This Year I Ignored the Fourth of July

When I was a child, growing up and attending integrated schools, we were taught “America songs.” That’s not what they called them; it is what I have grown to call them.

            We were taught, along with the lesson that police officers were good and our friends, songs including, “I Like It Here,” “America,” and “My Country ‘Tis of Thee,” among others. 

            I sang them loudly and with passion, as did my white classmates. I can still remember the words of one of one of my favorites:

I like the United States of America,

I like the way we all live without fear!

I like to vote for my choice, speak my mind, raise my voice

Yes, I like it here!

I like the United States of America,

And I am thankful each day of the year!

For I can do as I please, ‘cause I’m free as the breeze

Yes, I like it here!

            It was a fun song to sing, and comforting, as comforting as was the notion of the police being our friend. As a child, comfort was important. It was reassuring. We needed to feel safe and having police as our friend in a country where we were free provided the greatest comfort of all.

            My level of comfort increased as I learned about the structure of our government. With the three branches of government, we were assured that we would never descend into anarchy (they didn’t use that word, but we understood.) Our system of checks and balances was as protective as were the police. We were safe.

            We didn’t learn, though, that the freedoms outlined in the Bill of Rights, or that the words “we the people” did not, were never intended to, and would never include us as little black children. We didn’t learn about the Middle Passage and the inhumane treatment Africans received in this country on that trip and once they got into this country. We didn’t learn about how slavery destroyed the Black family, or how Black women were raped by white men, while Black men were lynched even on the suggestion that he might have raped a white woman.

            We didn’t learn about how Black people participated in every war, from the Revolutionary War through the Korean War. (The Vietnam War had not yet happened, nor the war in Afghanistan, but we have fought in every war this country has fought.) We didn’t learn about how Black men fought in those wars but were relegated back to their status of being second-class citizens in this country once the war was over, just because they were Black. We didn’t learn how white people resented them wearing their uniforms and how many of them were lynched while in uniform. And we didn’t learn how the Black GIs were denied post-war benefits, like loans for housing, education, and business.

            We just did not know because none of it was taught to us. We were being taught to love a country, though, that did not and would not love us back.

            We learned that Abraham Lincoln freed the slaves, and that made us like him because we regarded him as a “good” white man who treated Black people right, but we didn’t learn that he didn’t free all enslaved people, nor did we learn that he never believed that Black people were equal to white people and that he was a big proponent of sending Black people back to Africa.

            We didn’t learn how white people – many in law enforcement and former military people – participated in state-sanctioned violence against Black people, where Black people were not only lynched but their communities decimated – and in some cases, bombed -by these angry white people.

            We didn’t learn that so many white people were mad because they resented the progress Black people made in spite of legal, paralegal, and illegal measures, laws, and policies put into place.

            There was so much we did not learn. We didn’t learn about how the Greenwood community of Tulsa, OK, was destroyed by yet another group of angry white people, and Juneteenth didn’t exist in our history lessons.

            We, the Black and the white children, were given a whitewashed, sanitized history of these United States. As we grew, we realized how entrenched white supremacy was in this country; we learned from experience how racist people were, including our classmates, who had been taught to hate Black people because of the color of their skin.

            If the truth be told, June 19th, 1865, the day Army Major General Gordon Granger read General Order #3 which said all slaves were free was the true “independence day” for Black people, but it was not a day, nor was it intended to be, when African Americans would be allowed the full rights of American citizenship. 

It is crazy to me that the white senators unanimously voted to make Juneteenth a national holiday while they are simultaneously supporting measures to suppress the right of Black people to vote, and yet, that is our reality.

            White violence against Black people – too often if not always participated in by law enforcement officers and members of the military – continued with Black people seldom getting justice in the courts – be they state, federal, or the U.S. Supreme Court. The goal of the white power structure has been to keep Black people “in their place,” and they have sought to attain that goal by any means necessary, with the assistance of the media and the church.

            So, on this Fourth of July holiday, I shuddered when I heard the fireworks starting up. I refused to break out the grill and “celebrate” a holiday which is clearly precious to our white friends, but is a painful reminder that this country about which we were taught as children to sing, has not ever and will not ever extend to Black people – and other minorities – the freedom to be free – in spite of the glorious and powerful words of the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights and the Preamble. 

            For Black people, the words to “I Like It Here” are a reminder that we cannot “do as we please ‘cause we’re free as the breeze.” 

