Georgia – Days 5-6: Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr., and Fighting for Social Justice*

Brittany Swanson   December 28, 2015   Comments Off on Georgia – Days 5-6: Atlanta, Martin Luther King Jr., and Fighting for Social Justice*

*This post contains some sensitive material and violent imagery and parental discretion is advised for children.

My first night in Atlanta started with two Harry Potter movies and pizza. Need I say more?

The following morning I headed to Julianna’s Coffee and Crepes which Becca had recommended the night before. Such a good decision. My Nutella and strawberry crepe totally hit the spot.

After breakfast I went downtown and wandered through Centennial Olympic Park. Then I went to the Center for Civil and Human Rights. Earlier in the week Darbi had told me the Center had a sit-in counter simulator and I was really interested in that. Within the first few minutes I could tell this museum was going to be way better than any of the other historical museums I’d been to so far.

For the sit-in simulator, I sat at a bar stool and donned the provided headphones. I placed my hands, palms down, fingers spread, on the outlines on the counter top. I closed my eyes, as suggested, and allowed myself to be transported to the 1960s.

I hear a loud rowdy group enter the room. A man yells in my ear. He calls me a nigger and demands I leave. The table beneath my hands shakes as I hear the person next to me get dragged out of their seat. The man who yelled in my ear comes around to my other side. He shakes the stool I’m on as he calls me boy and his voice becomes louder and angrier. I can tell he’s becoming unhinged. Who knew my mere presence could make someone lose it like that? The man continues screaming at me and I take solace knowing its a simulation, knowing he can’t pull me out of my seat by my hair, because he’s not really there and I’m not really here. I take deep breaths and try to remain calm. My heart is racing. Every time he calls me boy, I remember: I’m not a boy. This isn’t real. If it was, I’d probably be dead already.

The sounds fade and I keep my eyes closed, fighting back tears. My experience might not have been real, but it was for some people. How can people be so vicious? How can people be so brave? I don’t know how the activists did it. I’m not sure I would’ve been able to. The museum had videos of real sit-ins – people younger than me being dragged by their hair from a counter, just like the one I sat at. Unbelievable. And then my mind shifts to this and this. Not much has changed in the last fifty years. Only today young black people aren’t silently protesting the injustices in the world around them, they’re just trying to survive. They’re trying not to become a statistic and trying to succeed in a system setting them up to fail. Don’t believe me? Check out this short history lesson and if you’re really crunched for time start it at 1:50.

Later in the Center for Civil and Human Rights I had a chance to read Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech which was hauntingly relevant to today. The following day I explored MLK’s National Historic Site and had the opportunity to visit the Tubman Museum of African American Art, History, and Culture, in Macon, GA. At the Tubman Museum I learned that many inventions attributed to white people were first designed by or heavily influenced by the inventions of African Americans. For example, Lewis Howard Latimer created the carbon filament which Thomas Edison needed to create the light bulb, since his own paper filament kept burning out. Who knew? Not me.

Racism is not dead, it’s just hiding. Hiding in our history books and museums presenting a one-sided look at the past. Hiding in our media and its portrayals of people of color. Hiding in our prison system, overwhelmed by people of color, incarcerated for non-violent drug offenses. Hiding in our hearts as we tense up every time we see a black kid in a hoodie. Hiding in our mouths every time we use the word ghetto without truly understanding what it means or where it comes from. Hiding in our minds as we claim colorblindness.

So today I challenge you to see racism. To call it out and name it for what it is. Ask what our children are learning in school and ensure it isn’t one-sided. Notice the predominantly white cast of the movie or tv show you’re watching tonight and ask why? Look for the laws and policies that target people of color and demand they change. When you tense up the next time you see a black person on the street, stop and ask yourself why and remind yourself that they are somebody’s brother and son, someone’s student and someone’s friend. When someone around you uses the term ghetto ask them what they mean and if they know where the term comes from. Don’t shrug your shoulders and claim colorblindness, it’s much more harmful than you realize. Say something, because as Martin Luther King Jr. said in his I Have A Dream speech, “Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Not sure what to say? I recommend starting here.