Don’t Let White Backlash Win

After the Civil War, when Americans of African descent had been freed from slavery through the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks enjoyed a season of being treated as genuine American citizens, with greater rights than they had had before. Some blacks had fought for their freedom in the War Between the States and had earned, they felt, the right to demand and to experience full American citizenship.  During Reconstruction, nearly 2000 black people were elected to public office on local, state and federal levels. They organized and became activists and advocates for the rights and black people. From 1867-1877, a period known as Radical Reconstruction, the Congress actually granted black people the right to vote. (http://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/black-leaders-during-reconstruction)

But Southern whites resented the gains made by black people; they yearned for the return of the reign of white supremacy, and they began undoing every gain made by blacks during Reconstruction. Using violence and their political power, Jim Crow was put into place, designed to put black people “back in their place.” Beginning in 1869, Southern states, beginning with Tennessee, began putting into place all-white “redeemer” governments, sympathetic to the cause of the Confederacy. (http://www.understandingrace.org/history/gov/civilwar_recon_jimcrow.html)

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The efforts of the Southern states were successful. Blacks lost their right to vote. Public facilities were segregated. They became victims of racist voter suppression tactics; they were denied equal education, access to tools which would help them achieve economic parity with white people, and in effect were relegated again to second-class citizenship.

It is happening again. White backlash began with a fury, it seems, after Barack Obama was elected president of the United States  – not once, but twice. Many but not all white people have been furious since he first got into office; some met the day of Obama’s first inauguration to strategize how to make him a “one term president.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/04/25/robert-draper-anti-obama-campaign_n_1452899.html) The emergence of the Tea Party was part and parcel of the disgust many Americans felt that Obama was the most powerful man in the world, and adherents gained hundreds of thousands of like-minded thinkers. That his Affordable Care Act (ACA) passed only added fuel to the already blazing fire of resentment.

And now, the “angry white base” who support Donald Trump and his promise to “make America great again” are on the final stretch of the race to the White House. It doesn’t matter to them what Trump says or does, how moral or immoral some of his business dealings have reportedly been, whether or not he reads the Bible or goes to church -or lies about whether or not he reads the Bible and goes to church. It doesn’t matter if he used undocumented girls to work as models for him, or that, for all of his talk about how other countries are robbing America,  he uses labor in other countries to make his products.  They do not care. They just want a white man (not a woman!) in the White House.

Studying Reconstruction and the virulence of the white backlash of that period is sobering and scary; what is even more scary is that we as a nation do not seem to want to remember that it was after Reconstruction that black people received some of their most heinous treatment, most of which was sanctioned by government. White supremacy does not want company; it resents that some of its space and place in American politics was trespassed and has been violated by a black man for the past 8 years, but it is bound and determined to “get its place” again. That’s what “make America great again” means, in essence. White supremacists want things to be like they were before, when black people (and brown people) answered to them, when women knew their place, where men married women and that was it, and where America’s immigration policy protected the majority status of white people. White supremacists are not pleased, in fact, they are probably mortified, that predictions indicate that by 2043, America will no longer be majority white. It is a thought they cannot bear.

So, frightened, poor and unemployed/underemployed  white Americans, grateful that Donald Trump has heard their cries, will flock to the polls on Election Day, but don’t be deceived. Many affluent white people, equally as disgusted and frightened about the diminishing numbers of white people in America, will vote for Trump, too. They want their power back. They support the building of The Wall. They support keeping immigrants out of America (unless they come from Europe), they support whatever they need to support in order to “make America white again.”

I hope we don’t let them. I hope scores of people, black, brown and white, have a love for the progress that has been made in this country in spite of our inherent and nascent racism and sexism. I hope as many  Americans who cherish the progress that has been made for so many people, non-white, non-male, and non-heterosexual –  go to the polls and vote. I hope we, “the American people,” don’t let white backlash win again. We have come too far.

Going backwards is just not an option.

A candid observation …

How Do We Make People Care?

This week in Columbus, Ohio, police shot and killed a 13-year old boy. Tyre King was apparently involved in an armed robbery; the amount stolen is said to have been $10, but that has not been confirmed. Young Tyre had a BB gun that looks remarkably real, even having a laser light on it that real guns have. Police apparently saw the gun and fired; only after Tyre lay dead did they realize the gun was not real. (http://www.nbcnews.com/news/us-news/tyre-king-13-fatally-shot-police-columbus-ohio-n648671)

Columbus authorities responded immediately, the mayor, police chief and public safety director holding a press conference the next day, and the day after that, meeting with faith leaders and finally showing up at a community forum at a local church. (http://www.dispatch.com/content/stories/local/2016/09/17/community-city-officials-talk-about-death-of-tyre-king.html). The pain of the community was and is palpable. The cry is, “enough!”

What was striking to me in everything that happened was the attempt of the police chief to make sure people in the community knew that this child was “an armed suspect,” though the gun was not real. In her press conference, Police Chief Kim Jacobs went to great pains to describe the gun, showing a large picture of what the gun looked like and only after all of that, say the child’s name and remind people that the gun was not real.

But the damage was done.

