Eleven score and nine years ago this country’s fathers, brought forth on this land a new nation. A nation that aspired to the grandness of liberty, and claimed dedication to the dignity that resides in the phrase; all men are created equal.
Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation can endure the strength in that phrase. Our cities are met on the great battlefield of this uncivil war and have become the final resting place for those lives that have been lost, stolen, or strayed. Today, Thanksgiving 2014, makes it fitting and proper that we should acknowledge this.
But, in a larger sense, we cannot dedicate – we cannot consecrate – we cannot hallow – the grounds of these cities. This ground has already been hallowed by the deferred dreams, dust, and blood of immigrants, slaves, and the offspring of both. They have been hallowed by the hue of want and cries from the soul that reaches blindly for the tattered documents that tell them they are equal even as they fight the forces that tell them they are not.
The world will little note what is said here but it can never forget the root of what has taken place here. It is not just that we label one force good and one force evil. The great task remaining before us is not to honor the burnt-out shells of greed and evil. Rather we should honor burnt-out, naked shells of women, men, and their children who simply long to wear the warm cloak of respect.
No fairness resides in a soul that worships a system that creates the condition for evil to exist. Equality cannot remain some distant Latin obscured in various versions of personal Gods. Today, of all days, and of the days going forward, we are highly resolved that those dead, lost, and stolen, have not died or suffered in vain – that this nation under the flag of humanity acknowledges that we cannot ignore in others the behavior we will not tolerate in ourselves. We must commit to a rebirth of the old struggle for Love, Peace and Happiness – in doing so humanity will not perish from the earth.
Peace today and always,
And this is what becomes of youth
Arm and arm with desire
Standing staunch facing abuse
Before a funeral pyre
Youth inbred with courage and past
Arm and arm with desire
Stand before weapons en masse
Falcons in loosening gyre
To see faces so young and unlined
Witness new history unfold
Is to know the past as so unkind
Lessons unlearned, agony untold
This is what becomes of a youth
Where bondage is original sin
Buried with denial at its root
As if the crime had never been
Not as if one turns a page
To find a new, happy ending
Black skin will always pre-sent rage
Some unfailing and unbending
And so our youths confront it all;
Our transgressions of the past
Those shot will scream and fall
As we parse a truce that failed to last
~ Gwen Davis-Feldman
August 14, 2014
In 1974, James Baldwin’s book, If Beale Street Could Talk, was published. About a young couple who find themselves about to be parents when the young man is accused of rape and imprisoned. Baldwin was accused (by some) of sounding too bitter in the writing of “Beale Street…” I have to ask –
How do the disparaged of the times
escape bitterness – escape even its sound –
when innocence dines at a table set
with rotting images –
marinated in vinegar ?
On August 2nd in 1932 American Physicist Carl Anderson discovered the first physical evidence of anti-matter. My heart stutters at the idea at measuring matter – much less what doesn’t. I am transported into last week where I read a NYT piece about a lower west side condo approved for a system of double entry: The condo association provided one door for the owners of the million dollar condos above and another entry for the affordable housing of the merely middle class.
There are those who matter
And those who spend lives in the
Measured existence of anti-matter
They matter not to king, god, and bomb
Certainly not to those entering the golden
Archways living cloud-high quarters
Immeasurable in size and matter
There are those falcons loosed from
the widening gyre of definition
bullets spattered across time and distance
where class and doorways don’t matter
Yesterday I spent the morning volunteering at a local triathlon event – my job was to count the swimmers exiting the lake
Making sure the number agreed with the number of swimmers who went into the lake
I meditated on the necessity of competition in a world awash in “my (fill in the blank) is bigger, better, smarter than your _________”.
I had to remember that I was in a town, home to an ivy-league institution, where competition is a personality cornerstone of those lucky enough to be invited to study at such an institution.
But what of the corralled mass of middle-aged male humanity standing next to me – exuding more testosterone than a Balco Lab? A heady experience for a second – until I remember the time in 10th grade when
I inadvertently entered the boy’s locker room after football practice. The smell of competitive animals doesn’t change –
No matter the age.
