Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Be Bold/Be Red Today!



Today is the day women of color document the silence. Today is the day they get to talk about the violence that is so much a part of their lives. Violence without apology. Violence without repercussions for the perpetrators. Violence without recourse for the victims.

And to make sure people listen, they will be wearing red. To make people sit up and pay attention, they will be flaunting their redness. To make people notice. And so will I. "Listen to my sisters," I will demand. Listen to my sisters who have been silent for too long. I will stand beside them while they document their silence. I will make my own broken body a wall for my sisters so that no one can rise against them wherever we are together.

We will cry with one voice, my sisters and I. We will sing together and croon our nightmares to sleep. We will grant no space to ignorance, no space to fear. We will link arms and stride into a new day. Like long-legged horses, we will run over hills that hold up a sky full of crimson clouds full of tears of joy that women of color will be silent no more.

At 8:00 p.m. (CST), women of color and their allies all over the United States will read the following litany aloud. Feel free to don red and join us and report to the organizers of this national action that you have done so here. And then, whatever else you decide to do, you might choose to watch the film above about Samburu women in Kenya who created a village named Umoja (Unity) after they were cast out of their families because they had been raped. Maybe you would like to share it with others who would appreciate knowing that this is really not just a national movement, but is the dawning of a new sun. Around the world. And it is red.

Out of the Silence, We Come: A Litany

Out of the silence, we come
In the name of nuestras abuelas,
In honor of our mamas
In the spirit of our petit fils,
In tribute to ourselves
We come crying out
Documenting the torture
We come wailing
Reporting the rape
We come singing
Testifying to the abuse
We come knowing
Knowing that the silence has not protected us from
the racism
the sexism
the homophobia
the physical pain
the emotional shame
the auction block

Once immobilized by silence
We come now, mobilized by collective voice
Dancing in harmonious move-ment to the thick drumbeat of la lucha, the struggle
We come indicting those who claim to love us, but violate us
We come prosecuting those who are paid to protect us, but harass us
We come sentencing those who say they represent us, but render
us invisible

Out of the Silence, we come
Naming ourselves
Telling our stories
Fighting for our lives
Refusing to accept that we were never meant to survive

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Remember To Wear Red Tomorrow

This is a reminder that many women of color and their allies will be wearing red tomorrow. Lipstick, cherry, candy apple, knock-your-eyes-out, hope-ya-don't-like-it (or hope-ya-do), menstrual blood red. No more silence. Let those who suffer and have suffered cry, scream, holler, shriek, and moan as they choose. Let the violence be over. Let the dancing begin. In beautiful red dresses. And never stop.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Passin' It On

It's been a while since I was able to spend the better part of a day in the blogosphere. Whew! Heady stuff. So much out there to read and watch and think about and chew over. The question of the hour seems to be whether or not racial tensions have gotten worse of late. After forty-four years of looking at the topic and twenty-two months blogging on race, my sense is that it's not worse. It's been this bad all along. It's just getting more visible...again. One might surmise this as a good thing, oddly enough, though scary at best and dangerous at worst.

Here's a bunch of links I came across today related to this topic. I strongly recommend checking out:

1) what Rachel at Rachel's Tavern had to say to the New York Times about the plethora of nooses popping up everywhere we look these days;

2) what Nezua (The Unapologetic Mexican) posted about what's going on in San Diego where people that look like me get help after their houses burn down and people that look like him get threatened with jail;

3) the story m.dot at Model Minority relates about Nicholas Bounds, a homeless but high achieving African-American high school kid and how all we ever hear about are the bummers that Black folks ought to fix (even though White folks started them and keep them going);

4) woc phd's warning about Blackwater setting up shop in California now that they've been kicked out of Iraq for shooting civilians in cold blood; and finally

5) Professor Zero's confession about how those who have known privilege have responsibilities to the rest of the human race and those who have risen out of the dust and pain of lack need to be respected for it.

