Disrupting Ignorance

The following post was written by Konrad Miller, a member of NAFC.

June 19th, 1865 (Juneteenth) is the date that the last slaves in Galveston, Texas were declared free by General Gordon Grainger.

The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation was not regarded as consequential in Galveston in January of 1863. Black people were kept as slaves in the hope that the Confederate Army would ultimately win the Civil War.  But if you’re reading this, this isn’t news to you. Moreover, there is nothing that I can say about Juneteenth beyond what can be found on Wikipedia or YouTube.

 So why bother writing? 

When asked to write about Juneteenth for this blog, I wasn’t sure I had much to contribute; but on reflection, I realized that I did want to communicate that I believe the core issue underlying the continued enslavement of Africans (and as I will argue, everyone) post Emancipation Proclamation is the same issue we battle with today: Ignorance. I am a black man, but I don’t imagine that my perspective on this particular issue would be different from that of any reasonable person of any race.

“Vanilla” ignorance is just the absence of knowledge and is a case-by-case phenomenon. This is easily combated by the presenting of relevant facts. Willful ignorance is an effort to maintain one’s personal comfort zone by refusing to acknowledge facts that might dislodge them from that zone. It is still a case-by-case phenomenon. I think, however, that as a nation and a people, we have “leveled up” to cultivated ignorance. Cultivated ignorance is “weapons grade” because it literally kills people. This is ignorance that is actively impressed on others. It is integrated into the fabric of our being through different vectors such as media, family dynamics, and selective literature. It swims happily through oceans of evidence to the contrary and is undeterred by logic.

All flavors of ignorance present similarly and pave the way to self-destruction. We tend to treat these very different things as if they were the same. We assume that we are dealing with “vanilla” ignorance and then become frustrated when the mere presence of facts and logic does not defeat it.

During a statement to the Newtown Board Of Education (BOE), Linda O’Sullivan, who is white,  recalled the disapproval she encountered from her family when she dated Black men. That statement struck home with me because my own mother was very clear with me that I should not date Black women. My ex-wife, who is Black, never stood a chance with her. Conversely,  my wife will never fall far afoul of my mother, because she is white. This is cultivated ignorance integrated into my mother’s psyche.

I only found out about Juneteenth a few years ago. I only learned about buck breaking and redlining in the last decade. Underlying all these late life revelations, is the fact that I am subject to the same application of cultivated ignorance as any white person. My ignorance, however, deals a much bigger blow to my American experience than the ignorance of any white person. If you can convince me (or my mother) that we are indeed inferior due to our skin color, the battle is lost. 

The existing narrative that Abraham Lincoln gave slaves their freedom is another example of the application of cultivated ignorance. African freedom was stolen, ravaged, and then returned only as a tangential byproduct of the situation (see Lincoln quotes below).

The conscious application of cultivated ignorance is how slaves were kept submissive. it was illegal to teach slaves to read. The continued application of cultivated ignorance is what allowed slaves to remain slaves after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. The dedicated application of cultivated ignorance is what enslaves most of us today, as demonstrated by the fact that people living in pro-Trump counties are more likely to die from Covid after being repeatedly exposed to misinformation in conversative media. Climate change denial poses a real threat to our planet and the lives of our children and is another example of cultivated ignorance.

Juneteenth to me is only a point marker in time where a particular stream of cultivated ignorance was disrupted. There are many such moments in history, but it seems that the existence of ignorance as an entity is always shielded by any event that disrupts it.

If you are reading this, you are likely involved in or sympathize with NAFC which is focused on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. At its core, DEI is a challenge to cultivated ignorance while the pushback is the expression of cultivated ignorance.

Ignorance is bliss. It is easy on the mind and travels in stealth. There are those who regard a disruption of their ignorance as an attack on their person; and they react in kind. Our fight for the incorporation of DEI into the fabric of our socioemotional norm has far greater consequence than the goals of DEI. A successful combat strategy against cultivated ignorance could save the world.

I am not, nor ever have been, in favor of bringing about in any way the social and political equality of the white and black races—that I am not nor ever have been in favor of making voters or jurors of negroes, nor of qualifying them to hold office, nor to intermingling with white people; and I will say in addition to this that there is a physical difference between the white and black races which will ever forbid the two races living together on terms of social and political equality. And inasmuch as they cannot so live, while they do remain together, there must be the position of superior. I am as much as any other man in favor of having the superior position assigned to the white race.

Abraham Lincoln

My paramount object in this struggle is to save the Union, and is not either to save or to destroy slavery. If I could save the Union without freeing any slave I would do, it, and if I could save it by freeing all the slaves I would do it; and if I could save it by freeing some and leaving others alone I would also do that. What I do about slavery, and the colored race, I do because I believe it helps to save the Union;

Abraham Lincoln