I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
In February, the United States and Canada share a common observance, a rare thing between our two countries, but a welcome one particularly in this case. February is Black History Month, and it is a time to not just look to the past to find astonishing heroes and heroines that have changed the world as we know it, but a time to assess where we now sit in relation to our goals for understanding and harmony between all persons. This post will feature images of items available right now on Etsy that are particularly evocative as we look at Black History Month, and remember our shared history, and equally importantly, our shared future, for our children, and for our children’s children.
Black History Month is a time to recognize that we share more with our fellow man than we can possibly imagine, and that the differences are the things that make us unique and special in this world. It was Edmund Burke who first said, “Those who don’t know history are destined to repeat it.” Burke, a British Statesman and Philosopher, may have said it in the 1700s, but it is just as true today as it ever was. Ignoring our history, weather it be triumphant or traumatic, only serves to allow us to repeat our mistakes in ignorance. When you know better, you do better. This month’s celebrations are not about placing blame on any person or persons, they are about the strength of the human spirit to survive the most bleak of circumstances, and to show us that we are all capable of great acts of bravery when push comes to shove.
I am not black, I am not a visible minority, unless you consider being female as a minority, statistically it is not. I consider myself instead an “Invisible Minority”. I am a Jewish woman, and though I am not orthodox in my observances, I do self identify as a Jew. That means that people who meet me in my professional life often assume I am not Jewish. I have been present when people I consider to be friends have used derogatory terms, even absent-mindedly, in reference to the Jewish people. I was once discussing a shopping trip with a group of fellow nurses when a male nurse over 15 years my senior, stated, “How did you get a deal like that? Did you Jew them down?”
It is a very difficult experience to explain if you have never been a party to it. It is a bit like being slapped in the face by an invisible hand. It stings, but it goes deeper, it wounds something inside you. When you realize that this type of thinking is usually something learned early in life from one’s parents or peers, that it takes generations to change the thinking behind it, and that the subsequent slur is often uttered without any conscious intent to wound. I can say that I myself, until that day, had not really examined my own use of certain terms. That single experience was so shocking to me, so life altering, that I cannot help but shudder to imagine the experience of those who face open hostility and violence based on their religion or skin colour, their heritage, sexuality, or race.
When I was a child trading toys with my little friends, we used the term “Indian Giver” quite freely, meant as the ultimate put down for those who took back what they had traded. My mother pointed out to me at a young age that it was a hateful and ignorant thing to say, and I am grateful to her for it. I know that into my early twenties I was using the term “Gyped” to describe a situation where I felt I had been cheated out of money. It was only after realizing that the term actually referred to a Gypsy transaction, and in light of my own experience with a similar term involving my heritage, that I eradicated the term from my vocabulary. It now brings a great deal of shame to my heart to know that I may have offended someone with my thoughtless and ignorant remarks.
I am in no way a student of Black History, I have learned what I know from reading books, watching television documentaries, and through my general education. I wish I was able to give you a concise history of Black America and Canada, but I cannot claim that expertise. What I can do is speak from my heart, and hopefully reach yours, and say that as I know better, I try to do better, I can say that it is an ongoing process, and one we can all take part in. Racism, bigotry, and racial intolerance is one of the last unspoken taboos in our culture. We often are so uncomfortable with our history, we choose to ignore it. We are more comfortable discussing sexual harassment, violence, and practically anything else in order to prevent us dealing with racial tension.
I selected the images and items to showcase in this post very carefully, for a variety of reasons. Some are obviously connected to Black History Month, featuring iconic images and persons, while other are less obviously so. As for the photographs, where some might only see the face of a black man or woman, I see the image, but also see the sameness in experience. Who hasn’t taken a picture of a young man about to ship off to war, of a family around a dinner table during the holiday time, or held on to pictures of their ancestors long after the names and connections have gone a bit fuzzy. That is the beauty of Etsy, you can find the most amazing things, no matter what you are looking for.
In the United States they call their society “A Great Melting Pot”, in Canada, we call it “Multiculturalism”, in both cases, there are groups that remain marginalized for a variety of reasons, and that is our reality, and our failure. Use this Black History Month to examine your own experiences, how can you do better for your family and by your neighbor. I start with me, I can only change me, but I hope that by example I can show my young nieces and nephew that all people have value, no matter their colour, creed, or religion. We need to be a part of our community, and by extension our world, by interacting with others. We, each of us, need to develop an appreciation of our differences and dream of a day when no single person ever feels the sting of racism and ignorance again. Martin Luther King Jr. made the saying “I have a dream” famous, but each and every one of us should all have a dream of our own, and leave a legacy of love behind when we are gone, just like Martin Luther King Jr. did.
Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.
– Martin Luther King, Jr.
The image that heads this post, and the one above are the work of a very talented photographer named Aesha Ash, whose Etsy Shop “Swan Dreams – A Shop With A Cause” features many such beautiful images. The reason I wanted to leave a little special note at the bottom of this post, is because a portion of the proceeds from the sale of these stunning images goes towards organizations that endeavor to bring the beauty and benefits of ballet to children and youth in under-served communities. One of my nieces is currently studying classical ballet with a teacher who was herself trained in the exacting Russian Schools of Ballet. At first, my niece was having trouble with the strict attention to minor details and the constant correction of her form, but at some point, it clicked with her. She now sees constructive criticism as a means of making her better, of making her the best she can be. For a nine-year old girl, I have seen the amazing effect that has had on everything else she does in her life, from daily homework to her downhill skiing, and it is a wonderful thing. I find the work of the group that Aesha‘s work supports, The Swan Dreams Project, to be truly inspiring. All children need to find the thing that makes life magical and beautiful, and teaches them to reach for the stars. Please follow the link to Aesha’s Etsy Shop to see more and learn how you can support this project.
|A Class Full Of Lovely 9 Year Old Ballerinas To Be. [One of Which Happens To Be My Niece].
Note: All Images and Items In The Post Are The Intellectual Property of and Copyright by Their Creators/Owners and The Respective Etsy Shop. Please Follow The Link Under The Image for More Information. No Infringement is Intended.