Our Nation has not yet fully addressed its original sin . . . the savage institution of slavery. The residue of inequality still permeates our shores and infects the globe as a pandemic of the mind. Despite our scientific similarities (we are more alike than different), when it comes to power — both its use and restraint — in 2020 we still run into a refrain of white resistance and the oddity of white frailty. These two pillars of privilege shape a misinformed, yet powerful world view of the pecking order of humanity that we all experience in contemporary America and beyond.
Over the course of 50+ years of being American and Virginian, I have learned that we are all simply human beings sharing the same rock. I try to teach my children and friends who will listen that we are all cousins trying to find our way home. I also teach my sons that while they should enjoy the same rights and privileges as others, the reality is that the sickness created by a culture that would rather teach lies about Christopher Columbus than acknowledge truths about Lewis H. Latimer (the Virginian son of runaway slaves who invented the filament for the present-day light bulb), means they exist in a world that does not always protect the value of their humanity. A culture that overplays white contributions and underplays the contributions of people of color will underplay the importance of who they are as young black men. The educational and political systems of our Land, formal and informal, have too often perpetuated a Eurocentric indoctrination of humanity versus teaching critical thinking. It is up to civil society to close the gap between the two. This is where the “truth” lives … in the gap.
How I wish we could see ourselves as part of a divine puzzle of life. In this puzzle, we are all essential pieces. Our respective contributions are important and unique to the puzzle. We all add value.
What is clear with this framing of life, is that a person has to know who he or she is so that they know where they fit in the puzzle. It is critically important to know your place in the world before you can determine what you must do in the world. You can’t know your place unless you know who you are. In America, we pretend that African-American history started in Virginia in 1619. We tell every child in school this fiction. We tell them how Christopher Columbus discovered America. He did not. We leave out of the American story almost every important contribution from non-whites and go further to erect monuments and give platitudes for characters in our history who in fact tried to tear up our more perfect union and subjugate black men and women to the horrors of chattel slavery.
Our schools do not teach us that when black men and women played by the rules and built up banks, and schools, and self-sufficient communities like in Tulsa, Oklahoma, those cities were literally bombed and burned to the ground by angry whites, often for the trumped up charge of an offense against a white woman. If we only told the truth, we could mitigate these atrocities and tragic mishaps of humanity and press on to a world where each citizen (each piece in the divine puzzle) could develop without the pathology of indoctrination and contribute beyond the basic instinct to survive. When we all come into the full knowledge of who we are, we will know where we fit in the divine puzzle of life.
Is it too early in 2020 to be honest in America? Is white frailty so entrenched in our white brothers and sisters minds that they can’t handle the truth? I think not. The streets of America and other cities around the world are filled with protesters of all ethnicities precisely because we have all been lied to. The lynching of George Floyd and the murder of many other innocents have brought us to a tipping point. For the sake of our sons and daughters, I hope things will never be the same.
It’s time for the truth, America. As we emerge from this global pandemic, may we also emerge from the systemic pandemics of hatred and fear fueled by the contagious pedagogy of white supremacy. It is time for real change. The truth will set us free.
Richmond resident B.K. Fulton is chairman & CEO of Soulidifly Productions, which has just released “1 Angry Black Man,” a critically acclaimed film, to audiences through virtual screenings by theaters, cable on-demand services, streaming video and DVD.