Ignorance of each other is what has made unity impossible in the past. Therefore we need enlightenment. We need more light about each other. Light creates understanding, understanding creates love, love creates patience, and patience creates unity. Once we have more knowledge, light, about each other we will stop condemning each other and a united front will be brought about.
Malcolm X “Racism: The Cancer that Is Destroying America”
Egyptian Gazette, Cairo, Egypt (August 25, 1964)
While the above words from Malcolm X are from a text addressing the need for unity among African Americans, it expresses a truth for a wider audience. History is valuable because it provides an understanding of how we got here, an insight into what needs to be rectified or changed, and a way to see how others have responded to things in the past. In looking at the histories of social justice movements, we can see that at various points in time something happens that causes an awakening and call to action around an issue—a systemic issue that many people, especially those in the affected group, know should have been addressed to a long time ago.
I find the following realization troubling: the death of George Floyd, pinned to the ground at the neck beneath the knee of a police officer, was not more horrendous than the death of many others who have died due to the acts of individuals engaging in systemic practices that propagate marginalization, discrimination, harassment, and violence against other individuals because of their race, ethnicity, sexuality, or gender presentation, to name a few.
Yet the death of George Floyd has sparked an awakening that is calling for a substantive response to systemic racism. We are finding ourselves being called to figure out how to live in and change the troubling world around us. Understanding can be difficult because it can require us to look at and talk about the world around us differently and at a more deep and self-critical level than does a quick recitation of rote slogans and sentiments (though such things can serve as initial starting points). The process for seeking understanding serves as a foundation for change toward justice and toward systemic reform that responds to how and why communities and the people in them are marginalized, discriminated against, and violently mistreated. While different communities are affected in different ways, understanding and relationships between communities are beneficial for all. We can find unity in understanding how others seek to divide us. We can find hope in our unity. And our hope enacted brings about change.
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives views itself as providing resources for understanding—an understanding that engages and challenges the segmentation of race, ethnicity, sexuality, and gender presentation. LGBTQ history contains a record of good relations and support in regard to race, such as relationships and connections between Chicago Gay Liberation and the Black Panthers that made possible in April 1970 the first city-wide public gay and lesbian dance. Held at the Chicago Coliseum, it was attended by over 2,000 people and was the largest LGBTQ event up to that time. Yet LGBTQ history also contains a record of racial discrimination, including racial profiling in bar admittance. Understanding the history of such good and the bad actions aids us in moving forward and beyond those practices and actions that have divided us and allows us to move toward unity and change.
The spectrum of events that have happened over the past two weeks have been troubling for various reasons, but especially for the systemic racism they have displayed and the awareness of how that systemic racism resulted in the loss of life. We are in a time of momentum that is demanding a response of change, based on knowledge, leading to understanding that allows for not only rejecting current practices that embody and enable marginalization, discrimination, and violence but actively seeks, enacts, and embodies new practices and understanding.
Let our understanding fuel our momentum for change in both our practices and in the world around us.
Gerber/Hart Library and Archives