Healing From A Truth That Hurts

Sunday, March 23, 2008

I am a 65-year-old black woman who was born and raised in the District. During my childhood, this city was closer to a sleepy Southern town than a hub of sophistication. The public schools were segregated. Our choices of restaurants, movie theaters, department stores and many other places were restricted by skin color. The police force and the fire department hired black men to work in black neighborhoods, but their supervisors were all white.

It's different now.

But the immense coverage of the Rev. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr.'s words and expressions of anger ["Congregation Defends Obama's Ex-Pastor," front page, March 18] makes me think one more time that non-black Americans will never understand the rage that African Americans control every day. The disconnect brings to mind the Post slogan "If you don't get it, you don't get it."

It is not a major leap to believe that the AIDS virus was deliberately injected into our communities when our government admits that it denied our people treatment for syphilis in Tuskegee, Ala. It is also not a stretch to fear for the Jena 6 when one remembers the Scottsboro boys, a 1930s case in which nine black youths were falsely accused of raping two white women. The last laws guaranteeing African Americans their civil rights (rights that other Americans freely enjoyed) were not enacted until a little over 40 years ago. Those laws did not come to be without legal challenges and protest marches.

Do I believe that progress has been made? Of course I do. But the pain and humiliation that black Americans have experienced is real and continues to this day. Must we dwell on it or become victimized by it? Absolutely not. But to deny that it exists and to deny that anger is connected with our history is also wrong. Equally wrong is to expect a people to eradicate a legacy of nearly 400 years of slavery and Jim Crow.

Black people frequently talk among themselves about race and about past and present racism. These conversations are a part of who we are and the roads we have traveled. Sometimes we are boastful, as when Tiger Woods wins another tournament on the PGA Tour. Talks can be wistful, as when we lament that Barbara Jordan and Arthur Ashe died so young. And, yes, they can be very angry, as they were when James Byrd was murdered in Jasper, Tex., and Don Imus disrespected the Rutgers University women's basketball team.

The bittersweet stories of our survival are told endlessly -- by our grandparents, teachers, preachers and so many others. We dare not forget. We cannot get over it. It's much too close. We are still living it.

We may not agree with everything that the Rev. Wright has said, but most of us understand where his words come from: the painful past. However, we must, as Sen. Barack Obama challenges us to do, recognize the progress and begin open and honest communication among us all so that the possibility of a united America can be a reality.

-- Karen Y. House


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