By Paul Graves
We’re in the middle of Black History Month, whose foundation was laid in 1926. It wasn’t until 1970, however, when students at Kent State University chose January and February to both honor and learn about Black history in the United States.
Then, in 1976, President Gerald Ford recognized Black History Month as part of the nation’s bicentennial celebration. He urged Americans to “seize the opportunity to honor the too-often neglected accomplishments of Black Americans in every area of endeavor throughout our history.”
So how do we in Bonner County — an area that is 96+% white — honor an ethnic group that is .3% of our total population (118 out of 47,110 persons)? My short answer: Very intentionally and very respectfully.
I know that’s possible for many of us. I also know it’s far more difficult for a noticeable portion of our county residents.
Further, I suspect that even those who want to honor Black History Month may have a limited awareness of the amazing, positive impact that Black persons and communities have had on our nation.
I respectfully offer a few suggestions for anyone who is ready to learn more about an integral part of our history that we too often neglect. But I caution you: Learning more about this history, in whatever form it might come your way, could be damaging to your implicit biases.
However you choose to become more aware of Black history, approach it with courageous humility. Be willing to be humbled by our nation’s systemic racism as it existed historically and continues to persist.
I know that many people choose not to believe in systemic racism, but I cannot escape seeing it in countless ways. I cannot pretend to be unaffected by it. My head needs to keep learning. My heart needs to keep learning as well. Perhaps that’s true for you, also.
Learn from books and videos. Sandpoint’s wonderful library currently has a helpful display of Black history resources right next to the grand stairway. It represents an extensive collection of books and videos that reflect some of the nation’s rich, tenacious and agonizing history of Black Americans.
I hope you will visit that display. Become more aware of the ugly — and hopeful — truths implicit in it.
You’ll find books like In Search of Our Roots, A Slave No More and The Long Walk to Freedom, or DVDs like African American Lives and Black America Since MLK. Maybe because I’m a pastor, my favorite uplifting DVD is The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Song.
I also recently became aware of some YouTube presentations called TheoEd Talks — a series of faith-based short talks similar to TED Talks. Two of the installments I watched were by Black women eager to close the racial gaps that exist in our country. (And, by extension, in Bonner County).
Austin Channing Brown is a social justice activist and author ofI’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness. Her YouTube talk was titled, “The Double-Sided Pursuit of Racial Justice.” Her measured but passionate tone added to her invitation for white persons to engage with Black persons in healthy relationships.
Dr. Chanequa Walker Barnes is a professor of practical theology and pastoral counseling at Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Ga. Her TheoEd Talk was titled, “Pathological Whiteness: Diagnosing the Hidden Wound.”
In her gracious tone, she gently zinged her audience with a question asked of a Black American audience by W.E.B. DuBois in 1903: “How does it feel to be a problem?” Before I knew it, she also posed that same question to me, and every white person who watched her talk.
You see, a significant truth-piece of racism toward any ethnic group is this: Racism really begins not with the ethnic group, but with those who think that group and individuals within that group are the problem.
When we cannot bear to admit we just might be part of “the problem” of racism, we’re possibly eager to dismiss our seemingly small part in letting racism exist, including in Bonner County. However, that courageous humility I mentioned earlier provokes this essential reminder: We all have so much more we need to learn about American Black history.
If you haven’t learned anything about Black history in any way during February 2022, it’s not too late. Become more aware of that history, and you just may also learn something about yourself. That would be a great start.
Paul Graves is a retired United Methodist pastor and longtime Sandpoint resident, where he served on the City Council and as mayor. He also works as a geriatric social worker, serving as “Lead Geezer-in-Training” for Elder Advocates, a consulting ministry on aging issues.
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