"I Learned it From You" by Kevin Douglas Wright
I Learned It From You is the book of the documentary of the same name designed to examine racism and racial segregation in the USA by interviewing six randomly selected men and women born between 1946 and 1953. The participants were asked the same six questions, their answers revealing to Wright that racism exists only because it has been taught.
I am Australian and I found the stories of Maggie, Steven, Gloria, Margie, Miriam and Mike very enlightening. Maggie’s situation, for example, illustrates the extremes to which the thinking went. Her ‘grandmother and her father were both blonde with blue eyes. Her mother was mixed black and Indian with a little Chinese somewhere in the mix. Maggie grew up thinking she was white because so many people around her were white. When history class taught her the one-drop rule— that “to have one drop of black blood makes you black”—she realized and embraced the fact that yes, she was black.’
I am old enough to remember the assassination of Martin Luther King but I confess to refreshing my knowledge of slavery, the consequence of the freeing of millions of slaves after the Civil War – namely, the rise of racial segregation - with more than a little horror. The racial hatred that existed from ‘1877 through the 1950s’ in the USA allowed the ‘kidnapping, torturing, hanging, and burning [of] black people’ without punishment. I teach in a mainstream primary school of 1200 children and I have observed on playground duty that five-year-olds will play with anyone. I can only agree with Wright that this reign of terror in the USA must have been the consequence of education from home and the community.
‘Why would one group of people go through such great efforts to systematically control, separate, terrorize, and oppress another group of people?’ Wright asks. ‘Is there a conspiracy of lies where the goal is to keep groups of people in conflict with each other? Or, is this simply a case where the “people in power” do not want to spend time and money trying to convince everyone that the real reason why they do not like someone’s skin color is simply because they were taught not to like someone because of their skin color?’
My own novel His Most Italian City concerned racism and I wondered, as I was reading Wright’s book, at what point Italian racism against Slavs translated into the murderous hatred that erupted during the dictatorship of Mussolini? With Wright I ask, ‘what is the benefit?’ To Mike’s step-father, from Florida, the benefit of joining the notorious ‘Ku Klux Klan [was] because it opened avenues for his career as a businessman. Loans, government contracts, and official business documents were all given to him merely because he was a Klan man.’
is it only about power and money? I think that there is also a metaphysical
aspect to the answer Wright seeks, as Miriam quotes Nelson Mandela: ‘Good
and evil are always at war with one another.’
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In : Book Reviews
Tags: kevin-douglas-wright racism racial hate ku-klux-klan american-history civil-rights