The Season of Dis-ease

Since the election of the new president, I have heard more than a few people say that they do not feel safe. People of color, Muslims, members of the LGBTQ community have all said something to the effect of “I don’t know anymore, when I look at people, who is with me and who hates me.”

I feel them. I have felt the same way.

Not long ago, I was in a doctor’s office just to drop off a form. I went to the front desk and said why I was there and the receptionist, without really looking up, said, “You’ll have to sign in.”

OK. All right. There were about six names ahead of me. For the life of me I could not understand why I should have to sign in, but I did. I was irritated because I had somewhere else to go and had thought I would just be able to whisk into and out of this office.

After a half-hour wait, the receptionist called my name. Yes, by this time I was ticked off, but was relieved that I could finally just drop off the form. But another woman said, “you’ll have to sign in” as she looked at me.

Totally irritated now, I said – and my irritation came through my voice – “I already signed in” and someone else in the area, feeling the tension, verified that I had in fact signed in. The woman at the desk rolled her eyes at me and said, grudgingly, “oh, all right.”

This happened after the presidential election. I had heard of increasing incidents of racial hatred in schools and in businesses and saw a truck slowly moving in my neighborhood sporting a Confederate flag. It had all made me uneasy. I thought white Americans were pretty much moving away from racism.

But what I’d seen and heard since the election did not verify my beliefs, and raised in me, I admit, some concern and anticipation of what to expect from people who were happy with who was now in the White House.

They were glad; they had a guy in place who would “make America great again,” which meant, in my mind, that he would make America unabashedly embrace her white supremacist world view.

The fact that I have heard so many different people say the same thing boggles my mind. At a recent direct action rally, a man of Hispanic descent said the same thing. I have heard Muslims, little black and brown children, members of the LGBTQ community all say the same thing – and I have read stories where even the little children, little white children, have picked up the language of division and hate and are spewing it to their classmates.

Nothing, when it comes to race relations and tolerance and acceptance and affirmation, and egalitarianism and pluralism has changed. In spite of her boast of being the “land of the free and the home of the brave,” America is still a foundation ally racist country which espouses and supports hatred toward people of color and people of different religions.

It is very disheartening, but true.

I don’t know if that woman in the doctor’s office that day rolled her eyes at me because I sounded irritated or if because she felt her whiteness gave her the right to do so. I know I raged inside because of my now heightened distrust of the fundamental American spirit when it comes to people of color.

None of us feel safe …here. Radical Islamic terrorism are the battle-cry words of those in power, but for us who are black, brown, members of marginalized groups, Muslim…for us, “radical American Christian terrorism and hatred” are far more real to us. I and many like me are in a state of dis-ease, the same dis-ease that people of color have felt for literally hundreds of years.

Little has changed, in spite of our hope that it would.

A candid observation.

Why The Negro Cries

Forgive me for using a long-outdated term to refer to African-Americans, but for some reason, I feel today that it is necessary to say something to make people, black and white, understand the deep pain and damage white supremacy has caused in this country.

When I was a child, I, my siblings and my friends played “pretend.” We’d play “house,” and “school” and “church,” perfectly imitating, it seemed, those whom we had so regularly observed in each of those settings. We knew how to play a strict mother or an energetic preacher. We were children and children “play” and imitate what they see. Undoubtedly, what they see, and how they internalize what they see, helps shape them for the rest of their lives.

Play is what children do, but I never thought about the kind of playing African-American children might have done in years past, during slavery, Reconstruction and Jim Crow. So, I was taken aback when a man, describing slave life in Richmond, Virginia in 1853, reported that he observed slave children playing “auction.” That’s right. They had seen so many people auctioned off to owners that they had gotten the procedure down pat. They knew how to imitate the voice of the auctioneer. They knew how to do the public examination of a slave up for sale, to make sure he or she was worth the money that was being asked for. That meant touching their arms and ankles, looking into their mouths to check the state of their teeth, and probably worse. They practiced dragging a screaming mother away from her child or children as either she or they were sold. They had the process down. There were slave children eager to act as auctioneers, and others who were wiling to be the unfortunate ones sold away.

They replayed the ongoing activity that was breaking the hearts and spirits of human beings, that was ,in fact, breaking their hearts and spirits.