What Chief Jacobs appeared to be doing was protecting her police officer and trying to quell any violence borne of frustration that might erupt on Columbus streets, the kind of frustration that we have seen in the streets of Ferguson and Baltimore. No city wants that experience on its hands. Columbus has spent a lot of money in revitalizing and the last thing people want is some angry group of people setting fires and fighting police.

I get it. And I don’t want the violence, either.

But it hurt to the core to hear this woman dehumanize and criminalize young King in that press conference. For those who believe police can do no wrong, Jacobs’ presentation made them rest in their assurance that what happened to King was his own fault.  As she talked, the chief kept talking about there being an investigation and said that the case would go to the grand jury …but her entire presentation showed a lack of sensitivity to what the pain of the black community is all about.

We don’t trust police investigations; we know, or feel, that the laws in place protect police at all costs, so that even when we, the community, feel like a video shows compelling evidence of police wrongdoing, the officer more likely than not gets off. We don’t trust the grand jury and we don’t trust the prosecutor. We feel like it is open season on black people, male and female, and that this nation doesn’t care about our feeling that at all.

As Jacobs spoke, I kept remembering how, when Michael Brown was shot, the police kept that young man lying on the hot pavement in his neighborhood, dead, while they compiled a report about who he was and what he had done. Before his body was moved, they had criminalized him and left the way clear for Officer Darren Wilson to be cleared of wrongdoing.

Jacobs was seemingly doing the same thing: criminalizing this little boy ( because that’s what he was) so that the officer would not be demonized.

The mayor, the public safety director and the police chief kept talking about there needing to be “transparency,” but even as I write this, nobody knows what really happened. The police in Columbus do not wear body cameras, and everyone knows that in a case where a civilian’s word is pitted against the word of a police officer, the civilian usually loses.

And so Columbus, a city that the mayor said is “the safest city in the world,” is reeling with pain and frustration and anger. There is no sensitivity to the pain. In this, an open carry state, King is the second person to be killed carrying a BB gun. John Crawford was shot and killed by police in a Walmart in 2014. Crawford was carrying the gun in the store and someone called police and said he was waving it around. Police arrived immediately and say they told him to drop the gun, but began shooting even as Crawford said it was a toy. Crawford was killed.

Then there was Tamir Rice who was 12 years old when he was shot and killed by Cleveland police officer. Timothy Loehmann. Rice also had a BB gun. Someone called and said a kid had a gun that he was waving around, but apparently also said that it was probably a toy. Police responded to the call and within three seconds of driving up on Tamir, probably scaring him to death. police shot him. He died later in a local hospital. The officer said he had no choice.

Neither Crawford or Rice were criminals. They were young black men with toy guns – which is legal. They were not bothering anyone. And yet, the judgements against them could be heard loud and clear; their actions, the sentiment seemed to say, caused them to die.

There is much we do not know about what happened to young King. What we do know is that he was a kid. A 13-year old boy. Probably a know-it-all, like adolescents and teens tend to be. His parents may have bought him that toy gun, but may not have; he may have gotten it off the street or from a friend. He had probably seen “the big boys” carry real guns and imitated them. We live in a gun culture, a violent gun culture where “defending yourself” is a standard-bearer. He was probably trying to fit in with his peers. Kid stuff. Things that kids do in seeking love, affirmation and a sense of belonging. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong people …but he was a kid. A normal kid in a society which does not allow black kids to be normal like white kids are allowed.

This kid, this little boy, is dead. I cannot wrap my head around it. I see in my mind’s eye his little body lying lifeless in an alley, and I hear the cries of his family and loved ones, weeping with a pain that is too deep to even describe.

Many who believe police are right all of the time don’t get it. While police lives are important, so are the lives of the victims of police. Someone said King shouldn’t have run when police showed up. True. But everyone who has ever been a kid and has been involved in something wrong has run when “the grown folks” have shown up.

It’s what kids do.

How do we make people care? How do we get white people, those who are so ready to demonize black people, care about black people on a human level, relating to the things that humans do when they do not feel loved, supported, affirmed and/or needed? I’ll bet this kid was trying to fit in, trying to have friends, trying in his 13-year-old way to find meaning in his life. He may have been getting ready to go down a path of crime, or he may have been involved in one stupid episode…that cost him his life.

There are a lot of things to think about in this case, but I am hoping that authorities will look at this boy as just that … a boy who did something dumb and not as someone who deserved to die.

He didn’t.

A candid observation ….

Black Lives Matter – Not So Much

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It hit me not long ago, as I listened to more than one television pundit say that the Black Lives Matter movement is a hate movement, specifically against, police officers, that they do not understand the concept of perhaps the most important word in the BLM moniker: “matter.”

The Black Lives Matter movement didn’t erupt after a police shooting of an unarmed black man. It erupted after a civilian, a vigilante in the person of George Zimmerman, stalked, shot and killed 17-year-old Trayon Martin, who was unarmed. The angst and anger of much of the black community rose as Zimmerman spun the tale that he was “in fear for his life,” though the only things Martin was carrying were a can of iced tea and a package of Skittles.

The anger continued to rise as the police and the community seemed not to care that Zimmerman had stalked Martin …though being advised to stop doing it by local police, and had confronted the young man, who I am sure was quite worried about this unknown person following him.

