Today, Americans across the country are observing Martin Luther King Day. It’s a moment for reflection and service; for considering the life and legacy of an extraordinary individual; and for recommitting ourselves to the unfinished work he championed. At a time of extraordinary bigotry and violence, Dr. King challenged all Americans to confront our history of racial discrimination, to open our eyes to injustice, and to be intentional about building a better future. His message – of clear-eyed understanding and unlimited possibility – is as resonant today as it was when he lived more than half a century ago.
At Facing History, we stand with educators who are working to disrupt rising white nationalism.
Since the Unite the Right Rally of 2017 in Charlottesville, white nationalist groups have become increasingly visible on the national stage, deepening threats of racial and antisemitic violence across the country. Indeed, these threats are so severe that the Department of Homeland Security prepared draft reports (recently released to the press) indicating that “white supremacist extremists” currently pose the greatest terror threat to the nation.
We have all seen the images of fires burning in my hometown of Minneapolis. Pain and outrage have overflowed in protests resulting from the police killing of George Floyd on Monday of this week. Officer Derek Chauvin, who kept his knee on Floyd's neck, despite his outcry that he couldn't breathe and that they were going to kill him, has now been taken into custody, charged with murder and manslaughter.
Today we will mark the 75th Anniversary of the Liberation of Auschwitz with solemn ceremonies and moments of silence. Let’s also mark the occasion by making an active commitment to disrupting bigotry and hate wherever they are found. Even when we as individuals feel powerless, we can join together in acts of collective democracy as upstanders.
Language can be alienating. Words with strong associations often force us to take positions of opposition, rather than seek understanding. This has happened recently, when detention centers along the U.S.–Mexico border were termed “concentration camps.” The response was foreseeable: the term has become so strongly associated with Nazi deportations and killing centers that any other use of these words can feel insulting. Used in a contemporary context, the words themselves have the power to cause pain, seeming to diminish the suffering of those who experienced or survived the Holocaust.
Commemorated with rituals and traditions, Yom HaShoah—or Holocaust Remembrance Day—helps us pause to focus on the lessons of history—painful, brutal history. In most communities, observations will feature presentations from Holocaust survivors or their children, remembrances in the flesh and—through their stories—living reminders of the exclamation, “Never again!”
The act of voting is the most important contribution every single eligible voter can make to insure the health of our democracy. Yet year after year, a discouraging number of eligible voters choose not to pull the levers of power. In advance of the midterm elections, Facing History CEO Roger Brooks stops to consider the impact of non-voters, and worse, uninformed voters in an OpEd published on CNN.com:
During Shabbat morning services last Saturday, eleven people were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue by a gunman who shouted “All Jews must die” as he opened fire. The gunman is in custody and the FBI is investigating the killings as a hate crime. As we wrote immediately upon hearing the news yesterday, we are heartsick at these antisemitic murders.
At the end of a heart-wrenching week, I want to share my perspective on the ongoing humanitarian crisis unfolding on the southern border of the United States.
As you know, Facing History and Ourselves has devoted our attention and concern to similar debates over immigration, the border, and DACA over the last several years. Yet this latest news compels me to reaffirm one of the most profoundly held values of our organization:
We oppose the dehumanization of any group of people, in any form.
Good arguments are crucial to a healthy American civic life. They provide a means to reckon with difference and sometimes to forge joint solutions. We’re a pluralistic, democratic society — one that encompasses people from all backgrounds and walks of life — and we do not want to embrace only one point of view or approach to making the world a better place. We actually desire thoughtful debate expressed through different viewpoints because a thriving democracy needs good arguments.