Celebrating the “Dreaded” Black History Month.

In the middle of the Obama years, I got the dreaded “When are you going to teach white history?” question.  Tomorrow, February 1, two administrations later, I’m sure I’ll see some of the same.  I will be disgusted because many will come from folks, I want to respect but find that I can’t.  We can agree to disagree but not on racism.

Why are some of “white” America so “butthurt” over Black History Month? I have seen social memes and comments that have included “When is White America going to have a Month?” “Black History Month is Racist!” “Why do we have to have a Black History Month?”

An answer to the last question, in a perfect world, YOU WOULDN’T. Nor would you have Women’s History Month, in March, a Native American Heritage Month, in November, a Hispanic Heritage Month beginning in the middle September or any of the others that you can take the time to look up. Unfortunately, we are not, nor have we been, living in a perfect world. To quote a former student, “We celebrate white history in all months that don’t begin with F.” I agree with my student.

As a retired, high school history teacher I know history books are written from a decidedly Anglo-American point of view…well…at least where I taught, a deeply red, conservative state. A state that almost required D. W. Griffith’s “Birth of a Nation” as required viewing, along with Margaret Mitchell’s “Gone With the Wind” and Walter Raleigh’s “Ivanhoe” as required reading.

During the course of a year, Asians are mentioned about four times. Transcontinental Railroad, the Chinese Exclusion Act and Gentleman’s Agreement, the Japanese involvement in World War Two and China goes communist.  I almost forgot Korea and Vietnam. That makes five and six.

Hispanic contributions, maybe a bit more. Spanish colonization, Mexican American War, Imperialism, Pancho Villa, and then a jump to NAFTA and the question “Why are they taking our jobs?” Wait, we fixed that one didn’t we? Notice, these are all mostly decidedly negative when viewed from an Anglo point of view.

Native Americans are prominent but disappear after Wounded Knee unless you happen to bring them back up in the Sixties with the many social movements. Again, until recently, Custer’s Last Stand was viewed negatively by Anglo America. Damn Redskins stepping on our Manifest Destiny and the only good Indian…! I digress.  The Washington Football Team cured all those ills this past season. (said with sarcasm)

I rarely taught Black history during Black History Month. I was wrong. I deluded myself into thinking that I taught EVERYONE’S HISTORY ALL YEAR LONG and didn’t need to focus on a Black History Month. Then I began to assess what I had taught. I’m not happy. Kind of like ALL HISTORY CAN’T MATTER UNTIL BLACK HISTORY MATTERS.

Denmark Vesey, Nat Turner, Harriett Tubman, Fredrick Douglass, W.E.B Dubois versus Booker T. Washington, Rosa Parks, Dr. Martin Luther King and maybe Malcomb X. There were others but most were only related to one aspect of African American lives and American history. A decidedly important aspect but besides George Washington Carver and Langston Hughes, there was nothing about other contributions.

Black History Month should be viewed as an opportunity to spotlight contributions by African Americans. Musicians, artists, writers, poets, inventors, explorers, scientists, businesspeople, soldiers, etc.  It should be an opportunity for us all to learn. 

As a teen, I picked up one of my father’s books, Foxes of Harrow. It was written by Frank Yerby. I read all his books that my father had and along the way picked up a few more. They featured historical fiction with a bit of…latent eroticism. Nothing graphic but I was a teen boy, it didn’t take much!

As a young adult, I was looking for more of Yerby’s books not realizing he had died and found out he was bi-racial and from Georgia…which meant, because of the “one-drop law”, he was black. Who knew and should it matter? No it shouldn’t. Just like celebrating Black History Month should not matter if you are white, green or multi-colored. It should be a positive educational experience for all.  Postscript on Yerby.  He fled his native Georgia, first for France and then Spain, where he lived for the rest of his life.  I’ll let you research why he fled.

Three of my last four years before retirement were teaching “cultural” geography. I loved it. One, I had no end of school testing pressure and could go off on any tangent I desired to go off on. I could be creative and allow creativity from my students. It became about cultural diversity, really teaching everyone’s history, all year long.

