We Wear the Mask – Still

            As an African American, I find that I often walk around with a lump in my throat because this country does not, has not, and will not regard me or my people as human beings worthy of being treated as the American citizens we are.

            When it comes to race, this nation has no honor.

            The lump isn’t always noticeable; sometimes, it retreats and I can forget for a time that it is there. But no matter how long the lapse, it always comes back.

            I first noticed the lump when I was in college. I was reading about the lynching of Emmett Till, and how the all-white jury acquitted the two white men who had killed him. How could that be, I wondered? How could a court ignore the guilt of two men who had clearly murdered someone?

The lump reappeared from time to time after that, but came back with a fury when I was in seminary and heard the story of one Dred Scott one Sunday I had, of course, heard his name before, and knew a little about his story, but I had never heard about the engagement and involvement of the nation’s highest court. It was in a sermon preached by the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright that I heard the words uttered by U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Roger Taney in 1857 as he ruled against a Black man, Dred Scott, who sued in order to protect his freedom, gained when his owner took him into a free state. Scott had lived in the free territory of Wisconsin and the free state of Illinois before being taken back to Missouri, where he was again enslaved.

            Scott objected. He knew the law and the law said that once a person was free, he or she was always free. He decided to sue in a lawsuit that made its way all the way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. After 11 years of litigation in its movement from lower courts to the country’s highest court, the decision was finally at hand. Scott was hopeful.

            But his hope was dashed as Taney ruled against him. Taney wrote that because Scott was Black, he was not a citizen  – and could never be a citizen -and therefore had no right to sue. Referring to the Declaration of Independence, Taney also said that “it is too clear for dispute that the enslaved African race were not intended to be included and formed no part of the people who framed and adopted this declaration…” 

            Given all of that, Taney said, it had to be understood that “there were no rights of a Black man that a white man was bound to respect.” 

            What? I was stunned and can still remember being in shock as I heard those words. How could someone who was supposed to be about justice say such a thing? I later wept as I read the words for myself and realized in a new way that not even the courts do not protect us and could be counted on to bring justice to Black people, including the highest court in the land.

            From the day that the lump formed it has risen from time to time, reminding me of the pain I carry about this nation having so little honor when it comes to race. That lump jostled me again today as I heard the decisions the U.S. Supreme Court made that clearly indicate that the justices are not interested in treating Black people as full American citizens with all the rights citizenship includes. The highest court in this land has yet again sanctioned ways to keep Black people disenfranchised. (https://www.cnn.com/2021/07/01/politics/voting-rights-act-supreme-court-ruling/index.html) (https://www.npr.org/2021/07/01/1004062322/the-supreme-court-guts-a-state-law-requiring-nonprofits-to-name-their-rich-donor.

And again, I wept.

            From the courts to law enforcement to the media, this country has made clear how deeply embedded is the spirit of white supremacy. There are those who are bold with their belief in the inferiority of Black people, and others who remain quiet and do little to nothing as they see the system run roughshod over Black lives and yet declare that they are not racist. The latter group makes little to no effort to investigate and see why there is a Black Lives Matter movement. They refuse to open their eyes and see how the systems of this country have blocked African Americans for literally hundreds of years. Both the vocal and non-vocal racists remain steeped in fear, rage, and insecurity; they are afraid of Black people and afraid that if Black people ever got the opportunity to govern, they would do to white people what white people have done to them. They are full of rage because they believe Black people – who they still do not regard as human beings or citizens – have been “given” too much and are unappreciative, even as white people struggle in ways they do not believe they should be, and they are insecure because reports say that white rule will soon no longer be the case in America.

            It is a difficult thing to keep on pushing for justice when the hard truth of the lack of honor of white people in power repeatedly hits you in the face. Black people get metaphorically slapped over and over, as arrogant critics tell us to get up and to “shut up and dribble,” as the infamous Laura Ingraham once said when NBA great LeBron James spoke out against police brutality.( https://www.marketwatch.com/story/fox-news-host-laura-ingraham-told-lebron-james-to-shut-up-and-dribble-so-whats-her-take-on-drew-brees-2020-06-04)

            The evil of white supremacy in this country has never diminished, and at this point, it is more toxic and dangerous than it has been publicly for some time, but make no mistake: it and its toxicity have never been gone. This country still has a plantation mentality, wanting Black people and a whole lot more people whom the white supremacist adherents believe are less than human to “stay in their place.”

            Poet Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote the poem, “We Wear the Mask,” the first line of which says, “We wear the mask that grins and lies; it hides our cheeks and shields our eyes. This debt we pay to human guile…”

            We have been paying that debt for literally hundreds of years, and we still must.

            The stupid lump in my throat is real today; I will work – as we all must – to swallow it back down into its bedroom that is in my soul. But it will rise again.

