The Impotency of Silence, White Supremacy and Lessons from My Mother

One of the best and most powerful lessons my mother taught me was the lesson of “guilt by association.”

“If you’re with someone who’s doing something wrong and the police come, you’re going to get arrested too, even if you haven’t done anything.”

She told all five us that at a very early age, and it stuck to me, on me and in me like white on rice. So when, for example, I was in Berkeley, California one summer and was out shopping with someone I considered a friend – and she urged me to put a swimsuit I liked into my bag, I panicked. She had lifted several swimsuits and wanted me to “join the fun.”

My mother’s words stung me like a swarm of angry bees; I pretended to go along with her, saying I was going to go back in the fitting room and try on a couple more and would meet her in a few minutes outside.

I did nothing of the sort. I went into the dressing room and stayed long enough to see her going away from where we had been and I made a beeline to another door out of the store, got on a bus and headed back to my aunt’s home.

That was in the middle ages; there were no cell phones back then, nor the internet. She called my aunt’s home several times but I never talked with her again. I didn’t tell on her, but I just stayed away.

I thought about that lesson as I was thinking about the rabid racial hatred that is swirling around us in the present time, and I was thinking about the silence of so many white people in light of all that is going on, making them as guilty of racist behavior as the most vocal racist.

Audre Lord, an African American, Lesbian, feminist writer and poet, wrote, “My silences had not protected me. Your silence will not protect you.” She also said, “The master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house.”

Silence is a tool appreciated and exploited by the system of white supremacy; the thought seems to be on the part of many “progressive” whites that if racism isn’t talked about, then it doesn’t exist. The use of silence also seems to be an insurance policy for some whites who appear to think that if they are silent they cannot be condemned for being a participant in an evil system which knows no boundaries to its quest to control, manipulate and destroy the lives of black people.

At the heart of white supremacist thought is the innate belief that black people are inferior. “The white race” as a construct cannot figure out why black people even exist; in the 19thcentury, some scientists and white theologians posited that there could not be one god, but there were, in fact, many gods, a slap in the face of the principle of monotheism.  Black people had been created by another god, and, that being the case, it was OK to subjugate, oppress and discriminate against them. Their white god didn’t see anything wrong with and would not condemn those who were full of racist hatred and who participated in and sometimes initiated acts of violence against blacks. They could easily lynch someone on a Saturday night and go to church the next morning to sing hymns, hear a stirring sermon and maybe even receive or pass out Holy Communion.

There have been a fair number of whites who say they hate racism, but they do not say much about it. They rest in the comfort of whiteness, protected by their silence; their whiteness is like a tree which provides shade on the hottest of days. They get offended if called a racist and are annoyed when the word “racism” is used in relation to some of the oppression which goes on, but internally, they know that the talk about racism and the harm it causes  is not superfluous, but is damaging many, many lives.

The fear of speaking out is understandable. In our history, those whites who spoke against racism were called “n”-lovers. They were ostracized and suffered in ways that ought not to have been the case. Silence was easier. But silence is complicity. Those who have shied away from actively helping to end racism are like friends of a person who is shoplifting. They are equally as guilty.

The current administration is bold with its belief in and practice of racism; the code words and phrases used have endeared the president to white supremacists, whose desire to “make America great again” is really a push to “make America white again.” Blacks, they believe, must know their place and stay there, and those whites who disagree dare not say too much for fear of the fallout.

People in this country have bowed to the petulant South, which has never gotten over its defeat in the Civil War, but the defeat did not mean the end of the war; it just meant that the war would be fought in a different way. The tools would be Jim Crow, lynching and other violent acts (which is none less than domestic terrorism), voter suppression, discrimination in housing, employment and finances. The war goes on; the troops of the South ever increase, while the metaphorical “Union,” i.e., progressive whites, have laid their weapons down and have basically let those who believe in racism have their way.

But the silence of progressive whites is toxic and, in the end,, will not save them. Even as the policies and practices of white people in power continue to compromise the lives of black people and other non-white, non-Christian people, the wounds caused by this metastatic condition will not heal. The poison which is the foundation of white supremacy will continue to seep out and infect everyone.  As long as white supremacy is alive and well, nobody is safe.

