All the focus is always on Black history or the Black experience.
For every question of Black history, there is also a counter question of white history. As the Black experience in America is deliberately absent in education, white history also is not found in American schoolbooks.
Malina Simone (my life partner extraordinaire girlfriend), a local creative, curator and community leader addressed over 500 Indianapolis business leaders at the State of Downtown Address this past summer. During her opening statement she asked a profound question, “Black men are getting lynched in America — hung from trees. What if a young white woman was found hung from a tree one morning, anywhere in America?”
Well, what if a young white woman was found hung from a tree one morning, anywhere in America? Could you imagine the outrage? “Strange Fruit,” a popular song by Billie Holiday, described Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze — I could not fathom living in a Jim Crow America.
Malina was referencing the news this past summer that four Black men were found hanged in the span of three weeks. I think the news cycle lasted about three days. Lynching is the most egregious form of racial hostility — and here we are in 2020 having to relive history, yet again.
Also, this summer, Quaker Oats Company put out a statement that they were changing the branding of the syrup product of Aunt Jemima. For 130 years, Aunt Jemima perpetuated racial stereotypes as the minstrel queen of breakfast. This product was introduced in 1889 – as this branding concept supported, confirmed and perpetuated the acceptance of a Black slave woman serving breakfast to white Americans.
I wonder if it was Aunt Jemima that was poured into the hands of my grandfather as he was taking my grandmother on a breakfast date. They had to order from a limited menu at the back of this establishment. Pancakes were my grandmother’s favorite growing up, but can you imagine not being given any utensils for breakfast, and when you requested syrup, instead of a bowl — it was poured into your hands?
Pause. Think. Reflect. And imagine.
And that’s Black history, my family’s history — but it’s also white history.
Tell me your stories. You have them too. Explain to me how your family has accumulated so much wealth. Explain to me why there is an abundance of white people living in affluent neighborhoods. Educate me why your country club has zero Black members. How is it that the majority of organizational leadership and boardrooms are comprised mostly by white people? Explain to me why you have never been pulled over by the police in your entire life. Please educate me as to why you feel safe, daily. Explain to me how there can be a white mass murderer taken into custody unharmed, but a Black man is killed at an exponential rate for “routine” traffic stops. Explain to me white history. As my grandfather received his syrup poured into his hands, was it your white grandfather that did the pouring?
Also, explain to me “Strange Fruit” or explain to me why Billie Holiday wrote this piece.
Images of the lynchings of Black people like the ones taken in Marion, Indiana, inspired this song.
(Google Marion, Indiana, Lynchings)
Now, explain to me why there are people smiling in this photo. Where is the humanity?
Explain to me the history of our American humanity. That picture in Marion, Indiana was taken in 1930, just 90 years ago. Also, of note, my grandmother turned 90 years old this year.
It’s important to know these things. It’s important to know history. The more you know, the more you grow. It’s time for America to grow up.
Alan Bacon is a humanity advocate, community leader, musician and innovator. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.