White people so often say, “why do you always have to talk about race?” Because, dear friends, race is the card you use when you are working to keep power in the hands of white people. It has always been and it will always be. You use race to sanction and justify the laws, rules, and policies you put in place to reinforce your oppression of us – and of so many other ethnic, racial, and religious groups of people.

In this country, Black people have always been the fly in the American ointment, reminding whites that we are here and that we have power of which they are afraid. When it hits them, they work with a fury to keep us compromised as American citizens.

            “America songs” notwithstanding, we are not even close to being free…to be free.

What White Supremacy Has Stolen

I am afraid that the belief in and the practice of white supremacy has stolen the honor of far too many people.

            I am a student of history, and so have read – with horror – the things that so many white people have done in history to Black people. I have read how white preachers taught the people who sat in their pews that God ordained and sanctioned slavery, and I have read how, when there was to be a lynching, some of those same pastors would let their people out of Sunday service early, so as not to miss the event. In his book White Too Long, Robert P. Jones noted that when there was to be a lynching, “…many worshippers streamed straight from church to the train station, hoping to participate in the much-anticipated lynching…The conductor would cry out, “All aboard for the lynching.”

            Last week was the first time many people – Black and white – had heard about the Tulsa Massacre, but the sad fact is that white people have too often in history decimated entire towns of Black people, and have gotten away with it, choosing to “forget it” once it has been done. It is significant that the only bombs that have been dropped in America have been those dropped on Black homes and churches and businesses – by white people. White people dropped turpentine bombs and or set the homes of Black people on fire in East St. Louis, Ill, in Wilmington, NC, and very recently, in Philadelphia, PA. It was and is normal behavior for those who value their whiteness above all else.

            I have read how people who say and who said while they were yet alive that they believed in Jesus  and thus in Christianity believed that they were on the right theological side of the question of racism. They had no fear of going to hell for what they did to Black people because they did not believe that Blacks were truly human.

            In history, most of the most vile and vicious acts of violence have come when white people have decided that Black people wanting to vote or being given the right to vote was against the cause of white dominance. There has never been “equal justice under the law” for Black people. In fact, white lawmakers, jurists, judges, and law enforcement officers have participated historically in these attacks on Black people. 

            They have not worried about Black people being run from their homes, about Black husbands and wives being separated, about Black children torn from the arms and homes of their parents. They have not cared about Black people being charged with crimes that many times everyone knew they had not committed.

            They have not cared about making policies that have kept Black people enslaved by poverty; they have not cared that little Black children have had to try to make it in schools which were poorly heated in the winter and which had no air conditioning in the summer.

            They have not cared. White supremacy did something to their capacity to care and to their ability to be honorable human beings.

            As we watch white people now distance themselves from the January 6 insurrection, it is nothing less than what they have always done. They have always backed away from, tried to hide, and ultimately, blame Black people for the things they have done. They already know that Black Lives Matter had nothing to do with January 6, and some of them, at least, know that Antifa is not an organized group of people. They know that the acts of terrorism have come from them -as they have always come from a group of people who seemingly have nothing but their whiteness to give them a reason to wake up in the morning.

            They have no honor. These who make racist policies, who are working to keep Black and Brown people from voting, who are fighting to protect the Second Amendment while working to destroy the First Amendment – have no honor. They would rather claim whiteness than honor. They would rather worship racist ideologues than a God who demands that we treat each other as the human beings that God created. In fact, many of them argue that Black people, and maybe Brown people as well, are not humans at all. Saying that relieves them of needing to feel bad or guilty for what they do to kill hopes and dreams and the dignity of people who are just as American as are they.

            They wanted and .needed Black people for their labor. They want people for their labor now, as well, but they want the labor at the expense of making a way for those who labor to live decent lives, to provide for their children, and to live without worrying that they will be shot and killed by those who do it just because they can. 

            They have no honor. White supremacy stole it, like life sometimes steals the sense of worth or self-esteem from too many people. Those without honor will continue to smirk as they continue to destroy people, dreams, and lives. They will continue to practice domestic terrorism and get away with it, just because, as white people, they can do it and get away with it. 

            A candid observation.

Struggling in the Presence of Hate

         Sometimes, I find myself apologizing to God.