The photo? That's a Chinese woman smelting a computer.

Just one more thing to think about...

On Black Resistance

From time to time, I meet a person who sees people of color as victims, as people who have lain miserably on the ground while they have been walked on by people who look like me, as people who have waited helplessly for deliverance engineered by either Jesus or someone else other than themselves. A modification of this type of person is the one who thinks Black people accepted their "fate" under White Supremacy until they "suddenly" leapt to action in the 1960's. And I do not under any circumstances want to reduce or disparage in any way the amazing onslaught against institutional racism that was conducted during that period.

But the fact is that wherever you find oppression, you will find social conflict. No people simply "allows" themselves to be oppressed forever. As a matter of fact, not only did Africans rise up against their European oppressors at every available opportunity from the earliest imaginable beginnings of the organized European attack on African peoples and cultures, but Africans assisted Native Americans in their own resistance against the taking of their lands, as well. (If you want to know more about all this, you might see, among other works, American Negro Slave Revolts by Herbert Aptheker.)

And there are, of course, African-Americans who have absorbed the White Supremacist mentality to the point that they have sold their "soul" (pun intended), if not to the Devil, then to the blue-eyed holder of the power in this country. People that look like me routinely use these folks as "proof" that "Black" people can be successful in our (racist) society or at least can stay out of jail or at least can stop going there eventually when they get their mind "right." Sociologist W.E.B. Du Bois wrote more than one hundred years ago about the "dual consciousness" that the paradigm of White Supremacy visits on people of color, telling them they are inferior so early, so loud, and so long, some come to believe it and then act out of that belief.

But none of this can deny the long-standing resistance by people of color against this immoral, unethical, unjust, and horrifically hypocritical system that continues to thrive economically and politically on the suffering of virtually all people of color in general (in one way or the other) and African-Americans in particular. Charles Dickens wrote of traveling through the southern states in the U.S. in the 1800's that it was like visiting a place in a state of siege, that the dark power White people were using to maintain their control over their so-called "property" was heavily laced with the terror they felt that their property was subject at any moment to rise up and take them to task for their evil. And this fear was based on the fact of permanent and on-going Black resistance--in the form of poisoned "Masters," burned down barns, trickery of the cleverest order, and so forth.

After my presentation on "What is Racism and How Do I Know If I Have It?" last week, I received an email from a Latina student who wrote that all her life, she has believed she was inferior to White people. She didn't know why she was supposedly inferior to White people. She just understood this idea as the truth. After my one hour presentation, she realized that this is a lie, that White Supremacy is an institutional manipulation of culture to maintain a strangle-hold on the power (and the money) in the United States, and that it is not personal. She is not automatically inferior to anyone for any reason and certainly not because she has been born with a particular skin tone or ethnic heritage.

In any case, this week-end, I have been caused to come across a couple of very exciting and very energizing examples of African-American resistance. The first came when I attended a local meeting of a national organization. Now, I've sat in meetings for decades off and on, some fairly meaningful, but often hamstrung by lack of funding, lack of direction, lack of leadership, or whatever. The intelligence and commitment in the room yesterday, however, was so remarkable, I was dumbstruck (not an easy thing to do, as you can imagine). In a matter of ninety minutes, I was asking how I could be of service and was told.

Then, this morning, on my usual rounds of the blogosphere, I dropped in over at Automatic Preference and watched a piece of video that knocked my lights out--or on, as it were. It shows Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota grilling the federal prosecutor who created the Jena Six disaster.

If you happen to look like me and are unapologetically racist or even suspect that people of color are somehow inferior to you, if you are a person of color and you have been taught to believe that you are inferior to "White" people, or if you are feeling as an anti-racist individual that you are fighting a losing battle alone without the necessary ammunition, I strongly encourage you to watch this bit of film. And then watch it again. And then pass it on. It ain't over till it's over. However long it takes.

