Childish Gambino made Grammy history Feb. 10 when his “This Is America” became the first rap song to nab both Song of the Year and Record of the Year statuettes. And the Academy will prove its inclusiveness mettle — or lack thereof — on Sunday, Feb. 24, during the Oscars. After all, both Spike Lee’s BlacKkKlansman and the Kevin Feige-led superhero super-hit Black Panther earned Best Picture nods, along with a collective slew of other noms.
Oh yeah, our society is tolerant. We’re accepting. We’re open to individuals of all races, colors, creeds and cultures … border walls notwithstanding.
Until, that is, we’re not.
February is Black History Month, a time to take a look at the rich and varied history of African-Americans, celebrate the extraordinary influence they have had on the nation’s culture and honor their immeasurable impact on the country we are today.
This year’s commemoration is especially poignant on both a national and local level. April 11 will mark the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Fair Housing Act, the last great legislative achievement of the Civil Rights movement; and as we speak, a fundraising campaign is underway locally to build a life-size memorial to the late maven of music and icon of racial integration, Fannie Mae Duncan.
Then there’s this. Virginia has been roiled in recent weeks by disgusting revelations that a few decades ago, men who would go on to hold great power dressed in blackface or sported so-called “brown makeup” for social gatherings, without regard to the historic struggles faced by their African-American peers.
As recently as 2005, now-ex Florida Secretary of State Michael Ertel was photographed at a private Halloween party wearing blackface and wearing a shirt reading “[Hurricane] Katrina victim.” To reiterate, that was in October 2005, just two months after 1,833 Americans were killed in the horrific storm!
Really tolerant, huh?
Consider this: Between Jan. 10, 2010, and June 11, 2017, the most recent date for which numbers are available, Colorado Springs Police investigated 74 cases of suspected hate crimes. That’s according to data compiled by our news partners at ProPublica, which since January 2017 teamed with more than 160 newsrooms to investigate cases of documented hate crimes and discrimination.
The data reflected offenses ranging from harassment and criminal damage to menacing with a weapon and felony robbery. The offenses were based on race, religion, sexual orientation and gender identification.
Clearly there’s work to do.
Look, we’re not going to spout old sayings like “walk a mile in her shoes” or “look at the world through his eyes.” Nor do we believe that we — from the privileged vantage point of well-educated, upper-middle-class whites — are in any position to comment on the experiences of a people who have been systematically oppressed for generations.
But we know someone who can.
A few weeks ago, we launched a new sister publication in Southeast Colorado Springs, statistically the most racially, culturally and economically diverse part of town. One of the speakers at the kickoff event was Taj Stokes, a pastor, community leader and executive director of the entrepreneurial training program Thrive Network. And yes, he is African-American.
Here was the challenge he issued to a packed crowd at the Sand Creek Library Jan. 30: “Find someone today … to connect to. Talk. Have a conversation. Create a bridge. We want to create bridges … we need your help to do that.”
Sounds good to us. It’s a lot more productive to build bridges than to tip the torch, stand back and watch them burn.