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Don’t have to know much about history

March 16, 2011

My part in the anti-racist seminar I”m co-facilitating next week is to facilitate the “wall of history” where, as a group, we mark different historical periods that represent events, legislation, people or systems of racism in that particular period.  I’ve participated in a similar exercise before and always feel inadequate.  “Dates are just not my thing,” I often say as I can’t seem to place those events in appropriate date context.  As a facilitator this time around, I’m just not buying my perfectly logical explanation.

While it’s true that I hold symbols and feelings in my memory more than facts, it’s also true that I don’t remember what I don’t have cause to remember.

In February, 1886, groups of white men descended on Seattle Chinatown homes, restaurants, and meetings and ordered 350 Chinese immigrants to get on wagons to transport them to the waterfront to be put on ships and sent away.  Not something I learned in Washington history.  Not something to which I’ve paid much attention nor a date I typically remember.  If it had involved my relatives and been part of my family history, I bet I would have heard about it and not forgotten the dramatic disruption of peoples’ lives simply because of the color of their skin and fear of the other.  Same thing with the stories about moving the Japanese-Americans in the Seattle area to internment camps. (April, 1942)

So, I’m glad I’m doing the “wall of history.” I want to name my ignorance and change it to an awareness that stands against these injustices so they will not recur.  That means I cannot stay silent nor will I forget how current day immigration raids in Latino communities continue to grow as families are torn apart; parents are deported and their American-born children are left alone. This is 2011 and the wall of history has shame on it.

I want to mark a place in history where I stood against bigotry and prejudice and did not stay silent as my brothers and sisters of color were dismissed, degraded, and disappeared.

We all need to know about all of our shared history.

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