Juneteenth Today: Applying What My Dad Taught Me About History
As a child, I grew up being mesmerized when my dad, a teacher, would bring to life a historical event from a faraway time and place and connect it to a current event that would have seemed tangential at a cursory glance. Juneteenth, a federal holiday now, signifies the end of slavery in America. It should spur us to learn some history. Historical connections help us to understand the cause of societal problems and to develop lasting solutions.
In attempting to solve a problem, be it the inadequate educational attainment of white West Virginians in Appalachia, the gun violence plaguing the inner-city Black population of Chicago, or the territorial ventures of both sides in the middle east, a meaningful solution approach does not begin with a thinking that the problem stems from innate tendencies of the people. Instead, a solution must begin with the basic tenet that peoples are mostly the same. Every subpopulation has its share of people who are capable, creative, hardworking, peaceful, and responsible, and others who are less so. All mothers want the best for their children and all children are curious! Compared to the general human population, on average, the ‘’problem’’ people roughly have the same distribution of people with good and bad traits, whatever they may be. Understanding this tenet that people are not the problem requires that we set aside our biases — which is easier said than done because of persistent and biased imagery, stories, and mindless messages.
Societal problems are often just symptoms. Treating symptoms alone, without understanding the history that caused them, cannot produce a lasting remedy. Here is some Chicago history. Many of the nearly 500,000 Black Americans who migrated to Chicago by the sixties had fled a a racist south where they had been kept as sharecroppers and house help. Early on, their new city had neither the means nor the desire to help the large influx of new arrivals. When the city prospered, housing discrimination and segregation limited their access to education and employment opportunities. Arrival of educated immigrants in the sixties from Europe and Asia, following loosened new immigration laws, who had their own settlement problems to tackle, further pushed down the urgent needs of the Black population. The neglect that began in the sixties continues and poverty endures. In three populous Black neighborhoods in Chicago, the median income is at about poverty level. The pandemic has not helped. Much will have to go right for Mayor Lightfoot’s anti-poverty plan to succeed.
Across the world, there is evidence connecting unemployment, and hence, poverty with violence. There is correlation between a lack of education and lower income with out-of-wedlock births and higher birth rates. While thousands of Black Americans who migrated to Chicago and their descendants have overcome the odds and escaped the impact of racism and segregation, it is no surprise that children and grandchildren (present day adults) of many others remain trapped. They are not unable or unwilling.
I had not heard of the June 1921 Tulsa Racial Massacre till after the ascent of the Black Lives Matter movement last year. Apparently, neither had my wife nor many of our friends who had grown up in America. History is easy to forget as a thing of the past. But its impact today on people around us is why we should remember. That’s what my dad would say. Happy Father’s Day!
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