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Michelle's Musings

Honest Dialogue

In celebration of Black History Month and amid the ongoing assault against teaching African-American History, one of my writing societies posted a list of works from African-American authors, approximately half of which I've already read. In examining this list, I reflected upon discoveries I've made in my own ancestry, beginning with the advent of the Slave Triangle to Emancipation; from Jim Crow to the Civil Rights movement. Those discoveries have provided what amounts to an in-depth course on African-American History that I wish had been available when I was much younger.


Many of my ancestors' stories, some of which are profoundly astounding and heartbreaking, are grounded in the founding of our Nation. In today's divisive political climate, it's difficult to comprehend the growing backlash to whatever progress has been made to right an enormous wrong that was the institution of slavery. We've come so far since those early days of widespread oppression, and yet we see attempts to repeat the worst of our misdeeds.


To flourish as a democracy, our society maintains and enforces certain ethical and moral standards. We're a nation of laws, and our democracy hinges on the enforcement of those laws. Yet it seems that some who previously called upon this edict to justify the unequal dispensation of justice to certain demographics now want to abandon it to advance their distorted agendas. Civil Rights, Racial Equality, Social Justice, DEI, to name a few terms, have been refashioned into "dirty" trigger words because they serve as uncomfortable reminders that disparities endure.


No matter your personal views, we are all members of the same Human Race. For those who are uncomfortable with discussions about the marginalization of Blacks and other communities whose indelible achievements have been intentionally suppressed for decades, I say take a few moments to put yourself into the shoes of those disenfranchised folks and imagine the discomfort they've endured. Adversity builds character, but no group should be subjected to selective application of our Nation's laws. It is my hope that with ongoing dialogue, we'll eventually get to a place where we peacefully coexist in spite of our differences.

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We Are Better Than This

Given the groundswell of efforts to erase significant portions of this country's history, as a writer and an African American, I'm obligated to advocate for preservation of truth.


During these last couple of years of racial reckoning and activism, some of the most powerful members of our society have ramped up efforts to whitewash and rewrite our nation's history. Those who would reinterpret facts to fit their sensibilities clamor about a return to "the good old days" as they see their false utopia slip away—a utopia that systematically excluded millions of Americans by virtue of the melanin content of their skin. While we managed to get past wholesale enslavement of African Americans, albeit at great expense to human life, some would prefer a return to the Jim Crow era with separation of the races.


White supremacist extremists have emerged from their closets and basements in greater numbers to flaunt anti-Semitic hatred and other racist rhetoric, sometimes through the use of violence. Yet in certain venues, people of color continue to be characterized as criminals, radicals, and un-American. We see a disturbing movement to ban certain books from our children's classrooms to mitigate the discomfort some folks have with acknowledging the truth about this country's past.


When voters of color turn out in large numbers to shape the outcome of an election, those who want "their people" to win attempt to nullify our votes. Once again, we find ourselves fighting for the franchise as deniers hope to invalidate the "mistake" of granting all citizens their constitutional right to cast a ballot.


Book banning, voter disenfranchisement, and suppression of truth are dangerous. Thankfully, folks of all persuasions understand the difference between good and evil, right and wrong, fact and fiction and are willing to stand up for what is just. We are an industrious civilization with a legacy of great minds that have brought us miraculous achievements. Think of all we could accomplish were it not for misguided tribalism and infighting.


Some say frowning requires greater effort than smiling. We could use the energy it takes to hate one another and, instead, befriend one another. Imagine the distress and divisiveness that could be lifted by simply acknowledging the truth of our past and addressing its ramifications. Unfortunately, if we don't progress along these lines at breakneck speed, we may lose our democracy that many fought and died for.


If we don't learn our history, we're doomed to repeat it.

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A Little Yellow Book

During Black History Month, recommendations for creative works by African American authors and playwrights have ticked up, including W.E.B. DuBois' "The Souls of Black Folk." The day before I sat down to write this post, I realized that the other reason this book was on my mind was my recollection of taking my father's copy with me when I left home for college some decades ago.


I never read the book in its entirety, and I was moved to search for it among my collection. At first, I was unable to locate it amid the stacks of paperbacks and hardcovers jammed into my bookshelves, some of which perpetually await the opening of legitimate shelf space. As I gave a final sigh and started to turn away from the sagging shelves, the weathered yellow paperback suddenly "jumped out" at me from its resting place atop the uppermost shelf.


Copyrighted in 1953, this version of "The Souls of Black Folk" was published in 1961. Its pages, which look like they're about to free themselves from the book spine, are almost as yellow as the cover. Thankfully, the strange odor of decay seems to be fading.


The book obviously belonged to someone other than my father as it is filled with annotations in handwriting that is not his. Did he loan it to another person? Did someone give it to him? The elusive answer to this person's identity is as intriguing as the fact that I was able to lay my hands on the book.


I find it amazing that DuBois' historic work, considered a controversial but highly touted read back in the day, is being referenced in discussions about racism in 2021, exactly 50 years after the release of this version. In my estimation, I've stumbled upon something worthy of enshrinement. Though the font is painfully small and dense, I plan to gingerly read it from cover to cover and, hopefully, experience some sort of spiritual awakening as I do.


But, oh, how I wish I knew whose handwriting and underscoring grace its pages!

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