We must learn our history to defend it



You don’t hear a lot of Black people validating their points of view about other racialized groups with the statement, “I have a lot of White/Asian/South Asian friends… ” You might hear it from a stand-up comedian of an identifiable ethnic minority who is making a point by juxtaposing an ethno-racial group into this cliché often heard from individuals from the visible majority, attempting to defend themselves in the face of some comment deemed to be racist.

Yet, it’s not that there aren’t people of colour who have many friends who are White; the problem is that every time a person who is Black starts to develop a friendship with someone from another racial group there comes a time, of necessity, when that person of colour has to become a walking encyclopedia of Black knowledge – historian, myth debunker and general Black culture sensitizer.

For this reason alone, the importance of Black History Month, or African Liberation Month, must be valued. When a person of African heritage is not carrying with dignity the understanding of his or her own history as a people so as to represent it in a way that does proper justice to that history and culture, then such a person may be at risk of endorsing some of the terrible fiction that passes for the truth about Black people.

It is ironic that just about every person of colour, at on time or another, is called upon to correct some misperception or provide understanding as an individual representative of the entire race. Which other group is asked to represent all through the voice of one? Yet, because there is so much misinformation permeating society about Black people, as a matter of leveling the field of information, and especially all those negative stereotypes, it becomes something of a duty to have the clear facts at the ready because, inevitably, in developing friendships with people of other cultures, your day will come (again and again) at which time you will have to present those facts to counter that world of misinformation.

Having and showing respect for one’s community, in the same regard as one’s self, is a consideration some in this community overlook. Black History Month is a reminder to refocus with admiration on what our forebears have created as well as what they endured. It is a reminder that Black people ought not allow caricatures to define us. It is also a reminder, as peculiar as it may seem, that we each have a societal obligation to correct false impressions for our own good, but also for the good of others who are unfortunately influenced by those negative stereotypes.

A note on a rising tide…

Every form of dictatorship has an end date so the civil uprising sweeping across the Arab world is another moment of history repeating. In Tunisia and in Egypt the people voted for change not by going to the ballot boxes but by putting their very lives on the line. In Sudan, the people of the southern region made their decision known by voting to separate after years of conflict and unfair treatment from the government based in the Arab north.

Why the West cares about what is happening has much to do with oil. Should the unrest that has spread to Yemen, Bahrain and Libya continue on into the oil rich states – Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates – then there will be even greater cause for concern. American forces managed to wrest control of oil rich Iraq from Saddam Hussein, hanging him in the process, so there is no question that oil interests will find a way to quell the civil uprising. Governments may be condemning Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi’s assault on his own people as they protest his 40-year hold on Libya, but oil interests want to know that their business interests will remain stable elsewhere in the Middle East. That is clear because there is an audible media calculation about how much North America is dependent on oil from Libya. As it turns out, not much. But this revolution, which is being televised, even if only through images captured on mobile phone cameras, is not over yet.

While it is admirable that people power has emerged in the Middle East, it bears remembering that the 1979 revolution in Iran did not bring about the change that Iranians sought, just as the French revolution of the late 18th Century traded royalty for an emperor. The people seek change but, as history proves, they rarely get the change they seek.

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