Dear fellow white Americans,
Today, February first, is the first day of Black History Month and the day when we should start conversations; not with African-Americans, nor about African-Americans, but among ourselves about ourselves, about what our ancestors and we have done, directly or indirectly, to prevent African-Americans from enjoying the full blessings of liberty afforded the rest of us.
We need to have conversations because we are the problem. Amerca does not have a racial issue; too many white Americans have had a racism problem and still have it. The examples across the history of this nation are too numerous and varied to list in one blog post, but here are a few:
Stolen African-American labor provided the wealth U.S. industry would later use to catapult us into the industrial revolution,
In addition to creating our foundations as a country, the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of the U.S. used teeth pulled from living enslaved African Americans to make their false teeth (George Washington);
Raped their young teen slaves and fathered children by them (Thomas Jefferson);
Broke up enslaved African American families to further their sales (George and Martha Washington);
Bought, sold, and brokered the sale of enslaved African-Americans (Alexander Hamilton).
And that's only the period pre-1800. Let's not forget the broken promises to former enslaved African-Americans as Reconstruction was ended prematurely, and the civil rights of African-Americans were gradually stamped out. We have to recall as well that the racist attitudes embodied in the Jim Crow laws segregating public accommodation across the southern United States found a welcome home in Federal institutions such as the armed forces and in federal programs like the federal minimum wage (which deliberately did not include agricultural workers because key Senators from southern states did not want African-American sharecroppers to have access to a minimum wage).
In almost every facet of American life from the beginning, institutions ranging from all levels of government through business, education, and the church, which white people have controlled, have systematically acted to at least exclude African-Americans if not actively prevent them from gaining benefits enjoyed by white Americans.
And finally, we must also bear in mind that we enforced our will in these things with nothing short of campaigns of racial terrorism that lynched and otherwise murdered African-Americans in thirty-five states and the District of Columbia, according to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, in Montgomery, Alabama.
But why, some may ask, why do we have to remember all this? After all, this wasn't our generation that did these things; why should it be our problem? Because while we didn't do these things in the past, we control our actions in the present and will decide our future course. We have to remember these actions because their legacies linger, and if our efforts today and tomorrow can help erase those legacies and address long-standing injustices, we must act so.
And we must remember these things because we remain, in the words of Abraham Lincoln, a house divided over them. Even now, politicians across the United States are passing laws to prevent these truths from being taught, these facts from being discussed, as though somehow, if we don't talk about them, they will go away. But they won't disappear; they'll fester. The longer we refuse to account for our history, the longer all of us, both black and white Americans, will be prevented from healing the damage we have done.