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Finneran: Black History Month

Friday, March 02, 2018


There is so much to learn.

I like to think that I’m a history buff of sorts but that is really an ill-informed vanity. The more I read the more I realize the vastness of my ignorance.

We have just concluded another Black History Month here in the United States. It’s an important month in the education of all Americans. Its value is certainly not limited to black Americans. Its value is that it is history, real history, our history, part of the history of all Americans.

To state that black Americans see the United States through a unique lens is to state the obvious. That fact remains true even in the aftermath of black dreams realized— the Voting Rights Act, the Civil Rights Bill, a black President, a black Supreme Court Justice, black Cabinet Secretaries, black Governors, black Mayors, black legislative leaders, black generals, and black CEOs.

As America ponders its racial progress—steadily forward? glacially slow? sliding backward?—one cannot help but notice the divisions in our midst.

I do not have to subscribe to the need to be “woke” regarding justice. Nor do I have to subscribe to the charge of “white privilege” as affecting my principles and perspectives. Some day, hopefully soon, people will realize that there is already far too much accusatory rhetoric regarding current issues of race. As Rodney King plaintively asked, “why can’t we all just get along?” The early-morning gym rats I work out with certainly engage and enjoy each other’s company. As do my black and white neighbors.

What I emphatically subscribe to is the instructive importance of history. In that regard at least, I join some famous names---Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Douglass, Lincoln, Santayana, Booker T. Washington, William Trotter, Malcolm X—all of whom emphasized the urgent necessities of knowledgeable citizenship in a republic.

A grasp of history---of men and women, of events and follies, of crimes and noble deeds, above all, of human nature---is essential to navigating the present and preparing for the future.

There is, as noted, so much to learn. PBS helps the journey.

Consider the offerings over the years, not just during Black History Month......

“Tell Them We Are Rising”, about the founding and evolution of black colleges and universities;

“The African Americans: Many Rivers to Cross”;

“Freedom Riders”;

“Slavery by Another Name”;

“American Creed”;

“We’ll Meet Again—Freedom Summer”;

“The March”;

“The Talk—Race in America”, about black parents talking with their children about interactions with the police;

Some of the scenes from these productions are brutally violent. Others are of the highest inspiration. Still others are achingly sad. All are instructive. The nation’s better angels have often been missing in the march to full equality for all Americans.

Yet America, for all its shameful and bloody history, for its ugly accommodation of slavery, for its past glaring hypocrisy to its Judeo-Christian principles, remains somewhat of a beacon in the integration and assimilation of different races, cultures, and creeds. Africa’s oft-warring tribes, Asia’s sullen and hostile suspicions of all “others”, and the Middle East’s ancient feuds show us that man’s inhumanity to man is not headquartered in the United States. The history of Europe itself has been a history of violent invasion and conquest. The brotherhood of man has been missing-in-action throughout human history. Perhaps, in our lifetime, that brotherhood, along with its twin the sisterhood, will rise to truly fulfill the American ideal.

And so we strive---to listen, to learn, and to do better. Black History month is an important part of that effort.

There is so much to learn.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio


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