Sunday, November 2, 2008
Chances are, I entered this world at a later point in American history than most of you reading this, and if ever being 'old' can be considered lucky, this is one of those times.
I watched Rev. Al Sharpton speak last night, and I'll discuss that in few minutes. For now, know that he is one of my contemporaries and a little older than me. He's been a tireless fighter for racial justice and he's probably the only black man I've ever seen who can make Hannity squirm and truly look like the hate-mongering asshole he is. I can barely convey the pleasure that gives me.
Sharpton shares the same historical memories I have. For me, it began with the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I was seven at the time. I don't remember the day he was shot, but I was outside playing when my mother called me in to join her and my father watching the funeral. I didn't want to see it or be part of their grieving. They knew he was a dream for a President and were hurting over his killing.
I just wanted to be a kid and play, but history grabbed me for a moment and made me stop.
Sharpton, like me, was a kid at the time of the 1963 March on Washington led by Martin Luther King, Jr. I barely remember it, and only remember complaining to my much older brother that couldn't see or hear much.
I remember the day King was murdered the same way all Americans remember 9/11. For black folks, his assassination was our 9/11. I was sitting in 6th grade in Catholic school. My teacher was a nun, the kind that dressed in the old style black and white attire. Someone interrupted our class and whispered the terrible news to her.
Did she stand there looking stupid and continue the lesson, like George W. Bush did when he got news of this event? Hell no. That's one reason I immediately thought he knew ahead time that this act of evil was gonna go down.
My nun immediately told us. The tone of her voice told us that she was hurting from this tragedy and it pained her to pass along the message. One girl cried. I sat there in shock.
What a contrast to some of the stories I've heard from others, where their teachers and classmates found joy in his murder and their racism.
Then came the nationwide riots. I lived in DC, on the main street by Walter Reed Hospital. Riots broke out in downtown and other parts of of the city. Black folks, enraged and grieving, tore the place apart. The opportunistic subset of the crowd looted, but it was just burn baby burn for most folks who were simply outraged. The fires were only symbolic of their anger inside.
The city had a curfew. I saw a friggin' tank roll past my apartment building. It's a damn shame I didn't have my little camera with me that moment. Two strange white people, possibly reporters, walked past me and I overheard the woman ask the man, what do Negroes want? He seemed as helpless and dumbfounded as her.
I so much wanted to tell them that we wanted the same thing everyone else did and we weren't any different. I was too young to have the confidence to interrupt them and say this.
My generation stood on the backs of those who lived in misery and struggled for freedom and equality, beginning with that first luckless African kidnapped from the motherland and brought here in chains.
I watched so many of my brothas and sistas, along with anti-racist whites fight the fight to make this country a decent place for all of us to live in and raise our families. John, Martin, Robert, Malcolm, and a number of civil rights activists went down. More recently, ordinary people in recent times reminded America not enough has changed, like Rodney Can't We All Just Get Along King, and Sean Bell, gunned down by cowardly, racist cops for absolutely nothing other than being black.
The first great love of my life, and older brotha, was truly revolutionary. He was a former Panther in the late 60s turned journalist. I recall being awed when he described a speech he'd given a few years before I knew him, that got him locked up for inciting a riot. There wasn't no damn riot; the cops listening didn't like what they heard or the excitement of the crowd. They were the riot and broke it up. The charges didn't stick and he was out of jail a few days later. He's had a remarkable life of giving service to his people in writing about racism and corporate greed.
I often think of how much more interesting my life would have been if I had stayed with him, but I was too young to understand that time and tide wait for no one. He met and married someone else a couple years later. At least my consciousness had been raised, and I learned at an early age that some causes are worth sacrificing for, fighting for, perhaps dying for.
Life instead put me on another but similar path: to become a social worker, then a mental health provider, and adopt two children who were born to crack addicted mothers.
I view my children as casualties not of prenatal drug addiction, but racism and poverty, because all those alcohol ads pasted at every bus stop and corner in the low income areas of the inner cities didn't flood the black community until after the riots.
The crack cocaine epidemic occurred virtually overnight around 1985-1986, thanks to the CIA and Iran-Contra Affair operating under Ronald Reagan and his VP, George H. Bush. John Kerry was a freshman Senator at the time, and tried to get answers about it in 1986; his efforts were largely thwarted and he was ignored by the media.
A Pulitizer Prize winning journalist named Gary Webb broke the story in a small newspaper in 1996. The powers that be worked hard to quash it and discredit him, including the big news organizations. Webb is said to have committed suicide, but I'm don't believe it. Why? He's the only person I've ever known to do this by shooting himself in the head twice.
Efforts to keep blacks in a drug haze was in concert with much harsher laws targeted at those who possessed or sold small quantities of crack cocaine, not powered cocaine. Prisons became the opposite of being socialized - they became privatized - and the pressure has since been on state and county jails to keep 'em filled up. Indeed they have, with mostly black and brown occupants.
A people cannot overcome oppression if their minds are clouded with alcohol and drugs, and that was the whole point of the War on Black People disguised as the War on Drugs. Blacks are viewed by the ideological racists as not quite as human as themselves, and more importantly, a pool of cheap labor. Blacks had progressed too quickly from the benefits of the Civil Right Movement. Hardcore drug addiction brought the revolution of black progress almost to a grinding halt.
