Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

The Difficult Truth of 1619 — #1

A new blog category examining the difficult truth found in The 1619 Project.

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As you may recall (if you follow my blog), HR and I have matching chairs in our study, which often find us reading away.

Robert and I are currently slowly reading through The 1619 Project. Do you know about it? What a brilliant and fascinating work, a collection of essays, imaginative literature, photographs and artwork produced by Nikole Hannah-Jones and The New York Times Magazine.

In late August, 1619, 20-30 enslaved Africans landed at Point Comfort, today’s Fort Monroe in Hampton, Va., aboard the English privateer ship White Lion. In Virginia, these Africans were traded in exchange for supplies. Several days later, a second ship (Treasurer) arrived in Virginia with additional enslaved Africans. Both groups had been captured by English privateers from the Spanish slave ship San Juan Bautista. They are the first recorded Africans to arrive in England’s mainland American colonies. hampton.gov

Why should we read and consider this work? Here are a few introductory excerpts …

As the Howard University historian Ana Lucia Araujo writes in Slavery in the Age of Memory, “despite its ambitions of objectivity,,” public history is molded by the perspectives of the most powerful members of society.

And in the United States, public history has often been “racialized, gendered and interwoven in the fabric of white supremacy.” Yet it is still posed as objective.

“History is the fruit of power,” writes Michel-Rolph Trouillot in Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, and “the ultimate mark of power may be its invisibility; the ultimate challenge, the exposition of its roots.”

In exposing our nation’s troubled roots, The 1619 Project challenges us to think about a country whose exceptionalism we treat as the unquestioned truth. It asks us to consider who sets and shapes our shared national memory and what and who gets left out. As the Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David W. Blight writes in Race and Reunion: The Civil Warbin American Memory, our nation’s “glorious remembrance is all but overwhelmed by an even more glorious forgetting.”

White Americans desire to be free of a past they do not want to remember, while black Americans remain bound to a past they can never forget.

As we approach July 4th celebrations, may we pause to consider the full and difficult history behind and far before the firework-y holiday.

My husband HR and the colors of our flag
Posted in Seeing Race and Racism

Seeing Race and Racism #1 “Earth Day and Gone with the Wind”

A blog category looking at a topic we white folks don’t like to talk about.

My husband Robert (who is black) and I (who am white) live in Savannah’s Historic District and belong to our Downtown Neighborhood Association.

According to the website, “The Downtown Neighborhood Association … was established in 1974 by downtown residents in an effort to protect the National Historic Landmark District’s architectural heritage, encourage restoration and beautification, safeguard Savannah’s unique downtown environment, and advocate public policies related to these goals.” Goals we fully support.

The DNA is also overwhelmingly white and older. As is the historic district itself.

An interesting, telling and ultimately disturbing incident happened at a recent meeting. One of the evening’s presentations featured Nick Deffley, Savannah’s Environmental Services and Sustainability Director, introducing our city’s bold and much needed 100% Clean Energy Initiative. Toward the end of the talk, a slide was projected showing a change in the location of this year’s Earth Day celebration.

The annual Earth Day event is usually held at one of Savannah’s larger parks—Daffin Park or more recently, Forsyth Park, our city’s showcase park in the historic district.

During the Q and A, one lady toward the back expressed dismay that Earth Day wouldn’t be in Forsyth Park as usual, immediately adding these words, “I’m sorry, I’m just so sorry,” apparently apologizing for having to vocalize her belief that Earth Day should remain in our historic district neighborhood. Maybe I’m wrong, but the “I’m sorry’s” seemed to drip with insincerity. And with privilege.

The three locations for the 2022 Savannah Earth Day observance are in under-represented, mostly black, neighborhoods. Nick explained that the city’s idea is to make Earth Day accessible to more people across the demographic spectrum.

We white people don’t like to talk or think about racism. Author Robin D’Angelo calls this hesitancy “white fragility.” Racists are those bad guys who do blatantly bad things to people of color! And we would never do that!

But I suggest that we are racist when we assume that our position (geographic, financial, professional, etc) is more important than that of others … of color.

It is easy to see blatant racism. Not so much so with ingrained and systemic racism.

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Robert and I hosted our family’s day-before-Easter picnic at nearby Skidaway Island State Park. What a wonderful time we had!

But like at the DNA meeting, racism found its way in. That is for those who were open to seeing and naming it. At one point we were scattered around talking about movies, and one family member excitedly said, “Oh, Gone with the Wind is my favorite movie!” A couple of others agreed, and laughingly quoted several of the famous lines from the movie.

My husband, black, was seated in their midst.

Gone with the Wind portrays a disturbingly distorted view of people, the color of my husband, happily living their lives as devoted slaves at beautific Tara. Hattie McDaniel won best supporting actress for her portrayal of Scarlett’s Mammy. The actress was not allowed to sit with her white costars at the Oscars.

Robert and I locked eyes for a moment. His eyes, I saw, saw racism right there among the Easter baskets. His ears, as did mine, heard racism.

We looked away. Listened for more pleasant sounds.

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We white people can be tone deaf to what a person of color hears so clearly. Day after day. After day.