Why The Negro Cries

Forgive me for using a long-outdated term to refer to African-Americans, but for some reason, I feel today that it is necessary to say something to make people, black and white, understand the deep pain and damage white supremacy has caused in this country.

When I was a child, I, my siblings and my friends played “pretend.” We’d play “house,” and “school” and “church,” perfectly imitating, it seemed, those whom we had so regularly observed in each of those settings. We knew how to play a strict mother or an energetic preacher. We were children and children “play” and imitate what they see. Undoubtedly, what they see, and how they internalize what they see, helps shape them for the rest of their lives.

Play is what children do, but I never thought about the kind of playing African-American children might have done in years past, during slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. So, I was taken aback when a man, describing slave life in Richmond, Virginia in 1853, reported that he observed slave children playing “auction.” That’s right. They had seen so many people auctioned off to owners that they had gotten the procedure down pat. They knew how to imitate the voice of the auctioneer. They knew how to do the public examination of a slave up for sale, to make sure he or she was worth the money that was being asked for. That meant touching their arms and ankles, looking into their mouths to check the state of their teeth, and probably worse. They practiced dragging a screaming mother away from her child or children as either she or they were sold. They had the process down. There were slave children eager to act as auctioneers, and others who were wiling to be the unfortunate ones sold away.

They replayed the ongoing activity that was breaking the hearts and spirits of human beings, that was ,in fact, breaking their hearts and spirits.

The man doing the reporting was one William Chambers. He was a Scotsman, a publisher in his land,  and he .was in Richmond, Virginia in 1853. While there decided to observe a slave auction. He had heard they were events full of misery and despair and he wanted to see for himself. He noted that there was not much misery, that those being sold were calm and showed little emotion. He surmised that, since “the Negro” was not fully human and was certainly inferior to white people, that they could not feel pain, not even as their children were wrested from their arms and they cried – both the parents and their children.

I listened to the story on National Public Radio’s This American Life, and got stuck. It never occurred to me that slave children practiced through playing their own oppression. They played auction.

It has always been painful to be black-skinned, not only in America but all over the world, but to listen to this story and to realize how deeply embedded in the very souls of black people is the notion of our being unworthy of respect did something to me. When we played “house” or “church” or “school” when I was little, we were aspiring to be good mothers or teachers. We respected the preacher whom we might imitate. We never “played” games that said we were inherently worth nothing.

Langston Hughes wrote, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and one of the lines of that poem reads, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” Surely. How can one’s spirit, housed in one’s soul, not descend to depths of despair when one is being treated like an object, with no emotions, no feelings, and no rights? That is a question over which I have pondered for a long time.

But when I hear this story about the slave children “playing auction,” my heart sank. There is all this hoopla today about the Confederate Flag, with lovers of the Confederacy saying that the flag is about their heritage. That is true; it is about their heritage, but it is also about a culture, a society, a land and its policies, which created a situation where little black children would play a game which would contribute to their own demise and further dehumanization.

I am crushed, yet again. This racism knows no bounds…

I think every politician running for public office ought to be required to take some American history. I think they ought to be fed, force-fed if necessary, the history of what racism and white supremacy has done to a huge swath of American citizens. Whomever becomes president of this nation ought to be well-schooled to the reasons this nation is in such a mess when it comes to race. I think every person running for office, federal, state or local, ought to be made to read and understand the reason …the Negro cries.

Racism and white supremacy were like daggers, dug into the hearts, souls and wills of black people, without regret. The belief was that black people were not human, could not feel…and so it did not matter.

But it did matter, and it does matter. There are children of those slain in Charleston, South Carolina almost two weeks ago who are crying; there are widows and husbands who are mourning and trying to find a way to carry on. It’s not just these most recent atrocious killings which makes their journey difficult; it is the fact that for years, they, as members of the African-American community, have been fighting the forces which would kill their spirits, and carrying on, moving forward, in a land which clearly still has little regard for them as human beings.

Whenever a person is traumatized, it takes time to heal. African-Americans have been continually traumatized and hae put their shattered souls and spirits to the side because they had to, we had to, in order to keep going. We have pushed against the system which has no regard for us, and we have for the most part prevailed.

But the Negro cries. We cry as we move forward. We have to move forward, but we cannot stop the tears, and so we do both.

Any politician who cannot or will not acknowledge that this country is a mess because of white supremacy, any politician who is more concerned with the Southern base, or the white base, but is not concerned with the programs and policies which may have our children playing games that are in place to ensure their own demise …is a coward. I don’t want any more cowards in office. We have had too many.

The children played auction.

I am sick …

A candid observation …

 

Story about Chambers was heard on National Public Radio (NPR)’s This American Life

 

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On Forgiveness

It seemed that those covering the horrific murders of nine innocent people last week in Charleston, South Carolina, breathed a collective sigh of relief when surviving members of the families of the slain said, “I forgive” the man responsible for their pain.

It was noble for them to say that, but I don’t for a moment believe it.

