No, I am not Black. I am not African-American. But, thinking about February as Black History Month I have been thinking about my story, my life story.
I sincerely believe there should be a month that tells the story of Blacks in America. The risk of such an annual event is that it may keep the history of African-Americans in our Country relegated to a subset of American History. Black History is our History. The Story of America cannot be told without telling the whole story.
Many will shuttle this post as if I am saying, “Some of my best friends are Black.” Read on and maybe you will see this post differently.
What Stirred the Pot?
Last year I met Adam Clark. I met Dr. Barbara Holmes. I listened. Over and again I have written about the line that has stuck with me, “You tell your people.” Dr. Holmes responded to a plea from a gentleman who said, “I need you to come tell my people.”
What stirred the gentleman, the gentle spirited pastor, were the stories of solidarity told by Dr. Holmes. Some of us do not have a heritage where protest and solidarity hold prominent place. Our right of birth required no protest for water fountains, seats on a bus, or well-funded schools. To criticize a group of people who seem on the ready to protest and promote solidarity would be akin to telling Jews to forego celebrating the Passover. It would not make sense.
So, this reflection is an attempt at an honest appraisal of (My) Black History. I took the unlikely title from the book of my young friend Jason. He would have preferred his title be, (My) Cancer Is Funny, rather than, Cancer is Funny. For me to write about Black History would be funny. But for me to write about (My) Black History would locate my growing self-understanding in the world as part of a whole rather than representative of the whole.
Dad was the youngest of the twins which made him the youngest of eight. By the time I arrived on the scene Grandpa Littleton was well beyond his days working at his car lot in downtown Oklahoma City on Broadway and 15th. Roscoe worked for Grandpa Littleton.
I came to know Roscoe when he worked from my Uncle Stan. He originally worked for Grandpa Littleton at the car lot. To say I knew Roscoe would be more like saying I knew of Roscoe. He, like Brown after him, seemed to me more like family than employees. It seems I do remember the use of the N word. I never sensed animus, or hostility. Its use came more as matter of fact.
My parents did not allow us to use the word.
Other times at that age, in the late 1970’s, I heard the N word used in a different context. Generally it came as a slight, like name calling. The term generally arose amidst anger, even hate. Imagine my internal conflict. For instance, at my Grandpa Littleton’s funeral Roscoe and his family expressed the loss with greater emotion than any of my family. I had been to funerals before. Never had I heard wailing. I am not sure any of my friends, or employees, were I to have them, would show up had I used the N word to reference them. Today it would not be a term of endearment, much less affection.
Grandpa Littleton represents how we may differentiate between individual animus and systems that disadvantage. I did not have the language when I first made these observations. I do today.
Our appeals that we are not racist pertain to our own personal sense that we do not despise or reject others due to the color of their skin. There is no individual hostility. In Grandpa’s day, pre-Civil Rights, he may not have held individual antagonism. But, he, conscious or not, participated in social and economic patterns that could well be described as racist. Few would not consider a person racist who, with little thought, would employ the N word. This is the nuance often missed among my people. Let me say quickly that I am using my people to describe people like me.
There is More
Originally I thought about a short piece, maybe one blog post. The more I thought through my life story the more I realized it may be a way to tell my people what we may not be so willing to hear from others.
Ahead I want to write about Mrs. Booker, Ms. Craig, Mr. Mack, Mrs Seward, Coach Kelly, Coach Denton, a girls basketball team and more. Eventually I want to end up with what I have learned from Adam Clark. I will have another podcast episode where I interviewed Adam during an event on Race, Class, and White Supremacy. Don’t be put off. Remember, this may not be your story. But, it is (My) Black History.