This African-American History Month, I have been particularly conscious of the role ignorance plays in sustaining and deepening our society's social and racial conflicts, prejudices, and hatreds. Ignorance in particular on the part of non-African Americans about the oppression and maltreatment meted out to them, and the contributions enslaved Africans and their descendants made and continue to make to this country's wealth and, yes, power.
With individual exceptions, I don't believe this ignorance is the fault of the vast majority of non-African American people. We have never been taught these facts.
Take my case, for example. I used to think I received a pretty kick-ass education. I attended a college-preparatory middle and high school. I had an English teacher who assigned Maya Angelou in the 7th grade. The school leadership regularly held special assemblies to listen to African American speakers, such as some who had been part of the leadership team for the first March on Washington.
Yet, I still never learned about Fredrick Douglas' mighty July 5, 1852 speech "What to a Slave is your Fourth of July?" with its ringing condemnation of this country's pretensions in the light of its actions. This condemnation could quickly ring out today:
'What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer; a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sound of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciation of tyrants brass fronted impudence; your shout of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade and solemnity, are to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy -- a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices more shocking and bloody than are the people of the United States at this very hour.
I learned to celebrate the perseverance and practical ingenuity of Eli Whitney without ever knowing how his singular invention, the cotton gin, singlehandedly breathed life into the institution of African slavery in the U.S. that had begun to wither economically. Also left out of my curricula was any mention of how many of our institutions, from the buildings that house our government to universities that teach our students and corporations that provide us goods and services, benefitted directly or indirectly from enslaved African-American labor, industry, etc. and value. And I was fortunate to have had an education that I believe surpasses the average education in most U.S.
So, I propose that February be recognized as the Black History And Acknowledgement Month as a corrective to this ignorance.
What would that mean? We would not merely teach about African-Americans' role in American history generally, but also specifically during February's going forward. Governments, local, state, and federal, and universities and corporations would research their records to discover if and how they benefitted from the trade in enslaved African-Аmericans or the value of their labor.
For example, Georgetown University has discovered that the ownership and sale of some African American slaves kept the institution from falling into bankruptcy and potentially disappearing.
J.P Morgan- Chase has subsidiary banks that accepted enslaved African-Americans as collateral for loans.
Major insurance firms such as AIG, New York Life, and Aetna sold policies that insured enslavers against losses if their slaves died.
Corporations like Brooks Brothers and Domino's Sugar benefitted from using commodities created by enslaved people in their trade, cotton and sugar.
These acknowledgments will be to drive home the point to the country at large that we cannot continue to act as though everyone arrived in the U.S. in the same manner or has been treated in the same way since their arrival. In short, we cannot keep simply acting as though everything that has been done to African-Americans since before this nation's founding never happened or has had no impact on our present-day and our struggles within it.
Once we acknowledge what has been done, we can begin to move forward to address what this means and what we should do as a result. That can be a further discussion. But the important thing is to begin to know and speak the truth and to stop burying our heads in the sand or, worse, on the part of some of our so-called leaders, actually denying or lying about it.