Zimmerman’s encounter with Martin ended up with Martin being shot dead and Zimmerman showing some minor injuries from their tussle. Martin had done what any person being followed at night would have done: he defended himself – and yet, nobody seemed to care. His life did not matter. His humanness – meaning, his drive to protect and defend himself against a man with a gun – did not matter. He was effectively blamed for his own death.

And then, to add insult to injury, the jury went with Zimmerman and he was acquitted of any wrongdoing.

That’s when all hell broke loose.

Yes, there have been lots of extrajudicial killings of black people by law enforcement. That has been a historical reality in this country, and black people have been wrestling with it for literally generations. There have been too many trials to mention where all-white juries have convicted a black person of a crime which the judge, jury and officers knew he or she probably had not committed. That, too, has been a part of the African American search for justice and full American citizenship in this country.

But the Black Lives Matter movement erupted because in spite of what was clearly a case of an armed wanna-be police officer stalking an unarmed black kid – because he “looked suspicious,” the killer got off. One more time, the killer got off.

Are there some in the Black Lives matter movement who say “kill the pigs?” Yes. But the bulk of the protesters in the streets are not calling for the murder of police. They are calling for the end of judicial injustice.  Judicial injustice has said to black people for far too long that our lives have no value, and neither do our cries for justice.

I watch with interest as the rise in opioid addiction by white kids is getting more and more attention, with politicians and media and police doing all they can to save these kids from lives that will only go downhill if they do not shake their addictions. There was no such push to save the lives of black kids becoming addicted to crack cocaine. While white kids are being said to be suffering from the “sickness” of drug addiction, black kids were rounded up and thrown into jail for small amounts of marijuana. I watched with interest as   Brock Turner was treated with compassion after having raped an unconscious woman, the court not wanting to ruin his life by giving him a lengthy – and appropriate sentence –  for his crime. I  watch lawmakers in Flint dancing around what they need to do in order to make water safe for little black kids who have been drinking lead-tainted water for some time now.

Black kids, suffering, do not matter. Their lives do not matter. Their futures do not matter.

That’s what the Black Lives Matter movement is about, as much as it is about getting rogue, racist, ultra-violent police off the streets.

Just thought I’d share a personal and very painful …candid observation.

 

Racism Hurts

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Racism hurts.

Maybe that’s the wrong way to say it. Maybe I should say “the actions of racist people” hurt. The ongoing assault on and disrespect of, fellow human beings by a self-declared “supreme, superior race” hurts and has long-lasting effects.

It has been scientifically proven that the effects of trauma can be genetically passed down. Apparently, trauma causes changes in one’s genes as it is going on. Called “epigenetic inheritance,” scientists say the trauma passed down to children causes disorders including stress disorders. Findings in a study of survivors of the Holocaust were published recently. (https://www.theguardian.com/science/2015/aug/21/study-of-holocaust-survivors-finds-trauma-passed-on-to-childrens-genes)

Native American children apparently show results of the trauma their parents and antecedents have suffered, and psychologists, sociologists and scientists are documenting physical conditions in African Americans caused by the trauma that ethnic group has endured in this country since slavery. (http://atlantablackstar.com/2016/06/05/post-traumatic-slave-syndrome-and-intergenerational-trauma-slavery-is-like-a-curse-passing-through-the-dna-of-black-people/)

The science notwithstanding, though, there is a very real component of racism that nobody really talks about – and that is that it causes emotional pain of the oppressed in the here and now.

Racism and racist terrorism and hatred..hurt.

I often tell the story of little Ruby Bridges, who at 6 years old integrated the William Frantz  Elementary School. This child was eager to attend her “new school,” but had no idea of the racist people who would jeer at her, yell and scream at her, and leave her to sit in a classroom in that school for a full year, all by herself.

Because of cognitive dissonance, white people who were involved in this child’s trauma probably did not think of how little Ruby must have felt, but it had to have been horrible for her. For a year in that classroom it was only Ruby and her teacher, a white woman named Mrs. Barbara Henry, sitting side by side, because white parents had pulled their children out of the school generally and out of Ruby’s class specifically …all because little Ruby was black.

It had to be traumatizing. According to stories of that fateful time, on the second day of her attendance at Franz, a white mother threatened to poison her; on another day, she was presented a little black baby doll in a coffin.

She was a little girl, for goodness’ sake!

Not only did Ruby suffer, but so did her family. Her grandparents were sent off the land where they had lived as sharecroppers for 25 years. Her father lost his job. The local grocery store where they had shopped banned them from entering.

It might have been expected that by now, the 21st century, all of this racial hatred and bigotry would have abated, but it has not. Bryan Stevenson, the founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, says that “slavery didn’t end, it just evolved.”  That statement applies to racism as well, a fact that is sad in that too many white Americans live in denial, believe that racism is gone, while they continue to participate in and benefit from policies which support the continued oppression of people of color.

Not only are black people the targets of white hatred and bigotry, but so are brown people, and Muslims. Members of the LGBTQ community are oppressed not only by whites, but by blacks, Hispanics and Muslims.

