The 135th anniversary of the Fancy Farm Picnic was held Aug. 1 and much has changed since its inception. The rally, which is generally regarded as the beginning of the fall campaign season, has grown from a mostly local affair to a mass and social media-fueled one of national importance.
But this year, the reach of the event was not the only notable milestone. As emcee Matt Jones rushed to point out, we were witnessing history that Saturday as Jenean Hampton, the lieutenant governor nominee on the Republican ticket, became the first black woman ever to speak onstage at Fancy Farm.
Without a doubt, the achievement is notable. Though this country is more than 230 years old and prides itself on a bias toward freedom and civil rights, Hampton's status of equality has never been a given. This Fancy Farm did not provide that clarity, but the words and presence of Hampton on that stage were powerful symbols of how far we have come.
Hampton's speech was indeed historical, but probably not for the reasons many in the audience realized.
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As a young black woman living in America, she is 4.5 times more likely to be killed by police than any other age, gender or racial group.
While Hampton is a successful engineer, African-American women represented only 2 percent of workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics fields.
And while Hampton stood shoulder-to-shoulder on the Fancy Farm stage with Kentucky's political elite, it is also true that nearly one in four black Kentuckians has been stripped of the right to vote.
These truths ring loudly in the ears of African-Americans like me who live every day knowing our race is consequential — even in the face of those who insist it is not. These truths should also resonate in the ears of our elected officials and be confronted publicly and often as morally problematic for a country founded on equality.
Yet that is not what happened at Fancy Farm.
While Jones rightfully lauded Hampton for her achievement, he and the rest of the platform party failed to address the intractable burdens that make such achievement so unlikely. Talk of the pressing problems relating to the surge of state-sponsored physical and economic violence, glaring gaps in education opportunities or systematic attempts to disenfranchise a large number of Kentuckians was noticeably missing.
It is important not to let our rightful celebration of black achievement against impossible odds happen at the expense of an honest conversation about the long road ahead of us.
If we are truly interested in dismantling the historical, systematic and structural racism permeating American society, the effort must be constant and sustained, free from distraction with a bias toward action. Direct and honest discourse is how we confront a system that is to blame for so much violence and hate
Remember that these issues go far beyond getting rid of statues or flags, and celebrating "firsts."
Do not be distracted. Silence is complacency. Fancy Farm must do better.