OUR HISTORY IS YOURS (DEAR WHITE PEOPLE)
Updated: Jan 30
“I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.” ~ James Baldwin
I was 19 years old and on a bus heading to upstate New York to visit a friend. We made a stop to use the restroom and get food. I was standing in line to get a sandwich and there was a woman behind me with two kids. As I was waiting to order, the little girl asked the woman “is that a nigger?”, pointing to me. I was stunned. I could see the embarrassment on the woman’s face as she profusely apologized to me and reprimanded the little girl. She explained the little girl’s father was teaching her these things. This is not the deep south or the Midwest, this is New York. A little girl, who was probably seven years old, was being taught to be racist. Imagine if this little girl is now a congresswoman or judge, deciding policy and laws, perpetuating the cycle of the systems and structures in this country that are predicated on race.
That same summer I was home from college, spending time with friends in my community. I was sitting across the street from where I live with a friend. We were talking and doing what people do, share in conversation and catching up. All of a sudden an unmarked car sped up the street and stopped in front of where we were sitting. Two plain clothes police officers jumped out, guns drawn and asked us to get against the wall. We were confused and did as we were told. They searched us and asked if we lived in the building. We explained we didn’t but lived across the street. Suddenly, people from our community came out to approach the police officers and let them know we were from here. The police officers immediately backed off. When asked why they were here they expressed 9-1-1 was called with a complaint that we were selling drugs. At that point we knew what was happening. We understood and experienced what’s now known as the weaponization of 9-1-1. My neighborhood was at the beginnings of its gentrification and we knew who lived in the building where we were sitting.
These are just two instances of many along the length of my life where I felt criminalized or made feel different simply because of who I am.
Now imagine millions of people who have a similar experience, whether on the street, at their jobs, when trying to get housing or simply living their lives. Imagine the stress this causes when you have to think about facing these experiences, let alone having the actual experience itself. The weight of purely existing.
Now let’s take a step further and imagine a system, who at every turn, does the same thing. Over and over again. A system that indoctrinates hate and makes you believe that other people are less than you. Imagine walking through life facing that system every day.
“To accept one’s past – one’s history – is not the same thing as drowning it; it is learning how to use it.” ~James Baldwin
Let’s take a look at America’s history.
1. The genocide of indigenous people
2. The enslavement of African people for cheap labor
3. The enforcement of Jim Crow laws which segregated by race, denying equal rights
4. The Ponce Massacre in Puerto Rico
5. The bombing of Utuado in Puerto Rico (first time in US history they bombed their “own” people)
6. The Tulsa Massacre
7. The Rosewood Massacre
8. The enslavement of Chinese people for cheap labor
9. The encampment of Japanese people during WWII
10. The wars of Iraq and Afghanistan under false pretense
11. Redlining and purposely under resourcing communities
12. Over policing communities of color and using excessive force
13. Bailing out banks and corporations, instead of its citizens
14. Mass incarceration in disproportionate numbers for black and brown people (New Jim Crow)
15. The Tuskegee experiment, specifically on black soldiers of WWII
16. The Puerto Rico Pill Trials; testing birth control on women with no explanation as to what it was and the side effects
17. Using Vieques as a bombing site for the US Navy with no regard for its citizens
18. The water supply in Flint, Michigan
19. The Dakota Access Pipeline (no regard for the dangers of pollution and illness)
And the bloody catalog of oppression goes on and on.
This is the history of our country and its current moral crisis. A history of purposeful and intentional violence to get to the greater means of maintaining power. It’s a history we must confront and acknowledge. The game never changes, they just implement it in different ways and create the illusion that all of it is necessary for the greater good. It’s the biggest lie ever told.
If we would for a second get out of this illusion and see the control those in power want to maintain, we would recognize that everyone is affected by everything this country does AND the scales are imbalanced as to who gets affected the most. Remember this: the system is not broken; it works as it was intended.
If you didn’t experience these atrocities first-hand or are affected by its intentional ripple effects, it doesn’t mean you should forget about them. It doesn’t mean you continue to live in the illusion of these events not having an impact or bypassing them as historical events and nothing more. There’s a persistence of these events throughout the fabric of this country, even today. When you acknowledge them and the affects, it doesn’t mean you are solely responsible. What it does mean is you have the opportunity to be responsible for how you respond, how you listen and how you mobilize to make this American experience better for all people.
This is my history. This is your history. This is OUR history. It cannot be denied.
The only question left to answer is will you play your part in making a new history for humanity, one where generations to come will carry it forth consciously? Are we ready to hear the pain and the anger we all have? Are we ready to listen with love so that we may heal as a collective?
I hope so.
Otherwise, we are left with the same American experience and trauma to be passed on for generations to come. Let’s embrace our history, right the wrongs and balance the scales for a truly equitable country and human experience for all.
© David Medina