A woman shared a story with me recently about two gay white men who had adopted two African-American boys. She said a neighbor hollered out to them one day that when Donald Trump gets elected “we, the white people, are going to get rid of people like you and your two little nigger kids.”

What is sad is that people who mete out this kind of hatred seem not to care that words are like knives, digging into the very spirits of those being attacked. Little black and brown children grow up in this nation fighting the belief that they are somehow bad and inferior; the fight to find one’s true Self in the face of such hatred is a difficult one, and many fail.

The emotional pain of racial hatred is as toxic and damaging is physical pain inflicted because of racial hatred. Public lynching has all but stopped (not completely), but emotional lynching is ongoing. It has never stopped. And the lack of concern for and appreciation of that pain is an issue …at least for me.

Black and brown people are criminals if they have a drug problem; white people are “sick” and need treatment if they have a drug problem. Ryan Lochte was virtually excused from his bad behavior in Rio de Janeiro after the Olympics, with many newscasters saying this 32-year old man is “just a kid,” and they accepted his statement that he “over -exaggerated.” Black people are rarely given such grace when they commit faux pas; Gabby Douglas was harshly criticized for not putting her hand over her heart during the playing of the National Anthem. Biles was said to have disrespected her country, but didn’t Lochte as well? The double standard meted out by racists…hurts.

The point of this essay is to say to people who apparently do not realize or do not care…that racist attacks, exclusion from jobs or opportunities or justice because of one’s race, disparity in the way black and white children are treated for the same offenses – hurts.  The lack of compassion for parents of black children who go astray, and the tendency to just want to lock black people up and throw away the key ..hurts.

The pain is no less than that experienced by a white kid who grows up in an emotionally and/or physically abusive home. The scars left are indelible; they do not go away. An abusive childhood produces abused adults who then, in their pain, go on to abuse more children. That’s not a color thing. That’s a human thing.

Listening to all of the racist talk, the hate-filled talk, that has swirled around during this presidential election cycle has made my spirit hurt, literally. The oppressors  apparently have no idea of how much damage they are inflicting on groups of people – which they have historically heaped on groups of people. They don’t know …and apparently they do not care.

And not being cared about is a hurting thing.

A candid observation..

Why Don’t White People Get It?

The other day on CNN, during one of those now-familiar pointless conversations by a so-called “distinguished panel,” one of the speakers, a Trump supporter, blurted out, “Why does race have to be injected into everything?

Because, my dear, white people in power have always made race an issue.

From the writing of the U.S. Constitution to the present day, white people in power have done all they can to keep black people out of power. White lawmakers, many of them, have done all they could do to keep black people from voting; they are doing the same now. White people wanted black people to work this economy and make them money, but these same white people, too many, were clear that they did not want black people to have political and or economic power. They were not equal to whites, these white people said. They were inferior, white supremacist dogma said. Black people were not worth the time of day, these whites felt, unless, of course, they were making money for white people.

Does that sound caustic and cynical?  It can sound no other way. It is the truth.

Blacks having the right to vote has always been an issue. After the Civil War, during Reconstruction, blacks were allowed to vote and enjoyed political power for a time. But with the coming of Jim Crow, the right to vote was one of the first “rights” to be taken from black people. The poll taxes, the literacy tests, the murders of those  – white and black – who tried to register black people to vote – became a part of the fabric which is America.

Donald Trump keeps lifting up the GOP as the party of Lincoln – which it was. At one time the Republican party was the party which believed in the words “all men are created equal” and worked to assure that black people in this country were treated with dignity and respect.

But many Republicans, in addition to  Southern Democrats who had historically and openly fought against equal rights for black people,  were uncomfortable with blacks having more political and economic power. The Civil War was fought because Americans couldn’t agree on what to do with black people. The South thought they should forever be slaves; the North, though they were no less racist than their Southern neighbors, thought slavery should be abolished. In drama no less compelling than what is going on now, the pro and anti-slavery people fought.  Black people, as W.E.B. DuBois said, were a “problem.” The political parties tossed the issue of civil and human rights for black people back and forth like they were a hot football. Frederick Douglass said that, no matter how bad the Republican Party was, however, it was a whole lot better than was the Democratic Party.

Republicans held on as the party which would fight for blacks, even as individuals began to defect. The American political landscape, always changing, endured a significant shift during the Great Depression. Not only were black people marginalized – which they had always been – but now, many white people were marginalized, too. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt had to do something to save the nation, much like Abraham Lincoln had had to do as the country fell deeper and deeper into the Civil War. While Roosevelt saved the nation, he spawned a new level of racism and classism. Many politicians, Republican and Democrat, were upset with his New Deal.The New Deal saved the country and really created a space and way for black people to make a better living than they had previously. But many Americans, especially white powerbrokers, were not happy.

The objection to “big government” began to take front and center in the Conservative political platform. Many believed that too many black people were benefiting from the government programs. Few people would say that, but the racial undertones were there. Black people were wrecking the country, many felt. They were getting too much government assistance. The atmosphere for rebellion on the part of whites was set, and it was in the 60s that white discontent erupted – with race still in the center of it all.  Some in the Republican Party, which had  actually been more supportive of the 1964 Civil Rights Act than had been the Democrats –  were not happy. Just two weeks after the CRA was passed, Sen. Barry Goldwater, a Republican from Arizona, included in the number of Republicans who were angry at the passage of the Civil Rights Act,  began a campaign to “appeal to Southern white voters.” Goldwater ran for president on a platform of racial politics. More Democrats defected to the Republican Party – with race being the primary impetus. The Southern Strategy was a way of  minimizing the power of the black vote. The Party of Lincoln became the Party of Racial Bigotry.

