A variation on a quote attributed to George Santayana who was a philosopher I commend to you. There is another equal and opposite suggestion that those who learn from history are also doomed to repeat it, but I don’t know who lays claim to that one. I am fairly sure that history does repeat itself and in economics, there is a theory that we learn the lessons of our parents but not our grandparents. This results in a 60-year cycle between depressions. So 1929 then 1989, except it was a couple of years late. In between you get the 30-year cycles, so we are due for a recession but I think our recent obsession has pretty much guaranteed a full-blown depression.
Yet before it even gets started, just as the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand precipitated WW1, so we get the unlawful killing of George Perry Floyd sparking a frenzied series of riots and demonstrations around the world, complete with statue daubing and dunking. I certainly sympathise with the anti-racist sentiment, supposedly behind these mass demonstrations, but not with those using them as an excuse for unrelated violence and attacks on private and public property, the police and authority in general.
We cannot rewrite history. We can recognise that it is the victors who write it and we can, over time, seek to get a better perspective of the truth and the circumstances that gave rise to it. Statues are symbols of the time in, or immediately after, which they were created. They tell us a good deal about what was deemed right, wrong and praiseworthy or memorable at the time. Unfortunately, like perhaps any other artistic medium, the passage of time makes their interpretation more difficult. It is difficult to understand poetry a century after it was written; language changes, we might need help.
The US Civil War was 1861 to 65 and essentially about slavery. It took another century to get to Martin Luther King being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 for peacefully protesting racial inequality. Yet after both King and Kennedy had been assassinated and LBJ had become 36th POTUS and determined to push through Kennedy’s equal rights legislation and the space race that things started to change. In NASA at the time, the highly skilled computers…yes, computers, they were people; black women who still had to use segregated toilets! We are talking about 50 years ago.
Here we are, 2020, mid-Covid and pre-depression, a century and a half since the US Civil War and a black person in the US is 2.5 times more likely to be arrested than a white person. You should be shocked but I seriously doubt that you are.
Nobody, at least to my knowledge and in public, claims to be a racist. Racism today is not “in your face”, it is the sum total of a thousand small biases. Biases that include our expectations of ourselves and of others. I recently saw it expressed this way. Black people are under represented in all the things which are beneficial and over represented in all the things which are damaging. Those things are absolutely everything. Everything from professions such as medicine and law to healthcare to education or having both parents participate in upbringing their children. Just look at the data on Covid deaths to find blacks and Asians disproportionately represented. From earnings to health everything is unequal…still. And it is unequal everywhere.
We are or were not prepared to accept Covid deaths as part of a normal cycle of the world; but we are prepared to accept insidious, omnipresent racism keeping the black man enslaved. Why?
If you really want this to change, we all have to change. We are still a long way from equality with women’s rights. It is even further with racism and it needs affirmative action.
A start would be for authorities to proactively remove inappropriate, by which I mean racially offensive, statues to museums where their context and historical relevance can be fully explained to better understand the history of their time. But it needs more than removing the perceived icons of worship; it needs positive measures at all levels of civilised society. Board rooms are required to work to remove gender bias but we should be striving to remove all bias. It’s very difficult.
It took until 2017 for NASA to dedicate the Katherine G Johnson Computational Facility at its Langley HQ. She died in February 2020 aged 101. She was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Obama in 2015.
She was black, brilliant, hard-working and key to the success of the space program. It took 45 years to be recognised as such. That’s bias.
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