Archive for the ‘racism’ Category

Know peace. Know justice.

November 3, 2017

I have just started a fascinating book entitled American Taxation, American Slavery.  To paraphrase poorly her argument, the writer, an historian @ Berkeley, uses her examination of how tax codes were written and implemented in the colonies and then the newly formed states up until the Civil War to illustrate how today’s anti-government rhetoric is a narrative that can be directly tied to the elitist, pro-slavery, anti-democratic governments of the southern states.

For me, having returned to the south and with my own connections to slave-owning founding fathers (including living 4 miles from Robert E Lee’s birthplace), this a timely link, but I think it is also an illuminating way to perceive how racist assumptions underlie what’s transpiring in our culture.  It’s also a useful reminder that until we ALL work to pull apart these complicated skeins, this stain of injustice/abuse of power will remain and pollute our possibilities toward peace.

I had an interesting dream I’m still processing. It was quite disturbing, although the graphic elements were mercifully absent. At a celebratory party (maybe my birthday), close friends and I treat an outsider in a dismissive way. As others laugh at him, I do too and he gives me a look that I register as hostile and aggressive. After the others are gone, he comes in through an unlocked door, holding a bat. Because I cannot bear the thought of being beaten, I submit to his raping me. As time goes on, this situation continues, with me saying nothing to anyone. My friends wonder why someone so unpleasant is permitted to hang out with me/us, but I’m too subdued by guilt and shame to say or do anything. At one point, a group of us discover the bodies of girls who’ve been tortured and murdered in an empty building, and I am sure the perpetrator was him.  I realize that by allowing him to abuse me, I have not minimized his capacity for violence but instead in some manner increased or at least continued to conceal it.  I confide in one friend, and together we begin to devise a way to bring him to justice.

This issue of justice is one I’ve been allowing to remain in my peripheral vision, the way one yearns for beauty or love or community as an ideal. For instance, what’s happened to me in my various park positions are examples of power being abused and of my allowing the situation because of some degree of guilt/shame. My growing interest in the subject of slavery also involves the abuse of power,  finding it threaded through the stories we tell about our country when we talk about “founding fathers” like Thomas Jefferson & George Washington whom, we explain, hated slavery but couldn’t find a feasible way to free their slaves (a story that desperately needs to be re-framed). What I’ve found, however, in my own heart, is that when I think about justice, I allow myself to accept injustice being perpetrated in my own line of sight because, I argue silently, “the world is an unjust place.”

In a newsletter he sent out early this morning, an astrologer whose cultural critiques I find perceptive in an intuitive way wrote about the Trump-Manafort news in terms of justice. I’m not quite sure I can completely agree with the assertions he made in this instance, but he provided an observation that’s provided a useful description of the path my mind is tending:

Having faith in justice is in part the result of being a just person, since if you’re not personally connected to something, it’s difficult to imagine its existence.

That this issue of justice and each person’s connection to it are fascinating and fruitful to me I can feel in my heart which feels tight with possibility. It’s a scary feeling, one I can sense others (and me in the past) would easily turn away from.  If I take what the wisdom this astrologer has offered here and my own intuitions, I know the difficulty involves working through and moving beyond one’s own collusion with injustice (through the vestiges of our guilt and shame) so that we can stand on the side of justice.

I hope I can find the courage to commit to unearthing the layers of the stories that are offered to me as a means of testifying to a different way, a better way.

Imagination

March 10, 2015

It comes down to this, she tried to explain, a man dead or a thousand dead, the question to be answered is always one man dead no matter how many times – statistic, or mine prop, or slate fall – a man used and discarded who would be alive but for this.  . . . Someone is always in the way.  Its obscenity is that a man does not die because he is a certain person with a name.  The act is as nameless and uncontrolled as it was that night.

from The Scapegoat, Mary Lee Settle

This past weekend I read the Wikipedia entry on Bloody Sunday and wept.  It’s not that I didn’t know racism existed or that the struggle for civil rights continues to this day.  My father’s parents were racists, although my mother struggled to keep her daughters from seeing them that way since the family had taken us in when we desperately needed shelter.  But because my immediate family would have never denigrated or denied someone their rights based on the color of their skin, I’m constantly taken short when faced with the magnitude of what Americans with African ancestry have suffered.  How can hate be based on something so meaningless as this?  How can it be so strong that it can blot out a person’s life?

Is it because I know how easily I can manipulate people with a lie, with my superficial appearance of being normal, that I know that what matters lies below the surface?  One must rely on some other sense to uncover this, a sense that can navigate beyond the culture’s notions of success, beauty, accomplishment, etc.  Or maybe one must have been given a notion of the sanctity of life that doesn’t separate people from each other, as religion often does, but one that envelops all of us?  Or maybe it’s a basic skepticism of a perpetual outsider that helps one move past the herd mentality?

How can we imagine people who are completely unlike us, really?  A person who hates so deeply he would kill?  A person so lonely she would marry just anyone?  A person so insecure that she overspends so she can feel more weighted by possessions her children will cart to Goodwill after she dies?  And yet such people do exist, so we must annex in ourselves the necessary imaginative space or we will be caught unprepared when we see signs of their passing, like scat on the forest’s floor only more malevolent.

I began this entry with a passage from Mary Lee Settle’s novel on the 1912 United Mine Workers’ strike in Paint Creek, West Virginia.  Settle’s books aren’t always the most enjoyable read; her style isn’t the most deft.  But there are fortuitous moments when she hits a truth dead-on, and in the resonance that follows, a space opens for her readers to give those unfathomable mysteries entry into their hearts and minds.

It’s true:  reading novels with pretty people, exotic places, and improbable plots helps us forget about the drudgery of our every day lives, and there’s many times we need this blissful escapism.  Reading a writer like Settle or the history of the march out of Selma pushes us to understand what created such horrible events and provides us the tools to accept the hard truth that much, much more remains to be accomplished.