It’s too soon. They are in the throes of the deepest pain ever. They are aching and are in shock. The reality and the full implications of how their lives have been forever changed because of this tragedy has not yet set in.

Whenever a person dies, there is a period where the survivors just get into work mode: they have to work to deal with the funeral home and the funeral/memorial service. They have to pick out caskets and decide what their loved one will wear. Some have to scuffle to find money to bury their loved ones. The time immediately after the loss of a loved one is probably the easiest, because those left behind are just too busy to deal with their pain.

But after everyone goes home, after there are no more donations of food, after the arrangements have been done and the funeral and burial are done, the real work of grief begins.

It is not easy.

And forgiveness, if it is to come, does not come immediately.

Forgiveness is a process. Sometimes it takes years for people to get to the place where it “kicks in.” Before that moment, though, the emotional pain pushes against even the thought of forgiveness. Christians are confounded (some of them) and pressured by the commandment of Jesus that we should forgive “not seven times, but seventy times seven.”  It seems dastardly and grossly unfair that the survivors of extreme circumstances that resulted in the death of their loved ones are supposed to forgive, and Christians struggle with that. We are reminded that Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” We reject Jesus’ own words and the theology Jesus gives us. We are angry and hurt and resentful and we hurt. Some of us simply do not win the struggle.

Black people have struggled with having to forgive white people for all the atrocities that have been done over the years. I daresay that there has been some forgiveness or else black people as a cultural group in this nation would not have survived to the present day. It was slavery, yes, but it has also been Jim Crow and lynching and injustice via the justice system and discrimination in education and housing and employment. In spite of it, black people have not been eradicated, either physically or spiritually. Forgiveness has to be credited with the survival of black people because forgiveness is for the one who forgives, not for the one being forgiven.

But it has been and continues to be a struggle. Forgiveness is a process.

Only time will tell how and if the survivors of those slain in Charleston will be able to forgive Dylann Roof; only time will tell if the African-American community will be able to forgive yet one more assault on our collective presence in this nation.

But this much is a sure thing: forgiveness for these horrific murders has not come to be yet. We need all be in prayer for those who are working to put their Christian faith into action. The words and commands of Jesus are not easy. Those confronted with this kind of pain know that all too well.

A candid observation …

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The Cost of Escapism

So many people like to characterize black people as lazy, criminal, manipulative, ignorant, ….and so much more …but I doubt any other ethnic group in this nation could have endured what black people have endured.

While Americans are up in arms about terrorism, those same Americans have never really acknowledged that America has practiced terrorism against black people for literally hundreds of years. Just yesterday I was reading about how white people in the South resented black men who came home from war. They came home empowered; the war made them realize they didn’t have to take racism and its resultant discrimination. One soldier (and there are many stories about how black soldiers were treated when they got finished with their tours of duty) was Isaac Woodard. He was a sergeant, and was on a Greyhound Bus, traveling from Georgia to North Carolina. He had to go to the bathroom and asked the driver, who was white, if he would make a stop for the same. The driver got angry and I don’t think he stopped. What he DID do, however, was notify his “boys.” At the next stop, the bud was met by a group of whites, including the Chief of Police, Linwood Shull. The angry white men dragged Woodard off the bus and beat him nearly to death. In the midst of the fight one of his eyes was gouged out by a nightstick of one of the officers who was participating. Woodward was then taken to jail. He was blind for the rest of his life. (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/woodard-isaac-1919-1992).

And he was a member of the beloved military; he had gone to defend his country. Normally, that gives you iconic status …but only if you were white.

When you read and study the treatment of blacks in this country, it is nothing short of remarkable that blacks have continued to stand, to push through, and to succeed. The War on Drugs has its own political history and purposes; one of its goals was to continue to control black people and it has by resulting in so many blacks being incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes that America can now boast of incarcerating more people than any other modern industrial country in the world, but not even mass incarceration has stopped black people from pushing against this Goliath called racism, while protestors stand on the sidelines and say that those who talk about racism and what it does is a fantasy, unreal, and no longer an issue.

I doubt, again, that any other ethnic group could have withstood the discrimination, the hatred, the terrorism, that America has practiced against black people. I doubt that any other ethnic group could even hold together the scores of mothers and fathers whose children have been murdered by whites, many under the rubric and with the participation of law enforcement, and stayed sane. America’s racism has helped people dehumanize black people to the point that it seems they cannot imagine that a black mother’s pain is just as deep as is that of a white mother. Does anyone grieve for the mothers, fathers and family members of Michael Brown? Trayvon Martin? Rekia Boyd? Jordan Davis? Did anyone grieve a mother’s grief when, during slavery, babies were snatched from their mothers’ arms as the mothers were taken off to work for a white person?  Does anyone think about how the accumulation of grieving mothers and family has ultimately affected this country? Are the parents of slain black children as worthy of support and care as are the parents of slain white children? Black people have endured all of that …and the fact that in this country, there is and has not been, justice for black people.  I doubt that any other ethnic group could hold people together who have lived with the realization that not even the “justice system” was there to protect them; in fact, the justice system seemed to be just one of the tools used to oppress them.

