Sunday, February 22, 2015

I'm finding myself experiencing doubt and uncertainty at a time when the audiences are engaged and open ...

... wondering if my message of hope isn't misguided and overly optimistic?

As I recall, this also happened as the result of last fall's trip to Tuskegee and Selma; a time when I was just becoming aware that my talks were shifting toward insisting on the inclusion of black history into mainstream American history, and moving away from separating our stories from the great American narrative.  That trip into the deep South awakened in me something that my western upbringing hadn't prepared me for -- how different is the Black psyche and just why that is.

Last night before going to sleep I read an astonishing speech by U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves, one of just two African Americans to  ever serve as federal judges in Mississippi:

Excerpts from National Public Radio:  "He read it to three young white men before sentencing them for the death of a 48 year-old black man named James Craig Anderson in a parking lot in Jackson, Mississippi, one night in 2011.  They were part of a group that beat Anderson and then killed him by running over his body with a truck, yelling "white power" as they drove off."

The speech is far too long to try to incorporate here, and deserves that you look it up and read in its entirety.

Several things stood out and made sleep impossible for painful hours of tossing and turning in the night.

In Without Sanctuary,  historian Leon Litwack writes that between 1882 and 1968 an estimated 4,742 blacks met their deaths at the hands of lynch mobs.  The impact this campaign of terror had on black families is impossible to explain so many years later.  That number contrasts with the 1,401 prisoners who have been executed in the United States since 1976.  In modern terms, that number represents more than those killed in Operation Iraqi Freedom and more than twice the number of American casualties in Operation Enduring Freedom -- the Afghanistan conflict. Turning to home this number also represents 1,700 more than those killed on Sept. 11. Those who died at the hands of mobs, Litwack notes, some were the victims of "legal" lynchings -- having been accused of a crime, subjected to a "speedy" trial and an even speedier execution.  Some were victims of private white violence and some were merely the victims of "nigger hunts" -- murdered by a variety of means in isolated rural sections and dumped into rivers and creeks.  "Back in those days, according to black Mississippians describing the violence of the 1930s, "to kill a Negro wasn't nothing.  It was like killing a chicken or a snake."

Public lynching in Omaha, Nebraska
I'm reminded that -- when the Congress attempted to pass a bill against lynching in recent times -- 20 members voted against it and prevented passage.  That we have never enacted that bill remains true to this day.

WASHINGTON -- The Senate officially apologized Monday for something it didn't do -- take a stand against the lynching of thousands of black people. By a voice vote, the Senate approved an apology for failing to enact anti-lynching legislation. At least 80 senators signed on as co-sponsors.  Between 1890 and 1952 seven presidents urged Congress to end lynching. Nearly 200 anti-lynching bills were introduced over that period.  But the Senate, with Southern conservatives wielding their filibuster powers, refused to act. With the enactment of civil rights laws in the 1960s and changes in national attitudes, the issue faded away.

(Washington Post - June 15, 2005)
This most recent lynching took place only a few years ago, and the attitudes that still under-gird such hate crimes is still present in the culture.

I suppose that -- as a woman of color -- I see little difference between the horrific burning alive of a Jordanian man by ISIS in this latest atrocity, and those devastating photographs of charred castrated black male bodies hanging from the limbs of trees in this country as the carnival-like crowds of onlookers, including young children, grin with pleasure below.

This, folks, is who we were not so long ago, surely in my lifetime.  For us to react in shock and horror at the inhumanity of our Middle-eastern brothers in today's horrenduos conflicts may be ludicrous.

We must go back in time and own our own violent past in order to learn to forgive ourselves and, eventually, others who emulate such terrorism.  Only in that way can we influence the world -- by example -- toward positive change.  To pretend that we are not a part of a human race capable or such horrors is destructive to our need to move forward, together, into a more compassionate future. 

1 comment:

Regenia said...

Ms. Soskin, I don't think you accept comments on your blog, but I will send this nevertheless. I have been reading your blog for over a year. I might even have commented once before. I have to tell you how powerful and enlightening I find your posts.

I checked out your daughter's art work. Her art that you had on a fairly recent post was phenomenal! If I remember correctly none of her work was currently for sale. I was unaware of such programs. Wonderful!

These last two posts were of extreme interest to me. I am a 65 year old white woman, so I vividly remember Martin Luther King's murder, the Freedom Ride, etc. I have never seen the picture you show here. And we proudly talk about being a Christian nation.

I'm sure you are aware of the attempt of some legislators from certain states who want the Advanced Placement course and exam rewritten. They say it focuses too much on the negative. They contend that it is unpatriotic; that it does not focus enough on American exceptionalism. I totally reject that stance. I have said that we cannot fail to be truthful. We must acknowledge our treatment of Native Americans, Blacks, the Japanese, to name three.

Your picture today and the presentation of the 2011 murder I was unaware of MUST be taught. Thank you for your posts and thoughts. Would you have a list of links, books and/or articles that would be helpful for me in further educating myself and that I can use to encourage others to read as well? If so, I hope you will include them in a post. Your point about ISIS and our history is well taken.

At the very least, let me assure you that you are teaching and enlightening here as well as in your presentations. I thank you for that.