When Barack Obama shocked white America and the world, making history to become our country’s first black president, we should have anticipated what would happen next — an all-out assault starting the day after his election to thwart his every move, to render him powerless, to negate his presidency and to disrespect him, his wife and their children with a viciousness never experienced by any first family.
But in our naïveté, we believed, or at least hoped, that after centuries of prejudice, racial exploitation, illogically deduced theories and subsequent laws based on the notion of white privilege used to promote both the legalized kidnapping and enslavement of Africans and the systematic eradication of Native Americans, that the miracle of hearing had finally occurred. Somehow, we allowed ourselves to be duped into believing that America had discovered the cure to its most malevolent and ages-old disease of racism.
Even wrinkled rednecks from Mississippi, Louisiana and Alabama had taken the new “anti-racist vaccine,” so we were told, upon which they immediately professed their “White Hooded” sins — some even giving back the unethically achieved land and chests of gold they and their ancestors had accumulated on the backs of the ancestors of Africans and Native Americans.
With that many blacks began to proclaim with all kinds of pomp and circumstance, that we’d entered a new era, a post-racial America, pointing to Obama’s victory as proof that Dr. King’s optimistic notion of the “Beloved Community” had become a reality.
But in his keynote address on The United Nations’ International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade, globally observed each year since 2008 on March 25, Dr. Lonnie Bunch III, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, brought truth to our idyllic, short-lived beliefs. Bunch reminded us that while the annual observance provides the opportunity to honor and remember those who suffered and died at the hands of the brutal slavery system, it has another aim: to raise awareness about the dangers of racism and prejudice both of which remain alive and well today.
“Slavery is the last great ‘unmentionable’ that has profoundly shaped every corner of the world although it happened centuries ago,” he said, adding that he hopes that those who visit the new museum will witness “the unvarnished truth, seeing history in a way not told before and what slavery tells us about American notions of liberty and freedom.”
“It’s a story that gives inspiration, invoking both anger and sadness, that helps us realize the resiliency of a people who have shaped the world,” Bunch said. “People are uncomfortable with slavery. This day allows them to look at all the dark corners of the past. My job is to create a new generation who recognize they have a responsibility to transform America. The sacrifices, struggles and challenges faced by our ancestors will soon rest on the shoulders of the next generation in their role as responsible citizens.”
Bunch posited his words with great aplomb and political correctness.
However, I submit these words from the abolitionist Frederick Douglass as my mantra and response.
“If there is no struggle, there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom, and yet depreciate agitation, are men who want crops without plowing up the ground. They want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters. This struggle may be moral, physical or both; but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”
And so, the struggle continues.