Sunday, bloody Sunday

It has been 56 years since Bloody Sunday. Where have we gone? Has there been progress, or merely change? This is the first anniversary of the day that John Lewis is not with us. This is a new day, but not a new fight. Freedom is a constant struggle, as Angela Davis’ book of the same name states. We fight, and we struggle, and we are tired. Let’s remember to take care of ourselves, and each other, because this IS the revolution, happening in slow motion, inch by inch. We can’t forget where we came from, and we can’t lose sight of where we’re going. Suit up, and show up, and never forget your wing man/woman/person.

I posted the above blurb to FaceBook a short time ago, just to commemorate the day. We have to remember John Lewis getting his skull broken open on that bridge in Selma, and we have to remember all the rest of those who sacrificed that day, and who are no longer here to see what has transpired since then. John Lewis is gone, Martin Luther King, Jr. is gone. The Rev. James Reeb, a white Unitarian Universalist minister who answered the call for clergy to stand with the protesters, was killed that Sunday night by a band of white vigilantes. They happened upon Reeb and two other white ministers, in the “colored” part of town, and decided to educate them about proper behavior for white people. The ministers were beaten with clubs and chains, and Reeb was struck in the head, near his temple. He became increasingly disoriented over the course of a few hours, as getting him to a hospital on the wrong side of town proved daunting. He died a day or so later, and Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his eulogy. There were other attacks, of course. Many survived, as did the movement, but the wounds remain palpable. We are still bleeding. We cannot heal until we acknowledge the wrongs of that day, and all the others, and the circumstances that made those days necessary. We cannot move beyond any of this until we collectively pledge, “Never again.”. We can’t keep whining about “does everything have to be about race?” and “can’t we just get past this?”. No, we can’t just get over this, because we’ve never gotten TO it. We’re still IN it. It’s not the past as long as it’s till our present. As long as we’re still enduring the killing of unarmed Black men by law enforcement, as long as thugs are tackling frail Asian-American senior citizens as revenge against a microscopic virus that knows no ethnicity, as long as random subway riders are spraying Febreze on Asian-American passengers…no, we can’t just get over it. We have to get THROUGH it.

The President’s COVID relief bill squeaked through a Senate vote yesterday, by one vote. Seven Democrats voted against it. No Republicans voted for it. The only way it was able to get to a vote was by removing the $15/hour wage hike amendment, and because it only needed 50 votes rather than 60 to pass. The 50-vote majority was a function of the reconciliation process in the Senate; if 60 votes had been required, it would have failed. I cannot, for the life of me, understand why that is the case. Those who opposed the bill claim they certainly wanted to help the American people get through this pandemic recovery, but…. I don’t quite get the resistance, actually. There was some talk of socialist agenda and the price tag and…stuff. But there was no viable counter-proposal offered, just “not this”. I just don’t get it. The GOP claimed they had no voice in the legislation, but it seemed to me they shut down, pushed back from the table, folded their arms, and pouted. They pouted because they couldn’t get their way, even though concessions – like withdrawing the $15/hr wage increase – were made. Saying they had no input is a lie. A flat out lie. They voted along party lines, and then accused the other side of not attempting to make a bi-partisan solution. OK, logic is not one of their strong suits, I suppose. Neither is ethics, but that’s another topic entirely.

I’m thinking about revolutions, and movements, and change. I’m thinking about human nature and culture. I’m thinking about social order. When this nation was formed, we were a ragged collection of British colonies. A bunch of adventurers, explorers, idealists, convicts, and malcontents survived a harrowing trip across the ocean and staggered onto the shores of the New World. Only problem was, it wasn’t new to the people already here, but whatever. They stuck a flagpole in the ground and “claimed” the land for the homeland of Great Britain. Kind of like the way we stick a flag in the pock-marked surface of the Moon. Kind of. We haven’t established a colony, but we’re definitely leaving our territorial mark, even if there’s no breeze for it to gallantly stream. But, as usual, I digress.

Colonialism is a nasty business. First, you have to figure out where the hell you are, and then you have to figure out how the hell to survive. There was no tea and crumpets laid out for the colonists, and some of them were not in very good shape after the ordeal of the voyage. History generally assigns 1620 as the date for the landing at Plymouth Rock, but more recent studies show the first Africans were imported in 1619. Whatever is the actual date of the Pilgrim’s landing in Massachusetts, Africans were not far behind. Histories of African-Americans and European-Americans has been inextricably linked sine then. From that perspective, segregation is rather amusing. There has been change….grudging, hard-fought, but there has been change. There is the physical integration of educational institutions, workplaces, retail establishments. There has not, however, been real integration of perspectives, of core values, of mindsets, of theologies (as though theology should have any form of racial segregation at all). In a way, that’s normative, because we all have to filter our reactions and responses to stimulus through our individual experiences and filters, but when it comes to public accommodations, that’s different. We still find it necessary to enact our own separate but equal environments, mostly due to the extreme effort it takes to do otherwise. And there are fine people, many fine people, on both sides of that fence.