And no, your silence will not protect you.

That day in the store, once I realized my “friend” was shoplifting, I ran. I may have saved myself from being arrested but I often wonder if I should have “squealed” on my friend. I wonder sometimes if she kept doing that. But it didn’t matter; what I realized was that I had my own demons that I hadn’t corrected and being silent about them has not healed me or saved me. I, too, have found myself in situations where I chose to be silent rather than to speak up.

We cannot successfully run from evil; we have to face it and it is in the facing that we begin to weaken it. Too many of us are afraid to publicly come out against racism; the cost, we fear, is too great.

I would posit a different thought: that not confronting racism, calling it out, cutting it off at its knees, will result in chaos that will rage out of control. Our silence is not helping us; it is leading this country to a bad, bad place.

A candid observation …

America’s Underwear is Dirty

It is probably safe to say that all of us were told by our mothers when we were little that we should always make sure our underwear was clean. They said the reason was that we never know when or if we might be in an accident. “You don’t want anybody to see that you’ve got on dirty underwear,” my mother would say.

America, it seems, has never changed her underwear.

The entire debacle of ICE agents ripping children from the arms of their mothers, and of putting children in detention centers while concurrently sending their parents to jail is not a new thing. More accurately, America’s power elite have a history of separating children from their families.

When Africans were brought to this country, it was common for those purchasing Africans would buy a mother or father, leaving screaming and terrified children behind. In many cases, those parents never saw their children again.

It is America’s underwear.

What allows anyone to separate families, ignoring the screams of mothers and their children, is the presence of cognitive dissonance, defined as “holding onto contradictory ideas simultaneously,” according to Joy DeGruy, author of Post Traumatic Slave Syndrome.”

            In America, she says, people hold onto the idea of freedom while doing something which is totally in opposition to that ideal. Thus, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who would staunchly defend his belief in democracy and Christianity could and did defend the policy of separating families of people coming to America from Central America.

Mr. Sessions does not, cannot and will not allow himself to…consider that these people are human beings, parents who love their children and who would not even think of leaving a despotic political situation and leave their children behind.

He does not relate to the immigrants as human beings. He has disassociated himself from them and therefore cannot feel their pain and worse, cannot believe that they are capable of feeling the same pain as does he and others whose humanity he respects.

Heather Anderson Williams writes in “Compartmentalizing Slavery” that “most white slaveowners …would have only a limited sense of what enslaved people felt and they did not pause the morality of an institution that deprived humans of their liberty and wantonly destroyed their families.” (http://www.slate.com/articles/life/the_history_of_american_slavery/2015/06/how_white_people_justified_and_struggled_with_separating_slave_families.html)

Likewise, there was no sense of how Native Americans felt when the Europeans came to America, bringing with them diseases to which Native Americans had never been exposed which resulted in over 90 percent of the Native American population at that time dying off. Nor did they consider what Native Americans felt when their land was taken, or how they felt when Europeans ignored their humanity in the quest for power and control of this country.

Martin Luther King said that there is a phenomenon called “thingification.”  In an address to the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967, he said, “A nation that will keep people in slavery for 244 years will thingify them – make them things. Therefore they will exploit them …”

That “thingification” has contributed to the oppression of blacks in this country for 300 years, for the decimation and genocide of Native Americans, for the oppression of women, members of the LGBTQ community,  for Muslims, and now, for the horrific treatment the current administration is meting out to immigrants coming to America seeking asylum.

Those ripping children from their parents have made these people “things” in the classic sense. Though they hear the children screaming for their parents, and the parents screaming back to their children, reaching for them, they have distanced themselves from the human tragedy in which they are engaged. Like the Europeans decimating the Native Americans, and like white people thinking only of ways to use black people to further their economic goals, these people today cannot conceive that the parents and children’s screams they are hearing are genuine.

They have dissociated. These people are not true human beings, capable of feeling as do the law enforcement officers and government working against them.

