There was a significant incident that moved me twoard racial activism during my college career. I noticed that White students seated themselves at the front of the class room and African American students seated themselves tward the rear. But, Mulattoes, ethnic Whites, and foreigners seated themselves either center right or the room. Assigned seating is rare in college classes so it was evident they had subconsciously assigned themselves to an familiar racial hierarchy.
The first time that it happened I asked the professor if I could conduct a short student survey. I asked “How many of you know where your ancestors come from”? As I expected, White and Middle Eastern students spoke of more than their ancient ancestry, but gave intimate detail of their ancient legacy and frequent visits to their motherland. One White student gave reference of his family crest and land ownership.
Of course the African American students weren’t able to trace their ethnic lineage beyond Americas southern states, such as Georgia, Mississippi and Alabama. Some founf it ironic that they couldn’t connect a detailed legacy to a time frame that was pre-plantation; or that wasn’t linked to the “Great Migration”. In fact, most were reluctant to revisit any parts of the racist south from which their ancestor came. Howevere, the real irony and maybe even the tragedy of the interview beggedthe question. Why didn’t African American students find an ancestral connection to their name sake-Africa?
I found the answer to this haunting question in every college text I encountered, as they all read and taught that the Caucasion was the Alfa and the Omega. From Anthropoohy to World History-from the Sciences to the Arts. Indeed the idea was to lift the White man up in our eyes as the creator of all things; from fire-civilization-lnaguage-the arts-even Ford Motor. College tought me that the American Education system was created to do more than write the African American out of history, but to erase him out of all time by first erasing him from his own mind.
After conducting many presentations as a Tuskegee Airmen in the inner city of Detroit, I discovered that many of our people (Black Americans) young and old knew very little if any of their history- whether it is of the American Negro- the African American or the contemporary Black American. So, I thought to myself, ‘this needs to change”
I found that our people know a little about the history of our ancestors enslavement and Dr. King (MLK) but not much before and very little in between.
I realized that we are being robbed of the rich and great histories and truth about ourselves. We have been robbed of who we are, and why we are here. We have been robbed of an important truth that would inspire and bring us together, that would allow us to think as one-to work as one, to lift each other up, and thereby losing the crabs-in-a-barrel syndrome.
I also noticed that that when we speak to schools in the suburbs, many of the students knew more about Black History than the students of the inner city. Not only that, White students were far more knowledgeable about the importance of history than African American students that attend school every day.
When I think on the part we played in the rich history in military, politics, education, inventions, agriculture, and much more; a history of success and failure. We can learn from all of it. Let’s not let other cultures know more about us than we know about ourselves. Let’s begin to explore our history (heritage) and enjoy the knowledge and wisdom that springs from it. After thinking about these things, I decided to work with others to help teach our students, families and community to “Know your history is to know yourself”
~Gary St Clair