David W. Marshal

By David W. Marshall

(Trice Edney Wire) – At the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, the United States won 56 medals, 14 of which were by black athletes. Jesse Owens dominated the Olympics by becoming the first person in Olympic track history to win four gold medals at once. It’s a story 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 done in the presence of Adolf Hitler, who intended to use the Games as a showcase to promote white people as the “master race”. For most people, their knowledge of Jesse Owens usually ends at this point. While the story involving people of color can be uncomfortable at times, the entire Jesse Owens story can be uncomfortable for different people for different reasons.

The topic of ‘discomfort’ continues to expand in terms of how history is taught in the classroom and how diversity is addressed in the workplace. In Florida, there is pending legislation that would prohibit public schools and private companies from making white people feel “discomfort” when teaching students or training employees about discrimination in the nation’s past. It’s impossible not to notice how the “discomfort” felt by people of color is overlooked. “Discomfort” has such a broad meaning. For example, consider President Franklin Roosevelt’s response to Jesse Owens, a national hero at the time. The answer should give both white people and people of color “unease.” As a black person, it bothers me that each of the white Olympians has been officially recognized and invited to the White House to meet with FDR, but not Jesse Owens and the other black Olympians. Owens received no congratulatory telegrams and there were no invitations to the White House to meet the president personally. My personal “discomfort” stems from a basic lack of respect for people of color throughout history. With him there is a feeling of fatigue, disappointment and exhaustion. Unlike the “unease” that many white people seek to avoid, it is important that my type of “unease” never be buried under the false characterization of Critical Race Theory, or CRT. To have compassion and empathy for people who are unlike you, you need to hear their stories and the pain that accompanies them.

People need to know the hurt inflicted on Owens by FDR’s snub. People should know that years later, Barack Obama met with the families of black athletes from the 1936 Olympics 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 hatred that people of color face against white nationalists today. Most importantly, today’s black and brown youth need to fully understand the history behind the current racial tensions they will constantly face. They must do so by following the example of excellence of Jesse Owen. Excellence not only in sport, but also in the classroom, in the workplace and at home. Referring to his experience in Berlin, Owens said: “I had spent my whole life watching my father and my mother and my older siblings trying to escape their own kind of Hitler, first by Alabama then Cleveland, and all I wanted Now was my chance to run as fast and jump as far as I could so I never had to look back If only I could win those golds, I thought to myself “I, the Hitlers of the world wouldn’t make sense to me. For anyone, maybe.”

The proposed bill, titled “Individual Liberty,” is completely one-sided in considering only the perspective of the white person. The governor and Republican lawmakers in Florida fail to recognize the wide range of feelings and emotions black people sometimes have with the story. They may not see how all people of color draw on the strength of their ancestors when the pain, grief and anger of the past propels hope, encouragement and motivation for the future. This is what Jesse Owens teaches us when we consider his whole story. Franklin Roosevelt is considered one of our nation’s greatest presidents. As a result, people who support this legislation are the type to feel uneasy about FDR’s image being tarnished. They may also feel uncomfortable that this becomes another example of white racism, which people would rather not have called out. That it was Barack Obama, of all presidents, who corrected FDR’s negligence may cause some people “unease”. The bill says, among other things, “that an individual, because of his race and his sex, is not responsible for the acts committed in the past by other members of the same race or of the same sex. An individual should not be made to feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress because of their race.

The term “discomfort” is so broad that it has a different meaning and understanding for everyone. It would be a law that could be used for malicious purposes at any time. The hypocrisy is crystal clear. The political motivation behind this current legislation is the exact type of racism from the past that they are trying to run away from and hide.


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