Thursday, February 10, 2011

Senator Hank Sanders: Senate Sketches # 1235

  History is powerful. It tells us that which once seemed impossible became possible, then probable, then reality. It also tells us that which seems impossible now, can become possible, then probable, then reality. History is a road map of the past and of overcoming. If we use history, it becomes a guide to the future and a force for our coming new challenges. Black history is also history and therefore powerful in the same way.

  I speak a good bit throughout the year but I speak more in February than in any three months put together. That’s because it’s Black History Month. I have speeches scheduled for February in the following places: Monroeville; Butler; Gadsden; Albany, GA; Jacksonville, AL; Montgomery; Selma; Huntsville; two in Lowndes County, Burkeville and Fort Deposit; and two in Greene County. A couple of these are not strictly about Black history but become about Black history anyway. I try to respond to every February speech request because Black history is that important.

  When I was growing up, we had Negro History Week. Now we have Black History Month. But I found ways to obtain Black history at times other than during that one week. It made a difference in how I felt about myself, my family, my friends, and other Black people. I am so glad I tapped into Black history. That’s why I try to speak every time I am invited during Black History Month. When we speak, we never know what seeds are planted that may sprout, grow, bear fruit, and help change lives. Black history is that important.

  Many do not understand what it is like to be devalued based on something we are born with and cannot change, such as the color of our skin. The minute some see us, they devalue us. They expect less from us if good is the goal. They expect more from us if bad is the central issue. This affects us powerfully, for contrary to what we say, what others think impacts us profoundly. That’s why Black history is important for everybody, not just Black people.

  A small part of our history, 400 out of some 5,000 years, has produced a widespread self hate in us. Of course, none of us will admit that we have self hate. However, it is manifested in how we devalue ourselves and others like us. It is manifested in our violence against one another. It is manifested in how we try to change our appearances. It is manifested in our choices not to do business with one another. It is manifested in our family relations and our business transactions. It is manifested in our school dropout rate, our education attainments, our births rate out of marriage, and so on. Everything is adversely affected when we devalue ourselves. That’s why Black history is so important for Black people.

  Many years ago, I could not understand the great distrust Black people often had for one another. Then I learned from general history that all oppressed people have the psychology of the oppressed: they distrust one another; and they think more of those that pressed them down than they do of themselves. They devalue those like them and expand the value of those that oppress them. Oppression succeeds by divide and conquer tactics. This is graphically set forth in the Willie Lynch letter of 1712.

  Some of us African Americans shy away from Black history. Yet, we readily embrace the importance of self esteem. However, we cannot have real self esteem if we disdain ourselves based upon our race. Black history helps us come to grips with this plight.

  Some Whites say there is no need for Black history. They say that regular history is sufficient. They do not realize that “regular history” is nearly all White history. They do not realize that having the psychology of the oppressed requires extra measures. Black history helps all of us understand this reality.

  I ask myself, “Where would I be if I did not learn to think well of myself and those who look like me?” I think I would be in jail at best and dead at worst. My thinking less of myself manifested itself in extreme meanness. My mother and others said I was the meanest child they had ever seen. I overreacted to every act and rationalized my meanness by saying: “They started it.  I just finished it.” I am thankful I was able to experience Black history that covered a time frame well before slavery and continued after slavery. We cannot allow one-twelfth of our history to overpower the other eleven-twelfth. We must experience the entire history.

  Knowing my history – my family, community, state, nation, world, and racial history – helped me to deal with my personal psychology of the oppressed. I shudder to think what would have happened if I had not found the antidote of Black history to counter the powerful poison of self hate. That’s why I want everyone to be exposed to as much Black history as possible. I know it can touch all of us in a special way. Black history is that powerful. That’s why I continue to learn Black history even as I near the beginning of my eighth decade of life. That’s why I push myself to speak at every opportunity during Black History Month.

EPILOGUE – Needs come in all shapes, sizes, and manners. Some we recognize and some we don’t. Needs we don’t recognize are the most dangerous. We can never effectively address a need if we do not first recognize and acknowledge it. There is a need for Black History.

  About the author: Hank Sanders represents the 23rd Senate District in Alabama.

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