Published in 2020, and a must read for anyone who cares about abused women, their rights, and how law enforcement often fails them, this book by Trethewey, 2007 Pulitzer Poetry Price winner for “Native Guard”, voices her struggle to deal with her mother’s untimely death. When Trethewey was nineteen and in college, her mother was shot and killed by her step-father after the police officer assigned to protect her mother left his post early. Additionally, the memoir details the effects of the racism she experienced as the child of a white father and black mother (married when it was illegal where they lived) in Mississippi and later in Atlanta in the 1970s and 80s before her mother’s murder in 1985. The book gets its title from the street on which her mother lived when she was murdered. Through this memoir Trethewey discusses how her parent’s divorce, her mother’s remarriage to an angry, abusive man, and her mother’s murder has informed her life and affected the enduring love she holds for her mother.
The White Supremacist History of Tear Gas
One hundred years ago, a racist US General, Amos Fries, transformed tear gas from a wartime chemical into use against protestors. He loved war gases and saw them as the ultimate in US technology. He advocated the use of tear gas against any form of civil disorder. As head of US Chemical Warfare Services, he pedaled his favorite gas to private security firms, police departments, and the National Guard. According to him, tear gas in the hands of the “White man can quell any uprising.” He went on to talk about how White men are set apart from the Negro, Gurkha, and the Moroccan. In his effects were letters from the women of the Ku Klux Klan praising his efforts.
Today the tear gas he loved is used all over the world by tyrannical governments to control their people.
Reflections on Independence Day
When I was a child, we lived on a farm where it rains around 40 inches annually. On the Fourth of July, Dad always shot off a few Roman candles, and we had small firecrackers and sparklers, nothing fancy, just fun. Even then I knew about the Declaration of Independence, revered its message. Still do.
Now I live where it is hot and dry. The neighbor’s fireworks display rivaled those found in cities–beautiful but dangerous in brown grass country. I wonder if they give any thought to the history, to why anyone celebrates this day.
For the first time in the decades of my life, I did not celebrate Independence Day. Why?
Born decades ago, I originally went to college in Virginia where I experienced the shock of real segregation; I had not grown up where it was like that. I was horrified, lasted only one semester, then transferred. Later I attended a college which shut down in protest over the Viet Nam War, I supported The Civil Rights Movement, I helped create one of the first intercollegiate groups to advocate for abused women, and with an ethnically diverse group I taught diversity classes for teachers.
Now in 2020, I feel that even with all that hard, determined work, progress has been too limited. It is as if I have been transported back to 40 years ago. People need to learn from the history most do not even know:
-Cotton Mather, the leading intellectual and Puritan minister in the colonial era, actually helped butcher King Phillip (Metacomet) like an animal. What did he do to deserve this? He tried to save his Native people. Cotton Mather later writes about tearing Metacomet’s jaw from his skull.
-In 1676, when poor whites joined enslaved Africans to rebel for a better life and decent living conditions, fighting for justice against the wealthy planters, those rich planters realized they had to get poor whites to hate Blacks. They took land owned by Blacks and gave it to poor white people and then paid them to hunt down and abuse, even kill, people of African descent.
-Later, the same Cotton Mather mentioned above, learned from his slave that in Africa, Africans had been taking pus from a smallpox infected person and inoculating others with it to prevent smallpox from spreading. He refused to believe any African could be so smart even though he inoculated himself and his family after learning this. Later, he wrote this about his African slave who had told him the story that may have saved his life: “…brokenly and blunderingly and like Idiots they tell the Story.”
-Of course, we all know that the intellectual giant, Thomas Jefferson, held the deed to the woman who would later bear him numerous children while he proclaimed those famous words that all people are created equal.
The history of racial and ethnic hatred goes back to the inception of this country. It continues to poison progress and hope. It never seems to end. I am tired of it. Enough is enough.
Taking a Knee?
When I read this post, I kept think the other times in life when people as he puts it, “take the knee”: when men propose, when people pray. No one see those as signs of disrespect or do they? For all those who think it is disrespectful, try reading every verse of the national anthem. Hint: the author was a pro-slavery slave owner.
