I recently watched “Strange Fruit,” the Billie Holiday song with all the images of the lynchings. It was horrifying—both on the side of the victims and on the side of the perpetrators. What must be the condition of the soul to wreak such devastation on another people?
It’s easy to sit here at this distance and condemn these people. But what are we doing now that amounts to the same thing? Is not climate change a crime against humanity? Will not future generations condemn us for driving cars? For squandering precious time and resources, when we should be working to avert this existential threat?
We have to understand that Black History is not just a polite acknowledgement of the achievements of African Americans during the month of February. Black History is our history. All of our history. This is the history of America. Or rather, as someone pointed out to me recently, even the word history is a misnomer. It refers to his-story, the story of the victors. This is our story. All of our story.
And we are inextricably intertwined. White people, if you go back far enough, have descended from Africans. Many African Americans have descended from slave owners—the result of a crime in itself, but it has literally made us cousins. Africans sold Africans into slavery. Europeans operated the slave trade across the Atlantic. White Americans brought their notions of punishment and cruelty from Europe. None of us are untouched by slavery. None of us are free. Until we face this racial prejudice and eradicate it, none of us are whole.
If we look at this in terms of which side we are on and who is to blame, we keep going round and round, pointing fingers. The truth is, we are one people. We are all burdened, we are all suffering from the actions of our ancestors. And we are all uplifted by the actions of those enlightened ones among our forebears.
This is our story. The story of humanity. The story of a family—a family fractured and at war with itself. We, this generation, have inherited all of it: the hatred, the wars, the cruelty. And we have inherited the capacity for peace, for justice and yes, for love. It’s up to us to decide which direction we travel from here.
What will it be for us? Will we perpetuate the darkness, the ignorance, the animosity? Or will we choose wake up and shed light on our past so we can forge a better future?