In a paragraph I wrote about a former student turned preacher I said, “Today I look toward diversity as a smorgasbord of delights. I believe we should just focus on how diversely different people party. How can you be distrustful of people who produce such wonderful food? Or music, or art, or etc…. My life without Latin, Soul, Oriental and Cajun foods would not be life-ending but life would not be as joyous, especially without a Belgian, Mexican, Jamaican or German beer or maybe some Tennessee whiskey to go with it and a Cuban cigar for afterward. Someone might as well play some Blues, Reggae or a little Zydeco to help the atmosphere along. It is just as easy to focus on the positives about diversity as it is the negatives and again with knowledge comes understanding.”

I realize that I am a social liberal swimming in a red sea of white conservatism and make no excuses. I believe that the rights that someone else is given don’t take my rights away from me including the right to celebrate Black History Month…or Cinco De Mayo and St. Patrick’s Day for that matter. In fact, I have joined in and by doing so believe I am not only a better American but a better human.

Don Miller’s Author’s Page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0mzivK_bmnTjG4D9RL1KGMQ4TurZ8y7hrFca8ExoRa_XmkEUStmSylMCc

I’m Havin’ a Birthday….

 

Seventy years ago, today, April 9, the world was blessed with a bouncing baby boy…me.  Said with a big grin, “I remember it well; it was a clear and crisp Easter Sunday”…I actually don’t remember anything about it.

If family stories are to be believed, my father went to bed on April the eighth moaning about an early morning Sunrise Service he really didn’t want to attend.  Ernest got up earlier than he intended.  I got my mother up quite early.  I was weeks ahead of my arrival date.

True to form, I have little patience, but I did make them wait until I was ready to emerge and conquer the world.  I understand it was a long day, especially for my mother.  I was worth it, I’m sure, but I am still waiting to conquer the world and time is running out.

Freaking seventy?  Where did the time go?  Wasn’t it just yesterday I was standing to wait for the bus to take me to my first day of school?  When it comes to birthdays, time flies whether you are having fun or not…I’m having fun right now, I’m just having it slowly.

As I sit typing away, I don’t feel seventy…until I get up maybe.  The fibrous materials holding these old bones together will protest the rapid movement associated with standing and walking but compared to many of my peers I’m doing okay.  I’ll run (eye roll) and walk three and a half miles as the sun creeps above the horizon.  I’m pretty proud of that but in the back of my mind, I hope I survive the day.

The mirror tells no lies.  I look at peers and wonder, “Why do I look so much younger than they do?”  Then I’ll look in the mirror and wonder, “Who is that guy?”  Maybe it’s the harsh light…of reality.  Wasn’t it just yesterday I was the good-looking kid with the crewcut?  Now I’m the old balding guy with the big nose and ears.

Did you know the only body parts that continue to grow as you age are your ears and nose?  If I live long enough, I’ll resemble Dumbo the Elephant.  A little boy points, his voice shrills with fear, “Look, look Mom!  The old man just tripped over his ears?”

I expect I might trip the light fandango through the memories of previous years.  I try to be forward-thinking and there are plenty of warm and fuzzies but I’m thinking about family and friends I have lost over the years.  They flash across the face of my mind.  Snatches of people, some in black and white.  The problem is as you get older, the list grows longer.

No!  I’m not lamenting my birthday.  The alternative is not good.  My memories are all happy ones, a young boy surrounded by family, blowing out the candles on his cake.

I am lamenting the quarantine.  It’s been six weeks since I’ve seen my daughter’s family except in pictures.  I remember the last time I saw the grandbabies.  I can feel their arms wrapping around my legs…maybe I shouldn’t go there.

So, it’s my birthday.  One of those momentous ones.  Born in a year ending in zero it’s too easy to keep up with them.  I’ve heard all the trite sayings about age being just a number,  I’m not old I’m a classic, etc., but the fact is the road ahead is much shorter than the road behind.  The Bible says I am living on borrowed time so once more I’m going to try and make this trip around the sun a bit more momentous…I’m not going to jump out of any airplanes.

