There are many reasons I “should not” write this blog post. I am a white, middle class male so I do not speak from any relevant experience. This post may come across as sanctimonious. I live a very comfortable life, personally, financially, professionally, as did my decedents on both sides of my family: I have no viable reference point. There are significant gaps in my knowledge and understanding of this topic. This blog is about music education, not race. And so on. And yet I have very strong feelings and emotions on this subject, so staying silent isn’t an option for me. Posting this now, after the wave of attention given the topic last Spring and this Summer has ebbed a bit, is intentional. This topic must not go away. The nice thing about reading someone’s blog is that you can shut it out any time you want, or move on from it at your own will. If you desire to do so in this instance, knock yourself out. For those of you staying with me here in the meantime however, here it goes.
I don’t know why, but ever since I was a little kid, I have always had a fascination with events of the past Century. I read and watch any documentary I can get my hands on, whether it be musical, political, cultural, social, whatever. When I retire someday, I think I may retire Goober music teachers too, and instead begin a new blog with reflections and commentaries on historical events of the 20th Century. My primary focus has tended to be the 1960’s and 1970’s. Anything Vietnam, Watergate, political and Presidential history, I’m your guy. Invariably, over time, my personal studies wandered into Civil Rights.
I will never forget the first time I dove into learning more about the Freedom Riders of 1961. The beatings, abuse, their bus being set on fire, because they were trying to get white officials to uphold an existing law. Learning about Freedom Summer, three Summers later, an effort by civil rights activists to integrate Mississippi’s segregated political system in the Summer of 1964. Young adults from across the country drove south and helped African Americans register to vote and to learn about history and politics in newly-formed Freedom Schools. In response, local municipalities foreclosed mortgages on black residents’ homes, fired workers from jobs, banned customers from shopping in stores, and shut down food pantries for the poor. And white supremacy groups such as the Ku Klux Klan inflicted violence on black residents and civil rights workers. In less than four months there were at least six murders, including those of activists James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner, who were killed on June 21 near Philadelphia, Mississippi. The three were arrested for “speeding” and then released. As they left town in their car, they were followed by law enforcement and others. The car was pulled over, all three abducted, driven to another location, and shot at close range. Their bodies were then transported to an earthen dam where they were buried. In all there were twenty-nine shootings, fifty bombings, more than sixty beatings, and over four hundred arrests of project workers and local residents.
All because black Americans were being encouraged and empowered to vote, NINETY FOUR YEARS after the Civil Rights Act of 1870 was passed, and the same Summer the new Civil Rights Act became law:
Under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, segregation on the grounds of race, religion or national origin was banned at all places of public accommodation, including courthouses, parks, restaurants, theaters, sports arenas and hotels. No longer could blacks and other minorities be denied service simply based on the color of their skin. Title VII of the Civil Rights Act barred race, religious, national origin and gender discrimination by employers and labor unions
Less than one year later: the Edmund Pettus Bridge, Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965.
Dec. 4, 1969, Black Panther Party members Fred Hampton, 21 and Mark Clark, 22, are shot to death by FOURTEEN police officers as they lay SLEEPING in their Chicago apartment. All according to plans made by the Cook County state’s attorney’s office, the Chicago police and the FBI. Don’t believe me? Look it up. Anywhere, any source. The FBI.
1974, Boston, MA. and the desegregation of schools.
“I remember riding the buses to protect the kids going up to South Boston High School,” Jean McGuire, who was a bus safety monitor, recalled. “And the bricks through the window. Signs hanging out those buildings, ‘Nigger Go Home.’ Pictures of monkeys. The words. The spit. People just felt it was all right to attack children.”
“I had no idea what to expect [with] this busing thing, “I didn’t know anything about South Boston. I didn’t know anything about, you know, they didn’t like us. I didn’t know anything that was in store for us. But when we got there, it was like a war zone. I came back and I told my mom, and I’ll never forget, I said, ‘Ma, I am not going back to that school unless I have a gun.’ At 14 years old.”
Two years later, nothing had changed.
This isn’t ancient history, and this isn’t some third world country. This is us. This is our country as WE grew up in it.
In reflecting on the Black Lives Matter movement, I have a perspective that is immersed in the events of the recent past. The far reaching past is well documented (if not well exposed). We view all that and take solace in knowing “we’ve come so far.” But our currency is based on the tangible, and this is a problem for three specific reasons.
- Our tangible reality has never – never – been the tangible reality of our black brothers and sisters, and it is ignorant of anyone to suggest that our experience in this society has been or is the same as theirs. By mere definition, we are unable to understand and see what they experience daily, because our skin color insulates us from it.
- The tangible reality of black lives is that their world was made “better” because white legislators passed laws “giving” them certain rights already afforded white lives for hundreds of years.
- White people in this country were given the privilege of not having to overcome those obstacles – for those hundreds of years – that members of a different race put in front of them, and we – THIS GENERATION – have consequently been granted a head start politically, financially, emotionally, professionally over those whose skin color is different than ours.
The University of San Fransisco put out a great synthesis: Becoming aware of privilege should not be viewed as a burden or source of guilt, but rather, an opportunity to learn and be responsible so that we may work toward a more just and inclusive world. Check your privilege. Privilege: Unearned access to social power based on membership in a dominant social group.
White Privilege is not a subjective opinion. How to move forward is… but actually moving forward must not be. It begins with empathy and continues with tangible change. My hope is that the decade of the 2020’s embraces both.
400 years ago white people brought black people over here and enslaved them. And sold them. And treated them as less than human. For 250 years. While white men built the country and created its laws and its systems of government. While 10, 15 generations of white families got to grow and flourish and make choices that could make their lives better.