My mother drilled into us that Jesus said  we are supposed to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” She was being Biblical. We all know the Great Commandment that appears in both the Hebrew scriptures and is quoted by Jesus: Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

            It is one of what I call the “ridiculous” and distasteful commands we are supposed to know and follow. It is as problematic for human beings as is the command to forgive. If we do not forgive those who hurt us, God will not forgive us, we are told, but everyone knows that forgiving those who have caused our souls mortal pain is not only distasteful but extremely difficult.

            The first theologian in my life, my mother, was the one who drilled into me and my siblings “what Jesus said” to do. She said it as we watched images on television of firemen spray children and women with their firehoses and police officers used dogs to attack people who were peacefully protesting against the practice of segregation. “Jesus said you have to love them and forgive them!” my mother called out to us from the kitchen.

            Even as a child I wrestled with what my mother said Jesus commanded, and I wondered if the white folks who were putting vicious dogs on innocent people had to forgive and love everyone, too? As I got older and began to study the history of racism in this country, I wondered even more.

            And I still do.

            Because white people are desperate to hold onto their whiteness, they are acting in desperation, doing all they can to “preserve” the status of their race because they are afraid of this country becoming too brown. The reports that indicate that by 2034 white people will no longer be the majority in this country has them mortified, and so they are working as hard as they can to establish a minority-run government – a government not like that of South Africa. 

            They believe in apartheid. 

            There are people who, no doubt, would say that I am being hyperbolic, but I am not concerned about their rants. What I am concerned about is my own struggle to do what Jesus said for us to do as I watch them run roughshod over this country that Black, brown, Asian, poor, and Native American people built. 

            They have always done that. There are a fair amount of white people who will openly admit that they believe that this country was “built for white people by white people,” and others who gasp and protest at such a suggestion.

            But it is true, and it is also true that far too many white people, even while they are declaring that they are not racist, live in the comfort of being white and do not think much about how white supremacy has poisoned the world. Kehinde Andrews, in his book The New Age of Empire, says that this country “is the most extreme expression of the racist world order.” He also says that America’s “entire existence is based on the logic of Western empire,” and that it became “a Garden of Eden for Europeans looking for wealth and opportunity.” Finally, he says this country “likes to present itself as a victim of British colonialism which freed itself from tyranny and now looks to do the same for the rest of the world.” This, he says, “is a delusional fantasy.”

            But because America lives in the myth of its own moral superiority, it cannot, has not, and will not admit its racism. The powers that be continue to try to keep the truth of this country’s heinous history of racism away from white children, who grow up to unaware white adults.

            And as they continue to walk over Black, brown, Asian, Native American, Muslims…and so many other groups, they perpetrate and engage in behaviors and make policies that hurt and hold back people whom they do not believe are fully human and thus worthy of being treated as such.

            Those are the people we are supposed to love and forgive, even as they refuse to love us back. If they must think of forgiving us, I suppose they would think that they have to forgive us for encroaching upon their privilege.

            Here is the struggle, though. I don’t want to love them. And I am struggling to forgive them for all of the pain they have caused so many. I am angry at them for their lack of concern at what they do to non-white people, and for their arrogance that comes from knowing they can do pretty much what they want to non-white people and get away with it. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who participated in the January 6 insurrection. I don’t want to love and forgive the people who have made wearing a mask to help keep other people from getting COVID-19 a political issue. I don’t want to love and forgive lawmakers who have shown they have no spine or strength, and who are helping to usher this country ruination. I just don’t want to do it.

            The human part of all of us wants “justice.” When we are wronged we want the wronged person to “get his” or “hers.” We want them to suffer as they have made us suffer. If we try to follow the dictates of the Bible, we know that we are supposed to let God do the “getting.” 

            But God moves too slowly. And too often, God seems to be on the side of the oppressor. God has allowed white people to oppress people in this country for over 400 years, and has allowed them to attack Black and brown people for literally generations. In the name of God, white Christians have massacred people of color and taken their land from them here and globally. In this country, they slaughtered Native Americans and took their land, unafraid of divine repercussions because they believed God had commissioned them to do so.

            White people, filled with hate and their God, have committed acts of violence against people in this country from the beginning. Sam Bowers, once the grand wizard of the Ku Klux Klan who was convicted of murdering Vernon Dahmer because he dared help register Black people to vote,, believed that he had been called by God to save white people and white supremacy. He would lead his “soldiers” in fasting and praying before they went out to terrorize and slaughter Black people. White preachers and pastors have taught that racism is of and from God.

