I recently wrote an article based on a question asked of one of my granddaughters. I called her Miss E in the article [December 1, 2011]. This week my wife and I took Miss E and her brother, Seth, my oldest grandson, to see the movie, Red Tails, for his eighteenth birthday. Once again Miss E, who is an A student, had one of her soul searching questions. She wanted to know if what she saw really happened. Red Tails is, of course, part of the story of the Tuskegee Airmen. The answer was "Yes, Miss E, it really happened. And even worse things happened to them than shown in the movie. The movie showed a mild version of what really happened.
As an aside, anyone watching the movie has now seen another reason for abandoning any efforts to normalize and mainstream the "N" word. Of course you have to have knowledge of the past and self respect to understand what I am saying. Too many of our young people don't!
I am often reminded of the lessons taught to me by my parents. By way of these columns, I continue to pass the lessons on. Those who read this column on a regular basis have read that my mother presented me with a message when I passed the bar exam and got my license to practice law. She gave me a drawing, from 1929, of a picture of what society used to call "a bum". He has holes in his clothes and a little dog as his companion. The caption says, "If you so damn smart why ain't you rich?" Over the years, I have answered that questions a thousand times. The answer comes from something my father taught me. He always said, "There are some white folks who don't sleep at night trying to think of new ways to keep Black folks down."
Each time an event reaches the news about the dominant white society's efforts to keep Black folks down, I remember my daddy's words as well as my mother's message in that painting. I also remember that it is my job not to fall into any traps set by any man, White or Black, to keep me down. My job is to look for the doors of opportunity that open up and find a way to get through them.
This week I was again reminded of my mother's and father's words, first, by Newt Gingrich who won the South Carolina primary for the presidency of the United States by insulting and lying to America and by lying on America's first Black President by calling him "The Food Stamp President", among other things. Of course, those of us old enough to have seen the past antics of Gingrich believe that he would have publicly called President Obama the "N" word if he thought he could get away with it.
The important lesson about the Republican/Tea Party racists is that the front runners have all insulted Black America, and no Republican/Tea Party member has publicly protested. At my house, we keep a note pad to write down the insults about Black folks for future reference such as the Gingrich statement that 95 percent of all Blacks are criminals and Rick Santorum's statement that he doesn't want to see Black folks taking other people's (presumably White folks) money, to get ahead.
These public statements, and code words to Whites, set up public policies and attitudes that maintain a view of Black folks as second class. When Black writer/reporter Juan Williams recently asked Gingrich a question in one of the Republican debates, Gingrich insulted him. The good Southern, so-called, Christian, family value white folks were excited to see Gingrich put Williams "in his place." This was a reminder of the historical belief of white Southerners that all Black folks need to know their place. And that place is not in the Presidency of the United States of America.
Miss E was undaunted, in spite of her disbelief that the Tuskegee Airmen were treated like they were portrayed in the movie. After the movie, at lunch, she asked if she would still get a hundred dollars for A's on her report card. The answer was yes! She once earned money for memorizing Frederick Douglass' famous speech, "If there is no struggle there is no progress."
We should offer incentives to motivate our kids and grandkids for A's on their report card and other achievements as well, for learning the lessons of the past. They must know what happened to our fore-parents, and just like the Jews, we too must honor the sacrifice of our fore-parents and say, "Never again!"
Our children must know that these things happened and that racism is still happening.