Don’t…talk about how African-Americans have a scarcity of moral fiber when in fact those fibers have been pulled to the breaking point consistently, seemingly wanting to force a break. Don’t …talk about black people being lazy when it is documented that white employers have historically discriminated against blacks as they have sought work, even saying, during the Great Depression and after the Dust Bowl (and probably other times) that “niggers ought not apply for work until every white man has a job.” Don’t …talk about how little black kids cannot read and blame it on a lack of intellect when it has been a strategy to create ghettos to keep blacks separated and then a tendency to ignore the schools in those ghettos, forcing little black children into dilapidated buildings, some with no air and/or inadequate heat, used books, and the worst teachers…

Don’t.

Black families have been teaching their children how to survive in this, our land, which is at the same time, a strange land. This land we built, giving hours of back-breaking labor, made to work from “can’t see to can’t see,” doesn’t want us and doesn’t know what to do with us. This country will not own its racist history and therefore will not and cannot see the harm that racism has done. America has immersed itself in a sea of escapism and denial, and because of that, our racism, our peculiar disease, is worse than it ever was. There is no post-racial America. The claim is ridiculous. One cannot be “post” anything unless and until an initial action has taken place. One is only “post-surgery” after the initial, needed surgery has been performed. There has been no surgery to excise America’s racist tumor; it has metastasized and is killing our country, bit by bit.

If ever there was a place that needs peace and reconciliation hearings and subsequent healing actions, it is the United States.

Too much to write today. But it will come. It will come.

A candid observation …

At the Hands of Persons Unknown: The Verdict in the Michael Brelo Case

candidobservation:

An insightful piece …

Originally posted on formations. // living at the intersections of self, social, spirit.:

I cannot turn away or close my eyes to what I beheld on Saturday as I watched the verdict in the Michael Brelo case being rendered by Judge P. O’Donnell in Cleveland. The nearly hour-long justification for exonerating Officer Brelo on all counts was bone chilling to behold. In every respect, it amounted to a judicial justification for state-sanctioned lynching.

I don’t use the word “lynching” metaphorically. I use it because so many characteristics of historical lynching are replicated in this case.

Lynching can be defined as an extrajudicial killing by a group of people who seek to punish an alleged transgressor and/or intimidate a minority group. Between 1877 and 1950, nearly 4,000 men and women were lynched by white people in America and the vast majority of the victims were black. The alleged crimes often proved to be unfounded and the ‘punishments’ inflicted in these acts of racial terror…

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Racism is a Sin

It has always been puzzling to me how any person could be a Christian and be racist. Actually, my puzzlement has extended as I have watched Christians be not only racist but sexist, homophobic and antagonistic toward the poor.

If one considers the Doctrine of Sin, and consider that the most commonly used word for sin is “hamartia,” which means “missing the mark,” and juxtaposes that definition against the “Great Commandment,” which is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind,” it is clear there is a disconnect in what we say believe and how we act. As Jesus gives the first and greatest commandment, he adds  on yet another piece of what is required of us:  ” …Love your neighbor as yourself”  If we consider these commands, and as Christians consider that we are bound to obey them, it becomes clear that racism, spawned by white supremacy, is a sin.

The existence of racism amongst Christians is puzzling to me because there is but one Bible, and one set of words and directions that Jesus gave, unless there is a secret text that I have not seen. When I was a child and saw what white people were doing to black people in Alabama, my mother quickly told me that no matter what I felt about what was going on, that I was to love “even the bad people.” (I said that the white people who were setting dogs on black people were bad.) My mother was adamant: to be a Christian meant you had to be willing to do the hard work of being a Christian, and loving “the bad people” was one of those tasks.

Yet, it has seemed that many white Christians have had no problem in hating black people – for no other reason than they (we) are black. And, while Jesus forthrightly commanded us to take care of “the least of these,” many white Christians seem to turn as far away from the poor and dispossessed as possible; they have no umbrage in charging them more money for lesser quality goods; they are pro-life except that their definition of :”life” seems to end once a fetus is born; the despair of poor children, especially those who are black and brown, is not an issue for them. They seem comfortable and indeed appear self-righteous as they put down African-Americans with abandon. Some of the most rabid racists in our nation have been devout Christians.

I am confused – about how people can be like that.

But I am not confused about my belief that racism is a sin because those who adhere to it are clearly “missing the mark” that God gives in the Hebrew scriptures, and then Jesus repeats in the New Testament: we who call ourselves Christian are to love God with everything we’ve got …and we are to love our neighbors as ourselves.

It is not happening.

In a nation which calls itself “Christian,” it is not happening.

In addition to the formal doctrine of sin quoted above, I also learned that sin is anything that separates us from God. Surely, the mistreatment of human beings, all of whom God created, does that. We are not only separated from God, but we are rebelling against the way we were created. All of God’s people were created, are wired, to love and to have compassion. I know that because when catastrophes happen, that part which is in all of us kicks in and we move to help people in despair. We are wired to take care of each other. But we rebel against our natural inclinations and the result is that we have the audacity to hate and to oppress those whom God created.

