This painful truth has always been true and has also always been ignored. In History and fiction, the mythical truth/fabled realities of White people has been heavily documented in books like Tom Sawyer, Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Gone with the Wind, The Grapes of Wrath and The Sound and Fury. When we examine these texts with our eyes toward the realities excluded and unnamed, the whites people who thrive and prosper are far removed from the poor whites whose only privilege was their status as free people, a situation that has not entirely changed in the century and a half since Emancipation.
I’m reminded of Karl Marx and The Communist Manifesto, which 150 years ago cut through the collective conscience of people in various states of revolution with an ideology that spoke of liberty, a human ‘worth’ beyond economic measure; our election is an apparent resurgence of a similar hopelessness and the need for change. It was a referendum on the standards of living, which if we look around leave too many of us destitute, homeless and disenfranchised. What I don’t understand is why the lines are drawn across color lines. These conditions have only ever improved with a unified front, as indicated in the numerous measures implemented during the 1970s.
What has changed?
I refuse to live in fear. I’m told about the many frightening things ahead for us because of Trump’s status as president elect. A woman stopped me on the street to give me a stack of her fliers about the new face of fascism. (Until recently the same fliers had Obama’s face on them.) Everywhere I hear alarming news—increased suicides, hate crimes, bigotry. To all of these worries and stresses I say, “I refuse to live in fear.” Elections, public and free, are not worth dying for.
Unfortunately, bigotry has been a very common circumstance throughout my life and professional career. The bigots emboldened to come out of the closet were never invisible to me. And, the problems we face are bigger than openly racist leaders—for many people that has been the reality all along.
Perhaps it makes us uncomfortable to imagine hope packaged in the incendiary language with which Trump ran his campaign. Perhaps it makes us angry to be ruled by people with less education, less polish and less manners than ourselves. On the surface, this seems to be true. We want to ask ourselves how much could we have in common with rural Virginians and Appalachian Whites whose ancestors fought for the Confederacy and have never yet ceased to fly the losing flag. Upon a closer more careful examination, we see the same conditions exist for them today as they did nearly 200 years ago when they lost the Civil War in part because they were starving then too. I often wonder whether their ancestors, many of whom did not hold a single bonded man, woman or child, ate any better than their predecessors do today. Given the evidence that African Americans, who ate poorly, died young and served as free labor in the South embodied the wealth of their slavers, it’s clear that jobs for poor, White Americans have always been scarce.
Nothing has changed.
I’m curious what would happen if we create a registry for Muslims we also create a registry for all White Supremacists involved with terrorist organizations like the historic Klu Klux Klan, an organization that has terrorized Black Americans for centuries, and, not just in the South.
(Ancestors include Harriet Tubman, Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass)
Here’s a photograph of the hooded Klu Klux Klan marching down a main boulevard in Oakland, California circa 1950 from the current OMCA All the Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 Exhibit:
Thank G-d for television, Netflix, cable, video games and movie theaters. Remember when lynching Black Americans was a form of entertainment? During the days of Jim Crow law, after Emancipation, our government allowed White Americans to kill black people with impunity. Some of them even mailed photographs with family members and friends gathered around the defiled bodies, subverting decency, undermining justice and using the federal mail system to send evidence of their crimes. To be fair, some White Americans were also lynched outside of the formal judicial process, but those murders seldom involved the nudity and corporal mutilation that were common singularities of their Black counterparts.
Don’t take my word for it. Learn American History. We have a complex story that needs to be examined, discussed and remembered. Otherwise, we may just repeat the same mistakes.