By David W. Marshall | Trice Edney Wire
OPINION (TriceEdneyWire.com) – During the 1936 Berlin Summer Olympics, the United States won 56 medals, 14 by Black athletes. Jesse Owens dominated the Olympics by becoming the first person ever in Olympic track history to win four gold medals at one time. This is history that all Americans—regardless of race—can be proud of. Not only did Owens set world records in the 100- and 200 -meter sprints, the long jump, and the 400-meter relay, but It was all accomplished in the presence of Adolf Hitler, who intended to use the Games as a showcase to promote whites as the “master race.” For most people, their knowledge of Jesse Owens usually ends at that point. While history involving people of color can at times be uncomfortable, the Jesse Owens story in its entirety can bring discomfort to different people for different reasons.
The subject of “discomfort” continues to widen in scope concerning how history is taught in the classroom and how diversity is discussed throughout the workplace. In Florida, there is pending legislation that would prohibit public schools and private businesses from making white people feel “discomfort” when they teach students or train employees about discrimination in the nation’s past. It is impossible not to notice how the “discomfort” experienced by people of color is omitted. “Discomfort” has such a broad meaning. For example, consider the response from President Franklin Roosevelt to Jesse Owens, a national hero at the time. The response should give both whites and people of color “discomfort.” As a Black person, it bothers me that each of the white Olympians was formally recognized and invited to the White House to meet FDR, but not Jesse Owens and the other Black Olympians. Owens received no telegram of congratulations, and there was no invitation to the White House to personally meet the president. My personal ‘discomfort” comes from a basic lack of respect displayed to people of color throughout history. With it, there is a sense of being weary, disappointed, and exhausted. Unlike the “discomfort” many whites seek to avoid, it is important that my type of “discomfort” is never buried under the false characterization of critical race theory, or CRT. To have compassion and empathy for others who don’t look like you, you need to hear their stories and the suffering that comes with them.
People need to know the hurt inflicted on Owens by FDR’s snub. People need to know that years later, Barack Obama met with the families of the Black athletes from the 1936 Olympic Games and gave them the proper presidential recognition not offered by FDR. People need to know that the racial superiority promoted by Adolf Hitler in 1936 is the same hate people of color face today from white nationalists. Most importantly, today’s Black and brown youth need to fully understand the history behind the current racial tensions they will constantly face. They need to do so by following Jesse Owen’s example of excellence. Excellence not just in sports but also in the classrooms, workplace, and home. In referring to his experience in Berlin, Owens said: “I’d spent my whole life watching my father and mother and older brothers and sisters trying to escape their own kind of Hitler, first in Alabama and then in Cleveland, and all I wanted now was my chance to run as fast and jump as far as I could so I’d never have to look back. If I could just win those gold medals, I said to myself, the Hitlers of the world would have no more meaning for me. For anyone, maybe.”
The proposed bill, called “Individual Freedom,” is totally one-sided in only considering the white person’s perspective. The governor and Republican lawmakers in Florida are not acknowledging the wide range of feelings and emotions Black people sometimes have with history. They may not see how all people of color draw from the strength of their ancestors when the pain, hurt, and anger of the past propels hope, encouragement, and motivation for the future. This is what Jesse Owens teaches us when we consider his entire story. Franklin Roosevelt is regarded as one of our nation’s greatest presidents. As a result, people who support this legislation are the type who may feel uncomfortable with FDR’s image being tarnished. They may also feel uncomfortable with this becoming another example of white racism, which people prefer not to have exposed. That it was Barack Obama of all presidents who corrected FDR’s neglect may bring “discomfort” to some people. The proposed bill says in part, “that an individual, by virtue of his or her race and sex, does not bear responsibility for the actions committed in the past by other members of the same race or sex. An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish, or any other form of psychological distress on the account of his or her race.”
The term “discomfort” is so broad that it has a different meaning and understanding to everyone. This would be a law that could be used for malicious intent at any given time. The hypocrisy is crystal clear. The political motivation behind this current legislation is the exact type of racism from the past they are trying to run away from and hide.
David W. Marshall is the founder of the faith-based organization TRB: The Reconciled Body and author of the book “God Bless Our Divided America.” He can be reached at www.davidwmarshallauthor.com