To add insult to injury, those whom God made human …we dehumanize. It helps us stay in our sin. Too many white people have dehumanized black people. The dehumanization was written into our founding documents, and we have built on that. The only reason, the only way a police officer could jump out of a car and within seconds shoot a 12-year-old boy with a toy gun down is because that officer – or officers – did not see that child as a human being. He was just a black object, and in our society, white supremacy teaches us that black objects have no value.

Some would say, “Wait! I’m not racist!” But racism is a part of the American normal. Racism is deeper than mere bigotry and/or prejudice. Racism carries with it the power to oppress people and control them, and that power rests, most often, in economics. It is racism, not bigotry, which is keeping black and brown people in economic servitude and forcing them to live in despair. White supremacists have the money and the position to keep people where they want them. They want black people in prison; it is a form of social control. That is at least one of the reasons that so many black people are in prison for non-violent drug offenses, while white people who have done the same or worse than those incarcerated continue to run free.

The arrogance with which racists move, act and think has to be a barrier between them and God. If there is but one God, and that God demands that we love each other…and racists/white supremacists refuse to do so …then there is between them and God a barrier …which means they are separated from God …which means they are in sin.

If racism is a sin, which I believe it is, then America is living in a state of sin. America’s racism exists on the mainland but has been one of the components of American exceptionalism as well, making white Americans think they have the right to oppress and overtake people of other races in other countries as well. Racism is a sin and it is a disease which spreads; American racism has left spores of contamination all over the world.

If we as Christians believe that Jesus is coming back, that there will be a rapture, and that some of us will be “left behind” while others are allowed into heaven, what kind of “Second Coming” should we expect? Will God forgive the racists, the homophobes, the sexists? Do white racists rejoice on Resurrection Sunday because they are happy Jesus died to save us and that even those who practice the most horrific racism …will ultimately be saved?

Rev. C.T. Vivian, one of the icons of the Civil Rights Movement, said in an interview I had with him (I am writing his biography) that the ministers of the Southern Christian Leadership Council (SCLC) worked to “redeem America’s soul.” It was a powerful statement that still gives me pause.

I don’t think America’s soul is yet saved. Racism is still too potent, too much front and center, carried on by Christians.

Something is very wrong with this picture.

A candid observation ….

The Obamas and Race

It seems that many white people believe that if we don’t talk about race, things are OK. Their mantra is that whenever anyone talks about race, he or she is “playing the race card.” Their solution to all things racial is that we should just be quiet, and it’ll go away eventually. Talking about it, they say, “stirs people up” and drives a wedge between people. What they seem to want is for things to remain the same, which in reality means that white people remain in power and black people remain subservient, and that black people ignore the daily reminders that racism is alive. They want black people to be quiet and not talk about the inequities, the injustice and the indignities suffered and endured on a daily basis.

President Obama has been reluctant to talk about race because the few times he has, there has been a backlash. People, white people, have been  horrified and angered  that he would bring “it” up, and have immediately accused him of playing “the card.” When he made the observation that if he had a son, he would look like Trayvon, following Trayvon’s murder, and the critics went up in smoke. When Harvard professor and scholar Robert Louis Gates was arrested in his own home, President Obama reacted, saying, “On July 22, President Barack Obama said about the incident, “I don’t know, not having been there and not seeing all the facts, what role race played in that. But I think it’s fair to say, number one, any of us would be pretty angry; number two, that the Cambridge police acted stupidly in arresting somebody when there was already proof that they were in their own home, and, number three, what I think we know separate and apart from this incident is that there’s a long history in this country of African-Americans and Latinos being stopped by law enforcement disproportionately.” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Henry_Louis_Gates_arrest_controversy) Again, the criticism was swift and hard, and the president ended up having a beer summit at the White House for the arresting officer, himself and Professor Gates.

Those who have held contempt for the president being…the president …have been teething at the bit, it seems, waiting for the president to seem “too black.” He is, they have said, the president of all Americans. That is true …but what they decided that being president of all Americans meant he had better not speak up about racial injustice, which is alive and rampant in this nation.

So, it is not surprising that the critics have been quick to criticize First Lady Michelle Obama after her graduation speech at Tuskegee University this past weekend. In her remarks, she noted that the racism and racist acts and comments thrown at her and President Obama have bothered her. Her remarks, delivered at a historically back college and university (HBCU) were appropriate and on the mark; black people graduating from colleges do not get to escape the ugliness of racism. Anyone graduating had better know that, and the First Lady’s comments were meant to drive that truth home. (see complete speech here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2015/05/09/remarks-first-lady-tuskegee-university-commencement-address)

Some white people, too many in my opinion, just do not and will not get it. They do not understand that the every day struggles black people go through – still – are emotionally, psychologically and spiritually draining. They do not or will not understand that black people – men, boys, girls and women – are still “at risk” just for being black. They do not or will not understand that black parents still have to have “the talk” with their sons to alert them that police officers are not necessarily their friends and that they should act in a way that will assure they will not be arrested, beaten, and/or killed. Young black people are not shamming or making things up when they say “black lives matter.” They say this in a nation where black lives really do not matter except to help make a profit. Our founding documents assured that black lives did not matter and sought to make it so that they would never matter. While white people complain about the mention of slavery, it was slavery and its aftermath, including Jim Crow laws, that made us know that we did not matter. According to the United States Constitution, our lives were never to matter.