You Can Kill The Act, But Not The Dream

Those of you who hate the idea of bright and energetic young people of talent and ability who want to make this a better, more prosperous place for everybody to live will be delighted to know that the DREAM Act was voted down. The DREAM Act attempted to establish a process under which youthful immigrants who have been in the U.S. for a substantial period of time and shown special promise could go to college and become productive and legal residents of this nation.

But the DREAM Act would have made it impossible for youth who are already U.S. citizens to go to college. No, that's not right.

The DREAM Act would have made young people all over the world leave their homes just to go to school at U.S. colleges. No, that's not right.

Um...the DREAM Act would have given "undeserving" and "undereducated" farm workers a "free ride" into college. No, that's not right.

Well, what was the problem with the DREAM Act?

Oh, yeah. It would have documented (pun intended) that immigrant children are a wealth of intelligence and energy that makes a lie out of the claim that "White" people are superior and that migrating peoples are bad for the United States as a nation.

If you didn't know about the DREAM Act or if you didn't realize that it has been pushed off the table for another year, at least, or if you just want to read about how it was defeated and by whom (for future reference), you can visit kyledeb at his fancy new blog, Citizen Orange, dna at Too Sense, and XicanoPwr at Para Justicia y Libertad!.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Genarlow Wilson Freed

Genarlow Wilson, who has served two years in prison for receiving oral sex from a 15-year-old girl when he was 17 was released today after the Georgia State Supreme Court ruled that the ten-year sentence he was given for committing this heinous crime was cruel and unusual. The Court noted that the Georgia legislature has reduced this crime to misdemeanor status since Wilson's sentencing, but even so, the vote to overturn the sentence was 4 to 3. That means (lest we forget for even a minute) that Genarlow Wilson came within one vote of sleeping in a cell tonight, even though a poll of nearly 13,000 Atlanta Constitution readers found that 95.5% of them agreed that Wilson should be freed.

Congratulations, Genarlow. One down, God only knows how many to go.

Across The Lines

Over the past nine days, I've done ten presentations about the socially-constructed, political notion of race in the United States beginning with one entitled "What is Racism and How Do I Know If I Have It?" that I gave before 85 people in the Student Union on the 17th. Yesterday, a young European-American man came to me after class and said flatly, "You've just convinced me that I've been right all along."

"About what?" I asked.

"That there's definitely going to be a Civil War in this country over race," he responded.

"But we could change that if we want to," I countered.

"But we won't," he continued.

I searched his face, looking for something, anything, I could pin hope to.

"Kennedy said, 'Those who make peaceful change impossible make violent change inevitable.' That suggests that we have a choice. We don't have to make peaceful change impossible..." I said quietly.

But he was already gone, his back passing through the door of my classroom on his way to tomorrow.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Goodnight, Moon

I drove up to the Louisiana State Penitentiary at Angola today to check out their craft fair, buy a few things, make some contacts, and fill up on prisoner-prepared food. Now I'm home, getting ready for the week, and thinking about the fact that, from what I've been told, 90% of the prisoners at Angola will die there. One man I spoke with told me he's already "done" forty years. If it has cost (very conservatively speaking) $18,000 per year to keep him locked up, that means we've already spent more than $700,000--on this one prisoner--to make sure we're "safe" and he's "punished." Further, if he lives as long as it looks like he might, I expect we'll spend over a million dollars on him before it's over. I fear him less than I fear George Bush and I think there are better ways to spend the $1,000,000.

Good night, new friends. Sleep well.
________________________________________________________
The poster featured here is another one by Ricardo Levins Morales and is available from Northland Poster Collective. It's a take-off on the very popular children's book entitled "Goodnight, Moon."

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Be Bold, Be Brave, Be Red October 31st

A few weeks ago, I got involved with something that deserves waaaaaay more attention than I have been able to give it. It's a campaign to bring attention to the fact that in a society full of madness, where violence has become a language of its own, women of color as a group, as the most vulnerable among us, have become scapegoats for every kind of frustration.

