Tuesday, June 30, 2009

From the Vault: If we knew our history

Originally posted in December 2007

Recent posts here and over at Mes Deaux Cents and The Angry Black Woman clarified something I've been thinking for a while: Learning the history of our country and the world should be a major focus in homes and in schools. I know...I know...this is a techie world, where math and science rule. But here's the thing, all our new gadgets and conveniences won't mean a thing if our society lies in ruin, because we repeat the mistakes of our ancestors again and again.

I love learning about history. I read books about it. (A favorite is Lies my Teacher Taught Me by James W. Loewen. Check it out.) You can always find The History Channel on somewhere in my home. I love "American Experience" on PBS and the series "Pioneer House." I like touring historic homes, especially those that offer a peek into the lives of the former occupants--how they lived, loved and what they believed. (If you're ever down in Louisiana, visit the Laura Plantation, a sugar plantation run by generations of Creole women. You can also look inside a slave cabin and learn how those women exploited the expertise of skilled slave labor.)

I find learning about the past--politics, culture, wars and personalities--empowering. It puts the present in context for me and helps shape my views on modern challenges. It makes me a better citizen of my town, state, country and the world. Knowing the history of my family--what my forefathers and foremothers struggled through to succeed--makes me stand a little taller and not want to let them down.

These days, though, we suffer from a profound case of historus stupidus (that's Tami Latin). If we had learned the lessons of Vietnam, would we be in Iraq today? If we understood the insidious history of fascism in the world, would we be more vigilant about our freedoms? If white Americans knew more about The Tuskegee Experiment , the Indian Removal Act and the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, would they understand why so many people of color are mistrustful of the government and the mainstream? If Melyssa Ford knew Sara Baartman's story, could she call exploiting her sexuality for public consumption "just a job." If Sherri Shephard had ever cracked a history book, learned about Constantine I, or, heck, read the Old Testament, would she have embarrassed women, black women and Christians everywhere on national television? Speaking of religion, if we understood what religious fundamentalism does to societies, would we be more concerned about growing fundamentalism in this country?

If we knew our history, I mean really knew it, wouldn't we all be better off?

James Baldwin has a great quote about this country's history that I think can be applied to history as a whole, "American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it."

He's right. Know your history.


RMJ said...

I went to a liberal arts women's college where we were constantly bitching about the overvaluation of humanities. Now that I'm in the real world, it's amazing how much our past mistakes are ignored to save face (thinking specifically of Bush repeating...every mistake, and Obama repeating mistakes of Clinton with regards to LBGTQI rights).

Also, if you haven't seen the post on Sara Baartman, it's amazing.

Sassy J said...

I have ALWAYS been a lover of history. I've always had an active imagination and so learning about people from long ago just takes me *there*. I'll have to find that book you referenced "Lies My Teacher...".

What really struck me in your post was about Melissa Ford and Sara Baartman. I know that she is not even heard of by the young people today, but there is a collective that was started here in DC that is trying to change that. Here is one of the addresses to get connected to the Saartjie Project: http://www.facebook.com/pages/The-Saartjie-Project/14633844915


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