Saturday, July 13, 2013

Throwing Away History

Imagine living in a community with a 93 percent African-American population. Now imagine that all the black educational films, books and videos housed in a local high school library were just tossed in a dumpster like garbage instead of history. If you live in Detroit's Highland Park, this nightmare is actually a reality.

According to local media,  Detroit's Emergency Manager Donald Weatherspoon said the materials were "thrown out by mistake" and that the district cannot afford to keep them. 

This sounds like a blatant contridiction. The truth is, they were thrown away on purpose. An accident by nature is not beneficial. But according to Weatherspoon, this one is?

Furious residents took to the streets with signs that read, "Dump the E.M. Not the Books." Protesters also called Weatherspoon a "modern-day Hitler" burning books.

"The emergency manager had been in the district for over a year and then they decided to throw away all the black artifacts books that were no longer in print or published, all kinds of tapes and catalogues," Jackson explained.

 "We want to preserve those artifacts so our children have something to look back on. We're just mad about it and we're not going to stand for it, just throwing away our history like that."

The outcry began when a small portion of the volumes in question was discovered in a dumpster three weeks ago by Paul Lee, a local historian who helped assemble the collection. According to media reports, the collection was largely the result of civil rights-era demands to incorporate African-American studies into school curriculums especially in communities like Highland Park, whose population is about 93% African-American. Jackson hopes to place the books in a community center, but Weatherspoon has instead expressed interest in donating those with historical value to a library or museum. (Of course, the majority of the collection has already been lost to the dumpster.)

Let's set aside for a minute that the educational material in question was culturally relevant to the vast majority of the community. Does any child in the world deserve to be deprived of an education? No. Race, creed, color, and cultural background are irrelevant in that sense. Any and all books are valuable simply because of the fact that there is no value that can be put on information, or knowledge.

With that being said, in order to understand the sensitive nature of this issue as it relates to the African-American community, it has to be put in historical context, and I must extrapolate.

During slavery, reading was an act punishable by death because the slave master knew that education is empowerment. Books equal knowledge, and knowledge equals education, which in turn promotes a higher level of self awareness, and understanding. It is for this very same reason that Africans were seperated from their tribes when they were kidnapped and brought to America during the middle passage. Different tribes spoke different languages, and it was impossible to desiminate Information because of the language barrier. So given this history, and legacy of African-Americans being hindered from anything that remotely resembled erudition for hundreds of years, the outrage in the Highland Park school district should come as no surprise. Throwing away books that are so paretnent to those children's history, or any other books for that matter, is like pouring salt into a wound that has not yet healed. It is a stinging reminder of pain from the past for which there is no empathy, sympathy, or understanding.


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