When What Is Broken Cannot Be Fixed

Sometimes, something is so broken that it cannot be fixed; it must be replaced.

Not long ago, I got into my car and tried to start it up. Nothing happened. So, I figured my battery was dead – puzzling to me because it was fairly new – but that’s the only reason I could figure out why it would not start. I called AAA and the tech tested the battery and said it was fine. Something else was wrong.

He tinkered around a bit and finally figured out that the gear shift wasn’t completely locked in the “Park” position. He was able to move it to “Neutral” and the car started. He said something was wrong but that as long as when I was driving it I kept it in “neutral,” even when I parked it, it would be OK.

I was comforted, because I had a lot to do, and one of the things I was doing at that time was driving Uber. I had lost a couple of clients because of the car, but once I found out what was wrong, I was on my way. I picked up a group of college kids on their way to Central America. We talked and laughed and when we got to the airport, I did what I always did: I put the car in “Park.”

As soon as I did it I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t move it to “neutral.” Whatever that AAA tech had done (he had finagled something) I could not do. And so I was there, stuck in the airport. I called AAA and they couldn’t do whatever they had done before. I had to have the car towed.  I had been sitting in that space for two hours waiting for the tow truck, only to be told they could do nothing.

I took the car to a mechanic recommended to me by a friend. I had purchased a new gear shift component since that’s what the first AAA person had said was defective. But when the new part was put into the car, it was still impossible to put the car into gear.

The mechanic was puzzled, and so he asked me to give him some time to explore and see what was going on. Several hours later, he called and said, “The gear shift parts are being held together by zip ties,” he said, “and it looks like one of them got loose.”

Zip ties? This was a 2006 car. I had never had any problems, so this was major, but zip ties? The mechanic said that this problem had probably occurred before and it was decided to “fix” it with zip ties.

The part was not fixable, he said. He replaced the old zip ties with new ones and said I should be OK, but I was rattled. The idea that something so vital for the life and operation of the car was being held together with zip ties was scary. The part was not fixable, and a new part was more expensive than the car was worth, and so I had to get a new car.

Sometimes, things that are broken are not fixable. As this nation grapples with the explosion of rage and anger and hurt and grief that is spilling onto our streets and around the world, I keep hearing people say, “we need to heal.”

Yes, we do, but we cannot heal with the toxic, broken system that is the legacy of America still in place. We have been applying zip ties to issues of human rights and human decency since the inception of this country. The zip ties re-worn; we cannot shift ourselves back into “normalcy.” Our foundation needs to be replaced, and only then when the possibility of the same poisonous, degrading, oppressive behaviors and practices never being thrust before us again can we begin to talk about healing. The wounds doled out by the oppressive system have taken all the band-aids, all of the “zip ties” they can handle, and now the oozing of pain will not stop. The system needs to be “done over” so that the glorious words of freedom and justice and liberty for all can be realized.

Nobody ever wants to start over. It is cheaper to “fix” than it is to “replace,” but when replacement is due, it is due. Fixing will no longer work.

Perhaps someone will understand that this nation and its people are at a crisis point that is going to demand more than conversations and task forces and the changing of offensive African American images on syrup bottles and boxes of rice to images that do not remind everyone of the knee that white supremacist practices have had on the necks of all of us – white as well as black – since the Founders put together the Constitution.

The Rev. Dr. James Forbes said, in a recent interview with Bill Moyers, that white people do not even realize all they are missing by refusing to be in community with African Americans, but he said the question must be asked of them, “Haven’t you had enough? Isn’t 400 years of you sucking the lifeblood out of us enough?”

Hopefully, the answer is yes. Hopefully, we can take the zip ties out of the gut of our nation and work to become a nation where all people are valued.

A candid observation …

(c) Susan K Smith

The Cost of Escapism

So many people like to characterize black people as lazy, criminal, manipulative, ignorant, ….and so much more …but I doubt any other ethnic group in this nation could have endured what black people have endured.

While Americans are up in arms about terrorism, those same Americans have never really acknowledged that America has practiced terrorism against black people for literally hundreds of years. Just yesterday I was reading about how white people in the South resented black men who came home from war. They came home empowered; the war made them realize they didn’t have to take racism and its resultant discrimination. One soldier (and there are many stories about how black soldiers were treated when they got finished with their tours of duty) was Isaac Woodard. He was a sergeant, and was on a Greyhound Bus, traveling from Georgia to North Carolina. He had to go to the bathroom and asked the driver, who was white, if he would make a stop for the same. The driver got angry and I don’t think he stopped. What he DID do, however, was notify his “boys.” At the next stop, the bud was met by a group of whites, including the Chief of Police, Linwood Shull. The angry white men dragged Woodard off the bus and beat him nearly to death. In the midst of the fight one of his eyes was gouged out by a nightstick of one of the officers who was participating. Woodward was then taken to jail. He was blind for the rest of his life. (http://www.blackpast.org/aah/woodard-isaac-1919-1992).

And he was a member of the beloved military; he had gone to defend his country. Normally, that gives you iconic status …but only if you were white.