            We are supposed to love and forgive people who have been absolutely evil in our lives, and I, for one, struggle with that. I struggle because it’s difficult and I also struggle because I wonder what good it does in the end. I struggle because I am fairly sure that those who would kill and terrorize others don’t give loving and forgiving others a milli-second of thought. These people will never change.

            Years ago, I wrote a book entitled, Forgive Who? The Struggle to Obey God’s Awful Command. I think I need to do a second edition. Maybe, through writing out my frustrations with God I can move from frustration to freedom from my frustration and do what God commands, even as I continue to push for the freedom, justice, and dignity for all people, even those who flout their racially-based hatred and work for the demise of me and people like me who they have decided are not fully human and therefore not worthy of equity.

            It is most distasteful, and a horrific struggle …

            A candid observation…

Handling the Nods and Winks of Arrogant Injustice

On this, the eve of learning the fate of ex- Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd in 2020 as the jury deliberates, there is a thick heaviness that hovers over Black people, who wonder if his guilt will be dismissed with a nod and a wink.

 Many have dismissed even the idea that he could be acquitted, citing the “compelling evidence.” But in the history of violence perpetrated against Black people in general, and by police officers in particular, compelling evidence has rarely really mattered.

 There was “compelling evidence,” a video of the beating of Rodney King by Los Angeles police officers which “shocked” the world, and yet, a jury found that the officers were justified in beating this man nearly to death.

 And though everyone knew that those accused of killing Emmett Till were guilty, they, too, it took an all-white jury just one hour and five minutes to acquit Till’s killers. They boasted afterward, saying it would have taken them less time to bring back the verdict if they “hadn’t stopped to drink pop.”

 The arrogance that accompanies those who are accused of crimes perpetrated against Black people is always front and center, and always hard to take. This arrogance could actually be “seen” in the face of Chauvin as he looked defiantly at bystanders taking the video that showed the world what he was doing. He displayed a slight smirk, and in his eyes was the message that there was nothing any of them could do that would make him have to answer for his behavior. By virtue of being a police officer, his smirk revealed his belief that no matter how angry some might be at him, he was protected.

 It is the smirking and the defiant face of Chauvin, juxtaposed against the agonized face of George Floyd, which sticks in my mind. It is no less offensive than have been the faces of police officers and civilians who, in the past, have been acquitted of the crime of murder committed against Black people.

 And it is maddening.

 If those images could be erased from the collective minds and memories of Black people, there would be room for glimmers of hope as the jury deliberates the fate of Chauvin, but we cannot erase them, and we know that there are far too many people who believe that Chauvin had the right and the duty to exert excessive force in taking down Floyd for trying to pass a counterfeit $20 bill. Chauvin’s smirk was indicative of the “nod and wink” attitude of police officers who with impunity disproportionately kill Black people.

 Psalm 37 tells us not to fret “because of evildoers neither be thou envious against the workers of iniquity, for they shall be cut down like the grass and wither as the green herb,” but the souls of some Black- and white – people do not feel reassurance in those words as we await the Chauvin verdict, because history has shown that this society prefers “nod and wink justice” as opposed to accountability of whites for crimes committed against Black people. “Nod and wink” culture is a subset of Anglo-American culture in general. It has always been with us and promises to linger.

The arrogance which is part of the “nod and wink” culture challenges the words of the late Rabbi Abraham Heschel, who said, “…morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one should feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” The arrogance of the “nod and wink” mindset reveals that too many feel neither guilt nor responsibility; arrogance keeps those emotions at bay in too many people in power. We live in and wrestle with a society that cannot shake itself from the side effects of a steady administration of the emotional drug called white supremacy.

We will wait. We will work on not hyperventilating as our hope for justice rises and falls within us with each breath we take; we will work on inhaling hope as we exhale anxiety and memories of justice delayed and ultimately denied.

And we will try not to fret.

Amen and amen.

Who’s Canceling Whom?

It is singularly incredulous that members of the culture which has worked to cancel every culture but its own since the inception of this country is now labeling anything – any action or decision – with which it disagrees as “cancel culture.”

            From the moment white people set foot on what would soon be named “America,” they have canceled the culture of others, beginning with the Native Americans. White settlers engaged in heinous brutality against those who were here when the settlers arrived. ( https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/the-shocking-savagery-of-americas-early-history-22739301/) Later, Indian termination, by which this government worked to disband Native American tribes, take their land and sell it, and finally relocate Native Americans from their reservations to urban areas, was an official policy of the United States from the 1940s until the 1970s. While this government wanted Native Americans to pay taxes, they also desired them to disappear into the Anglo-American culture of this country. They effectively worked to cancel Native American culture.

