America’s Race Paradox

This is not about Donald Trump, at least no more than it is about anyone else who is a bigot. This is about race, racism, the non-existence of race, and the long shadow this non-existent thing casts, to this day. Trump is incidental.

Yes, I said race is non-existent. I say this because it is scientifically so. Race does not exist in science. Instead there exist people of different complexions, features, all essentially humanoid, just with variations. Race was not always a thing. Historically it became a thing when it was invented, and it was invented by white colonialists and slave traders to divide humanity for fun and profit — but mostly profit.

So how did we wind up with Jim Crow if there is no such thing as race? Because we are able to divide people effectively according to physical differences they carry with them, and it has served the engines of commerce to do just that. On the way from slavery to where we are now (and we will get to where we are now in a moment), we got this:

To some younger than one’s reporter this arrangement looks surreal. I saw it often as a child.

Jim Crow was an effective way to preserve a sort of slavery that pitted working class white people against black people. It helped that generations lived with the Dred Scott decision of the US Supreme Court (ably led by Maryland’s Roger Taney, who’s statue will someday mysteriously disappear from its place of honor in the Free State), a decision which determined that a black person was valued at 3/5 that of a white human being.

Many years later, after Abe Lincoln officially dissolved the abominable institution of slavery, during the heyday of the Civil Rights Movement, Sen. Robert Byrd, a former Exalted Cyclops of the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, more than a decade after claiming his Klan membership had been “a youthful mistake,” filibustered for eleven hours against the passage of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, not because of legal nitpicking that had been the basis of Barry Goldwater’s objections, but because Byrd insisted that black people were inherently, genetically inferior to white people because their brains were smaller than those of white people’s. Do I need to point out that science does not now and never has supported that idiotic notion?

Science does, however, reject the false construct of race.

How, then, do we have racial problems, to this day, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave?

Because we still believe in race, still believe the Negro is somehow essentially different from white folks.

And we have made him different, at least superficially, by continuing to believe this, even those of us with the very best, most liberal of intentions, because we grew up in this particular milieu. The Negro appears to be different not only because his skin may be darker (“is that an Arab? An Eye-talian? No, I suspect it of being a nigra”), his facial features differ from ours (thicker lips, a broader nose, nappy or curly rather than flaxen hair), or maybe because he has some of those things, is better than us at a certain sport, and mostly because he has all those things plus he lives where all the other Negroes live.

Yes, we now have to sell our homes to Negroes if they ask nicely and can qualify for the mortgage, but there are still, to this day, ways and means of making that more difficult. Jim Crow segregation such as I grew up with in mid-century D.C. may be gone, and along with it those contemptible covenants (that also often forbade selling to Jews or other “minorities”). It’s harder to get away with it, but it still happens. It just requires more finesse, more subtlety.

“But…but…they choose to live in places like…that!”

Yes, sometimes they do — if they want to live somewhere. Many of them over there in places like that simply have not been able to make their way to the same level of affluence necessary to live next door to oh, I don’t know…YOU?

It is the legacy of slavery, botched Reconstruction, Jim Crow, and yes, even the triumph of the Civil Rights movement and the right earned by blood spilled and lives lost, to drink out of the same water fountain, to sit next to you or me in the same movie theater, the right not to be publicly lynched (the last such occasion that comes to mind having taken place in Mobile, AL, in 1980). No, the Kluxers and the not-Kluxers (see: Sen. Robert Byrd) had Jim Crow to sacrifice, those idiotic “Colored Only” and “Whites Only” signs to give up, those orchestra seats to open up, those lunch counters to open to anyone, and they were home free.

It was all a trick to let them claim they had seen the light and come over and got right with the Lord.

Yes. While still oppressing and enghettoizing black Americans by use of a system now so thoroughly ingrained in our society that generations born in that “post racial” era could see that “all that is behind us now” (direct Byrd quote), and it’s all good.

And of course those less ambitious Negroes, those shiftless, lazy, welfare cheats choose to remain in the ghettos because hey, that’s how they like it, that’s what they get, that’s what they deserve: “If they would only try harder like the rest of us they wouldn’t have to live there. It’s bad choices.”

Ahem.

My family, when I was small, was forced by circumstance of birth to live in an area of inner city D.C. right along the DMZ of the Jim Crow era, in an apartment with my insane maternal grandmother, and I still had benefit of my invisible White Privilege, to go to a very good (white) public school, and though I saw black people (and black kids) every day, along the Fall Line (look it up) I had no idea where they were. Oh sure, there was Carl, the young black man who delivered groceries for the tiny store in the basement next door to where our front door opened onto the sidewalk. In fact Carl, who was a nascent journalist, had gained recourse to a ditto machine and was publishing a very funny scandal sheet for our neighborhood, and would bring it up to our front stoop to show it to my mother, who he asked to be his editor. They would sit and read it together and laugh, and I will never forget those moments of crazy joy, asking what something meant, having it explained, laughing at it too, even though I did not know where Carl went home to when the store closed.