This race thing…isn’t a Republican or Democratic phenomenon, however. It is an American phenomenon. Issues of race eat us up as Americans. We cannot get past it. Even now, Republicans are trying hard to suppress the rights gained by blacks via the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But that fact does not obliterate the fact that many white Democrats are supportive of voter suppression as well.

Many in this country soundly believe that America is and was always meant to be a “white man’s country.” Donald Trump knows this sentiment; he is speaking to people who want to say what I just wrote but don’t dare. Mr. Trump, however, says what they want to say. In an article in The Nation Magazine, the authors noted that the “Republican Party became the party of white backlash, especially in the South.” (https://www.thenation.com/article/when-republicans-really-were-party-lincoln/)

But the white backlash is everywhere. Racism is part of America’s fabric. I just don’t understand why white people …just don’t get it.

A candid observation …

 

The Definition of Patriotism

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I had a Twitter conversation with a Donald Trump supporter that has left me puzzled.

Donald Trump, she said, is a patriot.

I had been complaining that Trump is not civil; civility matters to me. She acknowledged that he was not so civil but that he was a patriot. The country was in tatters and he was going to make things right again.

So, I’m puzzled. Is patriotism the same thing as racism? Is patriotism the same thing as isolationism? Is it synonymous with Islamophobia? I have no doubt that Trump loves America, but it is the flavor of his love that is making me question the definition of patriotism. Is President Obama not a patriot? Are the non-native born American citizens, especially those who have fought for this country, not patriots?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines patriotism as, simply, love for one’s country.

Trump is, by definition, a patriot. I was combining my idea of patriotism with my idea of civility. They are not synonymous. Trump, to me, is an uncivil patriot.

Patriots do not have to care about how they treat fellow Americans. What they do have to do is be against “the enemy,” wherever and whomever that enemy might be.

Donald Trump is not a patriot merely because he wants to bomb ISIS and make NATO members pay what they’re supposed to pay for. I hope he or someone can get rid of ISIS and all terrorist groups, including the domestic ones like the Ku Klux Klan.  And I hope that if he is elected, he will be able to get member nations of NATO to pay what they are supposed to pay.

Where I get confused is how he, as a patriot, can openly ask Russia, a long-time enemy of the United States, to hack into Hillary Clinton’s emails. If they hack into her emails, can’t they and won’t they hack into other documents that are vital to American security?  All this courting of Russia doesn’t feel patriotic to me. It feels troubling.

So, can one be a patriot and invite the enemy into its most private spaces? Isn’t Russia trying to regain its role as a top world power? Isn’t inviting Russia to hack an American politician’s email account kind of treasonous? Trump seems to trust Russia’s Vladimir Putin quite a bit. What is the basis of and for that trust? What has Putin done to show that Russia is America’s ally?

I am trying to understand. Someone help me. Because I am obviously missing something. What is a patriot? Donald Trump is a patriot because he loves his country, yet he questions the patriotism of President Obama and others whose foreign policy is different from his.

Patriotism seems to be a liquid concept if I go with the love for Trump as a patriot. It’s confusing.

A candid observation …

Trump is a Voice for the Frightened

 

When I was invited to preach at a white Episcopal church in Charles Town, West Virginia, the lead priest of that congregation called me to kind of coach me on how to approach the congregation.

Donald Trump

I was/am an educated African American woman. Her congregation was highly educated as well, but there is an issue of which I needed to be aware.

“They’re very sensitive about being talked down to,” she said, going on to explain that many white Southerners feel marginalized and put down by the “elites.” The elites were those with a lot of education, white people, she said, who they felt were always thinking that Southern white people were inferior, uneducated and, frankly, beneath them.

They were thus sensitive to being talked to in a way by an educated person which spewed that sentiment, and they were equally as sensitive about being called racist. Most of them hotly denied that they were racist, and would react badly if anything in my sermon got to that space of emotional pain that many white people, Southerners and Northerners as well, have carried for decades.

I was grateful for the priest’s “warning,” and worked very hard to make sure what I preached about – even though it was about racism – was not in any way an attack or a put down. Racism, I preached, was an aberration of spirit, something which Americans carry without even thinking about it. I worked very hard to illustrate the connectedness of all human beings, the ways in which we are the same regardless of color, before I got into the meat of the message, describing the damage racism does and has always done. It is America’s disease, I preached – not a new sentiment at all – but one which America has yet to acknowledge. And I tied all of what I was preaching about with the story of little Ruby Bridges, the little black girl who for a year sat in a classroom in New Orleans all by herself because racist people would not let their children be near her. I have a gift as a storyteller and worked the story so that the people could find the commonality of experience, the commonality of pain, the commonality of what it is to be a parent.