            A candid observation …

Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump

In spite of all of the bad news – morally, economically, and politically – which has come out about Donald Trump from the moment he announced his intention to run for the presidency, nothing has been bad enough for his “base,” – which includes a wide swath of white evangelicals- to desert him. Continue reading “Why Evangelicals Love Mr. Trump”

On “Getting Over” Racism

 There are few things that rankle my spirit like white people saying to and about black people that we should “just get over” slavery.

Their saying that shows a profound ignorance, arrogance, and lack of the capacity and demand to understand what the American white supremacist system has done to so many people and continues to do.

Fox News anchor Tucker Carlson had a guest , Canadian author and columnist Mark Steyn – to make the statement. (https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/tucker-carlson-tonight-guest-says-african-americans-need-move-slavery-213605922.html?.tsrc=fauxdal&fbclid=IwAR3f-i3x7-lcPBw7–iTP20-aqkg5QEl_ZcATVn6owsJZIIUzfiy01mnlhY) When I posted the article on my Facebook page complaining that this statement is totally insulting, I got the expected push-back from some who think that Steyn was right and from some who castigated me from taking issue with it.

The question I always ask is “do white people ask the Jews to “get over” the Holocaust?” They do not. What happened to the Jewish people in Germany – and to others whom the Germans believe were unfit to live – should never be forgotten.

Why, then, should what this country did – and continues to do – to not only African Americans but to people of color in general be forgotten? If the truth is told, this country has never dealt with what it has done. The power structure works to keep hidden and diminished the horror of racism which is the child of white supremacy. America has worked hard to communicate the false narrative that it is the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” when in truth, this country was never meant to be a place of equal citizenship for all people from the very beginning.

The belief that black people were inferior to white people was built into the DNA of this country and has since prevailed. In his book, The Last Days: A Son’s Story of Sin and Segregation at the Dawn of a New South, author Charles Marsh recalls that the message and ethos of white supremacy was not only politically but religiously supported. His father, a Christian pastor and preacher, would not preach an egalitarian message from his pulpit; he says that his father had “not been convinced by the civil rights brass that God was on their side.” The fact that blacks had no recourse from established institutions – from the church all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court – ought to cause many of the “get over it” advocates some calm.

The American eugenics movement was based upon the belief of white Americans that this country was built by white people for white people. American science in the area was so deep and broad that the Germans borrowed from the research and conclusions reached by American scientists and politicians to set up their own system of the genocide of Jews and “other undesirables.”

If the assault on black people had ended, if it hadn’t persisted in areas including housing, education and economic development, not to mention health, perhaps it would be easier for African Americans to move past our lingering pain, but the racist assaults and attacks have not ended. Bryan Stevenson, the founder, and director of the Equal Justice Initiative says that “slavery never ended. It just evolved.”

That statement is cutting in its truth.

The fact that African Americans have made significant gains not because of but in spite of the American political and religious systems says much about our character and tenacity. From being captured in Africa, to surviving the Middle Passage, slavery, and Jim Crow, we have prevailed. We have fought racism on every front – and we still have to fight. We are disrespected and accused of whining, when in fact we have adopted the words of the Declaration of Independence and of the Christian Bible and have made them work for us, even as this country has thwarted our efforts at every turn.

America will fall because of its refusal to make restitution for its white supremacist ways. Our race law, our policies and practices are known, studied and are recognized by countries all over the world.  James Q. Whitman, who wrote Hitler’s American Model: The United States and the Making of Nazi Race Law said that the tyrannical German ruler “regarded the United States as the obvious leader in developing explicitly racist policies of nationality and immigration.”

In the present day, Russia is exploiting America’s racism to manipulate and engineer specific outcomes in our elections. (https://qz.com/1495383/a-racial-history-of-russian-meddling-in-us-politics/)

So, let’s not talk about “getting over” something that we have never fully acknowledged as being as damaging and toxic as it is and has always been. No person, government or institution can heal from a situation unless and until they admit the problem.

America has done none of that.

A candid observation …

 

 

 

 

Black Military Veterans, Racism, and Taking a Knee

Ever since former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick first “took a knee” in 2016 during the playing of the National Anthem to protest racial inequality and police brutality, there has been a group of people, led by and including the President of the United States, to denigrate the act and to complain that “taking a knee” is a sign of disrespect of the American flag and the military.

The president has been bold in his criticism of players acting on their First Amendment right to protest, saying at one of his rallies that he wished NFL owners would take a stand against anyone “disrespecting our flag,” saying, “Wouldn’t you love to see one of these NFL owners, when someone disrespects our flag, ‘Get that son of a bitch off the field now.’” ( https://www.theguardian.com/sport/2017/sep/22/donald-trump-nfl-national-anthem-protests)

The narrative supporting the belief that the protest is somehow unpatriotic has only grown among those who support the president’s views, but the fact of the matter is that this country has a history of disrespecting black men (and women) who have fought in America’s wars. The history is not pretty.

