I haven’t written much – at all, really – about racism, about the 400 years of brutality against Black people my country has waged. This isn’t a political blog – you don’t come here for my politics. I know that.
I have a good friend, K – a friend of thirty years at this point – who continually is looking to educate me on race matters. And I’m grateful for her work. She’ll send me YouTube videos, links to articles, whatever. She and I worked together for two years in my 20s, and then, in my late 30s, again, for a minute, but remained friends between and beyond our stints as colleagues.
I make no grandiose claims as it relates to my own racism: I am, surely, as racist as the next white guy. I know, in my bones, the power of systemic racism. I remember the tests I took that told me I was in the 99th percentile, a result I came to understand, through life, was information about the tests and their purpose – to ensure the reproduction of privilege – rather than information about my intelligence or aptitude.
I have another good friend, H – this one of only ten years’ vintage. Every year, he stages a dramatic reading of the Declaration of Independence to his family. He’s not a dumb man, and he is a progressive man. So the reading always produces interesting discussions about the document, about the country.
A few weeks ago, K sent me this video – of James Earl Jones doing a dramatic reading of Frederick Douglass’s speech, given on July 5, 1852, to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society. You can read the text of the speech here. And you can watch the video K sent me, here:
I watched the video. It moved me to tears. I forwarded it to H, and I said, hey, how about you either replace this year’s reading with this, or you augment it with it.
He replied, too quick to have watched the whole thing (perhaps he already was familiar with the speech – he’s a history buff) – “Augment!”
I’m grateful to my Black friends for making me smarter, for helping me grow. And, there’s no way to celebrate the 4th of July without remembering just what kind of a nation was born on July 4, 1776. And just what kind of a nation we are, today.
Black lives do, indeed, matter. And I’m embarrassed and ashamed to live in a country in which that remains a controversial statement to make.