The high cost of living in the USA has fallen on African Americans from the very beginning of this nation. The goal has been and, it seems, still is to keep them in their places and optimize the gains of those in power. Including the power of those of us who think we have no power.
The high cost didn’t go down when slavery was outlawed. We simply notched it up with lynching, and then discovered mass incarceration. Some argue that mass incarceration is simply the latest way to get cheap labor and ‘disappear’ Black Americans without getting into legal trouble.
Are we the land of the free and the home of the brave? Yes and no. Yes if you’re able to reach and maintain inner freedom and courage in the face of overwhelmingly negative odds. Perhaps we’ve looked to the wrong heroes to show us what true freedom and bravery looks like.
I remember more than one of my younger African American male seminarians telling me he didn’t think he’d live to be an adult. Besides a history of slavery, lynching and entrenched racism, there’s random gun violence every day, entrenched poverty, and limited options regardless of ability. Add to this the availability of drugs and alcohol, and the mistake of being in public space if you’re Black.
Last month a new Memorial to Peace and Justice opened. It’s dedicated to making visible our history of slavery, lynching and now mass incarceration. I want to visit this new Memorial before I die. Why? Because it’s past time to look at this part of my heritage as a white female.
In summer 1950, my family moved from California to rural Savannah, Georgia, just a short walk from what we called ‘colored town.’ I wasn’t aware of animosity between races. I was, however, painfully aware of economic disparities on display every day. Not just in our rural community, but in the city.
I now know from reading about the new memorial, and from this interactive map, that the state of Georgia is #2 in the list of states with the highest lynching record between 1882 and 1930. In fact, from 1877 to 1950, Georgia lynched 586 black men, women and children. Do you know how many were lynched in your state?
I’m told I enjoy white privilege. It’s true. When I get up in the morning I don’t have to worry about thousands of things including being seen in public as a white woman. I would suggest that this ‘privilege’ is better defined as white ignorance. I’ve learned, simply by breathing the air around me, how to be blind and unresponsive to what’s right before my eyes every day of my life.
So where do I go with this? Though data is important, I don’t think the solution lies in miles and miles of data. Instead, I’m rooting for the poets, the songwriters, the storytellers, and the truth tellers. Including truth-tellers like those who dreamed about and planned this new National Memorial.
©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 May 2018
Photo found at Wickipedia; y Shameran81 – Courtesy Middleton Place, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=55786120