WE MUST REMEMBER THIS

A Black Educator in Rural America

I watched the presidential inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris January 20, 2021 with hope and tears. I was reminded of the roads we have traveled and the “hills” we’ve climbed by a young woman who was ten years old when Barack Obama was sworn into office as the first African American president in 2009. Yet Amanda Gorman brilliantly reminded me that in any struggle there is always light, and we mustn’t be afraid. Indeed, at twenty-two, she is unafraid to be that light. 

The beauty of this inauguration was that Biden’s address lacked usual high-flying inaugural oratory, words designed to have us focus on some noble route to the future, while overlooking a not-so-noble past. Reflection is always dangerous in a turbulent republic such as ours. President Biden did not sweep the unreconciled tragedies of our history under the rug. Indeed, he has pledged to flush out systemic racism which many see as the underlying cause of America’s civil unrest. Our American president is unafraid to admit to us and the world that persistent and protected racism has been hidden deep under the rug of national conscience for too many years.   

We cannot reach that “mountaintop” together if we don’t reconcile the events that have been conveniently purged from memory. One such memory was brought back to me on January 6th when our nation’s capital came under siege. I witnessed a man carrying a confederate flag, defiant and proud, across the floor of the capitol building. This hateful symbol of the lost southern cause had never, ever been unfurled in this country’s capitol building – until now. Ironically, there were two portraits hanging on the walls. To his right was a portrait of the proud abolitionist, Charles Sumner. To the left of the flag bearer was a portrait of John C. Calhoun, a proud defender of slavery. The irony tells me that some battles are never over; never won, never lost – forever locked in ugly stalemate. And while the north may be credited with winning the war, the south can be credited, as evinced by the flag-bearer’s display, with winning the message.

That message was driven home for me one morning in 1998, my 10th year of teaching high school English in a small western New York town. That morning was unremarkable until I entered my building to find five angry white boys surrounding the door to my classroom – all draped in the confederate flag. I knew these boys were hell-bent on teaching me the same lesson other racist whites have provided for people of my collective for generations. Apparently, I needed to learn fear – for having reported one of the boys for writing “KKK, all niggers must die” on his desk the week before. There was no doubt who wrote the message on this desk that I had just cleaned the prior evening. But then, as now, I found it curious that whenever a racist is outed to the public, righteous indignation goes into overdrive. The young man and his family were incensed  at my accusation. And to prove himself he started wearing a hat with the confederate flag emblem on the front. (Irony is not dead.)  The story is long and involves many attempts on my part to talk to the young man in efforts to find any compassion beneath the bravado of good-old-country-boy grievance. Nothing worked. Not a community meeting with the NAACP nor other white students defending the rights of students and teachers of color against offensive displays like the confederate flag. My approach failed in the late 1998. Even so, I hope that my abbreviated story can act as guide for teachers and administrators when their school is rocked with the leftover stones of racial prejudice. 

Educators, especially teachers of American history, I ask that you not be afraid to teach the truth. In fact, work backwards and unteach the lie of slavery being a simple working agreement between blacks and whites. And if there is any doubt that presumably intelligent adults already understand the truth about slavery, introduce them to “Gene Allmond, the chief of the police department in Hamilton, Ga.” According to New York Times reporter, Bryan Pietsch, Mr. Allmond is heard saying, They furnished them a house to live in, they furnished them clothes to put on their back, they furnished them food to put on their table, and all they had to do was work.”  Chief Allmond as speaking to Mr. Brooks a patrolman who was heard “using a racial slur while making lewd comments about [Atlanta Mayor] Ms. Bottoms and Stacey Abrams, the former Democratic candidate for governor.” Both chief Allmond and officer Brooks were unaware of Brooks’ body camera recording the conversation. This incident makes for an excellent lesson in the difficulty in getting to the truth about slavery. Let all the students know you are going to teach a mostly ignored history. Give students the courtesy of expectation. Expect them to understand the truth that southern states wanted the right to govern themselves insofar as their desires to own other human beings were concerned. Tell them this lesson is not to instill guilt or promote retribution, but it is a lesson about an American past meant to inform an American future. If we don’t know where we come from, we are doomed to never be able to answer the whys of the present and the why-nots for the future. I’ve taken the wind out of a few bully-sails by being up front regarding racist retorts. “There’s nothing original or decent about racism.” Cutting the bully off at the pass can sometimes remove sneak attacks. Sometimes. Most importantly for educators, you have to believe historical truths. If you don’t, I beg you, please get another profession.

