Today we honor the life of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and his legacy. I’m not sure how to do that now in this divided nation that doesn’t seem to have any clear or agreed-upon understanding of its own history. I have been listening and learning for all my life about the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the legacy of slavery, the Civil War, white supremacy, and racism. I am learning more details of American history, and trying to comprehend how our path to this moment influences how we think and act, and make decisions, as individuals and as a nation. Whether I’m examining my country or myself, it isn’t pretty.
In the last several years I have observed some simultaneous enlightenment and denial, facts in conflict with fantastic fiction of which the toxic seeds were planted so long ago that it has taken root like a tenacious, noxious weed that hasn’t left room for anything else to grow. But in the movement towards enlightenment I am seeing seed of hope are being sown.
In my own small way of amplification of some of this truth-telling, I will share here things that I have been absorbing in the last couple of years that are giving me hope. These are things that are helping me to understand America, my identity and responsibility as a white person in working towards the anti-racist society that is the world I wish to live in.
At the top of my list are two podcasts that I recommend to anyone whenever I have the opportunity:
Uncivil tells stories of the Civil War that are often left out of its official telling. These are stories of the agency of black people, the exposure of the lies of the Southern “Lost Cause”, and a deep look at how racism is embedded in our culture. There is hope here, at least for me, in that exposing these truths of American history perhaps we can understand and unravel the paradigm of white supremacy.
Seeing White from Scene on Radio is another American history podcast that dives deeply into white identity in a way that we are not used to doing. This podcast challenges the position of privilege that white people occupy, a paradigm so dominant that white people haven’t had to think about what it means to be white. It’s a fascinating look at how the social construct of race came into being and how it was used to justify white supremacy.
Another podcast, Reveal (fantastic investigative journalism), had an episode in December of 2018, Monumental Lies. This story exposes the making of the distorted history that many Southerners cling to that frames Confederate generals as heroes and claims that slaves in the South were happy and treated well. It is galling to hear how children in the south are still being taught these lies, and Confederate monuments have been and still are preserved with taxpayer money. The story traces the history of how the seeds of these lies were planted and leaves the listener hopeful that the revealed truth will unravel these false teachings.
- “White People Assume Niceness Is the Answer to Racial Inequality. It’s not”, from the Guardian, January 16, 2019
- “America Loves to Praise Martin Luther King, Jr., But We Ignore His Message”, from CNN, January 15, 2019
- “Sins of the Fathers”, from the Washington Post, November 28, 2018
- “A Former Plantation Begins To Tell A Fuller Story Of Slavery In America”, From NPR, December 9, 2018
- “The Heartbeat of Racism is Denial,” from The New York Times, January 13, 2018, by Ibram Kendi
- Stamped from the Beginning, Ibram Kendi, 2016
- Between the World and Me, Ta-Nehisi Coates, 2015