Friday, March 03, 2006

Name a history. Any history.

Just ahead of me in the Post Office line today, a 30-something African-American woman was buying stamps. The clerk handed her a page with a first-class image of Hattie McDaniel and she squinted as she studied it.

"Who's this?" she asked.

"That's Hattie McDaniel," the clerk -- also black -- told her.

"What'd she do?"

The clerk's eyebrows went up slightly.

"She's the first black woman to win an Oscar."

"An Oscar? I'll be," said the customer. "What movie?"

"Gone with the Wind."

"I'll be," said the customer, who started to leave, but then turned back with one last question. "Wasn't Black History Month last month?"

~~~~~~~~~~~

It's not a black thing. Americans aren't strong on their history. It doesn't matter if you want to talk about ethnic histories, war histories, state histories or politcial histories, only a relative handful will grasp the salient points.

Last March for Texas History Month, we surveyed more than 100 Texas-educated people of all ages with 10 basic questions about the state's colorful history (which is required curriculum in public schools.) The average person got only five correct. That's won't exactly earn a gold star. In fact, it's an F in most schools.

"If you don't know where you've been, you have no identity and you can't make good decisions about your present or your future," said Mary Kelley, assistant professor of history at Lamar University.

Love the history you've got, folks. It's the only one you'll have.

5 comments:

Chancelucky said...

I generally agree, but I don't think not knowing who Hattie McDaniel is would be quite on a par with not knowing the contents of the first amendment or say not knowing Ida Wells Barnett or Sojourner Truth.

Love, Rita said...

You make several excellent points. Someone famous (I forget who...history was never my strong subject) once said, "History forgotten is history repeated."

And hasn't our own President Bush forgotten some history, as well? (Admittedly, however, the situation in Iraq--while bearing some striking similarity--is NOT Vietnam.) His nebulous "war on terror" has the potential to drag on for decades...and to what end?

You see, We cannot force American-style democracy on a culture who has known nothing but civil unrest and in-fighting for many CENTURIES! Every year this war drags on is another year that will find our resources stretched and weakened.

Patty said...

Hello Ron
I have to disagree with Chance. The black folks have an entire month to celebrate history. As a native American (Red) person I don't have that. Every one wants to appease everyone that screams and whines they want their fair share.
We do have what was written and rewritten by penny writers. The most precious thing as Red people we have is our elders handing down oral history and now bits and pieces being placed in museums. Don't even start with the BIA having any thing organized. Washington politicians can't even find the billions of dollars that was taken from there. The BIA haave scattered the written records to the four winds.
As for democracy it was in this nation before the whites came here. Check the facts and history
on the Iroquois Nations. There is facinating history written before the founding fathers started penning. This was recorded by early pilgrams. Originaly the Middle East was civilized and they did have free peoples. As for this war I want the fighting over there and not here on my door step. I can't imagine going to the post office and being blown up cause someone wanted to kill Americans and could.

Ron Franscell said...

During a conversation about Black History Month, somebody in our office said, "Indians don;t have a month." Somebody else jumped in: "Yes, they do!"

In fact, November is Native American History Month. Without question, it doesn't get the same media attention, but that's more a matter of numbers than insensitivity, I think.

There's also an Asian American History Month (October), Hispanic Heritage Month (Sept. 15 to Oct. 15), and European American History Month (October.)

You didn't think the various ethnic and racial lobbies were gonna let such a thing slide, did you?

Chancelucky said...

I'm not sure I said anything that needed to be disagreed with. Though one can imply things online that one never intended.

My only point was that unless I were a member of Hattie McDaniels's family, it shouldn't bother most people that she's not remembered all that well. I felt the other two women I mentioned would make much better candidates for postage stamps if they haven't had them already.

I"m all for more Native American history though I confess that I haven't been able to make it through all twelve hours of Into the West.