Women and girls in general are attacked so routinely in the United States as to make it a national tragedy, but women of color are a disproportionate and disproportionately unprotected body within that reality.

Similarly, people of color in general are regularly insulted, offended, and attacked by people that look like me, ridiculously often without any kind of repercussions or recourse for the victims. In fact, if the person of color takes issue with the treatment, they are said to be "over-reacting." And within this group, sometimes even at the hands of men of color who may be themselves reacting out of their own frustration, Black and Brown women, in particular, appear far too often to have no hiding place.

A movement to address this terrible whorl of injustice has begun and is marking its first action by calling for women of color and their allies to wear red on October 31st. I was so moved by the language in some of the material I have received on this, that I am featuring it verbatim here. An entire group of women has set this in motion, but I received this from Fallon:

"Recent events in the United States have moved us to action. Violence against women is sadly, not a new phenomenon in our country or in the world, however, in the last year, women of color have experienced brutal forms of violence, torture, rape and injustice which have gone unnoticed, received little to no media coverage, or a limited community response. We are responding to:

*The brutal and inhumane rape, torture, and kidnapping of Megan Williams in Logan, West Virginia, who was held by six assailants for a month.

*Rape survivors in the Dunbar Housing Projects in West Palm Beach, Florida, one of whom was forced to perform sexual acts on her own child.

*A 13-year-old native American girl who was beaten by two white women and has since been harassed by several men yelling "white power" outside of her home.

*Seven black lesbian girls who attempted to stop an attacker and were later charged with aggravated assault and are facing up to 11-year prison sentences.

"In A Litany of Survival, Audre Lorde writes, 'When we are silent, we are still afraid. So it is better to speak, remembering we were never meant to survive.' These words shape our collective organizing to break the silence surrounding women of color's stories of violence. We are asking for community groups, grass-root organizations, college campus students and groups, communities of faith, online communities, and individuals to join us in speaking out against violence against women of color. If we speak, we cannot be invisible.

"On September 20th, I wore black. I wore black, as many Black people did, in solidarity with the Jena 6, who are quickly becoming the 21st century’s Scottsboro Boys. I am wearing black, even though I have the profound urge and desire to wear red, a Maoist, seductive, bold red – on this, the possible new dawn, of what Al Sharpton has begun calling the 'Civil Rights Movement of the 21st Century.' I am wearing black, even as I have conflicting thoughts and emotions. I am eager for this moment of solidarity - a chance to acknowledge the injustice of inequitable sentencing. So, for today, it is my lipstick that is crimson.

"But on Wednesday, October 31, 2007, I will be wearing red; that uncomfortably womanish shade of scarlet that suggests a certain looseness, appreciation of blues, likelihood to walk the streets at night, willingness to be loud, dedication to self, and a deep refusal to be rendered invisible. Red, the color so many of us are told to avoid because of its Western association with the marked, fallen woman; red, that rich, rapturous, full, so-bright-it-looks-as-if-it’s-had-a-good-meal ruby color, red so intense, it’s nearly purple. Yes, that color – that’s the one I want to mark my outrage at the rape and torture of Megan Williams, a 20-year-old woman in West Virginia; the sexual assault of a Haitian woman and her son in West Palm Beach, Florida; and the continued violence visited upon women of color.

"Red is the color I choose, because I am not interested in being invisible. I am not interested in being forgotten. I am not interested in being a sidebar conversation. I am not interested, because I will be the womyn who walks into the room wearing the color red, who makes the conversation stop, and gently suggests another topic – the role of violence and abuse in women’s lives perhaps? I am interested in being seen. I am interested in hearing what communities of color, so recently outfitted in black to mark the injustice done to the Jena 6, will do to mark the violence and injustice done to Megan Williams.