America was founded because people were tired of being oppressed by the British. The American Revolution is an event we Americans celebrate and honor …yet as black people have rebelled over the years, seeking dignity and the full rights of citizenship, there has been nothing but criticism.

Black people are not seen as people or human beings (one cannot be 3/5 of a person and be fully human), but rather as objects. People have no attachment, no emotional attachment, to objects. To far too many people, black people are objects, dehumanized, criminalized and marginalized. It is partly because of that that police officers can shoot black people so quickly …and it is because of that that too many of us black people shoot and kill each other. American racism and white supremacy has convinced black people that their truth is the truth and far too many black people see themselves as objects as well.

In spite of that, black people have continued to push through the walls of racism and hatred and bigotry, and people need to understand: we get to talk about it. We need to talk about it. It is clear that black people have not let white supremacy and racism hold us back; we have moved forward and upward, not because of white supremacy but in spite of white supremacy. It is a tribute to the strength of the human spirit, that that has been and is the case.

Nevertheless, it is painful to be black in America. The myth of “black badness” has been spread all over the world; foreigners come here believing that black people are bad and lazy. not worthy of being free. That narrative began after Reconstruction, when the myth of the Negro criminal was being constructed so that black people could be and were arrested for the slightest offense and made to work for white people until their sentences were worked off. For far too many, the sentence was never worked off, and the result was that black people remained enslaved in spite of the Emancipation Proclamation.

No person who is black in America can sidestep the reality of being black here. To talk about it really could be a good thing; if people (white and black) who say they don’t want to hear about racism would in fact listen and decide to learn what black people have endured here, perhaps they would see the reasons why the young people shout, “black lives matter” and “no justice, no peace.” Many view the latter phrase as a threat of violence; it is more a plea to be heard and for justice to finally be meted out to black people as it is for whites.

The critics today have said the Obamas talk too much about race. I must disagree. I wish they had been able to talk about it more…Poet Audre Lorde wrote, “your silence will not protect you.”  It will not, white America. The history of white supremacy, white violence, white discrimination and white injustice is real. We should all know it, not run from it and pretend it does not exist. It does, and it is ugly.

A candid observation …

Tamir Rice Still Not Buried Pending Investigation

While police in Baltimore are attacking Maryland State Attorney Marilyn Mosby, saying she brought charges against six Baltimore City police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, there lays the body of a 12-year-old boy, Tamir Rice, who was shot and killed by Cleveland Police Officers five months ago.

Cleveland police are still “investigating” the incident, and say the child cannot be buried until they complete the investigation because they may need to examine the body further for medical evidence. (http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/may/04/tamir-rice-family-judge-not-delay-civil-rights-case-against-cleveland)

What in the world needs to be investigated …and why is it taking so long? Why is the Cleveland Police Department adding insult to injury to the family of this child by holding up his burial? And why isn’t the press covering this story?

There are reasons people get angry and take to the streets, and being dehumanized is one of them. I as a mother cannot imagine sitting by while police performed a prolonged “investigation” after they murdered my child. Can any mother be expected to be all right with that? Keeping that child from being buried is the height of disrespect to his person, his family …and his community.

Tamir Rice, you remember, was the 12-year-old boy who was playing with a toy gun. Someone called in to police, saying there was someone with a gun but allegedly said “it might be a toy.”

Police rolled up on the child moments later, got about 10 feet away from him, and opened fire, killing him. They said they shouted “police!” but in the video it looks like they drove up, got out, fired their guns …and maybe said “police” afterward.

Would any police officer be all right with a member of his or her family being kept from being buried while an “investigation” was going on? Wait. Would any HUMAN be all right with that?

Some people balk at the phrase “black lives matter,” but can anyone wonder why those words are being lifted up? Where in the world is the dignity this child deserves? He was a human being, somebody’s son, a child …playing with a toy gun. Officers rolled up on him and shot him like he was a dangerous wild animal…and now, they are keeping him from being buried?

Although officers are upset with Maryland State Attorney Mosby, at least her actions afforded the people who are grieving the murder (the state medical examiner ruled his death a homicide) the appearance of concern for them and for the quest of justice. Everyone knows that filing charges is only a first step; police officers are rarely convicted on charges they face, even when a case seems cut and dry. Remember, the evidence of police beating Rodney King was crystal clear, and the officers were brought up on charges, but they were all acquitted. That verdict caused the streets in Los Angeles to erupt in anger and frustration. So, justice for Freddie Gray is not a sure thing. But at least Mosby recognized that something wrong happened and brought charges against the officers involved swiftly.

