“We are the world. The world is you and me, the world is not separate from you and me. We have created this world – the world of violence, the world of wars, the world of religious divisions, sex, anxieties, the utter lack of communication with each other, with no sense of compassion, consideration for another. Wherever one goes in any country throughout the world, human beings, that is, you and another, suffer; we are anxious, we are uncertain, we don’t know what is going to happen. Everything has become uncertain. Right through the world as human beings we are in sorrow, fear, anxiety, violence, uncertain of everything, insecure. There is a common relationship between us all. We are the world essentially, basically, fundamentally. The world is you, and you are the world. Realizing that fundamentally, deeply, not romantically, not intellectually but actually, then we see that our problem is a global problem. It is not my problem or your particular problem, it is a human problem.”
― Jiddu Krishnamurti
WELCOME TO MY WORLD OF TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION
I’ve been in various stages of Grief my whole life about what skin color means in the world. If you’re white, the police probably occupy a smaller part of your brain than if your skin is dark, and you are less likely to be stopped or arrested or killed if you have light skin. Some people are learning about the underbelly of police enforced racism for the first time. For others it’s part of the known and experienced racial inequity. But everyone I’ve talked to this week have been touched by the voice of a man saying over and over eleven times while in a policemen’s choke hold: “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
For all of us the situation has become so severe that it’s impossible not to see the Truth that some are protected, while others are literally being strangled to death by injustice. “Can you believe it?” people are saying. Why was so much force was used? Why didn’t the policeman listen to the man? Why were the hearings private? Why aren’t police arrested when they kill unarmed people and there are witnesses? Is there really no justice in the United States? Is it still the Wild West?
But if you’re reading this you’ve probably already entered the first stage of grief which is Shock. But please, white people, please stay with me, and allow yourselves to wake up fully. Don’t fall into group think or catch word phrases. There are many more stages of grief ahead that you’ll need to go through. Some times you’ll experience all the stages together. And sometimes you’ll just feel crazy and want to murder people. Years ago when Daniel Carver coined the phrase “Wake up, white people!” He’s a Ku Klux Klan member. He wanted white people to wake up to something different from what I’m proposing.
I’m proposing that you join me in living in the embrace of grief in your gut. I also propose that if you haven’t already that you become courageous about social change. If we do not embark on this journey together we will kill each other and ourselves. As an educated and economically privileged African American female individual who along with the other American citizens who have 95% more money than everybody else on the planet, I’m still having trouble managing the rage and despair I feel. I keep thinking of the former slave who ended slavery in Haiti. L’Ouverture, Toussaint (1742-1803) | The Black Past: Remembered and Reclaimed. Remembering him is calming for me as I struggle to manage my crazy making rage and indignation about having to suffer my relatively tiny grievances and huge societal ones. I had hoped that by 2o14 the USA would be in a much better place than it is. But that was my fantasy head.
I’d be delighted if you’d join me in the present and say goodbye to Denial and Isolation as a way of avoiding shock. And say hello to Anger, Pain and Guilt. Goodness knows it’s alright to hang out in Reasoning and Bargaining for awhile. That’s the looking for some one to blame. When I’m in that frame of mind I reflect on Walt Kelly’s Pogo comic.
You may be wondering why you never heard of these problems before. Or you may be questioning if it really is widespread. Or you may find yourself wanting to continue avoiding the topic all together, hoping to avoid necessity of looking too closely at unearned privilege and how you may be contributing to keep that in place. When I’m having trouble with this one I read: White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack by Peggy McIntosh. This gives me some idea of what white people live like. If after you read this you may think you need help. If so don’t hesitate to get professional help especially if you get stuck in Tolerance, or the belief that you don’t see color. I often help people out with this one by the simple question “How do you find your car in a parking lot?”
Next you may catch a full fledged case of Depression. It will probably be deeper, fuller and more painful than this song, but if depression is not one of your friends this may help you ease into it, as depression is a prerequisite for healing.
