A few hours ago, I signed out of Facebook feeling a level of frustration and misunderstanding I never knew existed. In retrospect, I should have known better than to try to have a meaningful discussion with people who have zero interest in such things. I was accused of being blind to what’s happening in the world around me. I was accused of having a “black” person in mind when I suggested not “drowning” ourselves in history to the point where it distracts us from changing the future. I was accused of being callous because I don’t want to spend every waking moment delving into the details behind gruesome photos that are 100 years old.. I was accused of saying that racism is over. I was accused of saying that history has no bearing on what’s happening now. And on… and on… and on.
I said none of these things. My sin was to suggest that we should study history, learn from it, remember it and then focus on the social injustice that’s taking place all around us today. Reflect on the past, be aware in the moment and change the future.
What impact will I have on the world if I choose to educate myself on the social injustice throughout history? Reading a book and staring at photos from an ugly past is not going to make me a better person nor will it make the world a better place. Learning about the sins of dead strangers isn’t going to make me a better person nor will it make the world a better place. What purpose would it serve for me to remind myself of events that I already know are on the wrong side of humanity? To convince myself that I was right about these things being wrong? To be confident that I can now cite the names and dates of when someone committed an atrocity against someone who didn’t deserve it? I’d like to believe I’m neither that ignorant nor arrogant.
What I am is honest and practical. What impact will I have on the world if I embrace every opportunity to openly and adamantly reject social injustice at the moment it happens? If I treat every human being with the respect they deserve? If I refuse to be silent or accepting of bad behavior when I see it. If I actually try to make the world a better place instead of just trying to understand why it’s broken in the first place?
As a Native American who has actually experienced racism… if someone told me they read a book so they could understand the impact of history on what I’ve personally experienced in my lifetime, I’d be insulted. My question to them would be why did it not occur to you to spend time having a real conversation with me to understand what I’ve witnessed? Is it because it’s easier to study on your own time than it is to invest the time to have a difficult and possibly confrontational conversation with another human being who has experienced things you’ve only heard about? Maybe having a face-to-face conversation makes it just a bit too personal?
By all means, never stop reading and learning. But don’t turn around and try to convince people that reading history has somehow helped you achieve a new “woke” state. Don’t try to convince people that reading history has helped you understand what it’s like to live in their skin. And definitely don’t let on that understanding why bad people did bad things 50 years ago was a higher priority than doing your part to make sure that everyone does the right thing now.
If you really want to do something that produces a positive impact, do the hard things. Talk. Listen. Expose. Change. And then convince others to do the same… one person at a time.