The prolonged “investigation” in the Michael Brown case caused the same kind of anger and frustration. The lack of immediate action in Brown’s case, beginning with leaving him lying dead in the street for hours began the tortuous “investigation” which concluded that the officer who shot him was without fault. In fact, that investigation really seemed to concentrate on making the case that Brown was a criminal, and, therefore, deserved what he got. Police were able to say the proverbial “I was in fear for my life,” and those who are inclined to believe that if one is shot by an officer, he or she deserved it were satisfied.

But what in the world can Cleveland police possibly be looking for after five months? How in the world can they and do they justify this prolonged “investigation?”

I hardly know what to say. This is most definitely the most painful candid observation I have come across since I have been writing this blog. A long time ago, a friend of mine said that going to church on Sunday morning, and shouting, was “grief release.” Black people held a lot in, she said, in order to survive. Sunday morning, through the shout, they were able to release the pressure of being dehumanized, ignored and oppressed.

The Fraternal Order of Police in Baltimore are enraged at Mosby’s swift actions, calling it a “rush to judgement.”  They say their officers have done nothing wrong. That does not seem likely. But their being charged while the investigation is going on feels a lot better than letting them continue to patrol the community in which Freddie Gray was killed, as if nothing happened at all.

The taking to the streets is yet another form of “grief release.” There are no words to describe how the parents and family of Tamir Rice are feeling. It is as though they do not exist, and do not have feelings.

This is shameful.

A candid observation …

Thug or Not?

In the painful protesting that is going on in Baltimore resulting in the destruction of property and looting of merchandise, more than one person, including Maryland Governor Larry Hogan, President Obama and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, the mayor of Baltimore, has used the name “thug” to describe those who were involved in the melee.

Rawlings-Blake apologized for using the term after receiving stiff criticism. CNN anchor Wolf Blitzer wondered aloud why the mayor found it necessary to apologize for her use of the word.

Before I offer an opinion on all of this, I beg us to ask the questions: When white kids burn cars and destroy property during spring break or after a football or basketball game, do we call them thugs? When Rep. Michael Grimm (R-NY) threatened to throw a reporter off a balcony, was he called a thug? I don’t remember that happening …

But when Seattle Seahawks team member Richard Sherman, an African-American, got a little agitated after a Super Bowl, in comments made about a colleague on the opposing team, he was called …a thug. It was Sherman whom I first heard say that the word thug had become racialized, that it was the new way of saying “nigger.”

Our modern-day word “thug” derives from a Hindi word which means swindler, deceiver, or cheat. There were groups who lived in India called Thugs who robbed and killed travelers. They apparently had a long shelf life, terrorizing travelers and other citizens in India from the 14th into the 19th centuries. (http://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2015/04/thug/391682/)  The way they operated was they would meet travelers, make friends with them, and then turn on them, often strangling them or killing them some other way, and stealing their belongings.

When the War on Terror began, the word “thug” was heard again, this time used by President George W. Bush, as “thugs and assassins.”  It was a term which was said with passion and deep emotion; one who was a thug, we came to understand, was a pretty bad person.

Some kind of way, the term “thug” began to be used to describe African-Americans. I asked a friend what his definition of “thug” was, and he said it means bully, pushy, uncouth, brash, someone who tries to take advantage of another. That’s fair. But why is it that, these days, the only people who seem to be called thugs are African-American?

I would agree that those who looted and started fires in Baltimore this week were breaking the law. They were and are criminals. And it is clear that President Obama and Stephanie Rawlings-Blake were referring to those who participated in the lawlessness.

But it feels different when news people or law officers or government officials say the term. There has been a fair amount of mixing of the terms protesters and thugs. It feels like many who describe the protests going on are meaning that those protesting are thugs as well. Because they are disrupting the status-quo, because they are making noise about injustice, because they are refusing to be silent and accept the injustice which is so rampant, many people in power seem more than ready to call them …thugs.

Hip-hop, say some, has helped create an association of the word with certain behavior. According to an article in Newsweek, “Hip-hop culture  adopted the word…Tupac Shakur popularized the phrase “thug life” in the early 1990s,” The Newsweek article says Michael Jeffries wrote,  in Thug Life: Race, Gender, and the Meaning of Hip-Hop, “the concept of the thug underwent a…transformation, from signifying disgust, rebellion, and nihilism to evoking coolness and power.” (http://www.newsweek.com/brief-history-word-thug-326595)

Are the protesters trying to be cool? If Jeffries is right, the meaning of the word for the hi-hop generation moved away from being indicative of a person who was being a brute to a person who was being cool and using his or her power.

Is that what people are saying and feeling when they call the protesters “thugs?”

