Sunday, February 21, 2010

Well, that didn't last long ...

Fell asleep last night with my radio on and went through the process of wakening so slowly that it was difficult to distinguish dream from reality.

My little clock radio was tuned to NPR and in the transition between sleep and wakefulness came a story about Winchester College in Salt Lake City, Utah. The college has a large contingent of athletes in the Olympics this year, largely in snowboarding competitions.

Narrator: "Winchester recruits from all over the country with
scholarships -- $23,000/yr -- for those who can maintain high
academic grades while pursuing excellence in the sport."

This year 41 such students were accepted into this small school's ice sports programs.

The next story was about today being the anniversary of the shameful internment of 120,000 Japanese during WWII, 70,000 of whom were American citizens.

Narrator: "Apologies have since been extended to those
unfairly incarcerated over the years of the war --
and reparations amounting to over 1 billion
dollars has been paid to those families effected."

Before opening my eyes I thought of my greatgrandmother, "Mammå," Leontine Breaux Allen, who was born into slavery in 1846 and served as the matriarch of our family until her death in 1948.

African Americans were brought in chains into the Americas during the 1600's and lived as less than human for the next 300 years; until the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by President Lincoln. During those years it was illegal to educate the enslaved. Leontine spoke only French, but could neither read nor write in any language. Her entire life was spent on a plantation in St. James Parish, Louisiana, then in a tiny cabin beside the Mississippi after her marriage to Civil War veteran, George Allen, who fought with the Louisiana Colored Troops on the side of the North. It was there that, mostly as a widow, she raised her large family, including my mother.

Nonetheless, one of her grandchildren (only two generations out of slavery), George Allen, served as president of Texas Southern University; one of her daughters, Aunt Alice, created the first school for black children in St. James Parish and served as its principal until her death during my lifetime. Generations of Breaux and Allen children and grandchildren have been major contributors to mainstream America in all areas of economic and cultural life.

African Americans have only been "free" (since 1865), for far less time than those years spent under the cruel system of slavery. And, freedom has only existed in theory. Since emancipation we've experienced; legal racial segregation, Reconstruction, Jim Crow, lynchings, "Separate but Equal", Dred Scott, Brown vs. the Board of Education; Sit-ins and bus burnings, church bombings, and a long succession of neglected and ignored legislated promises left unfulfilled.

But, unlike our nation's dealings with the ill-treated Japanese Americans of WWII, there has been no apology to those whose lives were so degraded over the course of the nation's past -- nor have reparations ever been offered for over 300 years of involuntary servitude; for existing as chattel; and for being bought and sold by others. And only in the recent past has there been recognition of the fact that the country was built on the backs of those enslaved and maltreated over centuries.

How are these stories related?

In those early morning musings before becoming fully awakened into my day it was all very clear. It would not take very long (judging from the speed with which George Allen reached his pinnacle of achievement) for many African Americans to escape the chains of poverty and despair if reparations in the form of a free education up to and including graduate schools were granted as entitlements to every qualified descendant of slavery.

If we can do it for snowboarders and the children of the nation's elite, why not for those to whom the country owes so much and for centuries of continuing hopelessness and today's abandonment into an underground economy fueled by illegal drugs? (As I recall, we named it Welfare Reform.)

But now it's almost eleven o'clock and I'm fully awake and these answers feel a bit less realistic -- but maybe worth thinking about as I watch the Olympics this afternoon at the nursing home with Dorian.

And, yes, the post that precedes this one was a spasm of temporary contentment, and was fleeting. But it did carry the promise of change -- and that may be enough to help me to continue to lean into the winds of positive change with unknown others who are doing the same -- on pure faith in our presumed humanity.

I have several speaking engagements upcoming this week for Black History Month. That fact is surely having an effect upon my thoughts today. Too bad we've accepted this month-long observance rather than continuing to struggle to have black history recognized as American history -- the narrative of an upstart young nation that has yet to come to terms with its beginnings, or, the unspeakable brutality of a Civil War whose mission of ending slavery has never been fully realized. A nation that has yet to process its troubled past, and must, before attempting to move into its place as the undisputed leader of the free world.

Our destiny may be all gnarled up in promises of democracy unfulfilled.

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