Politics Monday: Why Every True Patriot Must Be “Woke”

I completed my elementary school years in Bogotá, Colombia when my father served at the Embassy as Public Affairs Officer in the United States Information Service. The American-curriculum school, Colegio Nuevo Granada, didn’t have room for both a second-grader (my sister) and a fourth-grader (me) when we arrived in 1963, so we were enrolled at The English School. It followed the British curriculum, including end-of-year essay examinations that I imagined were graded by stern women in tweed suits hunched over our papers like Andean vultures on a dead cow.

Along with acquiring slight British accents, my sister and I were schooled in Chaucer, Shakespeare, and, as I announced at dinner one night, “how we lost the colonies.” My mother could only shake her head. “Honey, we are the colonies.”

When we moved to one of those original colonies, Maryland, a few years later, I traded my posh accent for a Southern twang and learned the Pledge of Allegiance. Children are resilient. Eventually, we develop our own filters through which to see the world.

But, what if we are simply never exposed to an idea at all? That is the case with the Tulsa Massacre of 1921. The official denial of the horror by the city’s white government, and the danger Black Tulsans would have put themselves in by daring to speak the truth, kept this awful story under wraps for nearly a century.

Although it is perhaps the most dramatic criminally racist event to be so hidden, it is but one shameful story among our country’s undeniable atrocities perpetrated upon Black Americans, the descendants of men and women transported from Africa against their will and force into slavery. As Tom Hanks wrote in his June 6 essay in The New York Times:

The truth about Tulsa, and the repeated violence by some white Americans against Black Americans, was systematically ignored, perhaps because it was regarded as too honest, too painful a lesson for our young white ears. So, our predominantly white schools didn’t teach it, our mass appeal works of historical fiction didn’t enlighten us, and my chosen industry didn’t take on the subject in films and shows until recently.

Tom Hanks, opinion piece in the June 6, 2021 New York Times

Closer to my home, the Palm Beach Public Schools Board attempted to address systemic racism in its draft equity statement, which proclaimed the county’s public school system “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.” Parents forced the removal of “white advantage.” In a June 2 opinion piece in The Palm Beach Post, Jan Tuckwood, a former reporter who touring historic homes of the South for an upcoming project, objected to sanitizing the difficult message.

Discussing ‘white advantage’ creates discomfort. Arguing over the words ‘serve’ and ‘slave’ is unpleasant. It’s easier to shut up and shut down when words upset us — but if we do, we miss the whole truth. We must keep talking through the hard stuff, or we’ll never be cured.

Jan Tuckwood, The Palm Beach Post

One of my favorite expressions about true love is that we love not because we don’t know the truth about one another, but that we know the truth and still choose to love.

If being ‘woke’ means knowing the full story of your community and country, including the systemic racism that still shapes them, then every thinking adult should be. How can you love a place while knowing the crimes that helped produce it? By relentlessly confronting hypocrisy and remaining ‘woke’ to the transformational power of American ideals

Michael Gerson, The Washington Post
Op-ed cartoon by Mark Murphy, USA Today Network
Op-ed cartoon by Marc Murphy, USA Today Network

Politics Monday: How Denial Whitewashes America’s History

Even as we commemorate the grim anniversaries of the oppression, to the point of death, of Black Americans, our country continues to whitewash the past, keeping us all prisoners.

The Tulsa Massacre

It is the centennial of the Tulsa Massacre, the criminal event that resulted in the death of 300 Black Americans and the displacement thousands more and was forcefully covered up for most of the past 100 years by the government authority. Shameful.

Rather than remember and atone for this atrocity, Tulsa began efforts to erase it from history.

Charles Blow, CBS Sunday Morning

George Floyd and Black Lives Matter

It is the one-year anniversary of the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and the unprecedented civil rights protests around the world. His white killer, a police officer, has been found guilty. Black Lives Matter has become engrained in our national consciousness. President Biden himself acknowledges systemic racism.

