I find it hard to explain myself except to say I struggle. Mornings are either too cold or too hot, the dog needs walking, snow needs shoveling, the lawn needs mowing... and so it goes - that daily parade of excuses that keep me from doing what writers do --- write. Just know, I am a woman who is far too political, one who believes in equal rights (everyone has the right to my opinion). I am also a woman who talks far more than I should. But when I am lucky, I am alone in my cluttered writing space, motivated to bear witness to these "interesting times."
Yesterday, as the steps of the Capitol Building were being cleared, I witnessed a black D.C. police officer kindly escort an elderly white woman, clad in trump supporting gear, down the capitol steps. This image clashed violently with the sight of angry Q-Anon supporters chasing another black policeman up the steps of the building’s interior with intent on bodily harm. I wondered if this elderly woman was aware her presence was simply a smokescreen to justify the sedition planned by far-right insurgents intent on making real the Day of the Rope? (Day of the Rope references a fictional event – depicting the slaughter of all Non-Aryans). The image of a rope in the form of a noose has become the homegrown homage to the Neo-Nazi idea that educators, academic, lawmakers, liberals, and all elites should be hung for treason. Would this woman, who received such kindness, have stayed home if she had known she would be forever linked to the mission of neo-Nazis and white supremacists?
There was a wooden gallows erected on the far side of the reflecting pool in the U.S. Capital January 6, 2021. The expertly tied noose was supported by 10 x 10 uprights and a cross beam that suggested the construction of this gallows was not haphazard. It had been planned and implemented by more than one person. I’m guessing the elderly white woman having trouble negotiating her oxygen canister down the capitol building steps was not one of them. The sight of the gallows did not, as was expected, instill fear in me. Rather I was immediately engulfed in an ancient and historical sadness that has, over the years, kept me and other people of color from really engaging in the political apparatus of this democracy. Then, it was easy to feel defeated knowing that white Americans were, at their very core, racist. The notion that blacks alone were doomed to fight a losing battle with racism was underscored for me in the 90’s when I sat in a meeting of educators and administrators and made the statement that I’ve been driven to believe that if all blacks were too vanish from the country tomorrow there would not be one white person who would care enough to ask about our disappearance. Indeed, after the meeting, not one person among them, some whom I’d considered friends, cared enough to disabuse me of my notion of hopelessness.
I credit the group Black Lives Matter with restoration of my hope. Last summer, when I looked at the faces, young and old, people of color and whites gathering and marching in protest of racist police tactics – I was no longer hopeless. I am no longer hopeless when I witness the work of people like Stacey Abrams who’ve done the monumental task of real grassroots organizing and getting people out to vote in record numbers. No longer will I be afraid or delayed in speaking out against racial injustice.
So today, while that gallows was intended to create fear in me, I see through that hateful intent. That gallows was erected by those who fear BLM, Stacey Abrams, and all people of color who refuse to be marginalized and made so fearful that we don’t vote. The result of November’s elections, fair and free from fear, have flushed out the haters and driven them to Washington to take back a country that they’ve never lost – because they’ve never owned it. Fear is the tool of tyranny. Fear is the hammer this president has used to pound into the palms of those who’ve lost control of their ability to reason. Those are the Americans who would rush into the arms of any tin-pot messiah who promises safety from the imagined demons of his making.
I find it amazing (not in a good way) that we are at 250 thousand deaths from the Corona Virus and the President is holed up in some emotional underground bunker tweeting instructions to those who enable him in his efforts to subvert democracy. He has no plan to help Americans through this pandemic. His only plan is to help himself to a second term. I’d like to say we Americans don’t deserve this but, I’m sure we do.
For so long we’ve moved ahead (those of us with good jobs and relatively happy existences) willing to put an uncomfortable, unaddressed history behind us. We have buried our worst moral transgressions so far below the dirt of this country’s emotional North South Line that when part two of the Civil War erupts, we fail to see it. We’ve been blinded to the GOP’s red on one side and the Democrat’s blue on the other. Only now we are becoming increasingly aware that the Mason-Dixon Line in this part II of our Civil War is – Donald J. Trump.
We’ve been blinded. Had – by that long arm of the far-right con working always behind a curtain. We’ve been distracted by the clown sent out to mollify and entertain the crowd. We couldn’t see the con because we are the mark.
Yes, going forward sounds easy – yet we’ve crossed so many rivers roiled with havoc. We’ve bridged so many valleys made lower with doubt.
I cry at the memory of what was my sincere hatred of unhappy people – who’ve made the world unhappier. I’ve gone to bed at night with hatred and doubt my personal valets only to awake with the only question left; WHY? That word is the leash that has lashed me to the mast of hope.
Going forward I will walk with hope open in one hand and doubt doubled in the other. I will hope with all the tears of the mothers who’ve lost children to the systemic hatred of the patriarchy. I will hope with all the tears of those who wait to come into our own troubled land knowing this despairing country is far better than the despair they’ve left. I will hope and be washed clean with all the tears of those who’ve marched for justice in the streets and the courts. Those who know that when injustice is leveled at ONE it is leveled at us ALL. I will walk forward with all the hope fashioned from the depths of a four-year-old misery. I will walk forward knowing my purpose; that justice is never achieved by detachment but through hard work – one foot in front of the other until my feet are worn and rent with protest.
There is no valley of peace – I know now – every hiatus in the struggle, however warm with camaraderie, can be stolen and used against me. Against justice. The thieves of justice will never sleep. I’ve had four years to learn this. And I am, going forward, a damned good student!
