As our country is engaged in a national discussion about race, history and justice, The World-Herald is providing space in our normal editorial space for commentary from the local black community. Terrie Jackson Miller is an adjunct professor in the Department of Black Studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha.
As a black studies professor at a local university, on the first day of class I introduce four things:
1. Epistemologies, ontologies and axiologies. When any group within a large, complex civilization significantly dominates the other groups for hundreds of years, the ways of the dominate group not only become the dominant ways of that civilization, but also these ways become so deeply embedded that they typically are seen as “natural” or appropriate norms rather than as historically evolved social constructions. In other words, much of what we experience are not laws but the social constructions of the dominant group.
2. Culture. A shared, learned, symbolic system of values, beliefs and attitudes that shapes and influences perception and behavior. (Case in point: For many black Americans, “The Star-Spangled Banner” does not have the same meaning as it does for others. If we are to reconcile as a country, perhaps it is time to choose another national anthem more reflective of all citizens, such as “God Bless America.”)
3. Lens. The meaning we assign to everything turns into a filter through which we view the world, such as walking while black or driving while black. (Case in point: 38% of black respondents and 77% of white respondents trust local police and law enforcement to look out for the best interests of them and their family.)
4. White privilege. Hidden benefits that white people possess in a society where racism is prevalent and whiteness is considered normal. A Public Pulse writer recently wrote, “We live in a great country even though some fail to see that. So stop complaining about what you don’t have and start to work to build a better life, because it’s not my responsibility to give you a better life; that’s your responsibility.” I am part of the long legacy of family who believes in higher education, which for us is inclusive of 30-plus bachelor’s and master’s degrees and doctorates. Though we rose above the circumstances and roadblocks, it did not keep us from experiencing discrimination, bias, prejudice and institutional racism.
African American history cannot be understood except in the broader context of American history. American history cannot be understood without African American history. It is time for white America to be quiet, listen and learn, because we are all in this together from the young to the old. It is time we all begin to understand, appreciate and embrace all races and ethnicities that make up our great city, state and country.
Young women and men of all races and ethnicities are showing us it is beyond time to make a change. That will only happen when we recognize that past norms are no longer acceptable.