Perhaps we are making headway in acknowledging that the enslavement of Blacks has left a legacy to be reckoned with. But two news stories this week reveal that we are a long, long way from addressing our country’s racial fault lines.

Limiting the Conversation

In his recent article for the Associated Press, State GOP lawmakers try to limit teaching about race, reporter Bryan Anderson writes that the country’s racial reckoning is having a boomerang effect as Republican-controlled states are legislating limits into the teaching curricula.

We’re basically silencing the voices of those who already feel oppressed.

Lakeisha Patterson, third grade teacher in Texas

And Andrew Marra’s May 27 article the reveals another step backward. The Palm Beach Public Schools Board attempted to address systemic racism in its draft equity statement, which proclaimed the county’s public school system “is committed to dismantling structures rooted in white advantage.” Parents forced the removal of “white advantage.”

Whites Own “The Conversation”

Unless we can admit to the reality of Black disadvantage/white advantage, we cannot begin to address it.

Some weeks ago, I wrote about America lifting a page from Germany’s playbook when it comes to national accountability. How Germany Guarantees Remembrance of the Holocaust. Let me repeat the final portion of that post, as it pertains exactly to the challenge that white Americans — including the white parents of Palm Beach County Schools children — are facing.

In an article entitled In a nation founded on whiteness, how to really discuss it AP reporter Deepti Hajela explores the challenge.

This mess has been from the founding of this country. This mess has been in our soil. It’s in our soul. It’s everywhere, and we’ve never really completely decided that we will look at it.

The Rev. Susan Chorley, First Parish of Norwell

Are white people willing to confront and have a conversation about the extent to which white racial prejudice and white racism, and the desire to maintain white power in the United States, is part of our political process?

Asheley Jardina, Duke University

Our Country Can Withstand Self-Scrutiny

I will always be the daughter of American diplomats who believed in the democratic ideals they represented abroad, even as our country did not live up to them. In retirement, free of the constraints of political office and government bureaucracy, they would have concurred with Biden. They believed that our country is strong enough to withstand self-scrutiny.

I still do. And so does President Biden, the first sitting president to visit the Tulsa community of Greenwood, the site of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre.

We must find the courage to change. We’re facing an inflection point as a nation; what people refused to see cannot be ignored anymore.

President Joe Biden

Politics Monday: Why our nation must have the difficult conversation

My recent post about the possibility of America using Germany’s example of talking honestly about the Holocaust to move the deeply dysfunctional race conversation forward prompted me to write a letter along those lines to the editors of The Palm Beach Post. In the final paragraph, I mention reparations:

Let’s restore the physical vestiges of the slave trade to guarantee the memory of what happened there. Let’s make Juneteenth, the largely Black holiday commemorating emancipation, a national holiday. Let’s talk about what happened during Jim Crow and after — the “white conversation” as AP reporter Deepti Hajela wrote in your March 28 edition. Let’s make amends with reparations, a process the city of Evanston, Illinois has begun. 

Jane Kelly Amerson López, Opinion column, The Palm Beach Post, April 7, 2021

A week later, a Palm Beach Post reader whose great-great-grandparents were in a Polish ghetto wrote this stunning reaction.

The concept of paying “reparations” for slavery is absolutely absurd. No white person today has any connection at all to that hideous practice. And no Black person alive today has been affected by the events of more than 150 years ago. So why in the world should money be paid from whites to Blacks?

Frederick A. Lehrer, Letter to the Editors, April 13, 2021

Today, a Black reader jumps on that final line.

As a Black man, I am not in favor of reparations. But, if they were paid, it would be the government which pays. I guess the writer assumes that only whites work and pay taxes in this country.

Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021

He then goes on to address the even more troubling assumption that Blacks have not been affected by slavery.

What the writer fails to mention are the systems that were put into place to exclude Blacks from almost every segment of American life — voting rights, the Dred Scott decision, redlining and limited access to capital, Levittowns and the GI Bill, just to name a few.

Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021

I had to go back to school on the reference to Levittown and the GI Bill, which gave my father and thousands of other WWII soldiers a boost through college education. The History Channel’s Erin Blakemore writes that although the GI bill did not specifically exclude Blacks, it was administered by states whose discriminatory practices disenfranchised Black veterans. The Levittown Long Island suburb did not allow Blacks in 1944, thus preventing those veterans from accessing the GI Bill-guaranteed mortgage.

Mr. Lewis then hits the bullseye.

However, what is needed is a deep discussion on how we got here. Many feel the plight of minorities in this country is upon the minority. They don’t want to understand or talk about the idea that the United States has not lived up to her promises for everyone.

Richard Lewis, Letter to the Editors, April 18, 2021

How do we have that very difficult conversation? Look for a future post where I’ll be sharing a couple of approaches that are being tried around the country.

“We The People” being inscribed by hands of different skin colors, editorial cartoon by Steve Breen, San Diego Union Tribune
“We The People” being inscribed by hands of different skin colors, editorial cartoon by Steve Breen, San Diego Union Tribune

Travel Tuesday: How Germany Guarantees the Memory of the Holocaust, Giving America A Roadmap for Addressing Slavery

German prosecutors charged a 100-year-old man with 3,518 counts of being an accessory to murder on allegations he served during World War II as a Nazi SS guard at a concentration camp on the outskirts of Berlin, authorities said Tuesday. This case is a vital reminder to the dangers of anti-Semitism, racism and xenophobia, said Efraim Zuroff, the chief Nazi hunter at the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

David Rising, Associated Press.

In his recent article for the Associated Press, reporter David Rising wrote about the coming trial of a former guard at the Sachsenhausen death camp outside Berlin. The accompanying photograph reminded me of our somber day at that camp, the Berlin Holocaust Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, and the Berlin Wall during our Baltic cruise in 2017. Here is some of what I wrote about that day in words that mean even more today. Germany’s acknowledgement of the Holocaust through restoration of that awful past gives America an example for acknowledging slavery in order to move ahead.

Acknowledging the Holocaust

“After decades of denial, a reunified Germany slowly but firmly turned to look at the horror of the Nazi regime. The effort is meant to ‘guarantee memory.’ Twenty-five years have gone into the restoration of Sachsenhausen’s original buildings, design and artifacts. 

“The Berlin Holocaust Memorial is an unavoidable block-wide grid of unmarked slabs of grey stone laid out like coffins, soaring over death-shadowed canyons in the center and emerging into the ongoing life of daylight.

Acknowledging Slavery

“We too have a shameful past: slavery. Emancipation did not lead to freedom, and we’ve allowed slavery to morph into accepted behavior in this country. Jim Crow. Lynching. Segregation. Discrimination. Incarceration. Death at the hands of the police. Indeed, Nazis and Klansmen march in support of racism under the cover of the First Amendment, and statues of the Confederate military are defended as ‘heritage’ to be protected. It’s a heritage built by slaves and defeated in the Civil War. True freedom and liberty are yet out of reach to persons of color.

“What if, instead of ignoring objections or tearing Confederate statues down, we found a way to lay out the full story, to force ourselves to look at our own dark past? Let’s talk about why we had a Civil War, and what has happened since. Until we can force our country to stare down its horrific past, we will never be free of it.”

Whites Own “The Conversation”

In an article entitled In a nation founded on whiteness, how to really discuss it AP reporter Deepti Hajela explores the challenge.

This mess has been from the founding of this country. This mess has been in our soil. It’s in our soul. It’s everywhere, and we’ve never really completely decided that we will look at it.

The Rev. Susan Chorley, First Parish of Norwell

Are white people willing to confront and have a conversation about the extent to which white racial prejudice and white racism, and the desire to maintain white power in the United States, is part of our political process?

Asheley Jardina, Duke University