Institute of American Indian Arts (Photo compliments of Moni)
Not everyone really appreciates just how powerful the ritual of standing for the National Anthem really can be. I got a real sense of this when I was 14. My Jr. rifle team won the Wyoming-state BB-Gun finals, which earned our way to the International BB-Gun Championship in Bowling Green, Kentucky. …on July 4th. As the child of a career military officer, I was always happy to stand for the Star-Spangled Banner or to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but standing there during the final ceremonies, the whole thing took on a whole new layer of meaning for me. That time, I had my heart in my throat. That time, the whole ritual moved me nearly to tears. I loved my country so much, and at that moment, putting my hand over my heart for that beautiful song was absolutely the…
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Quote for the day
Sadly, this quote seems appropriate given the events in Virginia. I had hoped we were beyond this but apparently not.
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you picking his pockets. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you”. Lyndon Johnson, 1970.
Make America Great Again?
Although few argue with the spirit of the Declaration of Independence, few look long and hard at the history and life then. Unless you owned land, were male, were white, nothing for you. Most of the founding fathers still held, tacitly or openly, to the old English class system. Many owned slaves even when they claimed to dislike it. Throughout United States history, a small group of high status, white men have controlled the country.
More recently during WWII, we imprisoned Japanese Americans but not Germans. The Japanese were often seen as ruthless, barbaric while the Aryan German remained quite close to the idealized, white, patriotic American ideal.
Today when people read about white men murdering large numbers of people, the news and the comments indicate that most think these people are abnormal, not like the rest of us. This is a country fascinated with hate. For many in the last couple of years this has taken the form of hatred of outsiders, refugees, dark people. This has brought a new wave of tough on crime mentality. People who think differently, more welcoming, more critical, are seen as subversive, anti-patriotic. Much of the public sees certain groups, e.g. black men, as criminals, wicked, violent, groups to be feared. Any research contrary to these prevalent views tends to be hidden, pushed away, unreported. One example is a report by Homeland Security in 2009 which warned law enforcement agencies about the dangers of right-wing conservatism. Certain conservative groups demanded the withdrawal of this report and succeeded.
Certain Christian groups push for a return to Christian values not realizing perhaps the origin of some of these values. The word, evil, provides an excellent example. This word goes back to Saint Augustine who defined it as a refusal to act morally, a refusal to do good. While Hitler, the Holocaust, and Nazism have been associated with evil, interestingly fascism has not. Franco in Spain escaped the evil label probably because the Vatican, the US government, and US businesses supported him. The word evil is rarely used to describe state sanctioned violence as in the US support of the Shah of Iran, Pinochet in Chile. It appears we pick and choose the evil label to suit certain purposes. Powerful groups are rarely labeled evil and therefore do not become targets of general hatred.
Fear relates to hate. People hate what they fear. Some media play on these fears to incite hate to suit their own goals and philosophies. Certain talk radio hosts use their rants to further their goals in this manner. They want people who do not think like they do to incite fear which leads to hate. These media can easily inflame the public fears about crime, refugees, drug usage. They also rely on the often hidden preexisting prejudices that many deny they have, e.g. racism, fear of outsiders, fear of differences.
The ultimate end of these prejudices is war. The often popular belief remains: justice and goodness can be attained via violence, force. We are good and everyone against us is evil and therefore to be hated. The war vocabulary remains part of common everyday language: War on Women, Drug War, War on Poverty. Our language remains full of these types of communications. It expresses a common worldview. Problems can be solved by force. This continues in spite of enormous evidence that it does not work. The War on Drugs never attained success, our economic and social problems remain. Even efforts at containment frequently fail, e.g. the current opioid epidemic. Many schools currently hire police officers and sometimes students are arrested for relatively minor infractions. Often those arrested are students with certain types of disabilities or from certain minority groups. Our prison population has increased by 500% over the last thirty years with the increased imprisonment of women double that of men, mainly due to drug related crimes. Obviously, these “wars” are failing. Because of the “cult” of individuality and freedom, people in the US often see these failures as the result of individuals acting irresponsibly rather than societal failures. Although these factors do not force an individual to behave in certain ways, they do affect a person’s psychological makeup, opportunities for betterment, and mental and physical health.
