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