Greetings friends! Of course I have been up to all sorts of things so far this summer. As some of you already know, I have taken a position at a private prep-school here in LA…teaching US history, a sort of hybrid Western Civ course, and an honors course in Civil War and Reconstruction history. So I am stoked. But…I am not leaving the digital world. Not by a long shot. Office Hours, my free student resource geared to helping students with some of the more pressing questions, is still going strong – here’s the latest, on the 1963 Birmingham Campaign.
I am also very excited about my US History podcast (you’ll get the name of it soon enough…), where I will talk with experts in US History, American Studies, and other areas of Americana. The launch date is September 1 and my first guests will include, Kevin Levin, Megan Kate Nelson, Robert Rakove, Julian Hayter, Christian McWirther, Heath Hardage Lee, and Robin Foster. Don’t be surprised if our conversations tend to kick up a fuss…I mean, those of you who know me should expect nothing less.
Lot’s going on, yes? Stay tuned and be sure to fill out the form when prompted to get notified just as soon as things get rolling!
I suppose the social media hashtag #AllLivesMatter is well-intentioned. Of course, everyone’s life matters. But as an offering in response to the #BlackLivesMatter campaign and philosophy, which is how people seem to be using it, the hashtag is insensitive, a gross misunderstanding (or ignorance) of history and its legacy, and entirely absurd.
#BlackLivesMatter reminds us that American heritage reflects 400 years of institutionalized enslavement, oppression, and murder directed specifically toward – wait for it – black folks. And here’s the real sticker: for the most part, white America has stood silently by and let it happen…for four centuries.
Have “all” people been singled out for enslavement? Have “all” people had their children stolen and sold? Have “all” people had to resign themselves to arbitrary beatings and rape? Have “all” people faced a lynching for simply exercising their Constitutional rights? Have “all” people faced the humiliation of legal public segregation? Have “all” people been denied a seat at a lunch counter or on a bus or in a theater? Have “all” people faced the reality of being singled out by law enforcement when they leave their homes? Have “all” people been criminalized for their manner of dress? Have “all” people had to instruct their children that they will be treated as potential threats and thus take especial care not to be killed? No.
Many white Americans understand the legacy of slavery and Jim Crow era racism as things of the past – terrible yes, but over. And these folks suggest that we all move along; that if everyone obeys the law, there will be no trouble. And we will all live in peace – all of us. But anyone who has been paying attention knows that this is not the case. Anyone who reads the news and still believes things are fine is confused. Using #BlackLivesMatter does not mean that other lives do not matter – it is an acknowledgement of a history of brutality, its legacy, and its modern manifestations.
#BlackLivesMatter reminds us that the unseemly American tradition of enslavement, oppression, and murder is still with us. And until “all” Americans can admit this, little will change.
When does it stop? When does the institutionalized murder of black Americans come to an end? From where I sit, things don’t look very promising. And why should they? If our history teaches us anything it is that it has been perfectly acceptable to steal and extinguish the lives of black people in this country for 400 years. Our racism is as systemic as any of our ideals, and thus calls into question the very foundational virtues that launched our nation. What was true in 1620 was true in 1750 was true in 1830 was true 1890 was true in 1960 and is true in 2016. Out heritage offers very little to convincingly suggest that black lives make any difference whatsoever – a history of slavery and murder portend a grim future.
As white progressives, we condemn those who perpetrate these heinous acts, and yet so many of sit silently and do nothing. But we MUST act. It is imperative. If we do nothing, are we not complicit in the very crimes which we so disdain?
We MUST act. We must acknowledge white privilege. And we must admit that we have been its beneficiary for four centuries.
We MUST act. We must dispense with any self-congratulatory notions that because we have black friends and elected a black president that things are getting better. They aren’t.
We MUST act. We must understand and adopt the philosophy of #BlackLivesMatter.
We MUST act. We must engage in a meaningful and public discussion about race, despite the consequences.
We MUST act. We must stand beside our black brothers and sisters on the front lines.
Fellow white progressives, the time for luke-warm alliances has come to an end. It is time to put our lives on the line as so many have done before us. There will most certainly be missteps and unintended insensitivity; we will reveal our ignorance.
The Office Hours series is clicking along at a good clip – and doing well…strangely, not so much on Youtube, but most definitely on Facebook. Go figure. At any rate, here are my two latest episodes: One on counting the Civil War dead and the other on the Teapot Dome scandal. Hey – students ask – so I answer, which means…if you are dying to know about something concerning United States history, just ask. I might feature your question on Office Hours.
In other news, I have a podcast in development set to launch by fall. I’m asking the tough questions. So stay tuned. Anyway, enjoy the videos 🙂 Oh…and by the way, I am shooting one today explaining Alexander Hamilton and the assumption of state debts. Because Hamilton.