And of course people talked about my mother “sitting there with that nigra, laughing and acting like everything was hunky dory” (including my grandmother, who refused to come down and join in the light moments with us, because Carl was colored and had no business on our stoop).

Good times.

Oh, and my father got us the hell out of there at the earliest opportunity, and into a little semi-detached house on the edge of the city. Because he could.

Through the 1950s (Emmet Till, Rosa Parks, A. Philip Randolph), and the 1960s (Medgar Evers, Dr. King, Viola Liuzzo, Malcom X, and the end, it seemed, of the whole god damned world), the apathetic 1970s (Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, The Tempatations — all that music, all that apparent freedom), the utterly dead ‘80s, the 1990s when everyone had forgotten everything, history was erased…wait! James Byrd, Jr., in 1998, lynched, murder most foul, unspeakable…what the ever lovin’ fuck happened there?

It would be nice if it could be said they did not die in vain.

Oh that. It was an aberration. A horrible, unspeakable one, but an aberration. Right?

None of us would have done that. Those guys who killed Mr. Byrd were some uncounted, throwback racists.

But no, they weren’t. They were unreconstructed, murderous bigots. The entire rest of us were — and are — racists.

“Well I’m not a racist! I love black people. I get along with them just fine. I’ve never done anything to wrong a black person.” Yeah, and wait for it.

“Some of my best friends are…” oops. Caught that just in time.

How can we (white folks) be racists? We are, most of us, pretty decent, don’t hate on black folks, maybe don’t understand why they act up sometimes, when, after all, we now even have a black president. You probably aren’t a bigot, and that’s wonderful, because we have one running for President. Sure he’s a racist too, but…“We’ve made so much progress!”

Yeah, we’ve made some progress. Not much, but some. Bigotry is murderous, it is blatant, it is hatred writ large. Racism is a shapeshifter, and it keeps morphing into something else, something harder to grab and hold and squeeze. Like police who can cavalierly shoot a black man (or woman) to death and explain it away with “I felt my life was in danger” or “Sometimes you have to make that split-second decision” — to grab your sidearm, not your club, your taser, your pepper spray, or just use your god damned voice — to kill a nigger.

Yes, I said that. Because beneath it all, after all those years of breathing the poisoned air of a system geared to oppress a certain group of people based on race, based on an idea that doesn’t even scientifically exist, it is a given.

One may be white, may be a truly lovely, caring, thoughtful person who loves all people and believes…uh oh…that ALL lives matter…fuck.

The Black Lives Matter movement came along at last, and thank whatever gods there be. For the first time a movement comes along that by its very name (originally a twitter hashtag blessed by providence) demands a logical response. Yet logic is at a premium these days, so we get the idiot response “No, ALL lives matter,” and, more horribly, “BLUE lives matter.”

I hated that animated Yellow Submarine movie, but The Beatles got one thing right: Blue Meanies.

How many years have black rappers been telling us “911 Is a Joke,” “Fight the Power,” “Fuck Tha Police,” and we recoiled as though we’d heard a sidewinder rattling at our feet? Well guess what? Those songs were the result of decades of beatdowns and killings by police — of — surprise! Black people!

All that time? Yep, ever since Jim Crow was legislated out of existence, after slavery was legislated out of existence, after black humanity was reduced to 3/5 of you and me.

Wouldn’t you be just a trifle annoyed?

And now the pain, begins, as Della Reese sang in 1957, all over again. Cops. Our new weapon against those crazy Negroes. Our way to “bring them to heel” (quote attributable to the preferable of the two mainstream presidential candidates this crazy election year).

No matter what, when you go for that job interview, there is something you, if you are white, have that a black person does not, and no one can help but notice: You’re white.

“But but but…but what about affirmative action?”

Yeah. After all these years we still have to even think about that?

“Okay, but you said at the beginning that race doesn’t even exist, that it’s just a construct, that science doesn’t recognize it.”

That’s right, I said that, because it is so.

“Then how can I possibly be a racist?”

Because when you were born, the first thing you did was breathe the air, and in that very air was this racist system that favors white over black, even when the black person (does the name Kaepernick ring a bell?) is wealthy and [was, at least] admired, he is still begrudged his right to express himself per our precious First Amendment.

When you are born in the water, you don’t know there is air. When you are born without gills, in the air, you breathe what is there. You know only what you can see and hear and you know that with a certainty that defies and even destroys your ability to think logically and critically.

The only way a white person can reasonably say he is not racist is to be mindful, informed, logical, and having done those things, use those things to fight against a system that is designed specifically to — after all these years — oppress a portion of our humanity, to oppress black people. Stand up (or, in the case of Kaepernick maybe, sit down) and be a part of the human race by insuring that Black Lives Matter. Because they do. No one said “Only Black Lives Matter,” now did they?

Do black lives matter or don’t they?

“But you said…”

It’s a paradox, grasshopper. Now cross the street.

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.

Writer, activist, novelist, sixth generation DC, local historian-storyteller, and 1:1 patient care technician five days a week.