some of the best americans

On Monday, it felt like winter still had us in its grip with near-freezing temps and sheets of sleet driving sideways in bitter wind. Yesterday there was a hint of spring, though the crocuses which had emerged last week were pummeled by the rain and suffered badly in the frost. It was quite a rare start to spring vacation which, because of extra hours caring for my non-verbal, incontinent, uncoordinated, restless, seizure-prone son, is never vacation for me. But I shouldn't complain.

Calvin makes it hard for me to write when he is home. Though I try, I'm not as able as I'd like to squeeze out a few sentences between diaper changes and feedings and shadowing him around the house. Often, when I can't seem to focus or find time to put down my thoughts, I wind up reading dribs and drabs of the New York Times and other news. Beyond the stunts which never cease to come out of the current White House, plus the Mueller investigation and the Syrian atrocities, what was troubling to me this week was the arrest of two African American men at a Philadelphia Starbucks. Their crime? Doing exactly what the rest of us do when sitting and waiting for a friend to show up for coffee: nothing.

While taking Nellie on a brisk walk yesterday, I tried to form sentences in my head from my feelings about this nation's ongoing problem with bigotry and racism—the unconscious kind, the implicit kind, the blatant kind. I reflected first about the scores of adults who stare and frown at Calvin in the grocery store, both overtly and subtly attempted, as if afraid of him, repulsed, or both; they have no idea what a sweet, pure and affectionate soul he is.

They only see that he is different.

I then turned my thoughts to race, recalling the moment I first heard a black man—one whom I loved at the time—tell me that (White) society had taught him to fear people like himself. I remembered when a dear friend, a college employee, told me that a White man had driven past shouting "nigger" out the window, telling him to go back to where he came from (Maryland?). I recalled my mother, years ago, assuming that the tall, smart-dressed Black man emerging from a luxury car must have been a professional basketball player. She then cursed me when I rejected her bias by suggesting that he might be a banker, doctor or lawyer. I recounted the time a neighbor told me with certainty that the dude in a hoodie crossing the street to ask for a cigarette had dubious intent. I've had friends embarrassingly gape and remark over a bartender's attractive bundle of dreadlocks. I've heard white folks insist, most erroneously, that the disproportionate rate of African American people in prison is because they are more prone to commit crimes, rather than believe empirical evidence that People of Color, particularly Black people, are more prone to be swept up, stopped and searched due to racial profiling. I've heard White people tell me that African Americans need to "get over" slavery, completely ignorant of the fact that the shackling of Black people never ended, only morphed over decades from slavery into other forms of systematic oppression such as Jim Crow, segregation, discrimination at every civic and societal level, and today's mass incarceration. I've seen too many videos of innocent, unarmed Black men, women and children being beaten and shot by police. I've heard so-called patriots condemn Black athletes' free speech. I've heard too many harrowing accounts of innocent Black victims and their families. I've read numerous op-eds such as one written by Charles Blow, an African American journalist whose son, while walking from the Yale library to his dorm, was accosted by a gun-wielding college police officer. I've schooled myself on our sordid history of Indigenous genocide, slavery, and oppression against People of Color. I've listened to Black people tell their stories. I know them and love them. I trust what they say.

As I trudged over thawing tundra onto gravel and gritty asphalt, I thought further about ignorance and bigotry and how the two are inextricably linked like bitter Maine wind and rain in April. Then I remembered something one of my brothers told me years back just before my move from Seattle to San Francisco.

"I can always tell when someone is gay," he said with a straight face.
"Except when you can't," I retorted.

The concept I offered him seemed to completely escape his grasp, but that was not surprising to me. I wondered if and doubted whether he knowingly had any dear, gay friends.

A similar kind of ignorance, though perhaps more dangerous, is no doubt shared by too many Whites when it comes to race. Many of my White brethren—likely without personal experience—think they know Black people, their motives, their desires, their values, their hearts, their souls. The only notion some White people have about Black people is the racist shit they are fed from watching FOX news and television shows like COPS and listening to folks like Rush Limbaugh. They choose to hear the racist political propaganda and false narratives about welfare queens and drug dealers. They swallow the bigoted and biased media portrayals of innocent Black victims depicted as thugs and perps. They don't know, befriend, love, listen to or believe Black people because of a deep-seated fear or hatred stemming from ignorance.

In the wake of the Starbucks arrests—which brought to mind the mistreatment of Blacks during the Woolworth's lunch counter sit-ins of the 1960s—I heard White folks resort to the same old lame and harmful platitudes: insisting that there must be something more to the story (implying that the Black men in Starbucks must have committed some offense); maintaining that the police officers had zero choice but to arrest; claiming that the men were somehow trespassing, should have bought something or left—something White folks are rarely if ever expected or asked to do.

Time and again I see Black folks' immense capacity for tolerance, forgiveness, resilience, patience, wisdom, charity, honesty, humor and resourcefulness in the face of hatred and bigotry. It makes sense; without these qualities they may have not otherwise endured this centuries-old White winter grip of bitter oppression, victim shaming, punishing, tormenting, threatening, arresting, incarcerating, defaming, scapegoating, torturing and killing of their Black brethren. Their stories are not the stuff of fiction. These wrongdoings and atrocities against Black people are real. Black folks, most who are decedents not of immigrants, but of human beings captured and caged like animals, shipped like cargo across the Atlantic and sold into slavery, their families ripped apart, are some of the best Americans. It's time the rest of us treated them so.

Indivisible, photomontage by Susan Partrige

No comments:

Post a Comment