America’s underwear is dirty. She has never changed that part of her presence which was sullied and soiled from the moment the Europeans landed on these shores.

Sometimes, something is so dirty that it cannot be totally cleaned. There is a gray film over it and no amount of washing or bleaching fixes the problem.

This desire to protect whiteness, which is at the base of most of the oppression in this country, has sullied America’s underwear for hundreds of years. Attacking a group of people, ruining their families and causing a lifetime of hurt and pain, is part of what has stained the ideal of American democracy. It is a stain that was begun from the moment Europeans arrived here, and it continues to spread.

Were America taken to an emergency room, sick and in serious condition, it is a sure thing that those trying to treat her would see her dirty underwear, clearly never changed …and be appalled, judgmental and perhaps unconcerned. America’s poverty of humanity caused by her consistent “thingification” of people is leading her to a bad place, where her myth of being “the greatest nation in the world” will no longer stand up to scrutiny. Her dirty underwear will finally be completely exposed.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

The Pain of Ignored Mothers

One of the things that bothers me – and which has bothered me for a while – is that in this nation, where police brutality and racially-motivated crimes result in the death of a young African American person, few people seem to care about the pain of the mothers – and fathers as well – but for purposes of this piece – the pain of the mothers.

Everybody who is human has a craving and a right for justice. For so long however, in this country, there has been no justice when people of African descent have been killed – by police or by deranged people who live in racism. My thoughts keep going back to Mamie Till, the mother of Emmett Till – who demanded that the mangled and destroyed body of her son be displayed in an open casket so that the world could see what “they,” meaning hateful racists – had done to her son.

Mamie’s courage, strength  and tenacity were exemplary. When she traveled to Money, Mississippi to claim the body of her son, stories say that the stench of his rotting body filled her nostrils as she stepped off of the train. The undertakers in Money had wanted to bury Emmett quickly, but Mamie refused. She wanted to see her son, and could only identify him by the ring he had on his finger, which had belonged to his father. She held up somehow, and got him back to Chicago for the funeral, indeed inviting the press to take pictures of him so that “the world could see.”

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Then, this remarkable woman went back to Money for the trial of the two white men accused and on trial for his murder. She endured horrible treatment from local whites, but she would not be deterred. She wanted justice.

She probably knew that justice would allude her, because she was, after all, a black woman, as had been her son, and the two men accused of lynching him – J.W. Milam and Roy Bryant – were white, and so she probably was not surprised when, after about an hour the all-white jury brought back a verdict of “not guilty.”

But her heart had to have been broken. She had no son and she had no justice for his murder.

Every time a young black person is killed by “law enforcement,” and grand jury refuses to indict the accused officer, or the jury – still usually all-white – refuses to convict them, my heart aches for the mothers. My heart has ached for them all – from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Jordan Davis to Ty’re King to Henry Green to Eric Garner …the list seems endless. I have been in the presence of some of the families when verdicts of “not guilty” have been delivered, or when a grand jury, led by system-infused prosecutors have led the members of the grand jury to free the accused officer – has done just that.

I have heard the wails and seen the tears, and I have lost many tears myself. The depth of this injustice, based so deeply on white supremacy and racist actions which white supremacy spawns, is almost too deep to fathom. Yes, the families of the deceased get settlements from their respective cities, but those awards always seem bitter to me.

No amount of money can assuage the spirit of a parent who has lost a child.

The fact that so many white people do not understand how awful it must be to carry two suitcases – one containing the reality of the unjust death of a child and the other containing the pain of not having been able to get justice for that child – is troubling. Why can’t this society, which boasts of being “Christian,”  see and hear the cries of the mothers, the ignored mothers who must somehow find a way to keep living in spite of such intense loss?

I am only speaking now as a mother; the fathers of these lost children suffer deeply as well. I have seen interviews of the fathers of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown and Jordan Davis. These grown men break down and weep – and there is nothing adequate to wipe those tears – but more importantly that pain – away.

Every day, these parents have to get up and keep living, though they want to die.