Name-calling never works; name-calling in a time as fractious and incendiary as this is a very dangerous thing to do. Black people are saying that they feel unloved, unseen, unheard and not valued. To be called a “thug” only adds salt to the wounds…

Lee Atwater, who was Richard Nixon’s campaign manager years ago, said that it was no longer possible to use the word “nigger.” He said that people had to use code words and people would understand what was being said. When one said “affirmative action” or “welfare” or “busing,” people belonging to the base that Nixon wanted and needed in order to win the presidency knew exactly what was being said. The belief was that only black people were recipients of affirmative action and welfare, and black people’s desire for quality education had resulted in busing. To use those words, and others, alerted “the base” that the candidate was aware of the base’s feeling about black people.

Is that the case now? Are news people and politicians trying to express a sense of indignation that black people are tired of injustice meted out by law enforcement? Yes, I know that there are people amongst the ranks of the demonstrators who are throwing rocks and attacking police, although it is believed that many of the people doing that are not a part of the demonstrators at all but are outsiders who are taking advantage of the situation in order to play out their own agendas. But are those watching and reporting unable and/or unwilling to make the distinction and are they trying to say that they are outraged that people would take to the streets and dare to cast doubt on the fairness and rightness of policing in this nation? Are they angry that black people have decided that they can no longer be silent, and are they saying that black people are “thugs” because they are in the streets, chanting, yelling, marching?

The protesters are not thugs. They are Americans, in the truest sense of the word. America came into being because people were angry at a perceived injustice being meted out by the British government. Rather than pay what they felt was an unjust tax, these protesters refused to pay it AND threw tea into Boston Harbor. America was founded because people dared to demonstrate.

I would venture that members of the status quo called the protesters back then a few choice names, things like traitor or maybe insurgent.

But thug?

The people who looted and started fires and destroyed property in Baltimore broke the law. They were and are criminals. But the people who are protesting, who are fighting for their right to be treated with dignity are …Americans. Kids – black or white – who get rowdy during spring break or after a game …are lawbreakers, not thugs, no matter their color.  A black man who offers energetic and passionate verbiage on a subject, even if it is unacceptable to those who hear it…is a person who has perhaps gotten a little too excited for a few moments. But a thug?

No.

We need to rethink the term and use it a lot less, especially now. Name-calling does not work, ever, and will be a death knell to the quest for justice and peace as the people of Baltimore (and of this nation) work to deal with their grief, pain and anger.

A candid observation …

Freddie Gray

What is going on now in the killing of black people by police  is merely an extension or continuation of America’s history as concerns legal violence against  African-Americans.

Michelle Alexander, in her book The New Jim Crow, as well as others, makes the case that mass incarceration is a way to control black lives in this country. Slavery was a good way to keep black people under the thumb of white people; when Lincoln freed the slaves in the states which had not seceded from the Union, Southerners were angry. The cry of “states’ rights” became common as Southerners deeply resented the “interference” of “big government” in their affairs. Whites began to consciously look for ways to again control black people. The result of their search included sharecropping and convict leasing.

But  within the culture of control was also a culture of terror. Black people were objects; people did not regard blacks as human beings, thanks to the interpretation of the United States Constitution and the Holy Bible. Black people were despised for their color but valued for their labor. What white people wanted was to forever be in control; for many, America was a white man’s country. Nobody, not “the law” or God, would object to how they treated their nigras.

Racial discrimination, after Reconstruction, was institutionalized, with laws written into the Constitutions of Southern states to make racism legal. Southern states actually rewrote their constitutions to reflect the legality of racial discrimination. The legality of racial discrimination, accompanied by the criminalization and dehumanization of black people allowed people, including police officers, to oppress black people and throw them into jail for whatever reasons they wanted. Jim Crow laws were put into effect to keep black people subordinate to white people (see “Lynching in America: Confronting the Legacy of Racial Terror” written by the Equal Justice Initiative.) Black people could be and were arrested or in some cases, just lynched, for the most minor “offenses.” The EJI report tells of a man who was lynched in 1889 because he tried to enter a room where three white women were sitting, and another man was lynched for knocking on the door of a white woman. (EJI report. p 31)

Black people were arrested and many times lynched without the benefit of a trial for vagrancy, for speaking to white people, for looking at white people, for not stepping off a sidewalk or for bumping into a white woman.  Though it was common, and had been common since slavery, for white men to rape black women, black men could be and were lynched for even unproven allegations of having sex with white women.

Law enforcement did not protect black people. Law enforcement …and local and state governments, did not protect black people, either. The federal government was basically impotent, refusing to become involved in the way states treated black people unless what was going on threatened to adversely affect the state.

Black people, then, have been living in terror and distrust of law enforcement officers for hundreds of years. The Great Migration happened in large part because black people were tired of living in fear, and tired of being terrorized by mobs and cops. They witnesses horrific destruction of black life – black people hung from trees, then shot as they hung, taken down and dragged through the streets. Often times they were burned alive, and sometimes they were set afire after the hanging was done.  Like the Romans who crucified people and let them hang along main drags into major cities to remind people of what happened to those who challenged the government, white people paraded their “catches” through the streets. Sometimes those doing the lynching made family members watch as their loved one was brutalized and mutilated. (http://www.tampabay.com/features/humaninterest/spectacle-the-lynching-of-claude-neal/1197360)

In a horrific case, the lynching of Claude Neal in Florida, Neal, who confessed to raping and killing a white woman, he was dragged from jail by a mob. He was taken to a location where he was tortured before he was killed. He was shot; his testicles were cut off and he was made to eat them; his penis was also cut off and he was made to eat it. After he was hung he was shot 50 times. His fingers and toes were cut off and sold as souvenirs. The sense is that everyone knows who killed Neal but nobody talked – not then and not now.

