ZACHARY: Listen to history, listen to now

By Jim Zachary 

History is truth.

History is simply what happened.

That is not to say historians always get it right.

And, it is not to say that historians have always told us everything.

Ignoring history does not change what actually occurred.

Whitewashing history does not eliminate the worst parts of who and what we are.

History must be told.

Even when our history is difficult for us to accept, we must come to terms with it.

Our histories have largely been chronicled by white men and, consequently, recorded history often has merely told us the stories of privileged white men.

Clearly, there have been many great white men whose stories should be told and remembered.

There have also been great women.

And, there have been great women and men of color who have shaped our nation, influenced our lives and brought us to where we are.

Their stories must be told as well.

We must also all learn about our darkest days.

The atrocities of the past are our history and can never be forgotten or ignored as if they never happened.

Those atrocities include slavery, lynchings, oppressive Jim Crow laws, voter suppression, vile racism and bigotry.

To deny any of these things is to deny history.

To deny any of these things is to deny truth.

We are shaped by our history and even though we may not want to admit it, it is undeniable that slavery, lynchings, oppressive Jim Crow laws, voter suppression, vile racism and bigotry have shaped our nation. Only through honest conversations about our past can we be truthful about who we are, and it is only through accepting that truth that we can make better determinations about who we will become.

The Legacy Museum and lynching memorials in Montgomery, Alabama, are a national treasure because they preserve a truth many would prefer to forget or, at the very least, ignore.

The truth memorialized in the halls of the museum and hauntingly displayed on monoliths must bring us to uncomfortable, but necessary, conversations

But we must not have those conversations in a silo or with people who look just like us.

Do not discount the experiences of Black America or devalue the way that Black friends, neighbors, family members or strangers feel. Rather, if you are not a person of color, ask a Black person to share their feelings.

Also, it is wrong to assume all white people are racist. But your white friends may not understand the words, phrases and expressions that you find offensive or may not know your life experiences.

No one is saying these conversations are easy.

Still, we must be willing to have the difficult conversations. 

Ask people of color how they see our history. Ask how they have experienced racism. Ask them what offends them. Ask what they think must be done to bring us to a place of diversity, equality, inclusion and belonging. Ask them how they feel and then listen — really listen.

Share your life experiences with your white friends. Explain the words, phrases and expressions you find offensive.

Listen to history.

And then, listen to people who do not look like you.

Jim Zachary is editor of the Valdosta Daily Times, CNHI's director of newsroom training and development and president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. 

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