Mamie Till held her own. She had that funeral. She showed the world what “they” had done to her son. She kept on living. She kept on working with people, trying to get them to not be afraid of working for justice.

But her heart never recovered. She lived with that heaviness that all mothers, all parents, must live with and carry every day, knowing that in spite of God, the hatred of white supremacy continued to reign in this country, ripping young lives away from life and throwing them away – and acting like it’s all OK because those lives just do not matter.

On this day, I think of ignored mothers, and know that some way, some how, this madness has to stopA candid observation …

Is White Supremacy a Disease?

As I have watched and listened to the GOP fight to “repeal and replace”  Obamacare, the ACA (Affordable Care Act), and have listened to the president say he is undoing policies put into place by President Obama, I have found myself wondering if what we are seeing thus far is nothing more than a serious backlash against the former president, instead of a desire to govern our country.

The current president seems to be competing with Obama, even now; he seems obsessed, actually. It began on Inauguration Day, with the president worrying about his numbers. He clearly wanted to be able to say that he had drawn more people than had his predecessor, though the pictures of his crowds, as compared to Obama’s, clearly showed that he had not.

He and the GOP have been intent on repealing and replacing the ACA because “we made a promise to the American people.” They did. When the ACA rolled out, there was stiff and virulent opposition to it. The Tea Party was able to organize around its opposition to the law, but now, even Trump supporters realize that the ACA, though not perfect, has enabled them to have health care …and they want the law to stay in place.  The town halls being held not just in Democratic strongholds, but also in places where the president is loved and supported, are showing that people want the ACA. They don’t want it repealed. They want lawmakers to fix it and then leave their healthcare alone.

In other words, the people do not care about the GOP keeping that particular promise. They like what they are getting, flaws and all.

That being the case, why isn’t the GOP hearing “the American people?”  If they want to get rid of the bill so that they can give the wealthy a tax break, and give advantages again to the insurance companies, they should say that. That’s an OK goal, meaning, it’s in line with what seems to be Republican ideology. “The American people” don’t want that, but the GOP and the president ought to at least be honest in why they want to repeal the ACA.

But the ACA was attacked as soon as it was passed, even attacked as it was being formed. The anger was real; the Republicans felt like the bill had been “rammed down their throats,” an ironic complaint since the Republicans really tried to do in three weeks what the Obama administration took over a year to get into place.

What the GOP and the president seem to be intent upon, however, is undoing Obama’s signature piece of legislation.  That would be an apt slap in the face for the black man who dared be president of these United States. The president seems hell bent on erasing Obama’s legacy and it is proving to be harder to do than he thought it would be.

I can’t help but go back to the fact that on Obama’s first inauguration day, there were GOP leaders meeting to decide how to make him a one-term president. Before he had done a single day’s work as president, the Republican leadership was working to destroy him. Mitch McConnell said in October, 2010 that his party’s primary goal was to make Obama a one-term president.

The Republicans obstructed Obama at every turn. in January, 2016,  he had a budget which called for $4.15 trillion in spending – and the Republicans refused to seriously consider it. The president is busy undoing policies Obama put in place to protect the environment, to protect immigrants and children of immigrants…It feels like “anything Obama” has to go, according to the GOP mindset.

And it feels like nothing more than racial resentment, boiling over.

Rev. William Barber, the creator of the Moral Mondays movement, talks about this being a time of the Third Reconstruction. The first rReconstruction happened after the gains made by blacks after the Civil War. Whites did not like it, and after the federal government took troops out of the South to protect black, all hell broke loose. Whites put laws and policies into place that not only undid all of the gains made by black people, but also to prevent any more progress from being made.

Whites wanted to “make America white,” and therefore, “right” again, in their eyes.

It feels like that is what is happening now. The operative mindset – that of white supremacy, believing that America was made by white people for white people …is running wild. People of color will be put in their place, if these lawmakers have their way. White supremacy as a way of life corrodes the capacity for compassion and care, and makes people blind with a false notion of white superiority.

It is hard to watch. It is even harder to manage the feelings of resentment that the diseased lawmakers are stoking.

A 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..