A gray morning and cool. With luck, the fog will burn off by noon, the usual summer pattern here. To the east a steep ridge holds back the fog, so where my daughter lives, 20 minutes away on the other side of the ridge, it’s usually at least 15°F warmer, sometimes 20° or 30°. Very weird. (And how come weird is not wierd, as in ‘i before e, except after c’? That’s also weird.)
My husband has driven into the city for the day, and I am doing laundry and musing over the latest news that Congressman Steve King of Iowa laid out his belief in white supremacy in a cable television interview aired on national TV and featured at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland:
King: I’d ask you to go back through history and figure out, where are these contributions that have been made by these other categories of people that you’re talking about, where did any other subgroup of people contribute more to civilization?
Interviewer Chris Hayes: Than white people?
King: Than, than Western civilization itself. It’s rooted in Western Europe, Eastern Europe and the United States of America and every place where the footprint of Christianity settled the world. That’s all of Western civilization.
What’s astounding about this is not the view, which is shared by many in this country and probably in Europe, but the willingness to say it aloud in a public arena. Following the civil rights and black power movements and the widespread riots in black urban neighborhoods across the country in the 1960s-70s, most, or at least many people who held those views were afraid to air them in public. Now they’re not. Many believe Donald Trump’s racist and misogynist views have made this possible, but it seems to me it’s a much older story. It was Richard Nixon, after all, who in 1969 declared the ‘War on Drugs’ that has resulted in the mass incarceration of black men. And that ‘War’ has been supported or expanded by every administration since, criminalizing the black population.
“Arguably the most important parallel between mass incarceration and Jim Crow is that both have served to define the meaning and significance of race in America. Indeed, a primary function of any racial caste system is to define the meaning of race in its time. Slavery defined what it meant to be black (a slave), and Jim Crow defined what it meant to be black (a second-class citizen). Today mass incarceration defines the meaning of blackness in America: black people, especially black men, are criminals. That is what it means to be black.”
― Michelle Alexander,
Looking back at the three-quarters of a century I’ve been on this planet, the 1960s and 70s look more like a blip on an otherwise downward slope toward ignorance, illiteracy, and racism. Views about the inferiority of non-Western civilizations and non-white people were commonly expressed when I was a child. Also about the inferiority of women, which the Trump campaign certainly is helping to revive. It’s depressing and disturbing to see such loathsomeness, but perhaps a nation built on wealth produced by land-theft, genocide and slavery can do nothing else.
“Our nation was born in genocide when it embraced the doctrine that the original American, the Indian, was an inferior race. Even before there were large numbers of Negroes on our shore, the scar of racial hatred had already disfigured colonial society. From the sixteenth century forward, blood flowed in battles over racial supremacy. We are perhaps the only nation which tried as a matter of national policy to wipe out its indigenous population. Moreover, we elevated that tragic experience into a noble crusade. Indeed, even today we have not permitted ourselves to reject or feel remorse for this shameful episode. Our literature, our films, our drama, our folklore all exalt it. Our children are still taught to respect the violence which reduced a red-skinned people of an earlier culture into a few fragmented groups herded into impoverished reservations.”
–from Why We Can’t Wait, by Martin Luther King, Jr.
What would this country look like if we had leadership that asked people to look at those beginnings, to apologize, to make amends? What a glorious upheaval it would be!
Out of the huts of history’s shame
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.
Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
–from Still I Rise by Maya Angelou
And this, because what we create, good or bad, comes back to haunt us:
It is foolish
to let a young redwood
grow next to a house.
Even in this
you will have to choose.
That great calm being,
this clutter of soup pots and books—
Already the first branch-tips brush at the window.
Softly, calmly, immensity taps at your life.
—Tree, by Jane Hirshfield