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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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Don't Repeat the Past

Censorship, book banning, and "cancel culture" all tie into our First Amendment right to free speech, a critical component of our fragile democracy. I have great admiration for the saying, "We can agree to disagree," which is why I find the removal of books that speak to the truth of this country's founding quite disturbing. I don't know of anyone who feels good about the shameful aspects of our history; but if we choose to ignore it, we're doomed to repeat it, as many great minds have portended. This last sentiment contributes to the impetus, in my humble opinion, to ensure the Holocaust is not forgotten.


I recently read a gripping memoir written by a good friend's father, a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor. In his book titled The Life of a Child Survivor, Ben Midler poignantly laid out the atrocities he witnessed as a young teen. Midler took me on a harrowing journey, starting with the Nazi bombings and invasion of his home town in Poland to his long overdue rescue and liberation, all while continuously searching for members of his family. He provided keen insight into the political and societal aspects of how such depravity could ever take place and is acutely aware that the current generation of youths is far removed in their familiarity with this history.


Leading up to last week's mid-term elections, many decried the frightening possibility of the loss of our democracy to fascism and autocratic rule. The re-engineering of voter districts primarily to the disadvantage of marginalized communities (gerrymandering) made it more difficult for those voters to participate in a free and fair election. However, this self-serving scheme led to record voter turnout even in the face of rising inflation, extremist tribalism, and growing political violence. Our voices would have been extinguished and the outcome of the elections likely predetermined if we lived under autocratic rule. But the American people spoke up once again for democracy.


When I first wrote this blog to be posted after the elections, I wasn't sure we'd still have a democratic government. However, it seems the American people remain vested in its survival. If we don't fight for democracy, our Great American Experiment will fail. And that fight necessitates an understanding of the principles on which our Nation was founded—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

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We, the People

How on earth have we gotten to the point where a select demographic of parents who are uncomfortable with our Nation's history can dictate what all students should learn? Some of the very same folks who decry "cancel culture" are attempting to prevent children from learning the truth about the founding of our country. What about other parents who want their ancestors' contribution fairly represented? They're not exactly "comfortable" with that history; yet it's as if the opinions and rights of those "other" parents don't matter—as though they aren't real Americans.


In recent years, we've seen the return of an authoritarian, fascist slogan promoting the free press as "the enemy of the [American] people" on our national stage, a mantra notoriously promulgated by Joseph Stalin during the early years of the Soviet Union. While the slogan may have originated during Roman Times, it reappeared during the French Revolution of the late 18th century, and then resurfaced during the Third Reich's rule in furtherance of Adolph Hitler's decree that Jews were "a sworn enemy of the German people." It's a phrase favored by those who sought to squash freedom of expression in the form of opposition and dissent.


With the banning of books from our schools and libraries and the suppression of American history in classrooms, we are witnessing an organized, widespread effort to silence voices. Likewise, our politicians who oppose dissent of their constituents' agenda are in a rush to disenfranchise voters with gerrymandering in certain voter districts. While we still maintain the freedom to express our opinions, there's no guarantee that privilege will endure. Even if you subscribe to conspiracy theories about the legitimacy of our last presidential election or a widespread attempt to brainwash the nation's children, your freedom of thought is at stake. As a writer and citizen, I find that prospect a horrifying existential threat to our democracy for which so many have given their lives.


We, the People, must speak out against those who would try to silence our voices in furtherance of political expediency and power. We must use our vote as our voice to ensure the preservation of our democracy. If democracy wasn't so precious, tens of thousands of Ukrainians would not give their lives in its defense.

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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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