Men to Fathers – “Has America Overcome?”
“Racism is coming out of the closet as people realize we have not overcome.”
It’s been more than forty years since I graduated from high school. I went to a segregated high school. My teachers reflected my culture. When I graduated from high school, I had had a male teacher, at least one, in each of my years in high school. They knew the people who raised me. The members of my church knew my teachers and the people in my neighborhood were strong supporters and believed that one day I would be judged by the content of my character, not my color. I knew growing up that one day we would see a black man in the White House who lived there, rather than cleaned the halls, or was a guest at state dinner. That was a dream.
I remember reading two books while I was in high school that typified what I feel our country is experiencing. One book was by Irving Wallace—The Man. The other book was by Sammy Davis, Jr., called Yes I Can! These books told stories that apply even today. Wallace’s book, more than 49 years ahead of its time was about a black man becoming president. It talked about how the country dealt with the rule of succession, because Douglas Dilman, was not elected, but became presidents as result of an accident. The vice-president had died, and before the senate could confirm a new vice-president, an accident took the lives of the Speaker of the House, and the president. Dilman was the president pro-temp of the senate. It was an education for me, and made me think at the age of 16 that maybe I could become presidents. That’s what dreams are all about, things being presented in a way they inspire.
Yes I Can, the autobiography of Sammy Davis Jr., talks about how he struggled to become an entertainer in an environment where blacks didn’t have it easy. It addressed the anger and humiliation he suffered in the military, and the fact that he took up fighting to get revenge on a white soldier that had beat him up. Davis Jr., was achieved a skill level where he was able to fight back. He was in the Army, an organization where desegregation occurred earlier than it did in schools. The severity of the subsequent beating from Davis, Jr., didn’t resolve anything. As the white bigot told Sergeant Davis, you are still a nig—.
As we fight our personal battles, the thing many of us seem to forget in the era of hope, new beginning and change is that many of the dreams we once had, have not come to fruition. A member of a different race residing in a house on the same block does not change the fabric of the community unless the community allows that to happen. The tenant does the same things. They breathe the same air, drink the same water, and believe in a country their ancestors believe. However there are some who can’t wrap their minds around this. There are some who still think only some people can discuss certain issues. There are some people who can’t conceive of the content of one’s character meaning that people of a different sex or color can be just as smart, just as fair, or just as good as the previous owners.
I hesitate to judge Mr. Obama too soon or too harshly. I also hesitate to judge Mr. Bush too soon or too harshly. History is the better score keeper than I ever can be, become my life has not even stretched a generation. I will however not hesitate to judge those who judge me for my thoughts, or even worse, for the color of my skin, and haven’t even gotten to know me. That’s sad. That’s unconstitutional and illegal. I expect to be treated as well as Miranda was treated, and my right read to me my rights before I’m assailed as a person who doesn’t deserve to be in a class for Mensa students, or in a congregation for people who don’t believe in my God, or denied the opportunity to compete for a position because my ancestors were forced to come to this country, rather than to have paid for my own passage as a freed man.
We were told, as black people, we needed to prepare ourselves for the future by getting an education. We were told a ‘mind was a terrible thing to waste.’ Education is probably our most underdeveloped resource in America, regardless of race creed or color. We saw teachers who reflected us when our schools were segregated and we heard everyday, “if I can do it, you can.”
What are we seeing today with a teaching force that doesn’t reflect America? What are we doing today with schools that intentionally allow students who don’t meet standards in classes that were supposedly limited to a select few, regardless of color? What do we do when we still have people questioning our integrity because I don’t look like them, talk like them or believe like them? Is this the America our ancestors died for? Is this the country our constitution fashioned when they talked about inalienable rights? When we can’t refer to Mr. Obama, without thinking of him first as black, we have indeed failed to meet the challenges we can be proud of, and yield to the unfortunate piracy of Neanderthal thinking. It’s sinister. It’s reproachable. Most of all, it’s un-American.
I think as the country continues to find itself, as we try to move toward not mortgaging our children’s future, if we can address the concerns of what made us great can make us greater. I think we will pass on to our children a future as recent figures tell us this: among the people who are unemployed, 12.6% don’t have a high school diploma; 8.3% do, and those that have a college degree, only 4.1% are unemployed. Racially, blacks are the most undereducated, and unemployed with an unemployment rate of 13.8%, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistic. The facts haven’t changed. We have not overcome, and if we don’t get back in the classrooms there will be less opportunities for any person of color to follow in the footsteps of any president, not just a black one.
“Change begins in the hearts of me. That’s where the heart of the church is”
from Murder on the Pier,” by Jere Myles, [p. 36]
Archie R. Wortham, PhD
Educator & Writer