There is a thing that I do occasionally when I have a good book in front of me, and that is trying to put myself in the place of someone that I am reading about, in the hope of understanding them better. Sometimes I think I am successful in doing this, but of course, who knows if what I come up with is true? I could be miles off and unaware.
But there are times when I know that I fail at this exercise. One of them is trying to imagine what it was like to be a slave in America. Oh, I can examine the particulars – the plantations, the small cabins, slave auctions, whippings, lynchings, rapes, disruption of families, the list goes on and on. But the best that I can do is to summon is a sense of utter hopelessnesss, of dislocation and despair, and I sense that even this does not do justice to such a life.
So when the present crop of politicians and public spokespersons stands up and denies that there is institutional racism in this country, I’m sorry, but all I want is their skinny necks in my hands. When they go through public libraries and take out books that deal with the sorry history and legacy of slavery I begin to think that maybe owning a half-dozen well-oiled AR-15s makes some sense, after all. “Could I have them with the biggest magazines they’ve got, please?” The fact that these are the end-time writhings of white supremacy in the U.S. doesn’t make it any less poisonous and despicable.
(I’m kidding about the violence, but that is the feeling I get. Where I think about repaying one form of mindlessness with another.)
One of the most inspirational television series I have ever watched is Eyes on the Prize. It was first shown in 1987 and details the civil rights struggle up to that time. You can find it on PBS and Kanopy for free viewing, and on HBO Max and Amazon, where they make you pay to watch, which is a shame. It should be free to watch on all of these services to any citizen with a television set or computer.
What makes it inspirational? To see ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Courageous deeds that positively blow the mind. Especially those children walking past those jeering citizens and into those hostile schools. How did they do it?
Two of the most striking works of art dealing with the civil rights movement were painted by a white guy, Norman Rockwell. I don’t ordinarily think of him as an activist, but here they are.
But when he saw this photograph of 6 year-old Ruby Bridges leaving elementary school while being escorted by federal marshals it moved him, and caused him to create the famous painting below, which was installed in the White House during the Obama administration.
Another work of his is entitled Murder in Mississippi. It was inspired, if that’s the word, by the murder of three civil rights workers in Mississippi. The men were abducted and then driven to a lonely area where they were killed. I find the painting is very hard to look at for long.
The names of the young men were James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman.
Ways to tell if the years are adding up department
- You waken to find your spouse holding a mirror to your face to see if it fogs up
- You find yourself checking periodically at the grocery store to see if Metamucil comes in any new flavors
- Your Adam’s apple is now bigger than your chin
- You can easily see the dent on the loveseat cushion that exactly fits your butt
- When people walk by where you are watching television they must cover their ears to protect their hearing
- You start handing out name tags to family members when they visit
On Monday the temperature climbed to 64 here in Paradise. That’s the good news. However, the wind blew at 40 miles per hour all day. So you could go out into that beautiful sunshine as long as you were willing to spit out the sand that got blown into your face.
But neither was I gracious in defeat. All day long I paced indoors, looking out at the prayer flags which were not fluttering but standing straight out horizontally. I watched trash from a mile away whistle past the window. Trash that told me things about a neighbor somewhere that I didn’t want to know. Whatever happened to plain brown wrappers?
The two cats joined me in the pacing and the staring out. Robin sensed that there was no point in interrupting my prolonged bout of self-pity so she busied herself with small tasks. I tried to start a fight with her a couple of times but she wasn’t having any of that. So I chucked a catnip mouse at Willow and retired to my office.
You do not find my picture in the dictionary under the word long-suffering.