Meanwhile, across the tracks and on the white side of America as well as the new black and Latino middle classes, the proliferation of malls, prosperity, and mindless electronic entertainment distracted them from outsourced jobs, the polluted environment leading to global warming, and the plans of the suit and tie pirate politicians and corporate sharks for the next set of wars.
America became a 'service' nation populated by hedonistic, wasteful, overly materialistic consumers who grew up and lived in a bubble that produced little beyond bombs, paperwork and fast food.
They got very, very rich, but the problem with the greedy is that they don't know when or how to stop.
Fate had a different plan from those who would continue to do business as usual. Americans got fed up. The timing appears perfect: out of nowhere comes along a new man - Barack Obama - who has a vision and a plan, and just in time for those cutthroat Wall Street Pirates to reveal themselves.
It's as though he were born for this moment in history.
Barack is cool. He's brilliant. He's biracial - a big plus for uncertain whites who feel comforted by this, and blacks who can claim him as their own too.
His history runs from inspiring to downright eerie: While he worked and networked tirelessly over the past 20 years, he became the Illinois State Senator only four years ago. In a nation ruled by rich, gray-haired white men, his rapid success as a 43 year old black man is remarkable.
Remarkable events do occur occasionally: John F. Kennedy, a Catholic, overcame tremendous religious bigotry toward him and was 44 when narrowly elected.
If elected on Tuesday, Barack Obama made it loud and clear he will be a President for everyone, which includes us black folks who know in their gut that neither McCain nor Palin gives a rat's azz about minorities or even women's reproductive rights, and their campaign has proved this repeatly.
Last night Al Sharpton was interviewed by DL Hughley. It was a very human moment as he said, and I'm paraphrasing:
"Once Obama gets into the White House, we are accountable. We have to do something with it, all of us, including you, DL, who has this remarkable opportunity on CNN. Martin Luther King, Jr. made this dream a reality. We almost have it now, and we have to do something with it, or the struggle and fight against racism has all been for nothing."
His words of wisdom echoed in my ears ...the fight will have all been for nothing.
History operates on a continuum. For my generation, should Obama win on Tuesday, it will be a satisfying conclusion to what we've lived through, for, and seen so much suffering.
Sharpton symbolically passed the torch to Hughley and all the rest of the younger blacks out here to reap the benefits of the revolution, and not let it rot like unharvested grapes on a vine. Hughley listened closely to the wisdom of his elder, and one could see the words penetrate his mind and heart. He knows he was unexpectedly given a great gift - with strings attached: accountability and responsibility. His face, in awe, showed he understood this.
With an Obama Presidency, we all will receive that gift, particularly the younger generation. The haters will try to wrestle it away from us. They don't want change because the status quo of racism benefits them.
They're too blind to see that they'd be voting against their more important and pressing interests, or that under end stage capitalism everyone except the wealthy is treated like a nigger. Collectively, they may make it impossible for Obama to lose, or the enemies of democracy may succeed at stealing this election; they've certainly been trying hard enough.
At some point, the haters may even steal him from us as they did Martin Luther King, Jr. For some reason I don't worry too much that they will succeed. Barack doesn't appear to ever wear a bullet proof vest. It's as though he believes that God will watch his back, and for better or worse, he's exactly where he's supposed to be.
I do however, worry that some of us will be assaulted or die from random, hate-based violence in the days and weeks ahead if Barack wins. We've already had a preview in October of how bad bad can get.
Like it or not, the revolution is on.
Obama's hype is change, but in reality he's talking about the same old revolution dating back to the Bible: the revolution for human rights. Jesus stated that the second most important thing to remember after loving God with all your heart, is to love one another as you love yourself. He spoke not of religion, but of fairness.
It is when leaders in a nation or even a family refuses to live by that second directive that causes every revolution for justice throughout history.
This week, we and much of the world will eagerly watch from on the edge of our seats as a new chapter begins in the continuum of history.
For me, Al Sharpon and our generation and those older than us, it's one of the later or final chapters in our lifetime. Unlike our ancestors who were born and died in slavery and had little relief in between, or our grandparents who suffered making ends meet while tolerating the daily indignities and occasional terrorism by haters like the Klan, we have seen tremendous progress. Anti-racist whites feel good about this, but for us it's deeply personal.
Sharpton was so right; we don't want the struggle to be all for nothing. He said something else so interesting and I was really feeling it. I'm paraphrasing, but he said,
"On Election evening, I'm going to be at Martin Luther King's gravesite to give thanks. For without him, this would not be possible."
I'll be with Al in spirit. I agree with all he said except one thing: if we fail in the near future, I cannot allow myself to believe so much sacrifice and pain endured has been for nothing. We have survived through hell, and a critical mass of whites now have their eyes open wide and are ready to hold hands with us and enter a new era of change.
Win or lose, or no matter how an Obama Presidency ends if he does win, this year and this week are moments that my nearly 13 year old daughter and 20 year old son - like me, decades earlier - have had their youthful concerns interrupted.
The struggle for social justice, like history, lies on a continuum. One lost election or this one won but plagued with crippling problems from the descent of the economy and the sundown of American imperialism, will not mean all is lost.
For my youngest child, she is beginning the first chapter in her book of memories. I dedicate my book to her and all of you, with the words, we shall overcome.
Posted by Kit (Keep It Trill) at 6:40 PM