I have always felt grateful for the many teachers who shaped my education. They inspired me to be curious about the world and hungry to always learn more. Several of those teachers influenced my behaviors and mindsets in ways I am sure they are unaware. However, when I recently started reading the book, The New Jim Crow, it triggered a fair amount of self-reflecting about what I knew, or better yet, didn’t realize I didn’t know.
As I trudged through the opening chapters, a lot of what I read was familiar. Accounts of slavery and racism that existed when our nation was young fit the narrative I heard in grade school social studies. And of course the atrocities black Americans faced throughout our nation’s history described in the book are aligned with the things I’ve learned (and become disgusted about) throughout my life.
But what caused my self-reflection was reading about the reasons behind the laws that, until the 1960’s, legalized racial segregation. These “Jim Crow” laws fueled the flames of hate, bigotry and racism in our country and have been so much a part of our shared history. So how could I not know more about how those laws came to be? More importantly, why have I not been more curious?
One assumption I could make about why I have not sought to learn more that what was presented in textbooks and school lectures is that there wasn’t any urgency to do so. These horrible laws and conditions didn’t, at least directly, seem to affect me. Another assumption is that the history I was taught in school was filtered. “Whitewashed” may be a more correct, albeit dramatic way to describe it. But regardless, these cannot be excuses.
According to Martin Luther King, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” The fact that a book describing ways racism still exists has been published at this point in our history makes it incumbent upon me to deepen my understanding of race and racism in America.
So, it is obvious I have a lot to learn. I am humbled, if not embarrassed, that I have not been more curious. I am hungry, and what I don’t know, at least on this subject, inspires me to want to learn more. By saying that, I hope that it inspires you also. Because, as MLK suggested, we all have a stake in whether every American is treated equally and until that is the case, we are all at risk.