Sunday, September 28, 2008

Just Keepin' It Real

Yesterday, I spent some time in a room full of African-American folks who live in this parish. In the matter of an hour, I heard three stories that made me sad.

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.


Sorrow said...

The story about the policeman who had been written up before, touched off such a memory with me.
I remember sitting on the porch with my girlfriend watching her babies play in the yard, when I cop came up and very belligerently asked "what the F*** we were doing."
I was so shocked, that i said something like " what does it look like we are doing??" and what ensued was such police harassment that I was hauled off . When I pressed charges, nothing ever came of it. They wonder why people hate cops, when it often feels like those in that position are power mad imbeciles.
I am sad that you were made to feel uncomfortable because of the color of your skin.
maybe tomorrow will be a better day...
we can only work for that with all our hearts..

Changeseeker said...

Your memory fits right in here, Sorrow. As for being uncomfortable because of the color of my skin, it happens a fair amount because of my being so sensitive to how screwed up White people can be and how, as a result, people of color often feel about us. But I'd infinitely rather be uncomfortable than oblivious like so many are. I don't blame folks for being fed up and angry. My fuse toward racists is pretty short, as well, and I'm not even their target, as a rule. Being willing to be uncomfortable and still hang in there is part of how that better day you mention will arrive. :^)

Kit (Keep It Trill) said...

Hi ChangeSeeker, I stumbled across your blog and like it; reminds me of what Macon over at Stuff White People Do is doing. Yes, there are many sad stories and I am always appreciative when I run across anti-racist whites who are making effort to keep the bridge we already have, but the haters are constantly trying to torch it, particularly in this election year.

Come on by and visit my blog when you get a chance; I think you'll like it.
~ Kit

Changeseeker said...

Hey, Kit. Welcome to the blogosphere...and to my little corner of it. You're right about Macon. When I first saw his blog, I thought I had been replaced without being told. :^) And since I think he's really good, I'll take your comment as a compliment.

I jumped over to your blog and plan to return to read your posts about race as soon as I get a minute. Your post on chasing HIV for the benefits is gut-wrenching.

Macon D said...

(Well, gosh, I'm glad to read these nice things about my blog, thanks kit and changeseeker.) I appreciate this good--because inspiring--post. I also think that you're bearing witness in that place was good of you, though I can see how you may have been unwelcome just for being white (which seems just fine to me). I was just talking to a white friend about his new life in a mixed neighborhood. He complained about being reminded repeatedly, "always in negative, derogatory ways," that he's white. I told him that he should appreciate those reminders, even though they seem, on the surface, negative. They remind him of something that he's otherwise encouraged, to his detriment and self-knowledge, to be oblivious about. I told him that he's really receiving messages telling him that he should grow up. I couldn't tell if he thought I was being too harsh.

Changeseeker said...

"I told him that he should appreciate those reminders, even though they seem, on the surface, negative. They remind him of something that he's otherwise encouraged, to his detriment and self-knowledge, to be oblivious about."

Right on the money, Macon, as always! White people in general hate to be reminded, feel sad or embarrassed when made conscious of what people of color are stuck with staring at 24/7/365. And WE want to get a break? I think not.

I am astounded at the grace that makes it possible for African-Americans to let us up into their space at all, given the situation. I've always thought I'd be a raving lunatic under the same conditions. Without apology and out of control. Yet we want to snivel because our gentle sensibilities have been ever so lightly bruised.

We are, as I am wont to say, far past the sprint stage and well into marathon. I just hope we have what it takes to make it to the finish line.