Hidden Figures Hidden Histories

Edith-GuffeyThere’s publication in the UCC entitled Hidden Histories; http://www.ucc.org/about-us_hidden-histories edited by Barbara Brown Zikmund. Barbara is a retired historian of the United Church of Christ, and also former president of Hartford Seminary. Hidden Histories tell the many untold stories of racial and ethnic communities and “strands” beyond the Congregational and Evangelical and Reformed denominations that have influenced and helped to shape the United Church of Christ. In the editor’s introduction Zikmund talks about “historical orthodoxy” You can read the entire article about historical orthodoxy here, http://www.ucc.org/about-us_hidden-histories_beyond-historical-orthodoxy but in short, she explains how history is framed through oft repeated patterns of interpretation that over time become the prevailing norm. Zigmund goes on to state “some parts of the history are lost forever when only half the story is told. Certain individuals and groups remain invisible. After a time, they seem to have never existed or certain events seem to have never happened. The histories of women and of many racial and ethnic groups do not fit into the scope of historical orthodoxy, and they are forgotten or selectively remembered.”

The church and the UCC in particular is not alone in this “historical orthodoxy” and I was reminded of this when I went to see the movie Hidden Figures. If you haven’t seen it, I hope you will. It’s a great movie about the role of African American women in the space program. It’s well acted, an incredible story, and has sort of a happy ending. There’s no need for a spoiler alert here, we all know that the US space program has had many successes over the years. What we haven’t known about is the role of African American women behind the scenes. So in a way, I was thrilled to see the movie and applaud the story.

But I was also irritated, unsettled, maybe even a little angry. How long has it been since that story happened? Why is it just now being told? And I wonder how many more stories and accomplishments of women and African Americans remain hidden and untold? Is it just NASA or is it only in the areas of math and science? Probably not; I suspect this “historical orthodoxy” is quite prevalent. My guess is that NASA did not intentionally buy crestor in uk hide or not tell the story of the African American women that we see in the movie. My guess is they never gave it a second thought because then and sadly now too often persons of color are simply invisible to many. Allowing others to be or making others invisible (intentionally or not) can be part of the privilege that so many enjoy in our country even at the expense of others.

This is Black History Month and while I agree with so many that Black History is not something that should be relegated to one month in the year, but celebrated as part of our history all year long, the truth is that historical orthodoxy still prevails. Black History Month is an effort to highlight some of the untold, forgotten or hidden histories of our country and the contributions of African Americans that have been crucial in building this country. But if we really want to make a difference long term, we have to find ways to stop the often unconscious exclusion of the histories and experiences of persons of color in our country, our society our own communities, and yes our own churches. That’s a hard thing to do when much of our lives are so racially segregated. That is especially true for our sisters and brothers in the Conferences of the UCC that we call the West Central Region (Northern Plains, South Dakota, Iowa, Minnesota, Missouri Mid-South and Kansas-Oklahoma). But that doesn’t let us off the hook; groups of people are invisible because we allow them to be or maybe even unintentionally make them invisible. We can change that wherever we are; we can explore, claim and acknowledge white privilege that feeds historical orthodoxy and begin to reject that narrative. We can commit to going to movies that tell stories of persons of color, reading books, and poetry and exploring art, teaching our children history beyond the dominant culture. There are so many steps that can be taken to let go of assumptions and stereotypes and fully embrace and celebrate the gifts, contributions and history of all. That is how Black History Month can endure and become a year long, hopefully lifelong celebration.

—Edith Guffey, Conference Minister of Kansas-Oklahoma Conference

 

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