Some times after depression Love and Gratitude click in. But sometimes in my experience I just recycle through the earlier stages, again and again and again. It’s complicated, and I’m sure different for each person. My opinion after this most recent crisis is that We Must Stop Police Abuse of Black Men – NYTimes.com. and that we’re not at the top of the food chain, and that we people are just not that highly evolved as far as our sense of connection with one another. In short we’ve got problems as a species. Employed assassins, martyrs and violence have always been with us. Some of what we’re reaping now was born long before the twin fun house mirrors of illusion of US democracy and law began. I’ve always been fascinated about the conflicting pulls on people. In 1921 a major institution piggy backed the racism of unequal privilege where rich students for decades had been bringing their slave/servants with them to college and upgraded to a chapter of The Ku Klux Klan at Harvard | Magazine | The Harvard Crimson.
National attention at the moment is on the latest murders of an unarmed black men. My hope is that this flurry of interest will be galvanized into a MOVEMENT FOR JUSTICE that will grow out of people worrying about the safety of the policeman whose addresses is now being tweeted all over the world. I hope that the concerns of those about the young black men in their neighborhoods being picked off by police a assassins will be heard. I hope that many will question the jury process and the rulings.
This legal prescriptive tidbit from our collective law filled past can be found in The Black Book: 35th Anniversary Edition: Middleton A. Harris, Ernest Smith, Morris Levitt, Roger Furman, Toni Morrison: 9781400068487: Amazon.com: Books.: “If a Negro shall be convicted of an offense within the benefit of clergy, judgment of death shall not be given, but he shall be burnt in the hand in open court, and suffer such other corporeal punishment as the court shall think fit. If a Negro give false testimony, he shall without further trial have one ear nailed to the pillory for one hour an then the ear cut off an the other nailed an cut off in like manner, and moreover receive on his bare back thirty nine lashes,well laid on, at the public shipping post, on such other punishment as the court shall think proper, not extending to life or limb.”
The media memory of the five or six unarmed black men shot by police in the last month November 2014 has already begun to fade. Many people don’t even know Exactly How Often Do Police Shoot Unarmed Black Men? | Mother Jones. So these events are in the same place as a disappearing plane soon to be forgotten, especially if you knew no one on board.
Slavery, oppression, carnage, and murder are some of the ways people’s creativity has been expressed. Many religions support the moral legitimacy of slavery, teetering precariously on slippery slopes of unequal treatment of women, male and female genital mutilation and all sorts of exclusionary practices. Papal grants to entrepreneurial slavers jump started the export/import of black people. The end of the plague ridden Dark Ages’ economic slump was upended by huge slave profits helping to create the Renaissance. Creativity there touted the new belief that the white body was the perfect body and spawned the great ad campaign for Catholicism of Baroque Art. The native Peruvian Quechua speaking woman who I saw in a trip to Peru who looked like me might well have had African ancestors importe by the Jesuits to build churches in Latin America in Peru in the 1500s.
Since I’ve always had dark skin, from early on I knew that I had to prepare for a life of discrimination. In college my classmates used to debate whether the jews had a harder time than the blacks. Even then as a young twenty something person I thought the argument wasn’t genuine and wasn’t worth having. For me it was what can we do to eradicate suffering. This started with my life long commitment to vocations for social change even though I often wished I was white so that I could just follow my bliss, instead of being morally bound to “Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us”.Lift Every Voice and Sing | The Poem and Song | Black History | PBS. But at eighteen I wasn’t happy about knowing that I’d have to take on the life long mantle of lifting others as I rose. Then it felt like so much work, now it keeps me sane. And along with so many other African Americans I have taught to prepare them for a life time of relentless ongoing racial considerations and situations no matter where they live, no matter how much they achieve as this is how it began in the USA. “And they sold us like beasts, and they counted our teeth…and they felt our testicles and they tested the lustre or dullness of our skin…” ~ Cesaire
It is up to us to change the narrative. I had many thoughts when I pledged allegiance to the flag and the republic for which it stands. I owe much to the fact that the doctor who was assigned to me at Brooklyn Hospital was also trustee of Brooklyn Friends School which I attended. I felt like an integration experiment. I knew about apartheid in Africa in the sixth grade. And I felt lucky that I wasn’t being lynched in 1952 which was the first year that a lynching had not occurred in 70 years. A History of Racial Injustice – Equal Justice Initiative. In the seventh I learned about dogs I also knew I couldn’t vacation in Florida as some of my classmates did because of segregation. I knew the law of the land wasn’t favorable to me. An though I wanted to go south I wasn’t allowed to because my feelings of equality could put myself and others in jeopardy.