I was asked this question 25 years ago by one of my 10th grade English students. Classroom discussion had turned to the notorious O.J. Simpson case. Interest in this high-profile murder trial had found a willing population in this small-town, filled with the hero worship of football fanatics. To some students, Orenthal James Simpson was the hero they wished they could be. While for other students, regurgitating family dinner table comments from the night before, the trial became a low-road referendum on why beautiful white women should not marry black men.
For a split second, I felt trapped by the question. I knew, as the only African American teacher in the building, my usual faculty lounge equal opportunity to (my opinion) approach wasn’t going to work. I looked at my students, who were quiet and waiting for my response.
“Race relations, in this country,” I said, “are like a deep wound that scabs over too soon. Sometimes that scab is pulled off because the wound has not healed”.
My analogy held, at least – until the bell rang.
The longer I live the more I’ve come to realize just how close to the truth I’d gotten with my off-the-cuff analogy of racism. The United States of America is a beautiful and large 50-part body. But it is a body that, when undressed, is blemished with many big and small bandages that have been hastily applied over the decades to staunch the bloody flow of recollection.
I grew up in a time of hope in spite of the assassinations of President Kennedy, Dr. Martin Luther King, Robert Kennedy, and Malcolm X; flawed heroes to be sure but the flaws did not erase the passionate messages they left in their combined wakes. These messages offered a hope that sprung eternal in many African-American hearts. It certainly did in mine. In 1969 I marched across Compton High’s graduation stage to receive my diploma; a piece of paper weighted with hope for my future in college and beyond. I am the recipient of the economic infusion that came as reparation in the aftermath of black protests of the mid-60’s. I was twelve at the time of the Watts Rebellion. My speech at my 9th grade graduation was titled “Where do We Go From Here?” But by the time I had reached 12th grade I still had no idea what I wanted to do or be. I just knew I was moving forward. And with money made available through grants and low interest loans, I was going to college – with hope. Hope propelled me through a time when it appeared this country had come face-to-face with its past inhumanity. When we made tracks from the back of the bus to the outer limits of space. Hope filled my heart when I looked closer at the pictures and the black and white faces of those marching across bridges and standing at the Lincoln Memorial listening to a man’s wish for his progeny and their ultimate place at the table of humanity. But my heart was never so full of hope as it was when I witnessed Barack Obama sworn in as the first African-American president of these United States.
For most of us, there was a collective hope in 2009. There was hope that this country could heal and become more than a culturally loose affiliation of wounded states. But all the hopes and dreams of those working to keep the conversation alive, could not survive the biggest blow to the empire – the resurrection, the reemergence of the bare-knuckled fist of America’s Manifest Destiny now dressed in the regalia of white supremacy. Manifest Destiny was the belief that early America was fated, ordained to expand her influence and supremacy no matter the land and lives of her indigenous people. This first and largest wound to America’s still young and vibrant body came from the lie that white European men were superior in intellect and desire. It was a lie supported by political attitude and weaponry. The spread of the propaganda of Manifest Destiny sowed the seeds of white supremacy into stolen soil.
It is true, history is written by the winner. That whites should reap the benefits of a stolen land and take on the virtues of an annihilated people is an idea hard-baked into 20th Century white supremacy. Even today, the prevailing white power structure continues to gore the body of America in its failure to recognize the Native American as worthy, even human.
Growing a sturdy body, like building a durable nation, requires a strong and stable foundation. That this country began with land theft and the genocide of its native people should have been a dire warning to Jefferson and the other “founding fathers.” But it wasn’t. And when the need arose for a larger labor force, African people were imported. Bought and sold like chattel, the African’s rich dark skin and foreign tongue further failed to invoke any humanity in their overseers. That Hitler used the American institution of slavery as a blue print for his holocaust was not surprising. Slavery was profitable. It was the slave who enriched the new world beyond measure. And it was the white male who took credit for this young country’s elevated economic standing. Everyone profited from yet another gaping wound to America’s Body. Even those who refused to engage in the overt act of buying and selling human beings profited from the idea that some human beings are less worthy than others.
The lie of Manifest Destiny has grown and morphed into a hierarchy of lies ordained by God with the white man, unfettered by compassion, securely positioned at its peak. It is the lie that deems some humans of no value. The lie that continues to consume the U.S. body with a flesh-eating dishonesty. It is a lie made visible by the continuing protest for simple dignity.
The road is long. We are tired. And we have yet to reach our goal of a truly unified body of states. Reaching that goal means this country removes the knife that has been plunged into the Native American heart with its reverence for Indian Killers like Andrew Jackson – revered on the twenty-dollar bill for his Trail of Tears. We will be close to our goal when we understand that the installation of many Confederate memorial statues took place, not right after the Civil War, but during the 1920’s, an era suffused with Jim Crow violence against black people. We are told these statues are only to commemorate a more prosperous southern history. But these statues were being erected on the lawns of state buildings and county courthouses during a time of violent disenfranchisement of black people. And that tells a different, more murderous history.
Today, it grieves me to know there are young people who feel hopeless. It grieves me to know that we still have to remind people that we are human and that our lives matter. It grieves me to know that the closer we get to that Table of Humanity the further away it seems. The body-US still suffers from severe wounds. Still writhes in hateful, violent spasms of white supremacy. Today’s protests are necessary to highlight that vulgarity of corruption within the body. We protest to break the bandages and scrape the scab from the wound to further allow the pus of hatred to drain. Only then can we proceed to wash clean the bloodstained fiber that should bind this country’s entire body.
Yes, it is about race and until we heal from the inside out by addressing white supremacy in all its forms, it will always be about race.