The first one was about a young man who was arrested for some trumped up charge that wound up not even being pressed. Nearly a week went by before "the authorities" called his grandmother and told her she needed to pick him up because "something" had happened to him. She went down to the jail and found him bloody and disoriented. The officers in charge informed her that he beat his own head against the wall until he had a skull fracture and that they didn't know how he had gotten the wounds on his forearm (consistent with those of a person who held up his arms to protect his head). The young man, who had suffered for days with what appears to be a billy club gash on the back of his head before finally being given medical attention, is still displaying the symptoms of his ordeal. The grandmother, aside from being furious about what was done to the youth, is worried that he's now going to be dealing with the physical and mental repercussions of his wound for the rest of his life.
The second story had to do with an African-American man who was hired as head coach by one of the parish high schools only after a federal court forced the School Board to hire the most qualified applicant (over a White man who had virtually no athletic coaching experience whatsoever). When they buckled to the court, the School Board first tried to hire the aforementioned White man at a $100,000 salary to make him the African-American coach's boss. When they weren't allowed to do that, they simply removed all the furniture from the coaching office, including the computers, the photocopier, the television monitor and equipment (used to watch game tapes), even the chairs. So now the coach's staff has to do their work sitting around ONE desk on whatever they can find. Needless to say, the court is already involved in this, but still...
The third story was told by a woman in her fifties who was roughed up, handcuffed, and dragged to jail for standing in front of her son when an officer entered their yard and pulled a gun on the boy. The officer behaved in this way because he saw the teenager teaching his brother how to defend himself and the policeman thought they were fighting. Marching into the yard with gun drawn, the officer quickly frightened the whole family into defense mode. And the aggression built from there -- on both sides. By the time it was over, the family had been arrested, with the officer assuring them all that, even if they bring a complaint against him, it won't be the first time he's been written up. (Gee, why am I not surprised?)
When the storyteller got to that part, another Black woman turned and shot me a hateful look, which was difficult for me because most of these folks know me (though she doesn't) and I was horrified by these stories, just as everyone else was. Afterward, as things moved on, I picked up some vague hostility toward me from at least one of the people that knows me and that was even harder to take. But that's the way it is. It's not my fault I'm "White." And they know which side I'm on. But White people have been spreading so much pain around here for for such a very long time now that one European-American committed to change isn't going to fix anything, especially not feelings.
I normally hang around afterward, but this time, I didn't. I had some place else to go, but that isn't why I left before usual. I left because of my skin tone and because of the truth that had been shared. White people want (they claim) to have this patch behind us.
"Can't we just be friends?" they intone.
"Can't we stop dwelling on the past and just move on?" they query.
And the answers to these questions are yes and no, respectively. In fact, without saying no to the second one, we can't say yes to the first. We must be crystal clear that the past laid the groundwork for the present and the nightmares continue -- not just occasionally or on a bad day or as a result of a "misunderstanding" or "when somebody asks for it" -- but routinely and without apology and often, without recourse. One saying in the Black community is: "No need to explain what's already understood." Quit pretending, if you are. You're making it difficult on those of us who want to make a difference.
Essayist Rebecca Solnit wrote: "These are the essential steps toward being an activist: to see injustice; to do something about it; to be willing to risk; to be unpopular or out of step; to change your life." And that's what I'm doing. Not "trying to do," because there's a difference between "trying" and "doing it." I'm doing it. And what about you?
Dee Dee Bridgewater knows:
NOTE: The poster featured above is an example of the posters at the Syracuse Cultural Workers Collective. While this particular poster doesn't appear to be available any longer, other great ones are.