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  • Writer's pictureHarper Joseph

While We Are All Sleeping By Tracy Eskridge

Updated: Apr 1, 2023

Courtesy of the National Archives

A people without knowledge of their past history, origin, and culture is like a tree without roots.- Marcus Garvey

Winston Churchill once stated, perhaps while pondering the future of his life and legacy, “ For my part, I consider that it will be found much better by all Parties to leave the past to history, especially as I propose to write that history" Churchill was a white male, wealthy, entitled, British( with an American mum), grandson of a Duke, a revered Prime Minister for over 10 years and the beloved leader of the UK as the country was fighting the trifecta nations of fascism during WWII; Germany, Japan and Italy. If one studied Churchill in school, as I did, we learned that he was hailed as the model of democracy and justice. There are countless books ( some of which he wrote) and movies that tell us so. For students studying U.S. history during this period, Churchill was our Franklin Delano Roosevelt; the hero of World War II and one of the valiant figures who saved democracy. We were taught that these two men rescued their countries, almost single-handedly from the scourge of facism, antisemitism and the inhumanity that defined World War II. Conventional history failed to recognize that during this time the British Empire was heavily involved in brutal colonialism most notably in India, the Caribbean and many African nations or that the U.S. during President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s administration was engaged in de facto slavery in the south, the internment of the Japanese in concentration camps ( despite the fact that we were fighting both Italy and Germany in Europe) and barbarous and cruel injustice everywhere else against black citizens denying them every human right imaginable.

The narrative with respect to these two heroes is so emblazoned in our brains that to even suggest that there is another level to this history is akin to blasphemy; not unlike other narratives that we have been fed about the “founding” of this country and the so-called “Founding Fathers”. It has always fascinated me as I watched the newsreels of FDR’s funeral when his casket was being publically transported by train to his final resting place, how scores of black citizens most of whom were being intentionally disenfranchised, kept in poverty, and lynched even after serving bravely during the war, showed up to pay their respects to a former president who had ensured that they would remain second class citizens for generations. The New Deal, which was FDR’s signature legislation during the Depression, for the most part, excluded African Americans, even those who served during World War II. The GI Bill, mother’s pension ( now commonly known as Temporary Aid for Needy Families), housing benefits, farm subsidies and benefits under the Social Security Act were all denied to our Black citizens.

My theory as to why African Americans stood sobbing uncontrollably in those small towns while viewing the casket of the former president stems from the lack of knowledge about what really happened during this era and how these men who we were taught to love and hero worship actually shaped policy that negatively impacted black people’s lives. If we teach history from the perspective of those who have the power to write their own history, as Churchill did, we inevitably educate individuals through a very narrow, distorted and incomplete lens.

Currently, several states within the United States are fighting a war over how much history our students and citizens should learn, know or understand. Ron DeSantis the odious, Ivy league, autocratic governor of Florida whose administration spends more time in the Courts defending his “ anti-woke” agenda than actually governing the state, is a prime example of a powerful leader who seeks to perpetuate a perverted view of history that has served the interests of people like him for centuries. The very characterization of the comprehensive study and understanding of our collective history as being “woke” is in and of itself revealing because the opposite of woke or awake is to be asleep or sleeping. When we are asleep we have no cognitive awareness of our surroundings or what is happening in the world. We can be manipulated in any manner that our leaders choose. These authors of history will be able to tell us what to think, who to vote for ( if we are permitted to vote) who is a criminal, who should be a slave, who should be free, how a woman's body should be controlled, how we define ourselves and which books to burn. So, make no mistake, Desantis and all those who sail with him intend to ensure that citizens of the State of Florida and, if he is elected President, the entire country, remain or become ignorant to safeguard their power over our lives. This power will be unencumbered. In fact, if this type of leader is successful, while we are all sleeping they can remain in power in perpetuity. Perhaps the somnambulant citizens will even cry over DeSantis’ casket someday when the anti-woke leader is laid to rest. Therefore, our leaders can as Malcolm X once said “.....put your mind right in a bag, and take it wherever they want.”

As we have more information about the world around us and our shared history, we need to, as Citizens, address the misconceptions and misunderstandings surrounding our history and correct the record, We must also recognize that the United States has not always been that shining city on the hill but instead a very tarnished hamlet in a world with a lot of work to do.

Courtesy of the National Archives

Courtesy of the National Archives

Courtesy of the National Archives

Courtesy of the National Archives

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