’t not being accepted, few people thought that even possible. The problem was feeding your kids. The problem was owning your own house for a fair price. The problem was being able to walk down the street without fear of violence. The problem was a justice system that assumed your guilt and took very little effort to protect you.


I don't think a lot of people understand that. They see affirmative action and think that blacks have it made. They never stop to think that white women benefit from these laws, that it isn't just blacks and even if you do get hired, it doesn't mean you will get equal pay, nor does it mean you will get promoted. It is hard to believe that racism still exists because it isn't the KKK or neo-nazis. It is the undercover racism that people never think of. It is the straight ignorance and non interest of others not to be familiar with each other.

My parents remember segregation, but often times my white friends parents do not. They don't remember because it didn't affect them, my parents remember it vividly because they had to live it, and I don't think they can get over it.

Serious question… Who out there is, or has ever, done anything proactive to promote a healthy social relationship between black and white?

I married a white guy and maybe will make babies with him? Really I have done nothing but blog about race relations. I did refrain from cursing out people who have asked me some silly questions about my blackness.....does that count?

Siditty said...

Martin Luther King. I was assigned Malcolm X's Autobiography three times

People reject MLK because for the most part when people teach him, they teach this utopian way of no violence. No violence didn't work everywhere in this country, it just left you harmed physically and mentally. Malcolm X although very radical for his time, can at least be studied, and he did have some great points as to why race relations was strained, even if he was a bit racist for a long period of his life, and people tend to forget the reason he died was because he renounced the NOI and many of their ideologies on white people. Martin and Malcolm were very similar, their delivery was different, but they had the same message.

When schools integrated, those with money left. I have had many people ask me why black people are Democrats and think Republicans are racist....
What would you think if all the white people in the south, who used to be democrats... hard line democrats, switched parties when the civil rights ammendmant was passed? Would you assume they have your best interest at heart?


People never seem to remember that. They don't remember Jesse Helms and Strom Thurmond were both democrats, then became dixiecrats, and then republicans that people voted for over and over again, even into our current century. So when I think of republican, that is what I think of. I know it is wrong, but they were vocal and had a lot of support. They tend to be the most vocal about being against AA, and never ever want to admit or acknowledge the concept of white privilege.

even think many if not most have been taught that racism is not only wrong but evil.

Even though people have been taught racism is bad, most people don't recognize it unless it is blatantly obvious or ignore it all together. I know my husband heard racist jokes all the time from those who claimed not to be racist, they were just telling a funny joke.

I fear in this lack of understanding what things were really about, those who held idealistic understanding of what happened, get thier view crushed, and then lurk back into a neo-1950 isolationism... with an added chip on the shoulder.

That is exactly what I see happening now.

John Lewis' Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was torn apart internally by Stokely Carmichael and we settled for the Black Panthers. We settled for race-men who set much narrower, and therefore much lower, goals. There is plenty of blame to go around.

The black panther party is not to blame for the failure of race relations in this country. I am not for Marxist groups, but this organization set precedents that other groups didn't. They did clothing distribution, provided supplies to free medical clinics, drug and alcohol rehabilitation, and their school breakfast and lunch program is the basis for many free or reduced lunch programs in many of the public school systems. Their violence, not justified was in response to the violence bestowed upon them by law enforcement. Sean Bell and Rodney King are proof that they were at one time needed. Heck try being racially profiled in your own neighborhood, and you can see their anger and frustration.

lyric said...

Wow. I love reading this blog and the thoughtful comments it engenders. I don't have a lot to add but will answer your question for my part.

I send my kids to a school on a terribly long bus ride, partially because the neighborhood schools are uncomfortably white. I want my kids in mixed schools. Economically and racially mixed.
I talk to them about race relations and ask them to reach out to children of all other races.
I've been fortunate to spend regular time in the company of groups of women of all races. Here there are many muslims, indians, hispanics, and blacks. My black friends are mostly quilters but a few from church. Our church here is involved in a number of inter-congregational events that bring us all together.
I make a point to look people in the eye and say hello with a smile, especially if they are of another race.
There are a few black and mixed families in our neighborhood - wish there were more. I've made a point to say hello and welcome them and invite them to events.
At the conferences I attend, often I'm alone, I make a point to go and sit with someone else alone, often a minority. I've never regretted it. I find pretty much everyone I meet to be fascinating.

Sounds like a lot - but what I do still doesn't feel like enough.

hmk said...

wow. those are some of the longest comments i've ever read. but interesting.
Okay, this coming from a girl in high school - it's kind of sad, but sometimes stereotypes are stereotypes for a reason. At school, a large percentage of the african american population does fulfill the picture of the 'stereotypical' black teenager. "getto" and whatnot. And they're proud of it. I had a class with a black girl last year and we became good friends. We were walking to our next class and one of her friends yelled out to her, "what are you doing with that white girl?" I don't know... it seems like there's this boundary line between races that only money can cross. There are black kids who are with the "in" crowd, but they are all very well-off. There is that boundary line, and it's like they don't want to cross it and we don't either. You're right, it is wrong and we do need to work to change that, but it's kinda hard when people are unwilling.
~haven

Siditty said...

But what is the definition of ghetto. Do they all live in the projects or what not? Or do they just embrace hip hop culture?

John Moore said...

Their violence, not justified was in response to the violence bestowed upon them by law enforcement. Sean Bell and Rodney King are proof that they were at one time needed.

