Ill At Ease
Before I begin this post I must give my followers a brief apology. I truly planned on continuing with my latest series today. The post was nearly done and I intended on finishing it this evening. This day began as any other. I woke up, prepared for work and arrived at the office. By the time I went on my break, however, I received news that would make today different than all that preceded it: the Supreme Court of the United States struck down a significant portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
As I stared at the links flooding my newsfeed on Facebook my mind raced with apprehension and terror. I knew all too well why we needed the Voting Rights Act, and I hadn’t deeply considered the idea that we would not have it. The fear and anxiety in me shook so much that I went to denial. Perhaps I misread something. Perhaps there’s a better interpretation to this. But it wasn’t a misunderstanding on my part, and there was no silver lining in the news. I thought back to all I’d read of Jim Crow, of the stories my Grandma told me as a child. I didn’t think I could become any more disillusioned regarding the country of my birth, but I now have to reconsider my stance.
It wasn’t always this way for me. Like so many other American children I learned the textbook, sanitized version of our history. At eight years old my favorite president was Abraham Lincoln because he ‘freed the slaves’ and supported my people. In time I would learn that Lincoln was much more complicated. I read quotes in which he vociferously denounced the idea of equality for African Americans, cringing to learn that my hero wasn’t much better than his brethren below the Mason-Dixon line. In high school I’d learn of the Scottsboro Nine, Emmett Till and Willie McGee. I’d cry for the four little girls murdered in Alabama, and my blood would boil as I watched Black college students attacked by vicious dogs set upon them by the police. But through it all I WANTED to believe in America. I WANTED to believe that the rhetoric of the United States Constitution was for me.
America is making it so damn hard for me to believe in her though.When Barack Obama announced that he was running for President the level of vitriol aimed his way jarred me. All my life I’d been told those days were gone. But FOX News refer to his wife as a “baby mama’. Rush Limbaugh called Obama the food stamp president. Tea Partiers angrily declared their intent to take their country back from the ‘un-American’, Kenyan, Communist usurper in the Oval Office. The treatment of President Obama and constant racist attacks on him and the First Family shattered my world. The hate that my Grandma and Mom knew from Mississippi never went away; it only went underground. The people who treated lynchings as a social outing, the people who smiled as they posed around the mutilated bodies of black men and women didn’t go away. The ground did not open up and swallow them. They lived on, passing down their prejudice to their children and grandchildren. They are alive and kicking in 2013. So I can’t accept the idea that America is ‘done’ with its’ racial problem. A simple glance at the criminal justice system is enough to disabuse anyone of such a notion.
I’m ill at ease. This ruling will have serious consequences for minority voters. My inner cynic wonders though: should I truly be surprised? After all, the architects of the United States didn’t envision a nation where Africans were equals. There is a reason why every attempt at equality and integration for the descendants of enslaved Africans has been met with extreme resistance and violence in America. It isn’t part of the plan. At the glorious founding of the nation(insert sarcasm here) my people were nothing but a source of labor. That is the bitter truth!
I’ve been reflecting on how to respond to this all day. For the past few months a friend of mine has half jokingly said that African-Americans may have no choice but to return to Africa once Obama is out of office, as the backlash and vengeance will be so severe. I think about it. I think of the ironclad promises made to me by my daughters’ grandparents seven years ago, take comfort in the knowledge that my daughter and I always have a place waiting for us in Dar es Salaam. But THIS is home. The bones of my Mama and Grandma are in Seattle. The blood, sweat and pain of generations of my family are in the Mississippi Delta. My Mama gave America thirteen years of service. My daddy gave it twenty. And my people as a whole BUILT IT.
I look back at my ancestors. I reflect on their endurance, and I’m awed by their strength. I owe them so much. I owe them more than resignation and apathy. As I reflected on them a gentle assurance came to me: we got this. We can, we will, we MUST push back. So tonight I will cry and knock back a few glasses of Riesling. But tomorrow I gird my loins and get busy. America is going to give us what we are entitled to. Concession to second-class citizenship is not an option.