Tuesday, February 10, 2009
Why do you care about black history? What makes it relevant for you, a typical Gordon College student? You are probably an intelligent woman from a white family who carries a Nalgene bottle to her Old Testament class, all while singing the lyrics to Taylor Swift’s Love Story. Of course you are God fearing, friendly, and beautiful. Growing up, you’ve learned about America’s difficult history, taking time to discuss the key figures and moments; from George Washington and the American Revolution, to Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War, to FDR and Pearl Harbor, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Civil Rights Movement. But these bits of knowledge about our country’s past don’t really mean that much to you; they play out like old black and white movies that occasionally peak your interest on certain holidays, but for the most part, they seem distant, out dated, and irrelevant in our rapidly changing world. Now, if the details of our collective American history are left muddled as we rush toward inevitable progress, what happens to “Black History”, what happens to the story of African Americans and their experience in this young country, a story that is sometimes told to supplement the narrative of our fore fathers and their American Dream, a story that seems so separate from our July 4th barbecues and Thanksgiving feasts.
Now to be fair, if I am going to stand up here and ask why you care about black history, the least I can do is talk about why I care about it. Now, I think the answer is pretty obvious to everyone in here but I will tell you anyway. I, Jason Webster, am a great dancer; I like fried chicken, I am good at basketball, and I am the first person to die in any movie that I am in. All jokes aside, I am what Gordon refers to as multicultural. My father is Jamaican and my mother is Jewish. Growing up, I would refer to myself as Jew-maican and that made caring about black history difficult for me; in my mind, I could not associate my past with African slavery or Jim Crow laws because I was neither black or white; I was Jason.
But there was more to being Jason than I had even understood, and it had everything to do with the history we focus on in the month of February. My parents met in 1980 at a non-denominational church in Brooklyn, NY, started dating soon after and got engaged in 1985. Now the pastor of this church had known my parents for quite some time. But she did not think they should be married because they were an interracial couple, which, in her opinion could bring some type of social blacklash, both against my parents and the church. Therefore she refused to perform the ceremony, and even went as far to deny permission for my parents to use the church for the wedding at all. I could not imagine being denied something because of the color of my skin, especially something as sacred as marriage and especially by someone so respected as a spiritual advisor. But that was a reality for African Americans, even as recently as 1986 and knowing that I was born amidst that pain and frustration has colored how I see myself. I had not wanted to recognize my place amongst those who were sprayed with fire hoses or refused education; it’s a difficult and confusing legacy to deal with. But it was only because of their story that I could exist, and I mean that in every sense of the word. Knowing history gives me an appreciation for the America I live in today, and gives me hope and guidance for the America I will live in tomorrow.
I felt conflicted about speaking today for two reasons. One was the complexity of my experience, as I have just shared. The other reason is that in the years that I have been here, these chapel services have not been the most popular on campus; by these chapels services, I mean the ones that make us more “aware”, both of how diverse the world around us is and how diverse we aren’t. Now, some of us do enjoy them and sit in the front row, excited and eager to hear interesting stories about a world past the Bennett Center. But learning about black history can be frustrating process (process, undertaking); we, as Gordon students, may learn the tragic details of that history and feel some empathy toward the current situation of minorities in our country. But there are still 40 minutes between Wenham, MA and Lynn, and while our noble efforts to help any way we can must be commended, we have yet to realize Dr. King’s dream “where little black boys and black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls and walk together as sisters and brothers.” While we have affected tremendous waves of change, especially in these past few weeks, there is a distinct undertow of physical separation that threatens our well being as one nation, under God.
There are others of us that sit respectfully but mainly out of fear of being “racist” or closed-minded. We don’t want to offend anyone, but we aren’t exactly sure how learning about another race’s past applies to our lives; we are busy thinking about that pretty girl we keep seeing in the library, wondering if she has a boyfriend or if she’ll go out with us this weekend. We hear these same tragic stories with a sense of apathy or indifference. We were not slave owners; we did not stand in protest against the desegregation of schools or the congregation of hundreds of thousands in our nation’s capital on that warm August day in 1963. But to deny responsibility in our nation’s darkest times while still basking in the sunlight born of those struggles would be selfish and ignorant on our part, just as it was on my own.
History has created our present, and it speaks to our future. If we allow ourselves the opportunity to hear what it has to say, we, as a community of students, as a body of believers, and as participants in this social experiment known as the United States of America, will be better for it. We all stand on the shoulders of history and need to have the moral maturity to enjoy the walk through not only the green pastures, but the muddy, unsure, and blood stained trails. And even though we have still further to go until we realize a dream of a more perfect union, we must continue to listen to our history so that we do not become easily lost along the way.
I’ve given reasons why we should care about history in all its parts, not just white, Latino, Asian, Black or Jew-maican. But the decision is yours of whether you WILL care about it or not. It is a difficult step to take but one that we can make together. Besides, that girl who keeps looking at you in the library? She does have a boyfriend, so you don’t need to figure out a way to ask her out anymore.
Posted by Manny at 4:04 PM