Studying the history of black people in America has taught me a few things that I believe important.
I have learned what I think most of us think we already know; that human greatness is an historical constant and exists at equal rates across all racial and ethnic lines. In other words, there have always been amazing people, saints and or geniuses, and that no one group of people holds a monopoly on producing that greatness.
I have also learned that segregation and racial hierarchy are not natural occurrences. While some level of greed or tribalism is natural and present in most all of mankind, those negative tendencies do not naturally act out or manifest along the color line. People do not naturally group themselves according to the amount of melanin existing in our skin. In fact, without outside forces or external motivators, people tend to mix when left in close proximity.
Knowing these two things sheds a bright light on the whole of American history, because that history has very much been about grouping humans by skin color and claiming greatness for one group while attempting to squash and squelch the magnificence of another. Writing or reading this is not an exercise in fault or blame, though we should not shy away from such when earned, but rather understanding the hows and whys of now requires an honest pursuit and acknowledgment of truth. We must acknowledge not just how great so many black people have been throughout the American timeline or within American borders, but also how forcefully and intentionally America as an organization, has worked to resist, trample, and exploit black greatness in order to favor white people.
This is not revisionist history or America hating, this is what the bulk and majority of American history, law, and practice, has been. Because this sort of race stratification and hierarchical division is not natural, there have been ups and downs, progress and regression over time, as some black and white- and brown- people have pushed and fought for racial equality, and those efforts have been met not just with personal resistance, but intentional and systematized attacks.
Because there have been ups and downs, we, all of us, must know the hows and whys of yesterday because whatever our now is, whether it be an up or down, we must know that it is not guaranteed nor has it ever been permanent.
And we are the ones who create it. We make up whatever now is. It has never been “just the way things are”. It is always however we make it.