There have been examples of slavery throughout human history – in Africa (Egypt in particular), throughout the MIddle East, the Vikings. A lot of that was dominance of one culture over another, by means of invading armies conquering each other. America escalated slavery to an art form, and established the peculiar institution of chattel slavery, specifically for the involuntary immigrants from Africa. The darker skinned people. From the Dark Continent, or the Southern hemisphere. Others were relegated to the status of indentured servitude, also an oppressed social caste. Indentured servants, however, were not considered property. Just poor and enjoying far less privilege than ruling class members. The Africans, in particular, were treated differently from the very beginning, and it has never changed. It seems to be part of our DNA at this point.

African-Americans were not only considered property, citizenship was not extended to them. Therefore, they had no civil or legal rights. They were not allowed to be incorporated to the evolving culture of the new nation, and could not be educated. So, we had not even progressed to the level of separate but equal yet, and African-Americans were considered legally resident aliens in a sense, with emphasis on the “alien” part. They were not native English speakers, and they were not taught English, so the only valid form of communication was reward and punishment. They were trained like domesticated animals, and their mental capacity was considered similarly. It amuses me to consider the high expectations set for slave obedience, with brutal punishment for non-compliance, when there was an obvious language barrier. In today’s world, a great many people disparage the Spanish-speaking immigrants for continuing to speak their native language, chiding them to learn English, because this is America and we speak English here. Perhaps that is progress? But, even a dog can be taught to understand they are supposed to poop outside, and the Africans were not considered much higher status than a dog, so…no excuse for disobedience. The whip came down early and often to outline the rules, the expectations, and the dominance structure. Black folks learned early on how to pick cotton and tobacco, how to serve their masters food and drink, how to wet nurse other womens’ babies, how to do what they were told. They also learned, way back then, how to keep their hands on the plough where the overseers could see them, how not to make eye contact with authority figures, how to answer yessir and nossir, and how to keep their hands off white women. That’s generational now. Failure to comply has always carried a risk of being killed.

When marchers tried crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on Bloody Sunday, they knew the risk they faced. They understood that law enforcement was not their to protect and serve them. Courage is not the absence of fear, it’s acting in spite of the fear. And in spite of the fear, they did act. Many are still acting. There is still a movement, there is still a revolution. The current resistance is contiguous, though, happening at the same time and in the same place. The resistance that characterized the American Revolution had a bit of lag time, since they were largely based thousands of miles away. American colonies were evolving on their own, and British culture was becoming more and more distant. By the time British armies arrived in the New World to enforce order, the “order” was obsolete. Marching in straight lines and bright red coats didn’t cut it any longer, and sort of like the Capitol Police on January 6 of this year, they were unprepared for the resistance.

So, what brings countrymen to fight against each other? Is it merely political ideology, or is it something deeper? At the very beginning, most conflicts seemed to arise out a battle for resources. When the British attempted to resist American independence, that was about money. There was supposed to be gold here, more money for the Crown. They did the same thing invading the Orient, looking to fill their coffers. Color was really secondary at that point. We’re territorial, and so if you have water over there, and I have none over here, I want your water. There’s actually enough water for us all, but humans – with our superior brains – get into some kind of warped dominance thing (capitalism) where one of us wants ALL the water, and wants to charge you to have some (even if it was yours to star with). And it goes downhill from there. This is the same dynamic of drug cartels and organized crime, and that part know no color, or ethnicity. It’s about dominance and control, but not about color or country. Just power. America has somehow made dominance all about color, from the very beginning of things, and that’s very curious. Poor whites have been treated differently than Black and Brown people in this country, and everyone understands that pecking order. The mantra of “At least you’re not Black” was a real thing, and for some, it still is.

Over the centuries, there have been all kinds of supposedly scientific justifications and rationalizations for relegating darker skinned people to lower classes of citizenship. There has been a concerted effort in America to define Blacks, in particular, to a nearly sub-species categorization, that involves non-standard physical, mental, and even character attributes. Most of that categorization is entirely non-scientific, and entirely subjective. Everybody knows that Black people are lazy. Everybody knows they can dance and play sports better, but they’re not highly intelligent. And of course, everybody knows Black men’s genitals are well endowed, and they spend all their waking hours lusting after white women. Everybody knows that. So, precautions have to be taken, got to protect our women, boys. Our other property…our women. The whole notion of planting one’s flag, literally or proverbially, and claiming ownership of a person, place, or thing strikes me as the stuff of inferiority complexes. It is the stuff of the little kid who gets bullied by the bigger kids and vows to exact revenge.