I think of that Sunday often. Charles Town is the city where John Brown was hanged for inciting an insurrection. It is rich in Southern history, a history which is rich with the stories and experiences of a culture which is racist but which ignores it in the hope of the reality of racism going away. America wants to keep its dirty little secret – which is not so little at all  and which is definitely not a secret- hidden away in a closet, and believes that if the secret stays in the closet, all will be well.

That belief, however, has always been wrong, and the proof that not talking about racism makes it go away is pushing up in the midst of this presidential election cycle. Donald Trump is feeding those who, like the Episcopal priest told me, are sensitive to being called racist and uneducated. A memo circulated by the Trump campaign vowed to concentrate on that group of people. (http://dailycaller.com/2016/08/06/trump-campaign-memo-primary-strategy-was-to-provide-safe-space-for-voters-called-bigots/) They are the ones who are screaming loudest about the “elite” people, those, they believe, who have been in power for too long. Their voices, beliefs and needs have been marginalized, ignored and cast aside for too long, in the quest of being politically correct, and being politically correct has meant “not talking about” racism and how the government, they believe, has done too much for black, brown and poor people, at the expense of white people.

The belief in white supremacy has driven American culture from its inception. After Reconstruction, whites who believed in their supremacy and resented the perception of blacks that they were equal with whites and therefore were owed the same rights, put Jim Crow into effect, effectively thrashing the gains made by black people, especially their right to vote. They believed then and many still do that America is a “white man’s country.” That doesn’t make them racist, they believe. That just makes them American.

No matter what, they have always been able to rely on their skin color to keep them in the running for the American dream, but globalization, making it possible for more people of color to invade what is supposed to be a white space, has weakened their status. They not only see more people of color coming into their land, they read or have heard the reports that by 2043, white people will be the minority in the United States. (https://mic.com/articles/106252/the-year-white-people-will-become-a-minority-in-america-has-been-declared#.TCKjBGUh9)

Donald Trump is speaking to a group of people who are angry, who have been marginalized by a government they think has been too big and too willing to embrace people of different races and religions, and who are seeing their version of white supremacy get more and more watered down. What they want “back” is the America where their status was secure.

That’s not going to happen.

But their fear is something Donald Trump knows. The group to whom he is speaking is vulnerable to his rhetoric, but the truth of the matter is that whites who are educated and who have gained pieces of the American dream are worried as well. “The marginalized” is not so small a group as many would like to believe. America is changing, and not many white people like it at all. Trump knows that, too – that whites of all classes are worried.

And so he is plowing through this campaign saying whatever he wants, challenging what has “always been,” promising that he alone will change the trajectory of a world which has not stood still, white supremacy notwithstanding.

And in his quest to speak to the hearts and concerns of those who feel abandoned and ignored, he is winning.

A candid observation …

 

 

What is a Joke?

At the height of the Democratic National Convention, Donald Trump, our Republican nominee for president, called a press conference, and during that press conference, he invited the Russian government to hack into Hillary Clinton’s email account.

He said that if the Russian government could find 30,000 missing emails, emails that Hillary Clinton said she erased, that the American press would probably “mightily reward” them. (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/29/world/europe/russia-trump-clinton-email-hacking.html)

His statement was shocking and troubling, and the press, as well as American government and security personnel, jumped all over it. Pundits tried to play it down; it was just “The Donald” being “The Donald,” practicing his craft of manipulating the press, as he so skillfully does. Any press, even bad press, is good, he believes. What better way to keep the spotlight on him, in light of what some might say is a fairly successful Democratic National Convention, than for him to say something outrageous?

But as the press and people who know government spoke out, Trump backtracked some, and said he was merely being sarcastic. And his friend Newt Gingrich, said that Trump had only been “joking.” (https://www.bostonglobe.com/news/politics/2016/07/27/newt-gingrich-says-donald-trump-was-joking-about-hillary-clinton-mails/vx5Ml4OXKJmfIcFMaDv6BK/story.html)

I’m confused. I thought a “joke” was or is supposed to be funny. Granted, the perception, understanding and interpretation of what is “funny” is left to the beholder, but there ought to be some thread of commonality, regardless of who is doing the interpreting, right?

The Merriam-Webster Dictionary says that a joke is “something said or done to cause laughter. : a brief story with a surprising and funny ending. : someone or something that is not worth taking seriously.” Good comedians are rare; they are capable of taking what we experience every day and making it funny. Their jokes make us laugh at ourselves, laugh at our habits and idiosyncrasies, laugh at our situations or even how we think. The best jokes, it seems, don’t make us look at someone who has a problem and laugh at them; at best, good jokes make us look at how we look at different people at laugh at ourselves.

But it seems that far too often in our world in general, and in our American world specifically, people say things that insult or put others down and when their words are found to offend, the immediate response is, “It was just a joke,” or “you can’t take a joke.”

Seriously?