"For me, the color red is about boldness. It is a vibrant color that cannot be ignored. Beyond the pink of feminism, and even the purple of womanism, red is a color that says, “stop and see.” On October 31st, we ask women of color and their allies, to break the silence and invisibility surrounding violence against women of color, by choosing to be seen. By choosing to be vocal, to be brave, to be bold and work to stop violence against women.

be bold / be brave / be red / stop the violence

"We are asking organizations and individuals to host rallies and speak outs on Wednesday, October 31, 2007 at various monumental sites (i.e. The Lincoln Memorial, Seattle’s Arch, Chicago’s Bean, Atlanta’s MLK memorial, etc.) located in their cities or to host rallies and speak outs at locations that represent the political, economic, and/or social power of their cities such as the local court house, the local chamber of commerce, the local police department, and the local city council. Groups can also consider rallying in sites where specific violence against women of color occurred.

"Hosting a rally dedicated to eradicating violence against women of color at the locations where business is conducted, where laws are made, and where justice is rendered is revolutionary. It demands that laws be written specifically to protect women of color from violence. It demands funding to be made available to women of color organizations who work to end violence against women of color. It demands that justice be served by compelling city leaders to create spaces in the city where women of color are safe."

If you want to get on the band wagon (and of course, you do), you may contact the organizers here.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

It's Predictable And I Told You So!

A lot of folks -- even folks who marched in Jena, Louisiana, on September 20th -- probably winced when Mychal Bell was unceremoniously re-arrested when he showed up for a "routine" hearing in court last Tuesday.

"Oh, dear," you could almost hear many of his supporters mumble. "That's really a shame."

But there was little outrage in the response.

See, for more than a few, this new arrest put a different spin on Mychal's railroading and the infamous schoolyard brawl.

"Gosh," they seemed to sigh. "He's been in trouble before. Maybe..." and their voices trail off.

I was busy myself and didn't have time to check into the situation at that moment, but I know better than to assume the new arrest meant much except that the Prosecutor (remember him?) and the Judge (remember him?) were really pissed off when Rev. Al Sharpton et al met with the Governor and got Mychal released a couple of weeks ago. Still, I felt a little forlorn and wondered how I would approach what needed to be written about this. Until Friday, that is.

On Friday, eight guards and a nurse were acquitted in Panama City, Florida, of manslaughter or any other charges in the death of Martin Lee Anderson, a fourteen-year-old African-American kid with no previous criminal record who had been sent to a juvenile "boot camp" after his conviction for the heinous crime of "stealing" his grandmother's car and going on school property while he was suspended. On the day he arrived at the "camp," Anderson was forced to run laps until he collapsed. Then, the eight guards were filmed punching him, kicking him, dragging him around the yard, covering his mouth with their hands and forcing him to inhale ammonia capsules up his nose until he suffocated. During the trial, they testified that these were all approved procedures used to deal with youth who "feigned" illness. And the whole process was perpetrated under the watchful eye of a nurse, who apparently got her training at Dachau.

The all-White jury in the home town of the guards only needed ninety minutes to determine that no crime at all had been committed by these grown men who from where I sit killed a fourteen-year-old boy without a backward look. The physician who originally ruled that Anderson died because of a latent Sickle Cell trait (in spite of the film) and whose determination was ultimately over-ridden by that of a real doctor, went out to celebrate with the guards after the verdict was read.

Special Investigator Mark Ober from Tampa was quoted as saying that he was "disappointed," but that, because the "boot camp" was subsequently closed and "reforms" were implemented in the juvenile justice system, "Martin Lee Anderson did not die in vain." I would suggest to Mr. Ober that Martin did not die in vain; he died in FACT. And therein, as I am wont to say, lies the rub.