Art is a way of confronting life. Getting to the big unruled YES in a country bordered and ruled by no
She can tell by the color of
Your skin that
You are armed and dangerous:
Armed with your camera and
Dangerous in your ability to
Reveal her to the world
And you scare her
As she tries to scare you
She can’t – that catalyst is dead
The epithet weaponized with
Her vehemence and jealousy
Yes, better to be caught racist than
Wanting what you have
And what she has (so obviously) lost
No longer can she lynch you
Verbally or otherwise
All the power in Jim Crow
Could not kill you
Someone should tell her
In her pitiable
White privilege indeed
Below is a piece written by writer and editor Hamden Rice HamdenRice – Daily Kos. Because I aspire to write with such passion and presence I do not want to let Rice’s post get too far away from me. He depicts, with pinpoint accuracy, my beliefs after my first year of college (and my cursory reading of Hailey’s The Autobiography of Malcolm X) when I too came home believing I had it all figured out; what it meant to be black in 1970 and just what we had to do to achieve the personal manifest destiny of which we were so brutally robbed. I reprint Rice’s post as it appeared in the Daily Kos (as many have done before me) in its entirety for my WordPress followers. – gdf
– Hamden Rice
This will be a very short diary. It will not contain any links or any scholarly references. It is about a very narrow topic, from a very personal, subjective perspective.
The topic at hand is what Martin Luther King actually did, what it was that he actually accomplished.
What most people who reference Dr. King seem not to know is how Dr. King actually changed the subjective experience of life in the United States for African Americans. And yeah, I said for African Americans, not for Americans, because his main impact was his effect on the lives of African Americans, not on Americans in general. His main impact was not to make white people nicer or fairer. That’s why some of us who are African Americans get a bit possessive about his legacy. Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy, despite what our civil religion tells us, is not color blind.
Head below the fold to read about what Martin Luther King, Jr. actually did.
I remember that many years ago, when I was a smartass home from first year of college, I was standing in the kitchen arguing with my father. My head was full of newly discovered political ideologies and Black Nationalism, and I had just read the Autobiography of Malcolm X, probably for the second time.
A bit of context. My father was from a background, which if we were talking about Europe or Latin America, we would call, “peasant” origin, although he had risen solidly into the working-middle class. He was from rural Virginia and his parents had been tobacco farmers. I spent two weeks or so every summer on the farm of my grandmother and step-grandfather. They had no running water, no gas, a wood burning stove, no bathtubs or toilets but an outhouse, potbelly stoves for heat in the winter, a giant wood pile, a smoke house where hams and bacon hung, chickens, pigs, semi wild housecats that lived outdoors, no tractor or car, but an old plow horse and plows and other horse drawn implements, and electricity only after I was about 8 years old. The area did not have high schools for blacks and my father went as far as the seventh grade in a one-room schoolhouse. All four of his grandparents, whom he had known as a child, had been born slaves. It was mainly because of World War II and urbanization that my father left that life. They lived in a valley or hollow or “holler” in which all the landowners and tenants were black. In the morning if you wanted to talk to cousin Taft, you would walk down to behind the outhouse and yell across the valley, “Heeeyyyy Taaaaft,” and you could see him far, far in the distance, come out of his cabin and yell back.
On the one hand, this was a pleasant situation because they lived in isolation from white people. On the other hand, they did have to leave the valley to go to town where all the rigid rules of Jim Crow applied. By the time I was little, my people had been in this country for six generations (going back, according to oral rendering of our genealogy, to Africa Jones and Mama Suki), much more under slavery than under freedom, and all of it under some form of racial terrorism, which had inculcated many humiliating behavior patterns.
Anyway, that’s background. I think we were kind of typical as African Americans in the pre-civil rights era went.
So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message. My father got really angry at me. It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.
I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”
Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress. Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished. He gave this great speech. Or some people say, “he marched.” I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.
At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.
My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”
Please let this sink in and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.
But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.
He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.
I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing The Help, may not understand what this was all about. But living in the south (and in parts of the Midwest and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.
It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.
You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement used to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.
This constant low-level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.
White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”
This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people. The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.
This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.
I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparents’ vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank. They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness. My strong, valiant, self-educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men. Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict. Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.
This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.
If you didn’t get taught such things, let alone experience them, I caution you against invoking the memory of Dr. King as though he belongs exclusively to you and not primarily to African Americans.
The question is, how did Dr. King do this—and of course, he didn’t do it alone.
(Of all the other civil rights leaders who helped Dr. King end this reign of terror, I think the most under appreciated is James Farmer, who founded the Congress of Racial Equality and was a leader of nonviolent resistance, and taught the practices of nonviolent resistance.)
So what did they do?
They told us: Whatever you are most afraid of doing vis-a-vis white people, go do it. Go ahead down to city hall and try to register to vote, even if they say no, even if they take your name down.
Go ahead sit at that lunch counter. Sue the local school board. All things that most black people would have said back then, without exaggeration, were stark raving insane and would get you killed.
If we do it all together, we’ll be okay.
They made black people experience the worst of the worst, collectively, that white people could dish out, and discover that it wasn’t that bad. They taught black people how to take a beating—from the southern cops, from police dogs, from fire department hoses. They actually coached young people how to crouch, cover their heads with their arms and take the beating. They taught people how to go to jail, which terrified most decent people.
