I once went to a seminar for teachers in which the presenter, a classroom teacher herself, told the participants about a new way of teaching English to students whose home language is different. The point she was making seemed simple, and the presenter knew that a lot of participants in the room were figuratively beating themselves over the head for not thinking of it for themselves. “It’s OK if you didn’t know this before,” she consoled us, “but now you know, and you’ll do it differently next time.” She was right. Maya Angelou’s advice is the same.
We now know that racist remarks and behaviors are wrong. Well, some of us do, anyway, and we try our best to be conscious of our words and actions so that we don’t slip back into bad habits. We know that black slavery was wrong, and that we have a whole history of forcibly separating families, physical, emotional and mental abuse, and denial of basic human dignities that needs to be properly processed. We know better, but are we doing better? Sure, it’s no longer legal to own black people as slaves, and we have even integrated them into the public schools with whites and kids of other races, sometimes forcibly. Technically, blacks have the right to do anything a white person can, but they still bear the brunt of racial profiling and harassment, some of which still gets by under the radar. Will the recent media attention on racial profiling in places like Arizona and New York City help us to know better and do better? Is what we are doing now the best we can do?
We know that the U.S. government’s treatment of Native Americans was horrendous, and that no amount of money will ever fully atone for the lands we took away, the languages now dying and dead that we forbade them to speak, and the spiritual ceremonies we forbade them to practice, some of which are lost forever. Actions such as the takeover at Wounded Knee in 1973 (I’m speaking of the protest action, not the original Wounded Knee massacre in 1890) and more recently, the various protest actions by grassroots organizations such as Idle No More are bringing public attention to the ongoing plight of Native Americans and First Nations peoples, but once again, even though we know more, are we doing any better?
What about gun control? We know that there are responsible gun owners out there, but we hear story after story about emotionally unstable individuals who get a gun somehow and shoot up dozens of people in public places, or people with an ax to grind, who go to their former place of employment or their ex-spouse’s home, bent on revenge. How many more innocents have to die before we figure out a way to avoid more bloodshed?
We learned in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq that we can’t really solve other countries’ problems for them, and yet our government is still considering intervention in Syria. We know better, but are we really doing any better? 😦