Black History Matters

What a great start to Black History Month. Attending a performance of Abraham In Motion wasn’t the mindless escape from reality I naively expected. I’ve been buying tickets to the Dance Series at the Des Moines Civic Center for several years, and I usually let myself be surprised at the three performances.

In other words, I hadn’t done my homework; didn’t check Kyle Abraham and his troupe out ahead of time. The three dances gave us lots to think about. The final image projected behind the dancers was a negative photograph–a line of Klansmen on horseback.

As European Americans, we don’t think about race very much. We don’t have to. That’s one of our many privileges.

We don’t recognize that Black history is a strong and intertwined strand of the history of these United States. When the first slave ship landed on America’s shores in 1619, its occupants began the learning and building that created the economy and infrastructure we enjoy today. Without pay. With abuse. It rarely occurs to us to think about this part of our history.

Last year Michelle Obama spoke about living in The Whitehouse which was built by slaves. Media made a big deal of that statement, but soon found that yes indeed, the first Black First Family was living in a home built by slaves. And presiding over a country built by slaves.

As we watched the Abraham in Motion tonight, I couldn’t help thinking about how much indignity, prejudice, persecution and hatred Black people have endured for the last 400 years. And still they dance. They make music and play tennis. Black people have helped us get to the moon, and they have developed food we eat every day.

And still African Americans endure discrimination in housing and education. They are killed in their innocence by cops who suffer no consequences. They crowd our prisons for crimes that are rarely punished when committed by white people.

I’ve done a lot of reading on the issue of race in America, and I still feel hesitant to write about it. I worry about offending. I’m not sure I have all the facts. Really, I’m pretty sure I don’t.

Today I listened to Krista Tippett interview Congressman John Lewis on her program “On Being.” He talked about love for everyone. Strong love. Love that can look a perpetrator in the eye with courage. This is the kind of love we need to take out into the world every day. That’s our homework.

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