Happy Birthday to me and a bit of Jimmy Buffett.

“Trip Around the Sun” is a song by American country music artists Jimmy Buffett and Martina McBride in August 2004 as the second single from Buffett’s album License to Chill.

Don Miller writes poorly at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR0uOIommkv9nnhPm29GnLeOczmiq5eFTsr_nl-20jF2_0Bt_8fAOyIqkT0

 

Serendipity

I had no intention of getting married again.  I had no intention of falling into love again.  The previous memories and missteps were too painful….

Providence would intervene…has intervened for thirty-three years now…and still counting, I hope.  I am sometimes amazed I asked for your hand and am even more amazed you said yes.

I had no intention of meeting my bride on top of a football stadium’s press box or again at Halloween with an inflatable pumpkin perched upon her head.  I wasn’t looking…I was still recovering.  But she refused to be ignored.

Fate will not be denied.  Serendipity would intervene in the form of a hazel eyed, dark-haired sprite who would torment my thoughts, inappropriate thoughts because she was dating my roommate.  Destiny would step in when they broke up.

I can’t comprehend her not being around, it’s as if she has been around forever.  “Dear God, please take us together or take me first….”

I did fight it…the feeling REO Speedwagon sang about.  A song that tormented me every time it played.  I fought the feeling.  Even after she and my roommate broke their ties.  My loyalty is well defined and sometimes misplaced, and remember, I was never going to fall in love again.  We danced around the issue…maybe…maybe I danced around the issue.

We found ourselves at school and athletic functions, enjoying each other’s company.  She was a teacher and coach too.  She laughed at my stupid jokes…not as much now as she once did…she has heard them all, thirty-three years worth.

I found her captivating, intoxicating and any other ‘ating’ one might think of except ‘dating.’  I couldn’t quite pull the trigger and ask her out…I wasn’t worthy…I’m still not.  Finally, she tired of my tap dance and asked me out.  I’m slow but I’m not stupid.

A chance to accompany her to a local dive bar to hear an old friend of hers sing the blues?  Sure, why not?  It quickly turned into something else.  I’m the one who has been singing now for thirty-three years…but not the blues.

We go to family gatherings, get-togethers with friends, the occasional party…I would find myself close by…preferring to talk with her more than anyone else…close enough to touch and whisper in her ear.  I’m not being snobbish; I would just rather talk to her.  She has always been the most interesting person in the room.

We are more like leaves caught in a whirlwind…blown wherever our whims and chance send us.  Serendipity again.  She just doesn’t like to plan.  Where is the fun in that?

I remember an early anniversary when we decided to drive to the coast the weekend after our June twenty-ninth wedding celebration.  Our decision was an impulse masquerading as a great idea…a romantic idea.  I’m sure it was her idea.

As we rolled the old VW Bug into Georgetown it dawned upon us the weekend after our wedding anniversary was the Fourth of July weekend.  There were no rooms in the inn, and we weren’t Mary and Joseph.  Once again happenstance saved us in the form of the Georgetown Chamber of Commerce.  One bed and breakfast with a room was available and for a price anything is possible.

According to Otto von Bismarck, “A special Providence takes care of fools, drunkards, and the United States.”  I don’t know about the drunks and the United States but for thirty-three years Providence has taken a liking to two fools in love…still in love.

Sometimes our safe harbor has been storm-tossed and I’m sure it will be again.  But we have each other to hold on to as the waves come crashing in.

I wish I had met her sooner…had fallen in love with her sooner…but then we weren’t the people we would become…I wasn’t.  I had to bleed first before she could apply her soothing anodyne.

Linda Gail, I love you and would do it all over again a thousand times.  My heart breaks at the thought that I might sometime lose you.

To my best friend, my lover, my wife…Ashley’s other mother, Grandmommy Linda to MK and Noie and mother of my beautiful, blind puppies, I love you.  I’m so glad you were crazy enough to say yes.

