They Don't Know Their History.

“They don’t know their history” is a phrase that I’ve heard a lot lately, and honestly, it’s a phrase that I’ve heard my whole life in various situations. Today, it evokes a different thought in my mind. As I watch people vigorously defend a monument of which they probably don’t know the name, while at the same time not fully understanding the evil perpetrated by their ancestors; as I watch black people vandalize the Historic 4th Avenue Business District that is home to so many long-standing black businesses, while at the same time protesting racism and white supremacy; I couldn’t help but hear those words “They don’t know their history,” and I realize that they… that we don’t really know and understand OUR history.

But, whose fault is it? Is the oldest generation to blame? Have they done enough to pour into and prepare the next generation of  leaders?

Does the responsibility rest with the individual to study and learn for themselves, or does the failure lie within the school curriculum? Is there another culprit? Looking back to my K-12 experience, I have to say that the lessons regarding slavery and the fight to be recognized as more than three-fifths of a man was a little more than surface deep. 

 

The information that was omitted paved the way for people to literally grow up in the cradle of the civil rights movement and not grasp the desperation, the struggle, the discipline or the perseverance that it took to push forward through persistent oppression. I remember the argument that “we can’t teach children what really happened, because they can’t handle it.” However, in the same schools, I remember diving deep into the evil and horrific story of the holocaust. I remember long discussions about families being ripped from their homes, separated, and being shipped to concentration camps. We learned about gas chambers and mass executions; we learned about people being killed for breathing in a way that someone found unacceptable. I remember classmates crying and having to be checked out of school. However, because we were forced to endure detailed lessons on that important piece of history we all learned that the things that happened were unacceptable, that they can not be allowed to happen again, and that under no circumstances should the perpetrators of these horrific crimes ever be glorified.

 

In a day where dialogue on complex topics is nearly impossible, because people simply regurgitate the talking points that they hear from their preference of news or the social media post. One of the biggest assumptions of human nature is that each person will act in their best interest. As an economics undergrad, I spent a lot of time studying behavioral economics, I spend a lot of time studying the things that would make large segments of the population act and vote against their own best interest. —Sadly, one of those factors is racism. Over the years, racism has become less and less acceptable and is currently politically incorrect, but there is still prevalent racism in our world. We are at a point where racism, whether overt or covert, must come to a forceful end. It doesn’t matter if its taking place at the desk of loan officers, the human resource departments, the legal system or in the back of squad cars; we are responsible for ending it. In many cases systematic racism can be so subtle that it only shows up in the resulting disparities in wages, income, K-12 education, healthcare, and political power.

 

I live in a city that is broken into 23 communities, but we have 117 parks; The reason…racism, Birmingham literally had to build more than one of everything so that different races of people could be effectively separated. It would be in everyone’s best interest to have half the quantity and double the quality, but for some it made more sense to make sure my two-year-old doesn’t accidentally play with your two-year-old, before they can be taught to hate each other.

 

Racism is a real thing and the sooner EVERYONE accepts this, the sooner it can be corrected.  We are in for some very awkward conversations and uncomfortable changes, but I feel like there are more people than ever ready to end this injustice and I’m signing up to do my part. If you legitimately feel like you have been a victim of racism (on your job, in a store, school,etc.), if you feel that you have identified needed policy changes, or if you have ideas to end racism email me (Clinton.Woods@BirminghamAL.gov); I will commit to following up on these issues.

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