This is a year like no other.

We just celebrated another holiday under a pandemic, with all of the restrictions, not being able to do what we want, go where we want, eat where we want, recreate where we want. Schools, libraries, beaches, swimming pools, movie theaters, and public gatherings are closed to us. The pandemic won’t let us live the way we want to live. Many can’t wait for things to get back to “normal”.

Some of us are learning about the restrictions of a pandemic for the first time. Yet communities of color have been living with the pandemic of racism for decades, centuries actually, being restricted daily on where and how to live, where and how to travel, where and how to gather, just to survive.

Our country cannot afford to go back to “normal.” We whites need to learn about the history of our country not told in the history books. Native American history is part of U.S. history. So, too, is the history of African Americans, Latinx Americans, Chinese Americans, and all Americans. U.S. history is more than just European American history.

It is time to educate ourselves on our collective history.

The Fourth of July is a celebration of the birth of the United States, when our founding fathers declared:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Yet, it would be nearly two centuries later that some Americans could actually hope for those words to be true.

Janesville Access Television periodically shows a keynote address by Dr. Jacqueline Battalora from the 2019 YWCA Rock County Racial Justice Conference, entitled “Going Back to Go Forward”, which I encourage you to watch. The former Chicago police officer explains how whiteness is baked into the DNA of our country. One of the keynotes for this year’s upcoming racial justice conference is author James Loewen, who will present on American history not shared in textbooks as well as on sundown towns.

Recent current events have started the education process for many white Americans on our shared past. Juneteenth, (June 19, 1865) also called Freedom Day, Jubilee Day and Liberation Day, has been celebrated for over 150 years by African Americans. It was the day the last slaves held in bondage were freed in Texas, a full two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Join the YWCA and the Elite Ladies of Beloit in June 2021 for our local Juneteenth celebration.

You have now heard of the events in Tulsa in 1921, whites destroying black Wall Street, at that time the wealthiest black community in the U.S. Yet Tulsa was not an isolated incident concerning the destruction of black-owned property. Inform yourself about Memphis 1892; Springfield, Illinois, 1908; Chicago 1919. The list continues.

Polls say the majority of Americans support Black Lives Matter. Are you aware there is no national hierarchy for this organization? It is member led at the local level. Want to learn more about BLM? Join us Aug. 20 as the Diversity Action Team and YWCA Rock County host a program on Black Lives Matter.

As we come out from the COVID-19 pandemic, there are hopeful signs that we may be stepping out from the racism pandemic. The NFL announced that before the football games the first week of the season the black national anthem will be played. Did you know there was a black national anthem? “Lift Every Voice and Sing” has been sung for well over 100 years! It was first performed in 1900 by segregated school children in Florida in honor of Abraham Lincoln’s birthday. I challenge you to learn the words prior to the start of the NFL season and sing along.

It is past time to educate ourselves on our collective shared American history. The information is readily accessible, including local programs right here in Rock County.

Bear in mind, when you know better, you need to do better.

Vicki Brown is the YWCA Rock County racial justice coordinator.