IT WILL ALWAYS BE ABOUT RACE…

 

march on wash. monu
Intelligence favors the truth

“Why does it always have to be about race?”

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.

DEAR WHITE PEOPLE

march on wash. monu

I don’t want your                                                                     liberal guilt

Your shocked alarm                                                                   at blood long spilt

I truly don’t want                                                                  your dismay

To matter more                                                                           than a racist display

What I want                                                                                  when you’re alone

Standing among                                                                           those blood and bone

Not a defense of my                                                                    right to BE

But a defense of my right                                                          to take a knee

Scour your own heart                                                                of stereotype

It sieves through all                                                                 the “tolerant” hype

I know when you think                                                                I’m not enough

When my vocabulary tends                                                    to call your bluff

I will know when the                                                           racist BS ends

When in absence I am                                                            just your “friend”

You’ll understand my anger                                                    at a human race

Those who won’t rise                                                             above limited base

 And you’ll feel easy                                                                   in the skin you own

Knowing we are ALL                                                        simply blood and bone

All working toward                                                                     a peace un-shattered

Where there is no offense                                                    that our lives matter

                                                                       G.  Davis-Feldman  ©2019

Gettysburg Address: 2014

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,

gdf ‘14

From Watts to Ferguson

New York Times photo - 8/14/14
New York Times photo – 8/14/14

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

ASSESSING THE DAMAGE: A Writer’s Almanac, NYT Headlines, and Triathlons

baldwin

 

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.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Take-a-way Wisdom:

Art is a way of confronting life. Getting to the big unruled YES in a country bordered and ruled by no

 

TO THE BLACK MAN CONFRONTED BY THE CRAZY (RACIST) WHITE WOMAN

Link to video:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CtS-8LUdmXE

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

Control

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
Ignorance

Parading
White privilege indeed

link:

Freedom from Bondage and FEAR

 Intelligence favors the truth

                                                         

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

                                    ∞∞∞∞

 

Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did

– 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.

HamdenRice

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FaceBook: Rules That (should) Apply

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.

 gwen   group'

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.

 

 

 

 

STUTTERING JUSTICE

cropped-night-water.jpg

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 talisman

That password

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

Idiot grinning

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?

Regret?

Will it matter?

Who will be the last to hear my voice?

Considering the Source – Again

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.