Three separate incidences within the last twenty-four hours has led me to write this. The difference between the past and history is a matter of records. We know in the past that people of African descent were treated deplorably in the United States; slave narratives, photographs, and videos of the civil rights movement is a history that you can’t deny. Someone may disagree with my definition of past versus history, but that’s how I see it. But the interesting thing about history is that it can be completely skewed when there is only a handful to record it.
I was watching the movie Ironclad last night, movie 227 by the way, it’s about King John’s actions after he signed the Magna Carta. As he takes on the rebellion who are trying to hold on to Rochester castle he has an official recorder with him, who is taking down the story of the great battle. When the rebellion manages a small but important victory, King John tells the recorder to not write it down, going so far as to rip the offending pages out of the book. Many times in the past all reminders of a despised or dishonored leader were destroyed, events that reflected badly on the ruler simply not recorded. If not for an oral retailing or a hiding of artifacts these people and events were simply erased from history.
Righting history’s wrongs
Which brings me to incidence number two, Egypt. At this moment over 500 people have died with thousands injured. I can’t even begin to fathom that level of violence. But this morning I was watching the news and there was a man mourning the death of his brother. He stated that the health ministry wouldn’t release the body to him until he agreed to a death certificate that listed his brother’s cause of death as natural causes, even though clearly it was a bullet to the back of the head. Thankfully his statement is on video that is from a news agency that is not controlled by the people trying to create a history that makes them look good. But the question is twenty, thirty, forty years from now, which version will be saved and which will be lost in the past? I’m not sure which, it’ll probably be a crap shoot, but what I am pretty certain is that for generations to come, the members of this family will tell how this poor soul was felled by a sniper’s bullet.
Filling in the cracks
The third incidence is this week’s premiere of the movie Lee Daniel’s The Butler. I suspect that from early reviews, much like with the movie The Help, people are going to be shocked about this part of American history. To most people, and by that I mean mostly non-african americans, black history in America is slavery and the civil rights movement which was “only” about integration, Jim Crow (which most people can’t define), and voting rights. Just highlights so vague that they feel more like past than history. Anyway, this news anchor was talking that she had got to see and early screening of the film and was shocked, shocked that the black butlers of the White House were paid less and denied advancement for decades. Really?? Did you suspect that even though we couldn’t drink from the same fountains, go to the same schools, or even vote in most places that somehow pay was equal? I guess there is this notion that all these problems were a southern thing and such forward cities as Washington, D.C. wouldn’t be tainted by such things.
But I guess I can’t blame her too much. History textbooks are generally vague Cliffs Notes of the past 200+ years of American history. And to be honest when it comes to racial discrimination, history books are very bias against the south. Now I’m not deny the south was the worst with laws, lynchings, and what have you, but the north’s history isn’t squeaky clean, maybe just more subtle. If you were to cast a net over any black person living in the same time period, north or south they could tell you similar stories to this movie; theirs has just not been recorded in a book or splashed across the big screen.
And that’s my point, we all create history. I’m not talking the big highlights, the rulers, the wars, the great travesties, those get taken care of for the most part. I’m talking stories like the one of the sniper’s victim and the butler, of what it was like to live in those times. Of the small victories and learnings that help us move forward as the human race. Those are what makes history rich, makes us remember it long past regurgitating them on a test or pulling them from the cobwebs of our brain to recite for trivia.
History exists because someone left a reminder
Are you creating history or are you doomed to be in the past? If you are not creating history, start. Why? Because YOUR LIFE STORY IS IMPORTANT. This is not up for debate. You, yes you need to be part of history. Every person lost to the past is a tragedy, even the jerks. Because jerks if nothing else are cautionary tales or you may find knowing their history that you perceived them wrong all along. So I’m going to give you a list of assignments to help you create history. They are for me as well, because I’m just as guilty of forgetting this important task.
- Take a picture (or video) of yourself at least once a month – And please don’t limit it to the bathroom mirror selfie. I know that’s the best lighting in the house but its better if you are remembered for more than good lighting. Take a picture at your favorite local landmark, doing your favorite activity, working, etc. Twenty years from now your photo may be the only lasting memory of your favorite cafe. Now that it so much better than the bathroom mirror isn’t it?
- Now that you have this picture (or video), label it properly, and make more than one copy – Label the digital file, go into the meta data and tell a story of the picture. Print the picture out and attach a post it note, or glue it in a scrapbook or journal and add words. Pretty isn’t important, leaving a record is. With video, include a title screen, burn it to a disk, label the disk as well as the case. Include a card with a synopsis inside the case.
- Share stories and knowledge – Social media and blogs/vlogs are great places to share information, but we don’t have a lot of control over how they are saved, if at all. It is said nothing truly disappears from the internet. That may be true, but how retrievable is that information? If you blog then print out your entries on a regular basis. Considering saving them down to disk or drive as well. But most importantly don’t use just this vehicle to share; tell stories to people face-to-face. You can tell if there listening and your sharing may get them to share in return. They can ask you questions that will help fill in the gaps you didn’t recognize and enrich the history. And besides it’s yet another way to preserve the record. Oral tradition has succeeded when recording devices are lost or destroyed.
- Don’t pick and choose – Do you think that when Anne Frank wrote in her diary she thought that one day it would be translated into 67 languages and reproduced over 30 million times? So include your favorite recipe, your adoration of actors, movies, and shows; don’t hide your tattoos, or scars, or disabilities. How will people know what it was like to live with cancer, or fibromyalgia, or diabetes if they are cured in the future but no one created history about it? Share your crafts, your recipes, your fears, your triumphs; all is important. We can’t predict what’s important to the future, we can only create the history.
Any other suggestions of how to create history? Leave me a comment.