Getting ready for Black History month is different this year. First of all, this is my first Black History Month as a white person in the deep south. What are some of the implications of that? They are both more subtle and more overt than you might imagine. My elementary school teaching wife is dealing with heart wrenching situation with one of her students made more awful because the pain the poor child is dealing with is acted out towards the child’s classmates of color, proving once again hatred and prejudice is taught and learned. I’ve worn my Obama T-shirts to the gym a lot and I’ve received a good half dozen hearty, broad smiles and “nice shirt” comments from Women of Color leaving the gym and each time I thought of Alice Walker’s opening of her letter to Obama the day after the election:
You have no idea, really, of how profound this moment is for us. Us being the black people of the Southern United States. You think you know, because you are thoughtful, and you have studied our history. But seeing you deliver the torch so many others before you carried, year after year, decade after decade, century after century, only to be struck down before igniting the flame of justice and of law, is almost more than the heart can bear.
It took me, it seemed, forever to find a recipient for our congregations monthly outreach for this coming February. Being Black History Month I wanted to make our monthly congregational tithe to an organization, preferably an African American organization working on anti-racism, anti-oppression issues in our area of Texas. I have yet to find one. Alhtough I did find one and then another organization working on these issues, neither was a group working on these issues in the African-American community run by African Americans. But I’m still new here and my contact list is still short and I’m white and my church is in a rich, white town.
The organizations I did find, however are wonderful and I can’t wait to start making a difference with them.
I’ve learned that there is still a lof of racism where I live and plenty of racist attitudes. Although I don’t live in a segregated area per se, my family has diverse neighbors in our subdivision if not on our street, but I come from a section of Leominster, MA where much farther from Mexico than I am now, I lived in a Latino neighborhood with many Latino neighbors and many Asian neighbors and heard Spanish and increasingly, Portuguese spoken in not only my neighborhood, but on any walk downtown. Here I am 7 or 8 hours from Mexico and I hardly hear Spanish at all in my daily life and people of color are almost missing from my daily experience. I’ve become removed from diversity. I miss it. I used to live down the street from Leominster Spanish Center. I couldn’t even tell you where such places are yet in Keller, Southlake, Grapevine, Watauga, North Richland Hills or Hurst, Texas. I’m sure hoping such places exist, at least in Fort Worth, but I’m still relatively new in town.
We may have elected our first President of Color, but Black History Month is only a few decades old, beginning in 1976. February was chosen because Lincoln’s birthday and Frederick Douglas’ birthday fall in the month. The celebration grew out of Negro History week, also in February for the same reasons, began in 1926 by African American historian Carter Woodson.
I have a heightened sense of white privilege living here in Texas. My friend Mary at Tensegrities has a nice post up with some links to reflections on white privilege. I got my first real taste of white privilege running an after school tutoring program for non-English speaking middle school students in Fitchburg, MA in 1990 and 1991. I had that reinforced in a mighty fashion teaching at a small urban Catholic high school in Boston for five years where the student population was almost entirely students of color. Reaction to the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, CO: Ho hum or even outrage: “Some white kids in Colorado get shot and everybody’s boo-hoo-hoo, Mr.L. My cousin got shot in a drive by in Dorchester last summer. Where was the news? Where was the T.V. for his funeral?” Where was the outrage, she was asking me.
We have made strides, there is no doubt. But there is so much left to do. We all need to be able to fly. The first task, as Dr. King said is to just keep moving…