The man doing the reporting was one William Chambers. He was a Scotsman, a publisher in his land,  and he .was in Richmond, Virginia in 1853. While there decided to observe a slave auction. He had heard they were events full of misery and despair and he wanted to see for himself. He noted that there was not much misery, that those being sold were calm and showed little emotion. He surmised that, since “the Negro” was not fully human and was certainly inferior to white people, that they could not feel pain, not even as their children were wrested from their arms and they cried – both the parents and their children.

I listened to the story on National Public Radio’s This American Life, and got stuck. It never occurred to me that slave children practiced through playing their own oppression. They played auction.

It has always been painful to be black-skinned, not only in America but all over the world, but to listen to this story and to realize how deeply embedded in the very souls of black people is the notion of our being unworthy of respect did something to me. When we played “house” or “church” or “school” when I was little, we were aspiring to be good mothers or teachers. We respected the preacher whom we might imitate. We never “played” games that said we were inherently worth nothing.

Langston Hughes wrote, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers,” and one of the lines of that poem reads, “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” Surely. How can one’s spirit, housed in one’s soul, not descend to depths of despair when one is being treated like an object, with no emotions, no feelings, and no rights? That is a question over which I have pondered for a long time.

But when I hear this story about the slave children “playing auction,” my heart sank. There is all this hoopla today about the Confederate Flag, with lovers of the Confederacy saying that the flag is about their heritage. That is true; it is about their heritage, but it is also about a culture, a society, a land and its policies, which created a situation where little black children would play a game which would contribute to their own demise and further dehumanization.

I am crushed, yet again. This racism knows no bounds…

I think every politician running for public office ought to be required to take some American history. I think they ought to be fed, force-fed if necessary, the history of what racism and white supremacy has done to a huge swath of American citizens. Whomever becomes president of this nation ought to be well-schooled to the reasons this nation is in such a mess when it comes to race. I think every person running for office, federal, state or local, ought to be made to read and understand the reason …the Negro cries.

Racism and white supremacy were like daggers, dug into the hearts, souls and wills of black people, without regret. The belief was that black people were not human, could not feel…and so it did not matter.

But it did matter, and it does matter. There are children of those slain in Charleston, South Carolina almost two weeks ago who are crying; there are widows and husbands who are mourning and trying to find a way to carry on. It’s not just these most recent atrocious killings which makes their journey difficult; it is the fact that for years, they, as members of the African-American community, have been fighting the forces which would kill their spirits, and carrying on, moving forward, in a land which clearly still has little regard for them as human beings.

Whenever a person is traumatized, it takes time to heal. African-Americans have been continually traumatized and hae put their shattered souls and spirits to the side because they had to, we had to, in order to keep going. We have pushed against the system which has no regard for us, and we have for the most part prevailed.

But the Negro cries. We cry as we move forward. We have to move forward, but we cannot stop the tears, and so we do both.

Any politician who cannot or will not acknowledge that this country is a mess because of white supremacy, any politician who is more concerned with the Southern base, or the white base, but is not concerned with the programs and policies which may have our children playing games that are in place to ensure their own demise …is a coward. I don’t want any more cowards in office. We have had too many.

The children played auction.

I am sick …

A candid observation …

 

Story about Chambers was heard on National Public Radio (NPR)’s This American Life

 

.

Can America Be Saved?

On this day, the nation and perhaps the world is waiting to see if Darren Wilson, the white police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in August of this year, will be indicted.

The media has concentrated most on its fear that if there is no indictment, that Ferguson will erupt in violence. In every interview they have done, the presiding reporter and/or anchor person has eventually, somewhat uneasily, asked the question, “What do you think will happen if Wilson is not indicted? Will people go to the streets?”

The question is maddening and insulting, for at least two reasons. First, the people have already taken to the streets. Peacefully. People have been protesting …peacefully …for over 100 days, and the media has not chosen to highlight that. Innocent people have been manhandled by police and thrown into jail for protesting …peacefully. The media does not seem to get it: the people are not looking for violence. They are looking for justice. They want Darren Wilson to at least have to go to trial for killing Mike Brown. That really is not asking much.

