Get Over It? I Don't Think So

By John W. Fountain

"...Time to get over it," read the letter from a Latino brother in response to one of my recent columns on racism. "Latinos, Asians, and even whites have been slaves and oppressed in history," he writes. "We chose to rise above it and not keep blaming everyone else!"

Ahem, time for me to school you, my brother:

I understand that we won't always agree. The point of engaging in a dialogue or expressing one's opinion, as I do in my column, is to exchange ideas. What one may consider to be whining another may consider to be a heartfelt expression of their truth.

No people need forget their past and the lessons learned
in order to move forward.

You can't know what it's like to walk one minute in my skin. Latinos and Asians were not enslaved as blacks were in America. Slavery here was called a "peculiar institution." You could not earn your freedom, descendants were born into slavery and slavery was more cruel, brutal and inhuman.

Your mothers, daughters, aunts and grandmothers were not raped at will; your sons not carried off in the middle of the night, lynched from trees and burned alive; your men not castrated, maimed and shot for thinking out loud.

That's not complaining. That's simply a recounting of American history--a history that included Jim Crow laws made to disenfranchise blacks in a system of oppression and discrimination--the spirit of those laws having since become institutionalized in some ways.

That kind of systemic dispossession and racism has a real and lasting impact. Now, add to that the prevailing misperceptions about blacks, contorted stereotypes and continued racial hatred, coupled with prevailing ignorance about the history of African Americans and the inescapable daily truth about racism in America. Forget it?

I will never forget.

Would anyone ever suggest that Jews forget their historic sufferings and the Holocaust? Should Native Americans forget Wounded Knee, the Trail of Tears or the genocide of their people? Should gays forget their discrimination and bashing for generations? Should Japanese Americans forget the incarceration and humiliation of internment camps?

They should not. No people need forget their past and the lessons learned in order to move forward.

I don't use slavery as a crutch, neither racism. Never have. Never will. I have persevered through poverty, growing up without a father, and overcome other hurdles.

I have excelled, attended some of the finest academic institutions in the land, worked as a reporter at prominent newspapers, traveled the world, met kings and presidents and even a princess. And yet, despite all that I have achieved, my black skin and gender, still make me a "menace," "suspect," "robber," "murderer," "thief," for no other reason than the fact that I am black and male.

Get over it? Get over what? How do you get over nearly 250 years of slavery that established a socioeconomic gap that continues to be aided by institutional discrimination, poverty and even built-in privilege to those without black skin?

I think I'll get over it when America finally gets over it. When all are judged not by the color of their skin but by the content of their character--words spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., more than 50 years ago.

Racism is real. It's something that apparently you just can't fathom, sir. And maybe that's just something you need to get over. So, ahem, get over it. It's about time.

Respectfully, JOHN