            This government, steeped in white supremacist ideology,  made decisions about other cultures, about their worth or lack thereof, and on the basis of the government’s  opinions and decisions, lawmakers and politicians actively worked to cancel those cultures completely out. The message was clear: if a culture was not Anglo and Protestant, it was unworthy of existing.

            The belief was communicated that the only people or group that had worth in this country were Anglo-Americans; Africans were brought to this country only to build the economy and thus, the country. The displaced Africans were pressured to forget their land, their beliefs, languages, and customs, and were subtly taught that to be “beautiful” or to be successful, they had to buy into Eurocentric conceptions of beauty and capitalistic individualism, as opposed to the concept of community which was much more the cultural foundation of African peoples.

            What the majority culture was establishing was its opinion of who had the right to speak and make decisions about what happened in this country. As long as members of other cultures stayed in their place, they were tolerated – but never respected. And in its quest to maintain power at all costs, the majority culture its stake in setting the standard by which all who lived here would have to abide; beliefs, mores, and laws were codified through the making of laws and policies which determined which culture was to be dominant.

            Members of other groups had little to nothing that the majority culture felt compelled to consider. As an example, there was a coup in Wilmington, North Carolina in 1898 because white people in that city were incensed that Black people had gained so much political power. Angry whites conspired and planned not only to overthrow the government which they decided had given too much leeway and paths for Blacks to be elected to office, but also to run Black people out of their elected positions and out of the city altogether. Whites who were supportive of Black political and economic power were targeted as well. White people, the leaders said, would never submit to domination by the “Negroes.” Their coup was successful, and no Black person was elected to office again in Wilmington for over 70 years. (https://www.history.com/news/wilmington-massacre-1898-coup).

            Anything that was Black was judged unworthy and therefore worthy of being eliminated – canceled –  from Black music to Black dancing, to Black beauty. The message given through the pressure exerted by the majority culture was for those who “did not belong” to assimilate. There was a similar disrespect for people of Hispanic descent; as more and more Spanish-speaking people entered this country, the pressure to get them to cancel their culture and their language has only intensified. Americans who look different because of their national origin, their religion or their culture are pressured to abandon their culture and do whaever they need to do to “fit in.”

            Conservative, Republican, white nationalist politicians, however, are now using the term “cancel culture” as a way to gaslight people who have completely succumbed to white supremacist fear and paranoia. These white Americans are afraid of being overrun by people of color. There is a deep fear that this country will soon no longer be dominated by white people; different dates have been given for when that phenomenon to become reality, and none of those dates are too far off. The anti-immigration rhetoric that is being thrown around is a reflection of this fear. The powers that be are no less paranoid today about being dominated by Black or brown people than were the people in Wilmington, North Carolina, in 1898. They want to cancel democracy – such as it is in this country – because they believe that it allows too much freedom to too many different groups of people whom they have decided are unfit for freedom, dignity, civil and human rights, and equality. As activists are challenging the reminders of the white supremacist history of this country by targeting the presence of statues of people in the public domain who were staunch white supremacists, the paranoia of those who believe that only white people have the right to full citizenship in this country is growing.

            The challenge is to figure out how to neutralize the damaging and dangerous rhetoric that these fear-filled leaders are spewing. Language has power  The only thing, or perhaps the primary focus of the last administration was to cancel the need to be “politically correct,” which meant encouraging white supremacy ideology to flourish. The former president and his followers felt the need to reassert the racist American principle of white supremacy, and worked to eliminate – or cancel – the “deep state” which had given too much respect and power to Black people and so many others who were not members of the majority culture. As angry whites chanted “You will not replace us” in Charlottesville in 2017, they were expressing their morbid fear of white culture being overtaken by other, nonwhite, non-Protestant cultures. Whites have long believed that this country is being overrun by blacks and Muslims and to stop what they see as an out-of-control train, they are working to cancel every culture that is not white.

            They are doing this even as they call legitimate work to extend rights and liberties to all Americans a ploy to get rid of them – in effect, “cancel culture.”

            The former president understood how white fear, white paranoia, and white anger based on bigotry operate.  We, who are outside of their group, must strategize and decide that we will not be canceled, in spite of the efforts being made to do so.

            We have come too far to do anything less.