When the mayor of a small town in Washington State called Michelle Obama a “gorilla face” and President Obama a “monkey man,” he said that it was just “playful back and forth banter.” (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/washington-mayor-racist_us_55a71677e4b04740a3defd84)

Amy Schumer has been called on the carpet for saying disparaging things about Mexicans. She calls them “jokes.” Mexicans call her words hurtful, racist and offensive. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/06/dont-believe-her-defenders-amy-schumers-jokes-are-racist/)

I personally hate the “n” word, but when an African-American is telling a story about some experience he or she has had with friends or family and uses the word, sharing an experience with which we as African Americans are all familiar, it is funny. But when a white person begins to use the word, not becoming immersed in a common, comical cultural experience but instead is standing outside looking in, the words sound judgmental, racist, and, frankly, inappropriate. A white person using the “n” word is never funny, and black people need to drop it, too. But there is a noticeable difference when black people are using it to describe black life, black experiences, black emotions and black pain.

But back to Donald Trump and his invitation to Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails – where  is the humor? Where is the joke? What are we supposed to find amusing about a presidential candidate inviting a known enemy of this nation to commit espionage?

Am I missing something here?

It is a cop-out to say one was only “joking”  when his or her words have backfired. If President Obama gave a presentation and called Donald Trump some disparaging term that has obvious racist overtones, the airwaves would burn. When people have said things about Trump, say, for instance, about his hair, they haven’t had to back up and say they were joking. They weren’t.

And neither was Trump. He was speaking from his heart, just as too many people do who say things that offend other people, especially along racial, ethnic and sexual lines. Calling someone a name, like too many have done, is not funny. Inviting an enemy to compromise your own nation’s security…is not funny, either.

Donald Trump was not joking and you were not being sarcastic. That’s what makes what he said so troubling, and even more troubling is the fact that his hard core followers do not care.

But many more do care, Mr. Trump. Many more do.

A candid observation …

 

When Black People Don’t Vote

The other day, I was going into a library and as I approached the door, a young man with a clipboard approached me, asking if my voter registration was up to date. As I assured him it was, my ears perked up when the other gentleman with a clipboard asked an African-American woman the same question I had been asked, and she snapped, “Yeah. Naw. I don’t vote!” And at that, she stormed into the library. I followed her and she grumbled to a child who was with her, who may have been her grandchild, “how dare them ask me if my registration is up to date! They don’t question me! If I want to vote, I’ll vote.”

I didn’t know if that meant she had a voter registration card and was just miffed that someone asked her if her information was up to date, or if she really planned not to vote. I don’t have the answer to my own question, but this I do know: it does something to me when I hear black people say they are going to vote.

Last year, I visited Selma. I walked across the Edmund Pettus Bridge. As I walked, I remembered reading what happened on that bridge, how black and white people were beaten back by white police officers who beat them, injuring many, including Congressman John Lewis, who was a young man at the time.

As we walked across that bridge, I remembered thinking how chaotic and scary that day or that project had to have been. The bridge is not large; it is not long and it is not wide, and yet, thousands of people, tired of having to take literacy tests given, many times, by people who could not read themselves. I thought about how those people kept hitting against the Evil called white supremacy, being beaten, imprisoned, having their houses burned down by white people, many of who were law enforcement officers…I thought about how people stayed the course and risked their lives and much more, just to get black people the right to vote.

And yet, some people say they will not vote.

I have heard young people say voting doesn’t matter, or, more specifically, that their vote does not matter. I have heard other people blame God, or give God credit, for their not voting. One woman, when I was registering people before the 2008 election, said God told her not to vote, that the only One she had to answer to, was God. No, she said, she would not be voting.

Her statement confused me and bothered me, just as this woman the other day at the library confused and bothered me, and, frankly, made me angry.

I remember growing up, when we kids would do something wrong that made us look like the selfish kids we were, my mother saying, “I’ve done (and she could list the things she had worked and sacrificed for) for you …and this is the thanks I get?

Those words gripped me as I grappled with this woman’s reaction to the question about being up to date with her voter registration information, and her declaration that, “no,” she would not be voting.

How can anyone of African American descent say that?

For many, there is disappointment that Hillary Clinton is the presumptive nominee. They are disappointed because they feel her message was supported by the media, though they feel that her message and candidacy was supported at the expense of Bernie Sanders. Others are angry at her because she supported policies of her husband, former President Bill Clinton, that were responsible for many black people being in prison today for either petty crimes, or crimes they did not commit.

To be honest, I am not wild about Hillary being in the White House, either. I don’t think she is any worse than any other candidate, but I am just not inspired by her campaign promises and rhetoric.

But though I am unimpressed by what she is saying, I cannot choose to skip this election and my by absence, give more votes to Donald Trump. Trump and the Republicans represent the racism, overt racism, that our ancestors fought to be rid of. Trump is a bully,and a narcissistic racist who is appealing to the guy wrenching fear and anger of a group of people who want him to “make America great again.”  I don’t think we as black people understand fully about how being present in the political arena and exercising our right to vote is about the best way to make sure white supremacy is held at bay.

I am hoping black people who are planning not to vote will rethink their plans. Black people don’t win by withholding, or rejecting  their privilege to vote. We have got to be present, in the middle of the cocktail party, so to speak, to make our voices heard and to not let the poison of white supremacy spread across these United States like a toppled jar of non-washable ink. Our ancestors, I keep thinking, must be weeping in their divine sleep, screaming screams that cannot be heard, saying, “No!”