Call it serendipity, chance, a fluke, good luck, good fortune, fortuity, fortuitousness, happy coincidence, or a special alignment of the stars, you have made my life a wonder and wonderful.  Here’s to thirty-three more.

Lyrics and video Can’t Fight This Feeling by REO Speedwagon.

“What started out this friendship has grown stronger
I only wish I had the strength to let it show
I tell myself that I can’t hold out forever
I said there is no reason for my fear
‘Cause I feel so secure when we’re together
You give my life direction
You make everything so clear
And even as I wander
I’m keeping you in sight
You’re a candle in the window
On a cold, dark winter’s night
And I’m getting closer than I ever thought I might”

 

For more “stuff” go to Don Miller’s author’s page at                 https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

 

A PERSONAL GIVING OF THANKS

As a country, we celebrate the holiday known as Thanksgiving in different ways. I realize there are groups of people who have little reason to celebrate a holiday created by ancestors of white Europeans imposing their will upon groups of people and the land they lived upon some five hundred years ago. I am of white European ancestry along with a dash of Powhatan Native American and British-African seaman thrown in for good measure, so I guess it would be natural for me to greet the holiday with decidedly mixed emotions…but I don’t because I am the product of my up bring and will celebrate traditionally with too much food followed by napping through a football game.

This past Sunday our associate minister delivered a traditional Thanksgiving sermon in a somewhat non-traditional way which I would have entitled “In Praise of Celebration.” During his talk, he mentioned the very first Thanksgiving. Not the one we recognize on the fourth Thursday of November by law nor the traditional historical celebration that took place in Plymouth, Massachusetts, eels and all. He spoke of a celebration which took place in Jamestown during the winter of 1610. In 1607, some two hundred “fortune hunters” had come ashore and seized the low, marshy, mosquito filled swamp we now call Jamestown. After three years, their numbers had been reduced to only sixty due to disease, starvation and skirmishes with local native tribes. Due to a delayed supply ship from Bermuda, they were forced to boil their own shoe leather to feed themselves despite the undiscovered oyster beds located in the knee-deep waters feet from their encampment. Much like the cavalry arriving in the nick of time in some old John Wayne movie, the supply ship came to their rescue and not a moment too soon.

My minister made the point that, despite the loss of eighty per cent of their company, the survivors celebrated their good fortune and I don’t believe (my words not his) it should be taken as a “hurrah for me and the hell with everybody else” kind of moment. I understand the feeling of thankfulness despite the feeling of loss that I am sure those sixty souls were experiencing.

Like most folks of my age, I have become used to the loss of friends and family…no not used to it, but rather, accepting their loss as the “circle of life” we will all experience. Rather than dwelling upon my sadness, I choose instead to celebrate my good fortune; still having my health, my loving wife, my immediate family, grandbabies, my friends, food on my table and a roof over my head, much in the same way sixty starving settlers celebrated when their “ship came in.”

It has been a tough six months for those of us who still believe in Superman’s mantra, “truth, justice and the American way.” Rather than lament on the lack of those ideals in our presidential candidates, I shall choose to believe the AMERICAN PEOPLE will find their way back to truth and justice FOR ALL and help create an AMERICAN WAY FOR ALL GOD’S CHILDREN regardless of who happens to be sitting in the White House. Americans have always been resilient, I am thankful we will prove to be again. I am thankful that most of my true friends feel the same.

I am thankful to have discovered a group of people from different geographic areas, political beliefs, religious backgrounds, races and sexual preferences. I have learned to celebrate and embrace their differences and have discovered our similarities far outweigh those differences.

Finally, I am thankful to have the freedom to say Happy Holidays and Merry Christmas to those same people who are observing some thirty different celebrations between Thanksgiving and the end of January. May your God’s good graces shine upon thee. Happy Thanksgiving to all, friend, foe or yet undecided or misunderstood. I love you all.

For more of Don Miller’s unique views of life, humor and Southern stories of a bygone time, try http://goo.gl/lomuQf