Wednesday, July 11, 2012

The Head and the Heart

The head and the heart while inhabiting the same body, don’t always seem to be connected. I live in my head. It receives messages from my extremities, wraps them in context, makes sense of them, and charts a course of action. Happy, sad, pleasure, or pain, all filter in, get experienced, logged, and filed away for future reference.

 Day to day, or rather every day, I know racism is real. I know White people as a body murdered, raped, and humiliated Black individuals in an effort to do the same to the Black community. Every day I know this, but rarely do I feel it.

When I can see it, I feel it. When I see it there is a glitch in my head. A message has come in from my eyes but went somewhere before reaching my brain. I felt it before my mind could register it. I know what it is, I know where the mental file folder is in which it will soon be filed. I know the context and the history; I even have several cross-references come to mind. I have all this and it still doesn’t make sense.

 I don’t really understand it. I’m not sure it can be understood, and in that gap left by not fully knowing is left only feeling. I often wish I could feel more, or at least feel more often. The older I get the more I have to fight off the slide towards being cynical and jaded. I know myself. I know that feelings come slow and fear that if not nurtured, they may stop coming at all. I know this is not just me, but most people.

 When it comes to race, we White people don’t normally feel it. Most of us don’t have a mental file folder for it, and when a mental message of racism shows up, it normally gets discarded, or maybe sent to some unreconciled “other” bin. Till we see pictures like this. When we see pictures like this, it is an idea no longer, it’s real. It isn’t “lynching”, it’s a two dead Black men hanging from a light post. It is crowds of White murderers laughing, pointing, and being proud. It’s a little boy beaten to death lying in an open coffin. It is systematic racism come to fruition, it feels evil, it goes right to your gut, then your heart, and if your head isn’t spinning by the time it reaches there… it’s too late for you.

 Some time ago I learned a lesson. It was black history month and I was enthralled by the series of programs on PBS. I was motivated, I was horrified, I was feeling. While I was experiencing this I realized my normal partner on the sofa was gone. My ever TV watching wife was not watching black history month. It was not just once but every night. I asked her why and she brought home a message I think I knew, but needed to hear. She said, “you need those shows to learn and to feel. That’s good. I don’t need those shows, I feel it all the time.”

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

“If you knew your history, Then you would know where I'm coming from, And you wouldn't have to ask me, who the H... do I think I am.” Robert Nesta Marley in Buffalo Soldier
The turn of the century, the one before the one we just had, is referred to by historians as the “nadir” of Black history. To the rest of us that means it was the worst period for Black people since the end of slavery. This was the period where White people mailed post cards picturing women and children grinning beneath Southern tree's strange fruit. This was the period in time when Black Americans were generations deep in being American but still generations from being legally allowed to be American. Think for a minute how that would feel. In 1900 the principal of Jacksonville Florida's largest public school wrote a poem. The school was the largest because it was for Black kids, Florida had a lot of those, but Florida did not have a lot of schools for “them”. The poem was to commemorate Abraham Lincoln's birthday and a visit to the school by Booker T. Washington. A few years later the poem became a song, and the song soon became an anthem. People over time sang it in churches, on busses, while marching, and in prisons. The song has words of hope, of liberty, of God, and patriotism. Patriotism. A Black song in 1900; patriotic. In or around 1812, America was attacked. From the vantage point of a ship in the harbor, a poet wrote a poem that then became a song, and later an anthem. At that time Black people were 3/5ths a person and 100% percent property. As American's first put hand over heart and sang of bright stars and broad stripes, they did not intend that the song would be for Black people, because “those” weren't Americans. It took more than one hundred years to change that. During those hundred years there was that other song. During those hundred years there were nooses, blowtorches, marches, murders, legislation, military occupation, sit-ins, speeches, there were tears and there was music. “God of our weary years, God of our silent tears, Thou who has brought us thus far on the way, Thou who hast by thy might, led us into the light, Keep us forever on the path, we pray,” were the principals words way back then. Later they were also the words that opened the prayer that followed a Black man raising his hand to be the leader of all Americans. Times change. Times change but human nature does not. Neither does history. These truths, together, next to each other, make up what, and who, we collectively are. Who makes up this “we” is important. Are we a “we” yet? When the White we learns that there is a Black national anthem, how do we react? When the Black we realizes the younger half doesn't know the song, how do we react? When we realize “we” aren't, do we react at all?