I knew my grand father had risked his life by telling a black woman not to give up her seat for a white man. He put everyone at the school at risk by his action overtly twenty years before Rosa Parks. He was in medical school in Maharry. He reported his action to the college president and wasn’t censored for it.
Ever since I was assaulted and kick beaten by five white men because of being black I’ve hidden in Newton MA in a house with no windows on the street. But finally I’m old and invisible and I’m ready to leave my cloistered life and move south. No longer is leaving the house a political act because I am no longer afraid of dying.
Now is the time for white people to deal with their creations. Democracy and law for me mirroring fun house illusionary creations. I’m grateful to have the space of a blog to prevent my feelings from festering into self defeating rage.
“I’m late, I’m late for very important date. No time to say hello good bye I’m late I’m late I’m late” ~ Alice in Wonderland, Louis Carroll.
Wake up white people. Now it’s your turn, your children’s turn and your grandchildren’s turn. Please get on board, take over the train and change the direction. It’s not about Ferguson, it’s not about police brutality, it’s about the our collective world history and our future.
I have no doubt that life will continue, but I’m less certain human beings will make it. Another text for putting fire, strength and resolve in the belly if one wonders “What Can I Do?”, Read Without Sanctuary, the USA postcard collection of lynching photos. Or trust that my at least weekly experiences are challenging: going into a store with a white friend and having the sales clerk lock the door and then accuse us of shop lifting – only allowing us to leave after I showed her that nothing was missing; going into a lunch place and having everyone stop talking and start staring at us; her being shocked at how people cursed at me and didn’t even know me. My white friend who lived with me for six months said that without me that she “would have remained so dumb (pun intended). If anyone around me even breathes their slick privilege, I get so angry I want to throw up. Instead, I am no longer dumb, and the words that come out of my “liberal commie pinko mouth” make people gasp. I never used to be like this. I was quiet. Polite. Even “tolerant” (what a disgusting word). Only since our time together, our conversations, your educating me, the further revelations by your children and with each day my constant and desperate need to “protect” you (say what?)…only since living at at your home have these wretched, screaming, internal reactions swamped my existence, made me grow up, and now all I can do is stand.”
May you after what you are hearing in the media be as brave as she is. What I wrote her after her heartfelt words was “I love you sooooooooo much. And it hurt my feelings to have to share it [my negative racial experiences] with you, but I knew it would be empowering for her as it was for my daughter and son in law…empowering as each lash teaches one how to stand straighter.
The exciting thing about having dark skin is that I know everyone notices me in a crowd. The hurtful part is that they try to ignore the fact (“I don’t see color I just see a human being.) that false way people have of smiling when faced with people with physical and neurological challenges. It wasn’t expectation that I had, only a momentary hope that maybe given the so out there words – still ringing in my head: “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe. (eleven times) that everyone would just once go there, imagine themselves in a choke hold, not being able to breathe…but that identification just didn’t happen. Maybe it was easier for me having spent a good portion of my childhood in an iron lung to know what he felt like that thinking you’re about to die feeling. I didn’t go the distance though, I’m still here. But Garner did, and I’d hoped someone in this group where I spent 30 years would feel something for him so strong that they would express their flat out pain and sorrow for someone they didn’t know personally. I mean this is a group that gets passionate about people killed over 50 years ago. But there seems to be little empathy or sympathy for those being murdered on a regular basis right here in the USA. I am grateful to have friends with white skins and rich hearts who truly get what it is to live threatened every day of one’s life. And I admit to a continuing desire and need to be witnessed and acknowledged because the fairy tale doesn’t exist for me. I just can’t pretend the emperor has clothes on and keep my mouth shut. I’ve somehow made that survivor leap so for me it’s not about blaming or being in someone’s face,honestly Ijust wonder about the rewards of silence and the willingness to forget these words:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
I saw the blacks and how they kept coming for them, and maybe I was hoping that they would never come for me, but
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
~ Martin Niemoeller
(I couldn’t resist adding a new line……)
You don’t need racists for institutional racism to flourish. But what do you need for hope?