When I heard the account of why Freddie Gray was chased – because he made eye contact with police officers and then ran, a chill ran up my spine. The spirit of racism and of hatred, coupled with the tradition of white law enforcement allowing and often participating in the mass destruction and control of black people…has not died. Black people still do not trust law enforcement – not the police, not the detectives, not the judges or the court system …and white people still feel justified to stop and harass black people for two reasons: one, because they can and get away with it, and two, because they still regard black people as criminals and not quite human. Only when an individual regards another individual as an object can he or she treat others as white police officers have too often treated black people.

None of what the white mobs did to black people was done without violence. I guess that’s why I cringe as news anchors express so much dismay over the potential for violence as black people gather in frustration and anger to protest the way they (we) have been treated. White mob violence meted out against not only black individuals, but against entire towns and neighborhoods was nothing short of barbaric. But again, the resentment of whites against black people for their standing up for justice is not a new thing; in the past, some people who voiced opposition to the unjust laws and murderous treatment they received were lynched.

My prayer is that the family of Freddie Gray gets justice. I am not confident that any investigation of what happened to him will yield charges against the officers who were involved. I hope that we do not receive the dreaded phrase, “the force used was justified.”

Those who lynched black people in the past used that same phrase. That enabled them to kill black people when and as they wanted …and never look back. They accused and killed black people because they could.

It feels like that privilege is still alive and kicking.

A candid observation …

Blacks Aren’t the Only Ones Who Live in Drug-infested Neighborhoods

In 1971, President Richard Nixon declared a “War on Drugs,” saying that drug addiction was “public enemy number one.” The use of heroin was apparently on the rise; soldiers serving in Viet-Nam were disproportionately addicted to that drug.

By the mid-60s, there was significant backlash to the intervention of the federal government as it passed legislation to protect the right of black people to vote. More black people voting threatened to weaken the capacity of state governments to pass and uphold white racist legislation. There had to be a way to neutralize the black vote; Nixon actually said that the “problem” was the blacks and there had to be developed a system to control them while not appearing to. Politicians had to feed into the fear of whites that blacks, allowed to vote, would have too much power. And so, code language was developed and used; “states rights” was one of the code phrases used; whites understood that phrase to mean that the federal government had overstepped its bounds by passing legislation which protected the rights of blacks, and the “war on drugs” was yet another phrase used to support the belief that black people were in effect the bane of American society. Conducting a “war on drugs” was effectively conducting a campaign against black people, making sure there was a reason to arrest and imprison them, moving them out of the way.

So, this war on drugs has proliferated; literally hundreds of thousands of black people are in prison for minor, non-violent drug charges. When or as the rhetoric about Freddie Gray has increased, news reports are careful to say that he has a “slew” of minor drug offenses and that his arrest took place in a “drug infested neighborhood.” Such language validates the feeling that he was a criminal, worthy, perhaps, of whatever police decided to do to him.

It hit me, though, that the “war on drugs” is severely deficient. If we take the term at face value, and eliminate the racial undertones, it is clear that many of America’s neighborhoods are “drug infested.” Street drugs may be the norm in poor neighborhoods, but in affluent neighborhoods, drug use is rampant as well. People who can afford it are addicted to prescription drugs, including Oxycontin and Valium and Xanax, to name a few. Powder cocaine use is notoriously rampant amongst the wealthy. And kids in affluent high schools, as well as in colleges, are known to use any drug they can get their hands on.

It hit me: If we’re going to conduct a war on drugs …then let’s conduct a war.

Instead of singling out the poor, who use street drugs, let’s go after the wealthy, who use and sell drugs just as much as do poor people. Since we have a penchant for locking up those who use and sell drugs, let’s lock up those affluent people who are smack dab in the middle of the drug culture.

Let’s do a war on drugs, for real.

It would be refreshing if the media would not keep lifting up that Gray lived in, or was stopped in, a drug-infested neighborhood. The media helps sustain the perception of black people as the primary problem drug users and sellers in this nation. That simply is not true, and it is disingenuous for the media to keep up its biased reporting, helping to support the myths that make way too many people feel smug about police arresting individuals and locking them up for years. The media have helped, and is helping, the process of dehumanizing and criminalizing black, brown, and poor people.

If it is a war on drugs that America wants, I repeat, let’s do a war …and go after ALL people who are engaged in using and selling drugs. There should not be such a blatant practice of racial and class discrimination based on a culture which is drug-infested in and of itself.

A candid observation …

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