The story of Isaac Woodard, who in February 1946 was attacked by white people while still in uniform, is just one of the many cases of black military veterans being beaten by whites. In Woodard’s case, he had just been honorably discharged and was on a bus headed to South Carolina from Georgia. When he asked if the bus driver would allow him time to use the bathroom during a stop, the bus driver got angry and cussed at the still-in-uniform Woodard – and Woodard said later that he cussed back. The bus driver called someone while the bus was stopped, and further along in the trip, the bus made another stop. It was met by police, to whom the bus driver told the story of Woodard wanting the bus to wait for him to go to the bathroom and about Woodard cussing back at the bus driver. Police began beating Woodard right there. They arrested him and took him to jail, where they continued to beat him until he was unconscious. When he awakened, his uniform now bloody from the beating he had endured, he could not see. The police chief reportedly had used his nightstick to pound Woodard in his eyes. He was charged with disorderly conduct and was made to pay a fine. Someone drove him to a hospital where doctors told him he would be permanently blind.

The truth is, in spite of African Americans being willing to fight for this country, this country has not been willing to treat them with dignity and afford them the full rights of American citizenship. According to a report prepared by the Equal Justice Initiative (EJI), “Lynching in America: Targeting Black Veterans, between 1877 and 1950, “no one was more at risk of experiencing violence and targeted racial terror than black veterans. White America, notably in the South but elsewhere as well, had no respect for the men and women who had joined the military but were instead afraid of them, and they were unwilling to abandon their belief in white superiority over black people.  The report quotes Mississippi Senator James K. Vardaman said that black veterans returning to the Shout would “inevitably lead to disaster.” Whites in America, who wanted to preserve the white supremacy way of life and of thinking, were worried that while in Europe, the soldiers might have gotten confused, thinking they were due human and civil rights. Whites were determined that no such new thinking on the part of blacks would be legitimized. (https://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/the-tragic-forgotten-history-of-black-military-veterans)

The EJI report said that often “the only provocation” for a black in uniform to be attacked was just that – the wearing of the uniform, but the violence meted out against them did not stop blacks from enlisting in the American military. The report says that 1.2 million black men enlisted during World War II. When they returned home, they were subjected not only to violence but were denied benefits offered to white veterans. The GI bill was written in such a way that most of its benefits, including money to purchase homes and/or to get an education, were denied to black soldiers.

While all of the stories of black soldiers being abused, discriminated and ultimately lynched, some stories stand out more than others. Johnson C. Whittaker, the first black to receive an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point was found unconscious in his dorm in 1880. While he was sleep, he was attacked by three white cadets, who beat him in his head, choked him and cut his earlobesdoublev_hc_cat. West Point administrators blamed Whittaker, saying he had staged the attack, and they court-martialed him. He was convicted and expelled from West Point. (https://eji.org/reports/online/lynching-in-america-targeting-black-veterans)

The disrespect of blacks who served in the military has not stopped. On Veterans Day in 2016, Ernest Walker, wearing his Army uniform, went to a Chili’s restaurant in Texas where veterans were being offered free meals. Walker says t an elderly white man, wearing a “Make America Great Again” cap, approached him at his table and said that he had served in Germany and that “blacks were allowed to serve there.” The man told the manager that Walker was not a real soldier “because he was wearing his hat inside.” The manager approached Walker and in spite of Walker showing his military credentials, his leftover free food was taken away. (https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/chilis-apologizes-veterans-day_us_58297fe7e4b0c4b63b0d47d1)

The fact that in spite of being so badly treated in this country that African Americans have continued to enlist in the military to fight for this country says something about the perception of what “taking a knee” is about. Far from showing disrespect for the American flag and for America’s military, “taking a knee” is a protest against the system that allows, sanctions, ignores and perpetuates the discrimination against black people. If there is a “son of a bitch” in this scenario, it is not the players who kneel; it is the system which, because of its injustice, forces them to kneel. It is a legal way, an action in compliance with the tenets of the United States Constitution, to bring attention to the lack the rights of full American citizenship for people of color.

Now the president wants to have a huge, expensive military parade. Whatever his reasons are, I am sure he is ignorant of how the military has treated some in their ranks who have died or been permanently maimed while fighting for a country which does not fight for them. Wouldn’t it be nice if the president and his crew would read the history of what African Americans have contributed to America’s military efforts …and themselves, “take a knee” to show solidarity, support, and understanding – and a willingness to change what is wrong?

That would be just, I think.

A candid observation…