We have come too far, but the powers that be are working to undo those changes, slowly, persistently, and financially. If we don’t vote, we contribute to Trump’s victory. But listen up: We needed the right to vote.  Even if you hate Hillary Clinton, there is or will be more chances to perhaps get people in high places so that the gains we’ve made will not be completely eroded by a group of people who “want their country back.” I don’t know what all that means, but it feels like something that will be designed to break our backs. They are gearing up for the victory of a man who thinks of no one but himself; if we let him in, we suffer; the gains we’ve made will be done away with.

And our ancestors will weep again.

A candid observation..

 

When the Women Rise Up

In light of the tragedy of the past week, one thing is standing out.

It’s the women. Women, aching, crying, concerned and committed, are standing up and speaking up and speaking out.

Diamond Reynolds, the girlfriend of Philando Castile, had the presence of mind to record the interaction between herself and a gun-holding police officer, doing a “live” recording that people could see immediately. It was phenomenal to watch. That she had the presence of mind to do that spoke volumes about her strength. As her boyfriend lay dying, as her four-year-old daughter sat in the back seat of the car, terrified, at times crying, and finally trying to comfort her mother, Diamond forged ahead, through her pain and terror, to tell a story she knew needed to be told.

Then there is the African American female cop who lives in Warrensville, Ohio who watched the video of Alton Sterling, a video in which she saw Sterling shot multiple times at point blank range, and this woman, a police officer, a woman, a mother …and an African American, spoke out. (http://www.ajc.com/news/news/national/how-dare-you-ohio-police-officer-nakia-jones-voice/nrtMG/)

Watching them, my mind went back to when Emmet Till was murdered – lynched – in Money, Mississippi after he  allegedly flirted with a white woman. He was visiting relatives and didn’t know …and was young and arrogant enough to disregard …the “Southern” way of life, which included the prohibition of a black man to pay attention or to “disrespect” a white woman. What that “disrespect” was was left entirely up to the white people, primarily white men, who made the call.

Emmett, only 14 years old at the time, was dragged from his uncle’s house in the middle of the night by relatives of the white woman who made the accusation against Till. His murderers beat him nearly to death; they gouged out one of his eyes, shot him in the head, and then used barb wire to tie his body to a cotton gin fan and threw his body into a river.

It was a horrific death, but those kinds of murders of black people were common in the South, and hardly anyone ever went to jail or prison – or even got charged, for that matter. It was the intent of the good ol’ boys that the narrative be that Emmet had just disappeared. But three days after his murder, his body washed up and was discovered. The authorities reportedly just wanted to hurriedly bury Emmet, but his mother, Mamie Till, who by now had been contacted about the disappearance and now the death of her son, refused to let them bury him. She headed from Chicago to Money, Mississippi, Emmet’s body lying in a funeral home waiting to be identified. He had decomposed so much that it was difficult to identify him, and the stench from his decaying body was so bad that Mamie could smell him when she got off of the train. But she went to that funeral home and demanded to see her son. She was able to positively identify him by a ring he had on his finger. She decided she would take her boy home, as expected, but what people didn’t expect was for her to insist that his coffin remain open so that the “world could see what they had done to her boy.”

Her decision was bold. It was courageous …and it was an action that stirred the complacency of people – white especially, but black as well – to sit up and notice an evil that was so much a part of American life that it was nearly taken for granted. There was some personal risk, one might assume, for Mamie, but danger to her was not her concern. She was tired. She had had enough. She hated racism and white supremacy. She had raised a good boy in a difficult time …and now, racists had killed her boy and wanted to cover it up and act like it was no big thing.

It wasn’t going to happen.

Her spirit was one of fire. Her spirit, like the spirits of Fannie Lou Hamer and Ella Coleman and Mary McLeod Bethune, and Rosa Parks …and so many women we usually mention but don’t give enough credit to, became a driving force in the continuing effort to take the covers off the shenanigans practiced by racist people who took stock and had confidence in their ability to mess over black people and get away with it. In these last few years of horrific police violence against black people, it has been women who have stood up and spoken up, saying, in essence, “no!” Sabrina Fulton, mother of Trayon Martin,  stood up. Lucia McBath, mother of Jordan Davis, stood up. The mother of Henry Green in Columbus, Ohio, Adrienne Hood, is standing up. There are more, and their impact cannot be underrated.

Mamie said, “no.” She said no, as did the women named here and so many others. Men in African American culture have done some amazing things, but it is the women who are standing out for me. And now, it is women, again, who are standing up. Nakia Jones, a police officer, could lose her job for standing up and saying that police who have race issues should not be cops. She said it and she said it with passion. She said that what she saw in the shooting of Alton Sterling was wrong,  and she said it boldly.  Diamond Reynolds said …no. If her boyfriend was going to die, she was determined that the world would know how it happened.  They said no and because of their courage, the world is having to look at things they have tried to run and hide from for decades.

I think there should be an award, a “Mamie Till Award” given to women who stand up and speak up with little regard to the risk to their own comfort.  While few people have any confidence at all that the police officers who killed Sterling and Castile, there is one thing most people have to admit: that because of the courage of women,  this world is a little bit more aware today than it was at the beginning of the week.

A candid observation …

 

http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/the-death-of-emmett-till