Racism Hurts

.US_Marshals_with_Young_Ruby_Bridges_on_School_Steps

 

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..

Freddie Gray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It feels like that privilege is still alive and kicking.

A candid observation …