Anyone who knows me really really well knows that I love history. Not just like “it’s my favorite subject” love. But more along the lines of “I live and breathe history.” Love it. Really, I could kick myself in the face for not majoring in it in the first place, but that’s neither here or there. If I had things my way, I’d be living in a city rich in our country’s history, such as Philadelphia, New York, or DC, and be working for some kind of non-profit organization or historical society or even a historical museum. As of late, I have been spending much of my free “me” time (when I get some) reading biographies or historical fiction, when I haven’t been writing some of my own. I have also begun the process of researching my family tree, something that I do every now and again as it is very, very time-consuming. And I’m still working on getting my DNA tested. You can’t really appreciate history until you know your own…good, bad, and the amazing!
As an African-American woman, it can be tricky to appreciate the history of a country that consists of such trauma and hatred against those who were deemed inferior. Black people often find it difficult to relate to any aspects of American history that is not specifically “Black” history. It can be easy to be indifferent to those who were at the forefront at our country’s creation, especially since some of those gentlemen owned people who looked like me. And as such, we often choose not to care. It makes us angry, and rightfully so. Unless one is from a West Indian or African family that immigrated here on their own volition, odds are that he or she, in some part of his or her blood line, has some ties to slavery. The history of slavery in our country is an ugly one and its abolition in 1865 only gave birth to a full out war on our country’s African American population in the form of “Jim Crow” laws. Part of the ugliness stems from the fact that this economic institution promoted systematic ways that oppressed Blacks, including not acknowledging a Black person as a “full person”, allowing a backward notion of superiority vs inferiority dictate the justification for slavery, not allowing Blacks to keep their name, language, or anything that connects a person to his or her identity, putting in place the idea of color-ism (that light skinned and mixed race Blacks were better than those with a darker complexion), shaming the very features that distinguish us as African descended (darker skin tones, broader noses, fuller lips), the act of separating families (in particular the men of the family), and creating and maintaining control of the narrative for hundreds of years that slave owners and other Whites in those societies have had over the lives of Blacks and any relation to their White counterparts. Yes, our history has its roots in hate and trauma, but has flourished into something in which we all can be proud to be a part of. Somehow, we, as a people, have managed to rise up against any and all walls put in our paths. And although our struggle is not over…. by a long shot, we have cemented our rightful place in this country.
But I digress. I want to speak to those who might still be confused by my love of history. Not just Black history, but I’m talking pre-and post-Revolutionary War, colonial times, Civil War era, and 20th century history. You know, the times that were not so fun for Black people. Why. you might ask. would you even want to invest your time in reading about say. oh I don’t know. Thomas Jefferson, for example. Wasn’t he like just about the worst, though? And really, who cares about George Washington. Ugh. That dude totally owned a mess of slaves. I know. I know, friends. It is a hard pill to swallow, but I have found that remaining ignorant of something just because its truth is hard to bare doesn’t do anything but just perpetuate more ignorance. I choose to face an uneasy truth head on because many times there is so much more that lies beneath the surface. And perhaps this is where my psychology background comes into play…to want to dive into the minds of those whom I really shouldn’t be interested in knowing anything more about. The mindset of these gentlemen is one that I can never even begin to try to justify, but the more I know, the more educated I am to better understand what I can do to teach my children how to better respond to those who might come from a similar angle. And the more educated I can make myself and my children, the more power we have. The more you know…and isn’t knowing really half the battle??!!
The more I think about it, the more I credit my love of history to my father, who,for hours at a time, watched documentaries and historically-based movies about various aspects of World War II. I often wondered why my father seemed to have a fascination with a personality like Adolph Hitler… it always seemed as though he was watching something that featured something about the man. As a young girl, it troubled me a bit… why on Earth would my father, who has lived through segregation in both the civilian and military world, want to be inundated with information about a man who’s entire purpose was the poison the minds of those who blindly followed his hysteria. This was a man who was responsible for the deaths of approximately 12-14 million people in Europe. He was successful in perpetuating his fears onto those who were already angry and looking for someone to blame following the devastation Germany endured after WWI. Why, Daddy!? Why would you want to even have that man come into your living room. And I never understood until now. My father was a man who enjoyed learning. Although I did not know him as an avid reader during my time, I always remembered that he had a story to tell… most of which were based on his own experiences. My father also possessed a library. Most of his books were either biographies, encyclopedias, historical non-fiction, or historical fiction/novels. His library reached from one end of his office to the other. And I can imagine that at one point, he had read each and every one of those books. He was a learned man and enjoyed learning… even if what he was studying was not pretty or was something filled with pain. We see Hitler as one of the epitomes of hatred in the 20th century, if not the epitome. And yet my father yearned to learn more about him. Perhaps the why interested him, or perhaps just maybe he wanted to arm himself with more knowledge so that we could teach his young daughter how to be aware of the evils that are still prevalent in our society, and how to appropriately respond to them.
All things in life are learning opportunities… the good, the bad… and the ugly. It’s only when we open our minds to all three that we are really able to build a more well-rounded knowledge base that enables us to take on just about anything thrown our way. As a Black woman, this is my duty and responsibility. And I’m taking it very seriously.
Thanks Dad for showing me the way.