Thursday, March 01, 2007

Just in case you're wondering ... my mind is made up. I'll work to elect Senator Barack Obama to the presidency!

But now I'm off to work and clarification of how I reached that decision will have to wait until time allows.

It wasn't easy after my recent visit to the Clinton Library in Little Rock and a renewal of my good feelings about Hillary's candidacy and what it will mean to the cause of feminism, but -- after watching Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice for these past years -- it's become painfully clear that she did about as much damage to gender politics as George Bush did for the concept of white supremacy. There has to be other ways of measuring the capacity to lead.

More later.

Monday, February 26, 2007

I really need to stop reading these studies ... or to be more selective in who I allow to fiddle around with my head ...

Everywhere I look these days -- especially while driving along the gritty streets of the Iron Triangle on my way to my office cubicle -- I see a cruel confirmation of the WWII past that I'm exploring in my work. Case in point:

I learned from a talk by a (white) San Francisco State researcher at a Black History Month event at Geoffrey's Inner Circle last week that; "...though the GI bill guaranteed a brighter future for returning servicemen and women, it meant little to veterans of color." He continued, "...the bill gave a jump start to whites, but by a clever device the legislature wrote it to be administered locally and not federally." This meant that local banks had the power through their loan programs to determine that blacks would only be allowed to purchase property (homes) in industry-agreed-upon "black catch basins" and that loan costs would discourage home ownership. The difference in loan costs between blacks and whites persists to this day, as do interest and insurance rates. With access to employment seriously limited except for government agencies (mostly the U.S. Postal Service), qualifying for loans was extremely difficult. Racial covenants -- born of the wartime population boom facilitated by fears of the huge migration of blacks from southern states to answer the call for homefront workers -- were used by the banking industry to contain and limit home ownership to whites only.

I remember with some bitterness that -- in 1950 -- the Walnut Creek building site for the home our family would share for the next 20 years, was only made possible by having our friend Dorothy Wilson (white attorney) the wife of African American attorney Lionel Wilson make the purchase for us. At that time Lionel would undoubtedly have been in the same position as we; though he later was appointed a judge of the Superior court and, eventually, would serve as the first black mayor of the City of Oakland.

The same was true in the wake of WWII with regard to higher education. Where whites had a universe of schools from which to choose, blacks were still barred from many educational institutions throughout the South, GI bill or not. There was only one black medical school in the nation, as I recall -- and that was Meharry -- from which my uncle, Dr. Raleigh Coker, graduated in the early teens of the last century. It would be another twenty or more years before James Meridith would knock at the doors of "Ole Miss," or before the defiance of the courageous 9 black students -- and the year-long standoff at Central High in Little Rock.

The legacy of deprivation is still clearly seen here in Richmond where I live and work, and throughout much of the country where the misguided former University of California Regent Ward Connerly and his battles against Affirmative Action has lowered accessibility to higher learning for African Americans here and elsewhere. The result is that the seething black anger has become internalized and suicidal since few remember its genesis, so have no way to use it constructively. You can't expect those who have been educationally deprived to be able to separate out what is personal from what is systemic, so are doomed to self-doubt and a sense of justified rejection. How sad!

Dr. Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, et al, focussed the rage and gave it voice that created community and a means for collectively dealing with it. The nation has gone deaf on the issues that consume us, and few any longer bear any sense of responsibility or accountability. The vacant looks in the eyes of alienated kids I see aimlessly gathering together on street corners are frightening -- not because they're evil -- but because their pain and disaffection is so clearly marked in their faces, in their music, and in their poetry. The distance between our worlds is now so great that I have no faith in the notion that it will be bridged in my declining lifetime.

Why do I care at my age? It's because my grandchildren, too, are standing across that abyss and I can't help them to navigate the ocean of alienation that it's taken me over 80 years to traverse. Given the prospects of the world for the creation of peace and environmental justice, there may not be enough time for the next generation to reverse what earlier generations have wrought.

And -- are there any others who still can remember ...?

Sunday, February 25, 2007

My but it's been a long time ...

If you've been following this blog for a while, you must have thought that I'd either died or ole Al Zeimers had caught up with me and I'd lost control over either my mind or my fingers! Neither is true. However, what I have lost is control over my emotions. For reasons I'm only now beginning to understand and accept, for months now I've been experiencing a deep seething festering anger. It's a kind of rage that's entirely strange in some respects, but has a familiar ring to it -- as if stored somewhere deep in my psyche since childhood. My last post shows evidence of the first signs of an inner struggle that is now fully exploding into a dull non-focussed but debilitating ache that wakes me from sleep, and that bars rational and consistent thoughts from forming. Writing became impossible.