The level of comfort in any given classroom begins with the teacher: For the white teacher who may have his/her own buried, unaddressed issues around race and white supremacy, establishing a level of comfort around an uncomfortable subject can be an insurmountable task. Knowing the truth about this country’s history means knowing the truth about one’s self.  There is no faking it. If you, as a white teacher, have any discomfort springing from your own  preconceived ideas and or negative experiences with students of color, your students from racist family cultures will know where your sympathies lie. Intuition is strong in many students especially minority students.  Indeed, some may never tell you but, believe me, they will know your comfort level, sometimes even better than you.  I asked the African American editor of our school newspaper why she had chosen to forego her senior year? (Preferring an early start at Georgetown University).  She explained that three years of  being the recipient of bullying racist behavior from her peers was more than enough. Another reason she was in a hurry to leave sprang from the white adult “presumption of black ignorance.” Every student has a teacher-radar. They know when we are being sincere. They know when we want them to thrive just as they know when teachers don’t care if they fail.  

 Administrators are important in deciding who gets to teach as well as determining the comfort level of the entire school. A good idea might be to have prospective teachers, as part of the interview process, model the introduction of a race related unit. An actual presentation of a candidate’s introduction to race sensitive topics such as,  Slavery in the U.S., Huck Finn, To Kill a Mockingbird, can give fair insight into a teaching candidate’s classroom approach.  

An administrator’s job is not easy. Navigating the vicissitudes of school board and administrative demands is not for the weak of heart. When a student insists on bullying or intimidating others with items like a confederate flag, the administrator needs to act swiftly to defend a peaceful and educational learning environment. Any equivocation lends legitimacy to racism. The Confederate flag issue at my school  should have been a teachable moment. My administrator should have suspended those individuals for intimidation and harassment. (There was no question as to why they blocked my door).  The entire school should have been made aware of the incident and informed, in no uncertain terms, that such behaviors would not be tolerated. My administrator failed in showing how the confederate flag was offensive to her as it should have been to every compassionate human being.  My principal levied no punishment. In fact, in efforts at appeasement,  the wearing of the flag was allowed – but only in two-inch-by-two-inch displays on hats or t-shirts. (I’m sure the ridiculousness in expecting teachers and hall monitors to carry rulers for measuring offenders is why this decision too, was a failure). My administrator’s actions told me I was not worth the outcry from aggrieved, though misguided, parents fighting to preserve a fabricated heritage. I never believed nor do I now see this administrator as racist and I fully understood the pitfalls of navigating a high school student body filled with kids from all socio-economic strata –  ranging from kids of parents with six-figure incomes to those on public assistance. What I found most offensive though, was my principal’s weakness and inability to stand up and proclaim this flag utterly offensive – just as she had done with me in private.  Yes, my principal did not want to upset a community that might have called for her resignation. My right to work in a non-threatening environment was not worth it for her. This episode happened in the spring semester and I wanted my principal to take a stand. And because she didn’t, that same student stalked me the entire fall semester finding my prep periods, coming to my room and pulling the, since banned, flag from his pocket. I informed her of these infractions too many times because it wasn’t long before I became the problem. I quit complaining. Maybe, in the late 1998, I wanted too much. But today, expecting an understanding of the evil of slavery and knowledge of how the image of the confederate flag furthered that evil, is not too much to ask. 

