I was this many years old when I discovered that Juneteenth (June 19, 1865), which is the commemorative date for the end of slavery, came two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation. This is a celebratory day, no doubt, but I can’t help but be dismayed that it took so very long for everyone to get the message. It’s possible I learned this in history class in my earlier years, but I must admit that history was never my strong suit. Plus, I have the #whiteprivilege to forget such a historical date as it’s been largely irrelevant to my life.
“Most ignorance is evincible ignorance. We don’t know because we don’t want to know.”– Aldous Huxley
I’m ashamed of that.
There are quite a few things, it turns out, that I was unaware of, or learned in some fleeting grade school moment where the implications of these events weren’t impressed upon us with any sense of gravity.
I had no idea that the beautiful New York Central Park was once partially a vibrant community that was predominantly black, secluded away from the racism they faced. Seneca Village was created in 1825, and just a few decades later the land was acquired by the government under the eminent domain law – paying the land owners (quite a small amount, as accounts are told) as compensation and forcing them to relocate, despite court appearances and protests. This is just one of the communities that blacks were forced out of, and many were much more violent.
“Where ignorance is our master, there is no possibility of real peace.”– Dalai Lama
Did you know that along with Roosevelt’s New Deal also came ‘redlining’, which was a sanctioned refusal (by the Federal Housing Administration) to insure mortgages in and near African-American neighborhoods? While banned 50 years ago, it effectively shaped the demographic and wealth patterns of American communities.
Did you know about Black Wall Street in Tulsa, OK? In 1921 thirty-five city blocks went up in flames, 300 people died, and 800 were injured. Nine thousand people became homeless. It began with an allegation of the rape of a white woman by a black man, and the white community refusing to wait for an investigation – instead choosing to attack the black community and begin the two days of the Tulsa Race Massacre.
Did you know how long eight minutes and forty-six seconds really is?
There are so many things I can list that I’m becoming aware of now. Things I was never taught. Someone said that privilege is having history rewritten so that you don’t have to acknowledge uncomfortable facts.
The abolition of slavery was the birth of the current criminal justice system.
Everywhere I turn, I see something that is my right – unquestionably so – that someone of darker skin must question. It hadn’t occurred to me. I’ve closed my eyes for far too long. The laws were written to protect the Union of The United States, and concessions were made. Loopholes were forged, not just accidentally or by happenstance.
“In order to empathize with someone’s experience, you must be willing to believe them as they see it, not how you imagine their experience to be.”– Brene Brown
We have an amazing opportunity right now to truly empathize, to make changes. I am woefully ill-informed, but now that I know that, I can do something about it. I can’t simply remain complacent in all that’s been handed down to me. I can’t close my eyes any more to the inequities that I’ve taken for granted. This movement won’t change hardened hearts, but it will open eyes and bring knowledge into the light. As Martin Luther King, Jr. said, it is only light that can drive out darkness.
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