When you read and study the treatment of blacks in this country, it is nothing short of remarkable that blacks have continued to stand, to push through, and to succeed. The War on Drugs has its own political history and purposes; one of its goals was to continue to control black people and it has by resulting in so many blacks being incarcerated for non-violent drug crimes that America can now boast of incarcerating more people than any other modern industrial country in the world, but not even mass incarceration has stopped black people from pushing against this Goliath called racism, while protestors stand on the sidelines and say that those who talk about racism and what it does is a fantasy, unreal, and no longer an issue.

I doubt, again, that any other ethnic group could have withstood the discrimination, the hatred, the terrorism, that America has practiced against black people. I doubt that any other ethnic group could even hold together the scores of mothers and fathers whose children have been murdered by whites, many under the rubric and with the participation of law enforcement, and stayed sane. America’s racism has helped people dehumanize black people to the point that it seems they cannot imagine that a black mother’s pain is just as deep as is that of a white mother. Does anyone grieve for the mothers, fathers and family members of Michael Brown? Trayvon Martin? Rekia Boyd? Jordan Davis? Did anyone grieve a mother’s grief when, during slavery, babies were snatched from their mothers’ arms as the mothers were taken off to work for a white person?  Does anyone think about how the accumulation of grieving mothers and family has ultimately affected this country? Are the parents of slain black children as worthy of support and care as are the parents of slain white children? Black people have endured all of that …and the fact that in this country, there is and has not been, justice for black people.  I doubt that any other ethnic group could hold people together who have lived with the realization that not even the “justice system” was there to protect them; in fact, the justice system seemed to be just one of the tools used to oppress them.

Don’t…talk about how African-Americans have a scarcity of moral fiber when in fact those fibers have been pulled to the breaking point consistently, seemingly wanting to force a break. Don’t …talk about black people being lazy when it is documented that white employers have historically discriminated against blacks as they have sought work, even saying, during the Great Depression and after the Dust Bowl (and probably other times) that “niggers ought not apply for work until every white man has a job.” Don’t …talk about how little black kids cannot read and blame it on a lack of intellect when it has been a strategy to create ghettos to keep blacks separated and then a tendency to ignore the schools in those ghettos, forcing little black children into dilapidated buildings, some with no air and/or inadequate heat, used books, and the worst teachers…

Don’t.

Black families have been teaching their children how to survive in this, our land, which is at the same time, a strange land. This land we built, giving hours of back-breaking labor, made to work from “can’t see to can’t see,” doesn’t want us and doesn’t know what to do with us. This country will not own its racist history and therefore will not and cannot see the harm that racism has done. America has immersed itself in a sea of escapism and denial, and because of that, our racism, our peculiar disease, is worse than it ever was. There is no post-racial America. The claim is ridiculous. One cannot be “post” anything unless and until an initial action has taken place. One is only “post-surgery” after the initial, needed surgery has been performed. There has been no surgery to excise America’s racist tumor; it has metastasized and is killing our country, bit by bit.

If ever there was a place that needs peace and reconciliation hearings and subsequent healing actions, it is the United States.

Too much to write today. But it will come. It will come.

A candid observation …

What is a Racist?

Donald Sterling swears in interviews that he is not a racist.

His estranged wife says the same, as does the young woman who was heard talking with him in those now infamous tapes where Sterling said he didn’t want her to bring blacks to “his” basketball games, among other things.

He said in an interview with Anderson Cooper that he made a mistake, that it was the first time in 35 years he’d said such things.

Why does that sound like a crock?

Everyone knows by now that Sterling refused to rent property to black and brown Americans, saying disparaging things about them. He said that Hispanics “smoke, drink and just hang around the property,” and that blacks “smell and attract vermin.” (http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2014/05/12/donald-sterling-apologizes-for-racist-comments-blames-woman-for-baiting-him/?tid=hp_mm)

What is amazing is that Sterling and others say Sterling is not a racist. If that is the case, what is a racist? Is everyone who says racist things racist, or are they just ignorant, insensitive and bigoted?

A definition of  bigotry is ” intolerance toward those who hold different opinions from oneself.”  Another definition of a bigot is one who is stubbornly intolerant against any belief that is different from his (her) own.

Racism, though, goes a little deeper. A definition of racism says that racism is the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races. That definition also says that racism is prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on the belief that one’s own race is superior. (https://www.google.com/search?q=definition+of+racism&ie=utf-8&oe=utf-8&aq=t&rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&client=firefox-a&channel=sb)

In other words, racism includes the belief that one race is superior to another …and a racist has the power to discriminate against a group or individual in a way that exercises power over that group or person. Racism includes the belief that one race is supreme…and that it has the right to oppress another group or individual based on the belief in that supremacy.

Can we say that we are all bigots on some level? Probably. But racism implies systemically provided and sanctioned power to oppress another group of people. From the beginning of this nation, even in the writing of our Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution, racism has been a bedfellow.

If Sterling isn’t a racist, I don’t know what a racist is. Kareem Abdul Jabbar said last week that more people believe in ghosts than believe in racism. (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/04/kareem-abdul-jabbar_n_5263235.html) White people don’t want to “own up” to the fact that racist exists, that it is an American problem which goes largely unchecked and ignored. Americans seem to want to wish racism away. It is too ugly to face…

And yet it exists.

Donald Sterling is a racist. He believes in the supremacy of the white race, and he has the economic means and power to keep other races “in their place.”

He’s not the only one. He’s just one who got caught.

A candid observation …