Nothing is lost on the perceptive student and time has proven this true. One young man who was part of the confederate flag tormentors blocking my door, stopped at my desk a few days after the incident wanting to apologize. Not only did he need to apologize to me,  but his family also encouraged him to apologize to the entire class. I remember his name to this day and wonder what became of him. I do know he moved to Florida soon after the apology to be with other family members. I don’t know why. Another incident that gives me reason to hope, happened eight years after my retirement, in 2016. I was a long-term substitute teacher at a high school in a neighboring city. At a faculty luncheon I was approached by a young teacher who asked if I had ever taught at her high school. I said yes. She then proceeded to apologize for her inaction during the “confederate flag incident.” I was stunned to tears – it had been so long ago. I was caught off guard, assailed by an unaddressed grief at the inaction of my principal and the silence of most of my white colleagues. This young teacher continues to be guided by the decency required to fight a racist culture. I am encouraged that the entire confederate flag issue held some positive lessons even as I know putting an end to the confederate fight for legitimacy has not been and will not be easy. I can only promise to fight the flawed rationale of State’s Rights. In order to remain above the rabbit-hole of hatred, I remember the positives that sprang from negative events.  I remember the white students, a young woman in particular who dared stand up at our meetings and call out the racists amongst her peers. (Today, this young woman now runs an advocacy law firm and remains good friends with my niece). I have long been amazed at the courage it must have taken for her to stand up and be strong all the while navigating the vicissitudes of an unforgiving high school culture. So too do I owe gratitude and respect to those few white teachers who refused to ignore students wearing racially offensive clothing in their classrooms. I had become far more conscious of those educators in my building who would consider themselves my friends yet not challenge a white student’s desire to wear racially offensive clothing in our workplace. This waffling regarding my right to work in a non-hostile environment was painful even as it was understandable. We teachers tend to be a docile lot. I understand as well that, as a teacher who’s been called many things, docile was never one of them. 

Ironically, what those aggrieved rioters who ransacked the Capitol Building on January 6th  of this year helped to pull rug from under the feet of this nation. A rug that had become so bumpy and uneven that it impeded our forward march. I saw the flag of the south waved in grievance as a potential stand-in for people who feared loss and desecration of their rural lifestyle. I realized as well that my former confederate flag-waving students were not knocking at the ceilings of academic or athletic success. The rural dairy farms were all but gone. Local machining and factory jobs were upping the skills requirements that would leave the less motivated on the outside. I see now that in their inarticulate hearts they must have felt they were being forced out of a way of life by the influx of highly skilled, very diverse, and educated workers hired by the county’s two major fortune 500 employers. I wondered how many of the DC rioters shared the same grievance?    

Racism ceases to be a problem when most people feel prosperous and employed in meaningful work. Yes, racist groups like the KKK and Proud Boys exist but their numbers increase with the increase in this white majority’s fear of loss. I wonder how many of my confederate flag tormentors looked at the newsclips with sympathy for the angry mob? I don’t think the January 6th  crowd understood the manipulation of their anger and frustration by racist and anti-Semitic groups. Just as those who blocked my door were being manipulated by the instigator whose initial grievance was being labled racist for his racist graffiti and not  the shared grievance of lost position in school and community.  

On my good days I am hopeful. Hopeful that those who wanted to wreck democracy on January 6, 2021 can come to some understanding of how their grievances are being coopted by hate groups who’ve blinded them to the irony of storming the “citadel of freedom” demanding a nebulous freedom for themselves. On my worst days, I know education has failed some students. We’ve failed to push them to do the right thing when we allowed a hateful rationale to prevail. We’ve equivocated when we should have been strong in our demands for decency and empathy. We didn’t want to hurt feelings by informing some that a time would come when the family farm would no longer sustain them after graduation. We failed to impress upon them the need for the human being to be useful, compassionate, and work for the good of the whole. As educators we’ve delighted in the successes of those motivated and strong students whose lives after college have made us proud. But all of that seems to have come at the expense of those who needed more from us than we were ever capable of imagining. Much is demanded of educators.  I’m not alone in my memories of leaving work in the dark, mired in fatigue  after a long and tiring meeting with my Students Against Violence And Discrimination group. Countless times I’ve sat in my car wondering why I worked so damn hard at an extracurricular that pays nothing?  But years later, I recognize I was paid – every time a student finds me on social media or writes a thank-you card letting me know the impact I had on their lives. Yes, I’ve been paid – in the currency of hope.

Teachers are expected to solve the problems of the world. As such, we must remember that our light will shine even if we can’t see its reflection in the moment. We have to be fearless as we take up education’s lantern, to shine the light that shows all students that America has a place for them. If nothing else – we must remember this.

January 6, 2021

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. 

Justice is here and we are no longer afraid.

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.