We spent much of yesterday at the New York State Equal Rights Heritage Center and the Harriet Tubman Home, both in Auburn, NY.
We journeyed through many layers of America’s mixed past: an often brutal, sometimes triumphant, messy mix of shame and victory.
We dug into the history of slavery in the United States, and reflected on how 14 of the 21 “founding fathers” were slaveholders themselves. What does that say about our history as a country? And how does it feel as a descendent of enslaved people to see their faces on the currency in your wallet each and every day?
We explored the steps that led to abolition, and the brutal back-slide our government took with Convict Leasing, which was another iteration of slavery after its abolition at the end of the Civil War.
We dug into Jim Crow Laws, voter disenfranchisement, and gerrymandering which ensured the continuation of whites holding power throughout the 1960s and even through today.
And we explored the history of suffrage, the women’s rights movement, and the many battles for equal rights for BIPOCS and LGBTQ community.
All battles that are ongoing even today.
We were befriended by a bright, fascinating woman named Lois who was also visiting the museums yesterday. A retired physicist and historian, she described her experiences as a Freedom Rider in the 1960’s, registering voters throughout the south.
Listening to her stories, and reflecting on how recent our country’s legacy of slavery and systematic oppression really is, we reflected on how even today people of color navigate a very different world as Americans than whites do.
And we reflected on how very far we have yet to go.
I kept seeing parallels. From convict leasing to the school-to-prison pipeline. From segregation to the longterm impact of redlining. (If you don’t know what redlining is, this video lays it out clearly, and explains the ongoing, snowballing impact. My kids and I have watched it several times.) From women’s rights marches in the 1900’s to the women’s rights marches today.
We keep looping, doubling back. Demanding the same rights, fighting the same fights, walking in the footprints of our mothers, our grandmothers, our great grandmothers.
And I felt more than ever how important it is as people with privilege to have these conversations. With our parents, with our kids, with our friends and our neighbors. To talk about racism, to talk about equality, to talk about what we can each do to make this country a better place for everyone.
Because goodness knows it’s time.
The only way to dismantle oppression is to look it in the eye. To speak up in the face of injustice. To listen with an open heart to what someone else’s experience is.
“Privilege is when you think something is not a problem because it is not a problem for you personally.”
Want to learn even more? Great! Me, too. Let’s dig in.
The podcast Seeing White is a great place to peel back the layers on America and race. I’m currently listening and it’s perspective shifting.
Author Layla Saad recently published a powerful 28-day challenge that will soon be a book. White Supremacy and Me (afflink) is a must read for white people who are striving to do better and to be a force for positive change in the world.
White Fragility (afflink) is on my book list for this summer. I hope you’ll read it, too.
2 thoughts on “Postcard 2: history lessons”
I was going to ask if you’d listened to Seeing White! It’s absolutely and astoundingly a must listen. I’m ashamed it’s taken me 40 years to realize some of the things I’ve learned from it. White Fragility is on my summer list too! This looks like an amazing part of your trip.
I couldn’t agree more.