I'll disagree here. Their violence was justified, but it wasn't productive (violence never is). If you are repeatedly being brutalized, are you justified in using violence to defend yourself? Absolutely! But, as King often said, "you can murder a murderer but you can never murder murder."

I suppose blame was not the right word. Our settling for the black panthers in place of SNCC is one of the reasons we did not continue on the path towards equality. But no, you can't blame a person for fighting back (unless perhaps that person is like Gandhi or King--somebody who understands the power of love and nonviolence and the impotence of hate and violence).

People reject MLK because for the most part when people teach him, they teach this utopian way of no violence. No violence didn't work everywhere in this country, it just left you harmed physically and mentally. Malcolm X although very radical for his time, can at least be studied, and he did have some great points as to why race relations was strained, even if he was a bit racist for a long period of his life, and people tend to forget the reason he died was because he renounced the NOI and many of their ideologies on white people. Martin and Malcolm were very similar, their delivery was different, but they had the same message.

Nonviolence can, and is studied. It's just not studied enough. If you click on my name, it will take you to my blog. On the right hand side you will see two courses in nonviolence taught at UC Berkely. But even they deemphasize King (could you really see a Southern Baptist preacher get a lot of attention at Berkely?), and instead focus on theorists rather than King the realist. King dealt with the accusation of being utopian and unrealistic all the time. And he answered it convincingly. I can't quote the exact line because I leant the book out, but King said basically that those that advocate violence have something very much in common with those that advocate patience. At the end of the day, neither of them gets anything done. On the other hand, those that practiced love brought about every gain of the civil rights movement. Did it leave people hurt and even dead? Yes. Is that trivial? No. But violence has been leaving people dead and hurt for centuries, the difference is that violence is futile, while love is redemptive.

MLK and Malcolm X had almost nothing in common, and their messages had even less. Malik El-Shabazz, on the other hand, had a great deal in common with Martin. Malik is the miracle of Malcolm: that a little boy whose father had been brutaly murdered by white supremecists could grow to a place of love and forgiveness is miraculous. Malcolm was brilliant, persuasive, compelling, insightful, and many other things. But Malik, because of love, was a peer of Martin.

Lisa said...

So what have I done on my part to promote desegregation? Nothing huge. I've had two black friends where I live only because they were in my neighborhood... just like my other white friends. I bonded with their personalities, not their color. I was just as fascinated with the beautiful black girl as I was with the white girl who was brave enough to jump up on stage and sing withe the performer. It was admiration and wanting to learn more and incorporate what they could teach me into my life. I'm willing to get egg on my face for saying stupid things just because I don't know as long as they're willing and patient enough to laugh with me and not hate me. It's the same with my white friends when I say something stupid just because I didn't know better. I do not see my kids treating another kid differently due to the color of the skin. If the black kid's annoying - he's annoying...If the Indian kid is cool, he's cool. If the white kid's a jerk, he's a jerk. I wave at my cute little Indian neighbor boy - I love his enthusiastic smile. I haven't had/made the time to go meet his parents nor have I with my other white neighbors. Am I prejudiced? Am I naive? All I know is I am fascinated by, and love people. If their race means their lifestyle has been different than mine, I'd love to learn from them. I love to embrace a new friendship. I see my kids being the same way. I see people that are people for the very fact that each is unique and different in their way. So I'm growing up - I'm learning. And I've learned that I don't have to be black to be able to sing soul or jazz... I'm slowly learning how to loosen up and trying to relax on my classical, conscientious stance. Does that make me racist because I love how loose and jazzy and rhythmic a lot of black musicians are? I haven't seen too many white people that can Gospel like a lot of the black choirs I've seen. Is that just because I've only lived in UT my entire life? Don't know. So do I err and am I "bad" because I do see a racial difference there? I'll just quit while the hole I'm digging for myself is somewhat shallow still. I go for the relationships, the talent, the uniqueness of a person. And I will never quit loving my black choir conductor who filled my mind and made it "click" for me when he told us altos to sound like "rich, dark chocolate" trying to help us (almost all white) sing Gospel.

brohammas said...

Lisa, the question was more on a societal rather than personal level. Of course being a good person, as you are, is one's own responsability and where everything must begin.

The point here is not any one person, and we as white people would be well served if we stopped assuming any refferance to white bigotry is aimed at us individually. Unless you are named specifically, ask yourself "are there white racists?" and if you admit the answer is "yes", than leave it at that. No one called you a racist unless they spoke your name. Pointing out white racists does not assume there are no black ones.

The idea here is that while we may not be racist, nor have we noticed racism...or caused it, others have. It still exists and not just in small and rare instances. The affects of legal racism are still felt by millions, even if you or I arent one of them.

Its out there, we should know why, and we should know if anything is being done about it.

Ehav Ever said...

When I was in High School, there was a class that I took that specifically focused on this kind of conversation. The high school I attended was about 60% white 30% black and 10% other. The focus of the class was dealing with racism, sexism, segregation, stereotypes, and violence and indifference due to the above. There was a particular class where the teacher showed a film about violence against African Americans in American history. Then there was a discussion about it. I think everyone who took that class was changed in some way. This was back in the early 1990's. As much as I hated the school for other reasons, I will give it to them there were some visionary teachers who saw the need for there to be dialog on such things. Maybe, what is missing in the US is more people of vision who can see the forest from the trees and the value of examining, discussing, and acting.

uglyblackjohn said...

It's good that you have thoughtful readers (judging by their responses).
I like Lisa's way of dealing with it best. Just taking the time to learn from and value others.