Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees – Billie Holiday
What Happened to Us?
Growing up in a small town in the Southwest had its advantages I suppose. We were a small community, not terribly diverse by today’s standards, as the people were mostly the same. Kids could play in the cul-de-sac, ride their bikes down to the local pharmacy for candy and baseball card packs or comic books without fear of a drive-by or child predator in a “rape van” grabbing us to never be seen again or even worse to be found dead or broken. I often wonder what happened to us, where did we go wrong? How did we lose that hope, that fire? My generation was so close, right there in inclusion, we were joining hands across America and singing we are the world then something happened, and I honestly don’t know what it was. I have no intention of pointing fingers but maybe, just maybe I have an understanding of a history, and it is all in perception.
A new friend of mine who is black or African American (or simply just an honest, smart, human being who has more pigmentation than me) were drinking margaritas, and he made a comment. We had been discussing race relations in the U.S., as it has been a conversation that has never come to a conclusion or that any one party has been able to come to consensus about. He looked at me with sadness, yet with a withheld anger, and said, “I don’t think you will ever understand what it is like to be a black man sitting in a bar full of people who don’t look like you. I am always going to be different.” I pondered this, as I had no answer but then it hit me, I said “Judging a book by its cover never lets you get to read the story. There are lots of great books out there man, and I want to read them.” He smiled, raised his glass for a toast and we moved on to other conversations telling me, “Man, you are the whitest black man I have ever known.” I have to say it was one of the best compliments I have ever received.
We continued on with conversations less disheartening then a memory popped into my head from my childhood that only a handful of people ever knew outside of my family, it was a harsh memory to bring up, sadly, I have many of those. I turned to Malik and extolled upon him the story of when I was eleven years old and went to visit my cousins in Rochester, NY on one of our yearly family trips for Rosh Hashanah. My cousins lived in a small house near a canal in a more rural part of the town but within walking distance to the local mall and, more importantly, the toy store: a Toys R Us store, to be more exact. Other than FAO Schwartz, this was the holy grail of toy stores and since Star Wars had come out, it was my mission to get all of the action figures for my collection.
I begged my mom to let me go with the older kids because they were going to walk down and knowing I could possibly find the missing pieces to my set, I really wanted to go. My mother was very protective of me, but she felt since I was with my cousins, I would be safe. She was right to be nervous about my safety, as I came to find out.
So, let me paint the picture for you. We arrived at the mall and I was overjoyed at finding two action figures that I had never seen before. It was well worth sitting around while my two older female cousins shopped for clothes. At one point, Charla realized it was getting late and we needed to head back for it would soon be dark and that would be unsafe for us. I remember wondering why it would be unsafe; the town seemed just like where I was from and that was safe.
We started walking home and on the other side of the canal that we had walked down heading to the house was a group of kids: one girl and three boys. They were shouting at us, I couldn’t quite make out what they were saying as they were on the other side and further down from us. Sasha, my other cousin, said, “We have to go, now!” She was panicked and kept yelling at me to walk faster than we sort of started to jog, which is tough when you have little legs trying to keep up with a teenager. I looked over, and the group that had been well behind us had now caught up on the other side, and I could now hear the jeers. “What are you doing outside, Jew?!?! Where are you going, you Christ killer!?!?! We want to talk to you!!!”
They crossed a bridge ahead and caught up with us just as we thought we could make it to the house. The girl grabbed Sasha’s hair and threw her to the ground. I yelled and rushed her only to find myself on the ground with one of the boy’s knees in my chest. He looked at me strangely and asked, “What are you doing with these two Jews??” You see I was a blond-haired, blue eyed boy that did not resemble an immigrant from the Middle East or Europe like my family that my mother married into. I told him that I was Jewish and these were my cousins and to get off me or he would be in trouble. I remember the hatred he had in his eyes as I finished my statement, they were burning. I had done nothing to this person yet here I was, on the ground, wondering what had made him so angry toward me and my kin.
Before things escalated, some of the neighbors must have heard the raucousness and came out to yell at our attackers and just like the cowards they were, they ran away. We were safe, but I often wonder what would have happened had those people not come out to disrupt our being attacked. Malik looked at me and said, “Book covers man, yeah book covers, I hear that. I feel that now man, damn.” He placed his hand on my shoulder, and we both just sat there in silence, each pondering the world.
Racism isn’t born, folks, it’s taught. I have a two-year-old son.
You know what he hates? Naps! End of list. – Denis Leary
I Never Understood It…
I have never understood racism, bigotry, and out-and-out hatred but it has made me confused for most of my adult life. I have written about perception and quick judgment before like The Music That Binds or Living Within Our Own Mythos, for example, trying to point out how inane it all is, hate is a wasted emotion. Hate is taught, it’s not anger, love, empathy, sadness, or kindness – we are born with those. We need to rise together to begin to teach each other that we are not ok with it and apparently we are failing at it right now; the anger is boiling over. Educated people are not teaching each other what we, as a society, are about. Instead of conformity, we need to embrace how diverse we as people all are we have one great thing in common: we are human. I will leave you with this last verse by one of the greatest poets of our time, Walt Whitman:
Oh me! Oh life! of the questions of these recurring,
Of the endless trains of the faithless, of cities fill’d with the foolish,
Of myself forever reproaching myself, (for who more foolish than I, and who more faithless?)
Of eyes that vainly crave the light, of the objects, mean, of the struggle ever renew’d,
Of the poor results of all, of the plodding and sordid crowds, I see around me,
Of the empty and useless years of the rest, with the rest me intertwined,
The question, O me! so sad, recurring—What good amid these, O me, O life?
That you are here—that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.
Can I get an amen?
#truestory #life #peace