Mychal Bell's previous convictions covered four charges. The first two were simple battery ("non-concensual, insulting or harmful contact, regardless of harm done," most often prosecuted as a misdemeanor). I've seen simple battery charges result from as little as a push or tripping another kid as a joke. The other two charges had to do with destruction of property, which I've seen result from as little as kicking a door on the way out of a classroom or breaking a pencil that belongs to someone else. I'm not saying that Bell's charges were that minor, but they could have been and it would have read the same way. And as far as his "violation of probation" is concerned, my guess is that it's not difficult for an African-American boy in Jena, Louisiana, to wind up on probation for doing little more than having skin. And once they're on probation, it's a short trip to the big house, as Mychal Bell has already seen -- twice.

Coming from the man who wrote a commentary for the New York Times claiming that only Jesus kept the rabid Black people from tearing Jena apart, Prosecutor Reed Walters' claim that this newest legal assault on Bell, resulting in a sentence of eighteen months in addition to the nine he's already done for no reason, is "unrelated" to the earlier issue is ludicrous.

So what we have here is two cases. In one, eight trained professionals caused a fourteen-year-old boy to suffocate and they didn't even get a spanking. While in the other, a seventeen-year-old boy whose life has been threatened by everybody from the Prosecutor on down over the past year and who was -- according to the courts -- unjustly incarcerated for nine months in an adult jail already this year is doing eighteen more months for simple battery and destruction of something as yet unnamed. In the first case, the boy who died was Black. In the second case, the boy who was convicted was Black.

Do. You. Get. It?

Friday, October 12, 2007

Quote of the Week

“What you do makes a difference, and you have to decide what kind of difference you want to make.” – Jane Goodall

I've been teaching for nineteen years. In grad school, when I decided to go on for a Ph.D. (which has been very long in coming, as it turns out), I was asked if that meant that I wanted to teach.

"Oh, no!" I declared immediately. "I want to run something, preferably something international!"

The fact is that, at that point, I was beginning to talk with people from around the world about setting up an International Economic Exchange Organization -- a barter network for member nations to rival the world bank.

Then, one day, the professor I was charged with assisting asked me to take one of his classes for a couple of days while he was gone and the rest is history. What I discovered was a roomful of possibilities, a sea (or at least a pond) of life on the verge of spreading everywhere, life unfolding.

In nineteen years, as a direct result of being in constant contact with the vitality of people engaged in learning processes of all kinds, I have grown and changed in ways I could not have imagined in that now long distant classroom where I first spoke about gender and work. Many of the men and women I have taught and learned from and counseled and encouraged may have gained little more than a passing grasp of sociological principles, but there have been more than a goodly number whose lives, they have told me, changed radically under my tutelage. And from time to time, they come forward to remind me so.

Recently, I have been contacted by several who caused me to consider once again that there was a time I wanted to run something international, but I have consciously chosen instead to engage myself in opening up that world to other, often younger, souls with great heart and great energy. Angela in Paris, Samantha in China, and Marc in the blogosphere honor me. I have made a difference. I am changing the world. I stand grateful.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Rev. Al Sharpton Takes 'Em To Church

In the African-American community, when somebody in a crowd hollers, "Take 'em to church!" it means there's an emotional connection between the speaker and the audience that's producing a crucial response. All the listeners are...well, listening. The speaker is bulldozing the walls that most folks hide behind and downloading a hefty dose of whatever will wake them up, set them on fire, and remind them what it is to be alive.

I got taken to church today. In a church. And the Rev. Al Sharpton did the taking.

The good Reverend, whose National Action Network was a driving force in Jena, Louisiana, recently when twenty to fifty thousand people descended on that town in a show of solidarity not seen in decades over a single incident, looked introspective as he waited in a row of ministers for his turn in the pulpit. But from the time he adjusted the microphone until he whirled abruptly, with perfect timing, and retook his seat, Sharpton was totally in control. And he knew it. He displayed the savvy of a man who, as the Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church minister and host, Rev. Moses Gordon put it, has reached "his season." But there was no arrogance. No grandstanding. In fact, none of the stuff I was prepared to see--and forgive him for.

