Image source: AZ Quotes

Topics: Civil Rights, Commentary, Existentialism, History, Politics

The tornado that struck Greensboro Sunday was categorized as an EF2, but the damage it inflicted reached biblical proportions. Power was out at the Joint School of Nanoscience and Nanoengineering from that day until late Tuesday evening. Classes were canceled and arrangements to make them up emailed to students. The irony of the storm is the neighborhood that surrounds JSNN is predominately African American and/or people of color. In comparison to the rest of the city - power lines above ground vs. buried - it would be one of the latter locations to come back online first. Where my apartment is, power lines are buried and lights merely flickered. It was Katrina in miniature, as natural disasters likely or not likely inspired by climate change tends to pull the mask off the disparities inherit in our society we typically think egalitarian.

During a very stressful time at work during the 2016 electoral campaign, I wrote a cathartic essay about my foreboding at what was soon to become our country's 45th president*. He didn't just "happen." The GOP and Barry Goldwater made a Faustian compromise with their traditional principles after the passage of the '64 Civil Rights Act, the '65 Voting Rights Act and the '68 Fair Housing Act as disaffected Dixiecrats would use the refrain the former FBI director Jim Comey now uses to refer to his former membership with the Republican Party: "I didn't leave the Democratic Party (re: Dixiecrats) - the Democratic Party left me." Starbucks didn't just "happen" and "the talk" didn't just happen.

Systemic (Merriam-Webster):

: of, relating to, or common to a system: such as

a : affecting the body generally

b : supplying those parts of the body that receive blood through the aorta rather than through the pulmonary artery

c : of, relating to, or being a pesticide that as used is harmless to the plant or higher animal but when absorbed into its sap or bloodstream makes the entire organism toxic to pests (such as an insect or fungus)

Bowling for Columbine took a humorous look at the love affair this country has always had with violence: first the slaughter of Native Americans, then the kidnap and systematic debasement of the African Diaspora, soon reluctantly referred to as African Americans as would be established in our founding documents, which took courage to craft and break away from being a colony to becoming a nation. This is fear.

It's the fear that makes a neighborhood watch cop-wanna-be kill a child guilty of getting the munchies for ice tea and skittles. It's the fear that causes NYC cops to choke a man to death for selling loose cigarettes: "I can't breathe." It's the fear that slaughtered Trayvon Martin, Jordan Davis, Renisha McBride, Sandra Bland and a growing list of recent ancestors that would fill this post. It is a body count born of fear.

In The Chronicle of Higher Education, Donald Yacovone writes:

After reviewing my first 50 or so textbooks, one morning I realized precisely what I was seeing, what instruction, and what priorities were leaping from the pages into the brains of the students compelled to read them: white supremacy. One text even began with the capitalized title: "The White Man’s History." Across time and with precious few exceptions, African-Americans appeared only as "ignorant Negroes," as slaves, and as anonymous abstractions that only posed "problems" for the supposed real subjects of history: white people of European descent.

The assumptions of white priority, white domination, and white importance underlie every chapter and every theme of the thousands of textbooks that blanketed the country. This is the vast tectonic plate that underlies American culture. And while the worst features of our textbook legacy may have ended, the themes, facts, and attitudes of supremacist ideologies are deeply embedded in what we teach and how we teach it.

Scholars often bemoan their lack of influence: embarrassing book sales figures and the like. Yet my review of American textbooks revealed that historians of the 20th century exerted an enormous impact on the way Americans have come to understand their history. The results are painfully evident. Their work either filtered down into schools, as interpreted by educators, administrators, and popular authors, or appeared directly: Ph.D.-trained scholars wrote many of the textbooks I read. To appreciate why white supremacy remains such an integral part of American society, we need to appreciate how much it suffused our teaching from the outset.

Very soon in the founding of a new nation, however, White Christians began to establish their well-being by using the resources, bodies, and lives of others. Through their own "witchcraft," European Christians employed a mysterious and threatening potency that was the practice of using the other for their own gain. In [James W.] Perkinson's description, through the projects of modern Christian empire "a witchery" of heretofore unimaginable potency ravaged African and aboriginal cultures...For Perkinson, the witchcraft of White supremacy was conjured through racial discourse as an ideological and practical frame that he identifies as the 'quintessential witchery of modernity.'... In Perkinson's chilling words, "Whiteness, under the veneer of its 'heavenly' pallor, is a great grinding witch tooth, sucking blood and tearing flesh without apology."

Excerpts: The Sin of White Supremacy: Christianity, Racism & Religious Di...," by Jeanine Hill Fletcher, CH 2: The Witchcraft of White Supremacy, 47, 48.

On the Stephen Colbert Show, actor Will Smith made the poignant observation "racism is not getting worse, it's getting filmed." This mirror into our collective cultural psyche must be jolting to those that could depend on "the system" reinforcing and replicating itself; giving both intellectual and spiritual justifications to a hierarchy and status quo that requires a pariah, an underclass: an "other." It makes eight years being governed by an "other" fraught with peril. A fear of retribution if the former slugs of society suddenly found themselves empowered. A fear that has never been realized.

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." US History: The Declaration of Independence

These words from the Declaration of Independence are among the most influential ever put on paper. The countless pleas for liberty and equality that have used the Declaration as a model are proof of its lasting power. The original Declaration challenged the authority of the British crown. Just within the United States, subsequent declarations have targeted capitalism, land owners, white supremacy, and the patriarchy. Time and again, those unhappy with the status quo have invoked the Declaration. Tyranny has meant different things to different people since 1776, but the search for liberty, however defined, goes on.

"All Men Are Created Equal" : The Power Of An Idea by Bob Blythe.

There is history for every current event; every modern crisis. There is a scaffolding we've built a facade over, and whitewashed. We've made ourselves Winthrop's mythological "city upon a hill," because we admire the poetry of the statement, but fail to live up to the ideals. Painting over a dung heap only makes it a less ugly, less acrid dung heap. It would be better to plow the feces beneath a compost pile, and let the stench fertilize something anew, a better republic without its current revealed blemishes, lies, and scars. We will never heal or have true equality, invoking Dr. Fletcher, until we do two things respecting our history demands: repentance and reparations. Any other empty apologies would be symbolic cowardice to a real, brutally savage system.

Dr. King said: "The choice is not between violence and nonviolence but between nonviolence and nonexistence." Paraphrased, we could evolve or devolve as a nation; we could be boldly courageous, or paralyzingly afraid. We can all march forward to a more hopeful future, or crawl backwards to a hierarchical, segregated and bigoted past.

What if...we had never had slavery?
What if...we actually lived up to our loftier ideals?
What if...we treated our fellow women and men as equals?
...What IF?..

Related Link:

The Half Has Never Been Told: Slavery and the Making of American Ca..., Edward E. Baptist, Amazon

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