We have become a society possessed with fear and hatred caused by a profound mistrust of others. Contrary to what many wish to believe this nation has a long history of obsession with perceived enemies and evil. Some see threats everywhere, liberals hate conservatives and vice versa, some fear and hate those with different sexual orientations, the list seems endless. Many see the solution as one form of war or another either through violence, incarceration, or laws.
Mass rallies on both sides further incite this sort of mass mentality. History remains full of disastrous consequences of such behavior. The Nazis came to power this way and killed millions of Jews via such strategies. The genocide in Rwanda is another example. We see the perpetrators of such as monsters, but common, ordinary men and women made the Holocaust possible. Good, decent people engage in horrible crimes. The Ku Klux Klan continues with membership of otherwise ordinary, upstanding citizens. Doctors in Nazi Germany rationalized their help with exterminations and experimentations as part of German nationalism to save their country.
In the US racism is not the sole purview of white bigots. Just recently someone commented to me about being colorblind. Such is a form of denial. When people see another person, they notice how they look, eyes, height, etc. Most white people in the US today never choose to recall, if alive then, and acknowledge, if not, the millions of black people (mostly men) lynched, most of whom were raped, tortured and castrated before they were killed. When someone commits these types of atrocities today, we often refer to him as a monster. We conveniently forget the long history of atrocities against all people of color in this country, atrocities deemed perfectly normal at the time.
As noted in the examples above, much of the violence and hatred and injustice currently seen in this country has a long history. We have not been able to even come close to the ideals espoused in the Declaration of Independence. Instead of talking about Making American Great Again, we need to change the conversation into a future vision of making the US like the vision detailed in this document, a place where justice and the hope of equality can be attained by all, regardless of color, ethnicity, gender, sexual preference, religion.
Note: Recommended readings include “Considering Hate” by Kay Whitlock and Michael Bronski and “White Trash: the 400-Year Untold History of Class in America” by Nancy Isenberg.
Racism: We Still Don’t Get It by Esther Nelson
Sometimes I wonder if it will ever end, the hatred, the racism.
I was in Las Cruces, New Mexico, this summer for several weeks, spending much of my time unpacking boxes the moving van had delivered while simultaneously trying to create an aesthetically-pleasing and comfortable home. I also went to the Unitarian Universalist church–twice! (I haven’t attended church or any other place of worship regularly for decades.) But, moving is a socially-disruptive experience and church is one place you can connect with individual people as well as with the larger community. So, I decided to visit the local UU congregation.
Unitarian Universalism has a fairly long and circuitous history in the United States. It’s roots are in liberal Protestant theology and practice, but the institution has branched out from its roots, seeking to be more “inclusive and diverse.” Some of the historical background and development of the church can be found on Wikipedia. As fascinating as this history and development…
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White Privilege: Confessions of a Poor White Girl by Cynthia Garrity-Bond
Worth the read. I am a white mother with a 1/2 Nigerian daughter who is not very dark and who many think is Polynesian because of the way she looks. My grandson’s father is Mexican and Spanish. My grandson also is part Nigerian, Swiss German (from me), a little of other European, and Navaho. He has straight black hair, light skin, and obsidian eyes. When people ask what he is and he answers, they often think he is lying. I did not grow up in poverty. My daughter is educated. She has a Masters Degree in Nursing and I have a Ph.D. Nevertheless, she has experienced discrimination and people have made comments to me such as, “Your daughter is really doing well for a Black girl”. Seriously!! In this country both class and race matter and get intertwined in all sorts of complex ways. No one says to an educated white woman with a good job, “You are really doing well for a white girl.”
Recently FAR contributor Sara Frykenberg posted an article to Facebook that caused me to think again about the now-famous essay by Peggy McIntosh, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” In “Explaining White Privilege to a Broke White Person,” Gina Crosley-Corcoran does an excellent job of including issues of class, meaning poverty, into the discourse about race and privilege using the theory of intersectionality. If I am honest, the tensions between race and poverty have made the owning my white privilege challenging.
Like Crosley-Corcoran, I was raised in poverty. After my parents divorced in the early 1960s, our fall into poverty was pronounced. My mother liked to move, so much so that I attended no less than 15 different schools before high school. We lived in one house for two years without hot water. I learned early on the stigma of poverty, when even a Catholic school uniform could not…
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