BOOK NOTES FOR BLACK HISTORY MONTH
Black History Month encourages us to see the rich diversity in our nation’s past. When we accept that challenge, it makes possible our ability to embrace diversity instead of fearing it. The hope is that we will change our behavior and be open to seeing all peoples as worthy.
Two books were especially valuable in broadening my perspective. Both were written by African Americans. One author was often condemned during my youth. I did not hear of the other until recently, even though her book was first published in 1946 and she was the first African-American woman novelist to sell over a million copies.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X
The first is The Autobiography of Malcolm X, written with the assistance of Alex Haley of Roots fame. I read this book in my early twenties after having been raised in the Downriver area of Detroit. The working class city where I lived was divided by Outer Drive, mainly Blacks on one side, mainly Whites on the other. Children were in largely segregated schools until junior high. Since there was only one school serving junior and senior high, all of a sudden we were integrated with no preparation. I am amazed that those young people handled the situation as well as they did. My biggest regret was that so little was done to help us explore the society in which we lived so we could more easily appreciate each other, seeing commonalities, instead of differences, appreciating the other, instead of fearing the other.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X allowed me to live along with someone who, when I began the book, saw as very different from myself. By the end of the book, I no longer thought that way. The facts about his life, changed my estimation of him. I admired someone whom our culture had lead me to fear. I sensed deep commonalities. A changed perception of Malcolm X nudged me on to be more open to individuals, to other life styles, and to new ideas in coming years.
The Street by Ann Petry was published in 1946. Reading this book during the past year, I was struck by the insight of this author. Insight into the devastating harm racism caused to admirable, promising, and hardworking citizens of our country. I have heard similar insights in years since, but I only regret Petry’s words were not acted upon more effectively decades ago.
Our nation has gained much from the contributions of its diverse citizenry, but it has also lost when we have not allowed and/or recognized the contribution of all of our fellow citizens. If our nation had listened, learned, and recognized the error of our beliefs, and changed our policies long ago, imagine where we might be today. Let’s use Black History Month to celebrate and accept the gifts and talents of all of our citizens.