By Melissa Martin Ph.D., LPCC-S
How do we learn to be human together? White women—Black women. Black men—white men. White children—Black children. White—Black.
In 1863, (white) President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation when the Civil War ended. Ratification of the 13 Amendment abolished slavery everywhere in the United States. In 1868, the 14th Amendment to the Constitution gave Blacks equal protection under the law. In 1870, the 15th Amendment granted Blacks the right to vote.
In 2008, (Black/biracial) Barack Obama was elected President of the USA. He became the 44th president, and the first African American to be elected to that office.
Roots (1976) by Alex Haley tells the story of Kunte Kinte—a young Black man taken from the Gambia when he was seventeen and sold as a slave—and seven generations of his descendants in the United States.
When Roots was televised, I was a college student. I remember a small group of African American males gathered outside their dorm during the miniseries and sang. So surreal. The horrifying history of slavery hit me between the eyes like a ton of bricks. Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia—the first time I interacted with people of color. Growing up as a white girl from Appalachia, minorities were not discussed because they were not around—invisible as if nonexistence.
Black Like Me, a nonfiction book by John Howard Griffin, opened my eyes to racism, oppression, and prejudice. Maya Angelou’s autobiography, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, showed me the amazing courage of a traumatized Black woman.
The American civil rights movement took place mainly during the 1950s and 1960s.
In 1948, President Truman Executive Order 9981 to end discrimination in the military.
In 1954, the United States Supreme Court made segregation illegal in public schools in the case of Brown v. Board of Education. In 1956, the Supreme Court ruled segregated seating was unconstitutional. In 1957, President Eisenhower signed the Civil Rights Act. In 1964, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act. In 1965, President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act into law. In 1968, the Fair Housing Act became law.
It’s 2019. Have blacks gained equal rights under the law? Did social justice prevail? Does freedom ring true for all African Americans today?
The History of White People (2011) by historian Nell Irvin Painter. “Our story begins in Greek and Roman antiquity, where the concept of race did not exist, only geography and the opportunity to conquer and enslave others. Not until the eighteenth century did an obsession with whiteness flourish, with the German invention of the notion of Caucasian beauty. This theory made northern Europeans into “Saxons,” “Anglo-Saxons,” and “Teutons,” envisioned as uniquely handsome natural rulers.” Beginning at the roots of Western civilization, Painter traces the invention of the idea of a white race — often for economic, scientific, and political ends.
“Racism is a disease of white people,” penned Albert Einstein.
Is the concept of “race” a human invention? How and why did white race theory reach North America? Can it be unlearned?
Humans breathe. Humans bleed. Humans want to belong. People like me—people like you. People. Human beings. We are us. Listen to our hearts beat with a stethoscope. Study our anatomy, our physiology, our body. We are a combination of one egg and one sperm. Birth and death are experienced by all of us. Dissect our brains. What do you find? You and me.
As Dan Aykroyd proclaimed, “We must come to the point where we realize the concept of race is a false one. There is only one race, the human race.”
How much longer do our Black citizens have to suffer and struggle for equality and egalitarianism? How many more laws need to be enacted? Is America destined to repeat the mistakes of past history?
White—Black. Mix the two colors and you get gray. What would it be like if we were all gray? Culture war over shades of gray? Or harmony and peace?
How do we learn to be human together? I am you and you are me. One race—the human race. That’s how.