And you know what? The worst of the worst, wasn’t that bad.
Once people had been beaten, had dogs sicced on them, had fire hoses sprayed on them, and been thrown in jail, you know what happened?
These magnificent young black people began singing freedom songs in jail.
That, my friends, is what ended the terrorism of the south. Confronting your worst fears, living through it, and breaking out in a deep-throated freedom song. The jailers knew they had lost when they beat the crap out of these young Negroes and the jailed, beaten young people began to sing joyously, first in one town then in another. This is what the writer, James Baldwin, captured like no other writer of the era.
Please let this sink in. It wasn’t marches or speeches. It was taking a severe beating, surviving and realizing that our fears were mostly illusory and that we were free.
So yes, Dr. King had many other goals, many other more transcendent, non-racial, policy goals, goals that apply to white people too, like ending poverty, reducing the war-like aspects of our foreign policy, promoting the New Deal goal of universal employment, and so on. But his main accomplishment was ending 200 years of racial terrorism, by getting black people to confront their fears. So please don’t tell me that Martin Luther King’s dream has not been achieved, unless you knew what racial terrorism was like back then and can make a convincing case you still feel it today. If you did not go through that transition, you’re not qualified to say that the dream was not accomplished.
That is what Dr. King did—not march, not give good speeches. He crisscrossed the south organizing people, helping them not be afraid, and encouraging them, like Gandhi did in India, to take the beating that they had been trying to avoid all their lives.
Once the beating was over, we were free.
It wasn’t the Civil Rights Act, or the Voting Rights Act or the Fair Housing Act that freed us. It was taking the beating and thereafter not being afraid. So, sorry Mrs. Clinton, as much as I admire you, you were wrong on this one. Our people freed ourselves and those Acts, as important as they were, were only white people officially recognizing what we had done.
ORIGINALLY POSTED TO HAMDENRICE ON MON AUG 29, 2011 AT 08:24 AM PDT.
I would like to give those people who send me friend requests on FB a disclaimer of sorts. Seriously, whenever I click that friend icon I find myself wondering just how long before I post something that this person will find offensive or I wonder how long before this new ‘friend’ posts something I will find shameful or most unfriendly. So, I am providing a list that describes the kind of person that I am – thereby giving potential friends the option to friend me or not to friend me (that is the question). – No, it isn’t. Remember – choice is good.
What describes me:
1. I am a liberal: By liberal I mean that if I were to find myself in a lifeboat (I would like to think) I would attempt to get as many people safe in the boat with me rather than follow the “sink-or-swim” ideology. And, if in my democrat/socialist zeal, I post items you find offensive – feel free to block or unfriend me. I’m okay with that.
2. I am an African-American: Just know that I will see you for the potential bigot you are when you tell me some of your “best friends” are, black, Negro, or colored (I know, sounds crazy in 2013 but…). The ethnicity of your friends does not matter to me. You are either a decent person or you are not and, in my mind, the ethnic make-up or your friends bears no relationship to your decency. Also, please don’t use me as the token African -American friend to show others just how diverse your friendship pool is. Oh, before I forget, I am a light-skinned African-American so don’t tell me I am different. I am human – no different from you or any other human being.
3. I am a teacher: Right now I teach at the local community college after retiring from 22 years at the high school level. So, if you happen to come across my picture or a post of mine that brings back fond memories of me as your teacher – just know that I tried my best to see the potential for goodness in all my students – that includes you. My approach to teaching was always that I wanted to be the kind of teacher that I would want for my own son. I am kind. I am generous and compassionate. If you, for whatever reason, feel compelled to post mean-spirited posts making fun of: poor people or people on public assistance, Planned Parenthood, Hispanics, Native Americans, and/or blacks, just know that, as your former teacher, I will feel a sense shame and embarrassment just before I unfriend you in a most unceremonious fashion. Please understand there are those who were not born with luck or providence on their side. And if you can’t help someone then, please, don’t hurt them or their image in a post that may appear on my page. I will not stand silently by and let more crap be heaped upon those less fortunate.
And if you never saw any of the above personality traits as part of my personality in the years that you’ve known me, then I’ve done something wrong. Yet another reason NOT to send a friend request.