The second reason the question is maddening is because the issue of justice for black, brown and poor people is almost never covered by the media.  The media are largely responsible for the images and perceptions America and the world have for black people. What the media does is portray black people as animals, non-humans, who cause trouble. Not too often does the media seek to get into the hearts and souls of the people, the parents, the friends, who are left behind after one of their loved ones has been killed by a law enforcement officer. No. The attention is given to the few people in mass demonstrations who loot and throw things at police.

The media could do much in letting America and the world know that this thing with Michael Brown …and Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis …is not a new thing. The media could let people know that police have been killing black people for literally years and have been allowed to get away with it. The cases are there, the stories, of black people, most often black men but black women as well, being pulled over for a “routine traffic stop” and somehow ending up dead. These are not criminals, many to most of them. They are guilty of one thing: being black in a country which does not regard black people as humans. These cases happen, the people are gunned down, and the offending police officers are allowed to get back on the streets after an “internal investigation” which almost never finds them guilty of wrongdoing.

The media doesn’t cover the disparate ways police relate to and with black people. Police don’t come into black neighborhoods to see what good they can do. No, police come into our neighborhoods, by and large, and harass young black men. They do it because they know they can …and can get away with it.

Police are no different from the masses; many to most of them are white, and have never known a black person. All they have known is what the media and our schools have taught them: black people were slaves. Black people do bad things. If a black person gets shot by police, that black person deserved it, plain and simple.

Those types of pronouncements lets America and its officers off the hook. America is filled with white people, primarily from the South but certainly not confined to that area, who are angry. Many to most white people think that black people do not belong here; that America was created to be a “white man’s country,” and that black people are out-of-place. They conveniently forget that white people, in search for big bucks, brought black people over, who really did build this country. They forget that had it not been for black people, America would never have become the economic powerhouse it has been for a long time.

I listened to a white attorney say that God meant for America to be for black people, and he said that God sanctions and approves of violence against black people. (see “The Last White Knight”)   For whites in this country, blacks are, simply, a problem.  Blacks are blamed for their poverty. Blacks are considered to be lazy and therefore, unemployed and unemployable. Whites conveniently forget that too often, now and in our history, white employers have refused to hire black people, some even putting signs up that say “Whites need only to apply.” (see, The Warmth of Other Suns, by Isabel Wilkerson).  Whites conveniently forget that black men have stood out in lines waiting to be hired when jobs were scarce and that they were always the last hired, if at all. Whites do not know the extremes black people have had to go through in order to survive and make it in America.

Because white people do not see black people as human but, rather, as subhuman (per our description in the U.S. Constitution), they have not really been able to care, to feel, to understand what it is black people are wanting. Black people do not want hand-outs. Black people want what white people have without thinking about it: black people want justice.

I don’t imagine that many white people understand that the parents of Mike Brown and Trayvon Martin and Jordan Davis and so many others …are aching….not just because their sons have been murdered by people who are supposed to protect us …but because they have had to fight to even get authorities to see that it is important that they get justice.  Yes, there is black-on-black violence, which is horrible, but that is a different kind of situation than the one I am referring to. Black-on-black crime happens, many times, because poverty and joblessness breeds that kind of behavior; crime is high in any ethnic group or neighborhood where the poverty is rampant and the opportunities lacking. Those parents are grieving, too…but in many cases, they see the assailants of their children put into jail. Not so when police kill our children.  Black people cry because the governments – state and local – not only get away with killing black people, but many of them in government and law enforcement agencies are participants in the violence.

Black people are not protected in this country. Black people are disposable. Black people are objects, and therefore, black people can be killed and nobody will have to answer for it.

This way of looking at black people is an illness. It is America’s illness, and it is cancerous. It is killing us as a nation. No nation can call itself “great” or “exceptional” that treats its own citizens this way. America is rotted in its center, but will not address or do the work to scrape the rot out.  America’s political system is based largely upon feeding racist language to a base of white people who are afraid of black people, who think black people are America’s problem, and who want black people out of here.

Can America heal? Can the pus that is oozing from America’s sores and infecting more and more of this nation stop, a sign that the illness has been treated and cured?

I don’t think so, not unless and until it decides to treat the rot. And I just don’t see that happening, not any time soon.

A candid observation…