It was undoubtedly born in Papa George's truck garden when -- as an impressionable little girl I first heard the stories of life in St. James Parish, and about Mamma and slavery as experienced long ago -- about those black men whose bodies were found rotting in the Mississippi -- about so much awfulness that my child's mind was unable to process at the time ... .

My work here at the park has enlivened that deeply-troubled collective past shared with others like me -- reading recent studies about the World War II era from black scholars who are only now beginning to work on the period and make the connections; and who are now reaching out in some cases -- through cyberspace to add to my work through theirs.

Since I wrote last I've spoken for the AFL-CIO Laborfest; the School Board, the Richmond City Council; and most importantly, at the Richmond's Veterans Memorial hall before the (all-Black) 761st Tank Battalion Auxiliary that served so heroically with Patton in WWII, and that led the Battle of the Bulge and freed a prison camp and those awaiting death in the ovens of the Nazis. (Are you aware of the irony of an all-black unit fighting for democracy?) As we watched together the History Channel-produced documentary on the experience of those daring black soldiers who were hailed as heroes in Europe only to return home by way of the "back of the bus" and to full racial segregation -- my cynicism and anger re-surfaced. Our local connection to this film was that the national Commander, Floyd Dade, had recently passed away. His widow, Edris, was in the audience as we watched; a lovely woman. Her husband was one of the veterans of the 761st profiled in the documentary. I recalled as I watched that this giant of a man's obituary described him as the father of six and , "...a janitor in one of San Francisco's public schools" at the time of his death.

In preparation for the Auxiliary's Black History event I'd gone on line and read the Dade's oral history. It was truly a story of heroism under fire under a system that demanded that all black men be supervised by white officers because (as stated in the film) everyone knew that "... black soldiers could never be trusted to not run at the first sound of gunfire when in battle."

I'm thinking that this event (only two weeks ago) was the place where the smoldering rage began to persistently define itself -- to hold tight -- and to not let go without redress. Maybe over the next few weeks I can use my fingers and this keyboard to begin that process.

It may be that mine is a particularly insightful mind, or, that a natural talent for analytical thinking has taken over and combined with this summation of life that arrived over the past few years as the direct result of the aging process. Not sure of the 'why' of it, but I am certain that the flashes of revelations that wash over me from time to time now are real and true and important.

And, of this I am certain: Before I leave this earth -- someone owes me an apology! And that isn't "me" singular, but all of those who have gone through this schizophrenic life of paralyzing confusion rooted in the problem of never being able to actually know just who the "enemy" was/is and just how to confront a system that had never come to terms with its own past -- its own reality.

The final insult may lie in the fact that -- as a part of my work -- I've been involved in making presentations for the purposes of celebrating Black History Month while realizing all the while that I hate it! In a strange way -- though I know that we fought to have it established as a way of honoring our past -- we have allowed ourselves to be entrapped in a situation where we've carved out a limited period to remember while the rest of the year is reserved for others. In the words of the author Tim Wise (White Like Me), "We've got all the rest of them. They're called January, March, April, May, etc., all months reserved for the privileged!" At what point will we know that black history is really our national US history, and that until we learn to incorporate all of it into some cohesive whole, we will have simply re-segregated even our past? New thoughts -- and disturbing.

Over the past (silent) months, I've been busier than ever, and am in the midst of re-writing the script of "... Of lost conversations and untold stories." The little DVD has caught fire and I've been asked to expand it from its present 4 minutes 21 seconds to a full half-hour documentary.
I've been struggling with that -- mostly because I find that I've said what I wanted to say with the original rough draft that is now on -- and my unwritten rule with myself is that -- when I run out of truth -- I stop writing. It's quite possible that some of the power in the piece is in its brevity. It is dense with information, and actually seems longer than it actually is.

I met with a consultant on Friday. He is Steve Gilford, Kaiser Permanente historian, whose work is deeply-rooted in the World War II era. It was from Steve's studies that I learned some of the facts that were included in the first piece. I told him of my writer's block and of my idle games of online Solitaire as I try endlessly to recapture and broaden the themes of the original. His advice, "...toss it. Just send me a list of a few of the things that you want to say to us. If some of the original creeps back in, good. Maybe it will go someplace entirely new...".

That I will do; but not until I either get a handle on this disembodied rage that's been building for months and years, or until I can begin to transform that into what I'm needing now to make my case.

Maybe I can use this forum ... maybe... .