Face it: Black American history is American history. It cannot be erased | Opinion
"I did not know it."
Those were the first words my friend, a white man named Dave, spoke to me the day after the first episode of Roots, which portrayed the capture and enslavement of an African boy named Kunta Kinte. That was 43 years ago.
So you can imagine my frustration last year when the HBO miniseries "Watchmen" debuted with an episode depicting the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, in which white mobs destroyed a thriving African American neighborhood and killed dozens of people. White readers reached me in shock and amazement.
"I didn't know," they said.
I'm not blaming her for not knowing more than I do, Dave. You cannot know what you have not been taught. But not knowing is not a coincidence either.
That brings us to William Jackson Harper, a black actor known as ethics nerd Chidi Anagonye on NBC sitcom The Good Place, and a troubling experience he shared on social media last week. It appears that he was invited by a charity - Arts In The Armed Forces - to choose a movie for cadets to watch and then host a zoom discussion on its subjects. From a list of films he made available, they chose "Malcolm X".
Then they chose it. Harper said two days before the event he was told that two of the cadet academies would not attend for fear of violating Donald Trump's latest so-called "Executive Order to Combat Racial and Gender Stereotypes". As Harper wrote, "it requires that federal and military institutions not use educational materials that promote a" harmful and false belief that America is an irrevocably racist and sexist country; that some people are oppressors simply because of their race or gender. "
That may sound good, classy even, but it's a load of fertilizer in a satin sack. Because the aim - and, as this incident shows, the effect - of the Order really is to discourage discussion of difficult and sensitive issues of race and gender. No "The Feminine Mystique". No roots. "And no" Malcolm X. "
You have to wonder how far this country will go to protect itself - to protect the whites - from unpleasant racial truths. In 2010, Arizona passed a law banning ethnic studies. In 2014, a member of the Colorado school board proposed a directive aimed at wiping out black history lessons. Last year a Bronx educator was accused of banning black history. Well there it is.
And the reason is obvious. Jesus said, “The truth will set you free,” but very often when it comes to race, the truth will make you angry. Or disappointed. Or ashamed. In place of the truth, we are offered a version of the story that is calibrated for the comfort of whites confused by the truth and that does not ask them to look too deep or to question too much.
In order to enforce compliance with the regulations, those responsible are increasingly willing to apply guidelines and laws. That's the wall Harper ran into. Which tells you how dangerous they hold this truth. To understand it, you have to understand America in a fundamentally different way, see what you have never seen, hear what you have never heard, ask what you have never asked.
In fact, Trump imposed his own moral and intellectual cowardice on these cadets. These are traits too much racially recognizable these days, and they will serve us poorly in a nation that is becoming more diverse by the hour. Yes, America's racist truths pose a threat to complacent complacency, simple patriotism, and simple myths. Some think that makes them too dangerous to know.
In fact, it makes them too dangerous not to do it.
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