After watching footage of the insurrection on Jan. 6, and the footage of protest over the summer that followed video footage of the death of George Floyd, I really began to fear that we have lost our collective mind, and soul. Some of what is shown is simply nuts, not the behavior of rational people. Seriously – moose horns and a spear on the floor of the U.S. Senate? You can’t make this shit up. Regardless, I keep reminding myself that yeah, we are nuts, but the first settlers on this supposedly New World were not the best and brightest of Great Britain at the time. They were malcontents and insurgents, criminals, mentally ill, grifters. These were people who had an axe to grind with the monarchy and wanted to get out from under government they said denied them religious freedom, and liberty to live as they wished. They felt oppressed, and when they landed on Plymouth Rock, they said – quite literally – we have arrived. Bow down. And so it was.

Malcolm X once said that WE didn’t land on Plymouth Rock, Plymouth Rock landed on us. Since it’s now been proven that Africans were part of this deal from the very beginning, but never woven into the fabric of the new society, that seems to be literally the case. Looking back on the greatest accomplishments of this nation, however, Blacks were not only present but foundational. Black labor quite literally built the seat of the national government, and that of many states and municipalities. That does not mean there were not white laborers, or other immigrants who participated, but it does mean that Blacks were the group that immigrated first, and remains not fully integrated into the fabric of this country. Plymouth Rock is still atop the apex of the Black community. I was once in a workshop on anti-Blackness, and was part of a small group breakout comprised entirely of African-Americans. We were given a question to discuss – do you think African-Americans in this country have acquired freedom? I was ready to answer yes, of course, because we have case law and slavery was abolished and segregation has been outlawed and we can become educated and live anywhere we’d like (money notwithstanding). The other members of the small group, however, said no, they did not feel as though freedom was a reality. We are still serving a master, but we can leave the plantation, they said. I was somewhat disoriented, but I listened, and the prevailing sentiment was that so many barriers to equal opportunity and equal treatment still exist that make our success dependent on charity, or the kindness of strangers in many cases. When left to their own devices, the ruling class – the master class – is not going to do the right thing, with few exceptions. They have to be forced, or make errors, that allow progress…but then we have to fight to maintain it. The mentality of what is referred to as the 1% remains anti-Black, and that does not equate to Black freedom. Well, damn. Set me straight. I’ve never forgotten that day, and have begun to see things a lot differently since then. And that was before Trayvon Martin, before Michael Brown, before George Floyd.

So. Freedom is indeed a constant struggle. I find myself often in the position of being “the bad Negro” in very liberal leaning crowds, mainly because I can’t keep my mouth shut. My mother always said that my mouth was going to get me killed. Oh, well. I have a t-shirt that says “I’m a Capricorn woman, That means I wear my heart on my sleeve, have a fire in my soul, and a mouth I can’t control”. No truer words were ever spoken. The older I get, the less inclined I am to control my mouth. I try not to purposely hurt people, and sometimes I still lack the courage to say what I really want to say. But more often than not, especially in writing, I have to let it rip. Bottling that stuff up inside is what makes hypertension, and cortisol, and rage. None of that is healthy, none of that is good for me, so…I am rejecting it. Lock, stock, and barrel (although I do not own a rifle). Revolution is messy work, even when you have real-time news. You still don’t know who to believe, and sometimes it feels as though you can’t trust anyone. We’re all scared to death, but we don’t want to die like this. I certainly don’t. In the musical “Hamilton”, after Hamilton is shot by Burr, as his life is beginning to slip away, Hamilton goes into a time-stopping soliloquoy. He says, “America, you great unfinished symphony, you sent for me”. I would suppose that America sent for all of us who are here, and that we are all the composers of this great piece, that we all have a series of notes to play, and that it will never be finished. We keep looking for an ending, but there will never be one, as long as there is time for one more note, one more reverberation. I suppose the question for each of us will be … will we add harmony, or discord. Will we accidentally sound out on a rest, when there should be silence, or offer no sound when there should be a crescendo? Will we attempt to inappropriately claim the piece as our own, before it is complete? We subscribe to an erroneous concept that everything should have an ending. I contend that is a falsehood. There is a spirituality and immense value in remaining unfinished. That is not a new concept…unfinished symphonies have been performed before, to great acclaim.

Approach, avoid, come together, move apart. Now repeat.

Published by annzimmerman

I am Louisiana born and bred, now living in Winston Salem, North Carolina. Fortunately for me, I was already living in NC before Hurricane Katrina decimated my beloved New Orleans. An only child, I now feel that I have no personal history since the hurricane destroyed the relics and artifacts of my childhood. As I have always heard, c'est la vie. My Louisiana roots show in my love of good coffee, good food, and good music. My soggy native soil has also shown me that resilience is hard-wired in my consciousness; when the chips are down (or drowned)...bring it on.

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