Outside my window I can hear the sound of a shovel breaking through the green grass and banging into the soil. Our grass was soggy, and we did not know why. Now, our entire backyard is being dug up to remove water pipes that I was told had become clogged with roots from trees and bushes. I wasn’t sure I believed until I picked up one piece of old pipe and saw the trail of roots spilling from inside it. Only when you dig deep into the soil can you expose the truth; can you see the problem.
February is Black History Month and I have been learning new things about America. Writer Olivia Bethea shared a post about the first President of the United States.
When George Washington became President, he moved his family from Virginia to the White House and he brought his slaves. The government had made a rule that no indentured servants could stay longer than six months in D.C., which was an effort to create opportunities for abolitionists to free slaves. Washington got around this by cycling his slaves in and out of the area under darkness every six months. Just reading this made me hate the guy, when all I had learned in school was that his worst crime was cutting down a cherry tree.
Martha Washington’s personal servant, Ona, was a talented seamstress and Martha brought her along to elite parties, where she ate fine food and wore fine clothes. On one of her outings, Ona met some Free Blacks, who helped her arrange her escape from slavery. The Washington’s were incensed, and George was appalled at Ona’s lack of “appreciation and loyalty”. This was a cognitive disconnect from the same man who wrote about the right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” Ona escaped, married, and started a family, while living in humble conditions. George Washington searched for Ona for ten years, and when he found out about her family said, “Bring her and her child back”. He felt like he still owned, not only her, but her family. He never got her back. Ona was asked on her deathbed about her “choice” to forgo the riches of her former station, for the poverty she lived in once she left. She lifted her head, her eyes shown with fire and she said, “I chose freedom.”
This is one of the stories that has opened my eyes to the long history of racism in this country. It isn’t that I haven’t seen any of this before, but there seems to be more avenues for education lately. Watching a series on television like “All Rise” or the movie, “Just Mercy” is teaching me about racial discrimination in the judicial system. There was an episode on “Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist” about corporate racism. The lesson to white people on that episode was to “talk less and listen more.” On the most recent episode of “Blackish”, Dre encourages his white cousin to get involved in anti-racist activities.
As we reveal the harsh truths of racism, we begin to see below the surface. In 2020, The Black Lives Matter movement surged through the clogged pipes of the slow trickling waters of freedom to gush onto the streets of America and demand racial equality. The righteous anger made many people pay attention in a new way. Though there was resistance from white nationalists, the movement gave birth to a broader and more inclusive exposure of the truths of racial inequities in the culture. I was like Dre’s white cousin in “Blackish”, asking a million questions, and feeling at turns angry, guilty, uncomfortable, and determined to listen and learn in order to be a better advocate for racial justice. Will we ever live up to the creed, “Liberty and justice for all”? Maybe as a people we will always have inequities, and there will likely always be those whose feelings of insecurity manifest in putting others down, based on the color of their skin. I hope that in courtrooms and classrooms and in the culture, we keep fighting against racial discrimination in order to move the needle further toward that “justice for all”.