We've still got some work to do... But look how far we've come...
George Bernard Shaw was quite accurate when he so eloquently spoke what is still a well-known quote of today: “We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.”
As we move into Black History Month, also known as National African American History Month, many of us may do so with heavy hearts. While this is a month reserved for celebrating the achievements of a once severely oppressed group of individuals, ostracized simply due to the color of their skin, and the significant roles African Americans have played in our country’s history, we may be cognizant of the fact that we, as a nation, have not progressed quite so far as we are thought to have in embracing those seemingly different from us.
The news is still swarming today with reports of bigotry and violence, riots and subjugation of entire troupes of individuals, born out of nothing more than fear and misunderstanding; pure mob mentality. We have become a mass “he said, she said” spitting match, finding scapegoats in those we believe to be inferior to us for one reason or another; the majority of the time, none of the reasons being valid or carrying with it any sort of weight in logic.
So what can we do about it? Well, we can put a more positive spin on it for one thing. Winston Churchill slightly reworded another famous quote
by George Santayana, and perhaps we can appreciate his slant on it a bit more because it clearly places the responsibility on us. He said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”
And how do we go about avoiding failure? Well, Edmund Burke said, “In history, a great volume is unrolled for our instruction, drawing the materials of future wisdom from the past errors and infirmities of mankind.”
So let’s start with a little “unrolling” on how far we’ve actually come. Only then will we begin to know how and where to proceed. From the first African slaves to arrive in the US in 1619 to the nation’s first African American president-elect in 2008, we have certainly made some effective strides. However, that did not come without much perseverance and sweat, from Harriet Tubman and the creation of the Underground Railroad to soldiers who fought in the Civil War, Martin Luther King, Jr. and all those who stood by his side all the way up through his assassination and beyond, and countless other fearless individuals, including those as prestigious as Abraham Lincoln to those as common as Rosa Parks on a city bus; all those who have gone before us with a purpose to make change, they all have a grand story to tell.
And if we want to learn something, we should all be listening.