My dream disturbing:
Grand black pianos dropping from the sky
Missing bodies frolicking in an otherwise calm, moonlit ocean
Black men still being killed with impunity
I awake Channeling E.B. White:
“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve the world and a desire to enjoy the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”
It is hard to plan a day when civility is aligned along
A white fence facing down the barrels
Of hatred, ignorance and a blind lady justice
Hard to enjoy a world when one does not believe
In an organized God
Armed with the biggest guns
Millions of magazines spitting volleys of pain and grief
Days of drought, drones, and death
If I believed
I could commit the supreme act of
Cowardice by putting it all in
His (not Hers?) hands
Walk away ‘enjoy the world’ in a
Disney fog of happiness
I would have around my neck
That should admit me to the club of believers
If I believed
If I believed I wouldn’t be naked
But (just the same) I would have no clothes
I know the difference – now
If I believed I would not have to scramble
In my silver rage through the
Glove of darkness
This faux life wearing the liar’s smile
Fingering the cross
At other Xanaxed smilers who wonder
Why I am so nakedly angry
And I wonder what my last words will be?
Pleas for help?
Declarations of love?
Will it matter?
Who will be the last to hear my voice?
So again, I find myself up against human nature – true, racism at this level of engagement is one that appeals to baser instincts but, it’s part of our human collective none-the-less. What to make of the words, “…if Obama doesn’t make it to the White House due to a bullet to his head, it won’t bother me…” I heard these words not even an hour after parsing the enormous implications of the accusation of racism with my journalism class. And for all my verbal acuity, all I could think to call her was, a racist. I am silenced by how quickly that term came to my tongue. Had I not just implored my students to seriously consider such an accusation? But, in the time-honored tradition of likeable racists everywhere, this woman opened her mouth and removed all my doubt, saying, “I’m not racist because I have good friends who are colored.”
“Just what color are they?” I asked. The woman was serious – in 2012 in a western New York town that boasts a Fortune 500 company. Sitting in an office of the local community college, this encounter forced me to look at the general work pool on campus – which holds not one African-American aide or secretary. Would this woman have said the same thing to, say, a more obvious person of color rather than to me – a very light-skinned (“be careful what you say around her”), African-American adjunct? This woman obviously feels very comfortable in her position here at the college and not one of her peers seems able to compel her to keep her offensiveness to herself.
I awoke from a fitful sleep dreading what was waiting for me at my office. My foreboding increased as I got closer to the campus. The panic and fear returned from a 1997 event when high school students surrounded my classroom door all wrapped in the confederate flag. As the only African-American teacher in that school, I got but a glimpse of the fear and trepidation that the marchers of the ’60s must have felt going up against the institutionalized racism of the times. That day, I wanted so badly to turn and run after seeing two of my students as part of the intimidating group and, shockingly, the son of a teaching colleague. I stood my ground because I was not going to be intimidated by ignorance and because my knees were too weak to support me to my car. For months afterwards I became the target of these sons of ‘good-old-boys’ and the victim of weak-willed administrators too afraid to call ignorance into the light and destroy it for all to see. Needless to say, a teachable moment was lost here. What was not lost, I came to understand this morning, was the low-level panic and fear for my personal safety.
The issue here is someone’s right to be brazenly insensitive – bordering racist in the workplace. The remarks this person made created, for me, a hostile environment if but for the minute it took me to grab my keys and briefcase and leave. As I write this I am not sure if I want to file a formal harassment complaint. If I did file, I feel I would be bound to some abstract justice that requires secrecy in which statements and verifications can be made, after which all would go into a separate file and life would go on.
What do I want to happen? I’ve lived long enough to know I cannot change what is in someone’s heart. As an educator of color, I see the need to meet my students with honesty and respect in modeling just how to behave in the wider world. Most of my students will leave the comfort and confines of this small community to live and work with many other groups (if they are lucky). Campus issues around racist remarks can serve as the proverbial teachable moments. I believe when these issues are identified, handled, and attempts at resolution are made in transparency, students can learn the extremely important lesson – made even more meaningful for those with whom they will work. That lesson? Respectful consideration.
And when he was born my grandmother must have had all the requisite dreams, holding my dad in her arms. She must have seen in his huge black eyes the beginning of genius. She must have seen talent in his precocious growth, talent enough to live up to his Ellington namesake. He was musical – a beautiful strong baritone though not strong
enough to lift him over his timid paranoia induced by his velvet-black skin
And today, the day of father’s, I wonder what my dad would have been like if his skin were another color?
Would he have lost that ‘good job’ wrongly accused of theft?
Would his footfalls coming in the back door continue to translate as angry tirades about his children’s shortcomings?
Would he need to find surcease in vodka’s white-lightening providing a shield from a life shot through with responsibility?
And yet, every morning I could understand the language in the back door slam – speaking volumes to his work ethic – every morning.
My father, I understand now, was a complicated man attempting to live in a world that minimized (by degrees) most men.
And he helped, unable, as he was, to resist those who found him irresistible.
Who’s fault that his silken, coffee brown body invited touch?
Where, in his beautiful black shroud of skin, did strength and weakness reside?