I told myself I wouldn't take notes, even though I know Sharpton is a master of the turned phrase and I knew I would be blogging about the service. In fact, I let the first couple of zingers go by before I jerked out my pen and began hastily jotting down all I could, considering the speed with which he spoke and the way he went from point to point like a man who is paying by the minute to do so.

During his introduction, Rev. Gordon said that he had told his visiting counterpart that he could speak or he could preach, but that he should deliver whatever he perceived as necessary and the end result was electrifying. For a man who has been mercilessly castigated and ridiculed, Rev. Al Sharpton is not only a formidable orator, but an unapologetically inspiring man and I, for one, was inspired. I hooted. I wept. I applauded. I jumped to my feet so many times, I was hard-put to keep track of my pen.

"People talk about what happened back in the day," he started out. "But this is the day! Some folks go to church and don't do anything out in the world where the work is waiting to be done. Going to church is supposed to prepare you to DO that work! The reason I went to Jena is that those could have been MY sons. That could have been MY daughter calling me up to tell me she got into a fight at school and was sentenced to twenty-two years."

Then, in response to those who have criticized the mass mobilization in Jena, he declared, "You can't cause pain and then tell people how to holler. Hanging nooses -- the symbol that's been used to threaten our lives for over one hundred years -- is not a prank. If it was only a prank, how come it didn't happen until after African-American boys sat under that tree?"

In the dark, he explained, roaches will come out to eat a six-course meal, but when you turn the lights on, they all scatter. "The march wasn't designed as a solution," he went on. "but to expose the problem. On September 20th, we turned the lights on. If you don't want the lights on, you must be hiding something."

Addressing the rangling for position so often highlighted in and encouraged by the media between the more well-known African-American leaders and organizers, Rev. Sharpton euphemized, "If I'm drowning, then I want whoever's got a branch to help me. We can argue when I get to shore about who gets the headline, but right now, get me out of the water!"

By now, he was systematically attacking every possible excuse a person could have for laying low in the face of institutionalized oppression. "If you expect the ones who knocked you down to lift you up, it won't happen!" he warned. "If they wanted you lifted up, they wouldn't have knocked you down in the first place!"

He had chosen as the framework for his presentation the story from the Old Testament in the Bible about a powerful meglomaniac by the name of Nebuchadnezzar who threw three young men into a fiery furnace for not bowing down to him. It was not hard to follow the analogy. And the end of the story, of course, is that, when the men are thrown into the flames, they don't die. But Rev. Sharpton didn't even mention that. It wasn't the point he was going for. The point he was going for was that, in the face of the flames, they didn't bow down.

"If you're scared, say you're scared!" he bellowed. "And then sit down and shut up and let somebody else stand up and talk who isn't scared!"

I came unglued. I yelled and applauded so long with tears streaming down my face, I became convinced that the wall to wall crowd, virtually entirely African-American, must surely think I was nuts. But I didn't care.

See, I've been edgy the last few days since I committed to do a campus presentation on "What is Racism and How Do I Know I Have It?" You know how I write. Well, imagine this stuff coming out of my mouth, complete with inflections and expressions, face to face with my listeners. It can create some emotion, let alone I'm talking to folks who sport "Proud Redneck" bumper stickers on their F-150's. So, yeah, I was scared. I know I've been doing this for decades, but this is a new venue. And while I absolutely believe I'm here "on assignment," it doesn't mean I don't feel the pinch. The pinch, in fact, was all over Al Sharpton's face when he left the building, escorted by huge African-American sheriffs to his vehicle, though he had earlier quipped light-heartedly, "I want to meet Jesus, but not today. I still have work to do."

So I was afraid. But three days ago, I found out Sharpton was coming to my little town. So I went to hear him, of course.

My mother swears that I wasn't more than four when I was riding down the highway with my parents one afternoon, stuck my head out the window and screamed into the rushing wind, "Look out, world, here I come!" That was a long, long time ago, but that little girl's still in there. She took me to see Al Sharpton today. He took us all to church. And now I'm ready to do the work that's waiting.