Why are black people getting all upset now? They’ve become more sensitive over the years. I remember back before the Civil Rights Movement they used to be so happy

Although these are not the exact words of one person, these are sentiments that I have heard over the years regarding the simple request that America begins paying attention to the plight of Black Americans. There is a ton of research to prove that black America is struggling within the educational system, housing, job opportunity, wages, etc.; however, we’ve become more sensitive since the Civil Rights Movement.

Recently, Scholastic Corporation ATTEMPTED to release a children’s book called, A Birthday Cake for George Washington, in which the slaves of George Washington were excited to make a cake for his birthday. Slaves smiling in private quarters while making food for a man that owned them like property. But it’s a book for children, so we can cover the truth up a little, it means nothing – no harm, no foul right? In their high school geography textbooks, McGraw-Hill referred to slaves as workers. A mother in Texas had to make the story public before the company apologized and took action. A textbook meant to teach children about slavery, referred to slaves — a stolen, abused group of people — as workers.

Photo: Photographed by William D. McPherson and his partner Mr. Oliver, March 1863
Photo: Photographed by William D. McPherson and his partner Mr. Oliver, March 1863

Actions such as these sensationalize slavery and remove the inhumanity of the situation. It screams, “How dare we show children that slavery was a horrible time in history where human beings were beaten mentally and physically, starved, belittled and humiliated?” At a point in our life where we are absorbing the world around us the most, we minimize the effect of an actual historical atrocity. I’m not asking that we put the mangled bodies of slaves in children’s books, but happy ‘workers’ is an outrageous understatement of the climate of slavery at the time. If we can’t teach the truth in a space where the historical truth is meant to be taught; how do we expect to understand where we are in our current lived realities?

Photo: picturecorrect
Photo: picturecorrect

Once we’ve confronted the political and economic advantages that came with ending slavery, we shouldn’t celebrate Abraham Lincoln as someone who ended slavery because of the inhumanity. We can’t begin to celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. without confronting why he became a prominent leader in the Civil Rights MovementWe can’t celebrate Rosa Parks without confronting the dark history of Jim Crow, and we can’t celebrate Thurgood Marshall, The Little Rock Nine or Ruby Bridges without assessing the current climate of inequality in the education system.

And this is what we’ve done. We celebrate the successes without understanding the depth of the climate that forced success in the first place. Most Americans can tell you that MLK was a black man that fought for black people’s rights, but they can’t tell you how terrifying it was to live in the South under Jim Crow as a black person. They can’t tell you the dehumanization techniques utilized during and after slavery to belittle black Americans.

You have to recognize our pain, in order to truly celebrate our successes.

Since we’ve minimized these atrocities in our minds, as well as ignored the mental effects of slavery and Jim Crow, it’s easier to attribute the current state of black America to a group of people rather than on the institutionalized systems of oppression — where it belongs. As a country, I don’t expect us to understand microaggressions and systematic racism when we feel comfortable teaching black children that their ancestors enjoyed their pain, but we don’t feel comfortable telling white children that their ancestors might have enslaved people, or that they sat quietly as human beings were hung from trees, spat on, hosed down in the streets and beaten. Don’t let us tell them that their ancestors might have been involved in the lynchings and beatings of human beings because that’s just too much.

So no, we’re not being more sensitive and no, black people were not happy living in fear of what might happen while walking down a sidewalk or boarding a bus. The only difference between now and then is that now we have the strength, numbers and platforms to say we’re not going to deal with it anymore. #RecognizeOurPain

Celeste Russell is a recent graduate of the Mailman School of Public Health. She’s currently spending most of her time trying to figure out this thing called “adulting”. As an aspiring social epidemiologist, Celeste is interested in understanding how racism truly impacts mental health for both the minority and majority groups. She’s an avid overuser of exclamation points and can often be spotted catching a theatre show in the big city. Follow her on Twitter at @defy_gravity96.

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