Sunday, September 4, 2016

How Our History Has Shaped Us and Why Black Lives Still Matter

This made me cry.

Yesterday, Anna and I went to the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA) to see Kehinde Wiley's exhibit "A New Republic." Wiley’s signature portraits of everyday men and women riff on specific paintings by Old Masters, replacing the European aristocrats depicted in those paintings with contemporary black subjects, drawing attention to the absence of African Americans from historical and cultural narratives.

We watched two little African-American girls pose ala tableau vivant in front of "Two Sisters," a larger-than-life painting of two African-American women standing arm-in-arm. Anna said, "Mom, this is why he's [Wiley] so important; he "represents." There's nothing else in this museum that looks like them."

We also viewed the Gordon Parks exhibit, which traces Parks’ return to his hometown of Fort Scott, Kansas and then to other Midwestern cities, to track down and photograph each of his childhood classmates. The images depict the realities of life under segregation in 1950–– presenting a rarely seen view of everyday lives of African-American citizens in the years before the Civil Rights movement began in earnest.

These photos were supposed to run in Life Magazine, but for some reason, were never published.

Then, this story was published on the front page of the Washington Post. A lynching of an American WWII happened on an American military base and only a cursory investigation was done. In fact, even now, 75 years after the fact, portions of the investigation are redacted and the FBI refuses to change this.
Why did this happen? Why does it continue to persist, even now? Martin Luther King, Jr, said, "If it may be said of the slavery era that the white man took the world and gave the Negro Jesus, then it may be said of the Reconstruction era that the Southern aristocracy took the world and gave the poor white man Jim Crow. And when his wrinkled stomach cried out for the food that his empty pockets could not provide, he ate Jim Crow, a psychological bird that told him that no matter how bad off he was, at least he was a white man, better than the black man."

But this doesn't really answer, "Why?" In 2000, the researchers on the Human Genome Project told us that race has no basis in science.

I wept when I read how Private Felix Hall attempted to build a pile of dirt under his feet to ease the pressure of the noose against his neck. Ultimately, he failed, and hatred prevailed.

Under our skins, we are all the same. All the same.