Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: American Racial History and Denial

White Supremacy

I’ve lived in majority White neighborhoods most of my life. I’ve also lived through the drama of early desegregation, beginning with the 1960s. Back then the drama was chiefly about Black and White Americans. However, it now includes other immigrant and refugee populations. Especially those without financial security or steady jobs with decent wages and health benefits.

Despite the dreams and goodwill of many US citizens, things don’t seem to have changed that much. Especially in our cities. But also, increasingly, in the suburbs. Not in the shopping malls, but in our neighborhoods. It’s good to attend a church that’s visibly open to all comers. But even this doesn’t take the place of neighborhoods.

It’s simple. If I don’t have daily contact in my neighborhood with people who don’t look or act like I do, I won’t get very far on my own. I know this, because I now have Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Jewish neighbors. Plus other White Protestant neighbors. I have no Black neighbors.

My attitudes and behaviors are important. Nonetheless, I can’t solve this alone. This a national problem and disgrace, especially given decades-old legislation against discriminatory practices in the housing industry. The problem began early in this nation’s history, and has only become more deeply entrenched as we’ve made ‘progress’ toward what I would call semi-integration (sometimes takes good pictures, but it isn’t real).

Here’s a fact I heard this weekend on a reputable radio station. With the exception of President Obama, none of our recent Presidents took housing discrimination on as the monster it is. In addition, Mr. Trump has further weakened these efforts with his choice of staff, his tweets, his attitudes, and his macho White Supremacy approach to governing.

In other words, we have great legislation and ineffective or nonexistent follow-through. Neighborhoods don’t happen on maps; they happen in hearts and everyday lives. On streets, porches and sidewalks. In back yards and corner grocery stores. We need to rub elbows with each other. Share the news; help with the snow shoveling; watch the kids from time to time. Talk about the weather and then maybe about something more important than that.

Over the weekend I heard an interview that gave me a starting point. A place and way to begin writing about this. So here’s the deal for today. I bring you a quote. That’s all. It gives me a chill every time I read it.

The Anglo Saxon planted civilization on this continent and wherever this race has been in conflict with another race, it has asserted its supremacy and either conquered or exterminated the foe. This great race has carried the Bible in one hand and the sword [in the other]. Resist our march of progress and civilization and we will wipe you off the face of the earth.

Major William A. Guthrie, 28 Oct 1898, in Goldsboro, NC, speaking to a crowd of 8,000 at what was called “A White Supremacy Convention.” From Raleigh News and Observer, 29 Oct 1898. Quotation excerpted from Wikipedia article on The Wilmington (NC) Insurrection of 1989. 

Nuanced for the year 2018, versions of this quote are still filling the airwaves and social media. The question is how to combat this assault on our common humanity and on our increasingly isolated neighborhoods.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 23 April 2018
Photo found at whqr.org

My ‘quick and inventive verbal humor’

Sorry WordPress, but my ‘quick and inventive verbal humor’ (thank you, Google) went missing this week. Which is one way of saying it hasn’t been a stellar week. Not in the news, not in my heart, not in my body.

About the middle of this week I began a downslide, following several days of feeling on a fairly steady upswing.

One of the most discouraging things these days is overhearing or reading comments about “the American people.” Granted, as a nation we’re not looking so great these days. And what happens here makes things less safe around the world. Yet some fallout from Mr. Trump’s presidency is beginning to wear thin.

I fully understand questions about Mr. Trump and about our national election process. I do not, however, understand the need to view us in one lump sum as “the American people” who have, according to some, brought this on ourselves.

True, we aren’t considered the most upstanding people in the world, in large part due to overweening national pride and ignorance about the rest of the world–even though many of our citizens are from ‘the rest of the world.’

Yet when it comes to politics and national pride, the sad, painful truth is this: We are not “the American people.” Rather, we are a multicultural mix of citizens who identify proudly as ‘American,’ plus uncounted others who are citizens yet not certain where we stand in the eyes of our neighbors.

Nor are we the saviors of this country, now being led by a white man who claims to be a Christian yet seems not to know or care how to tell the truth, listen to the truth or live in the bright light of truth about himself , about those whom he supposedly serves, or about the world in which we find ourselves today.

We the people are, however, part of the solution in its daily human manifestations—in our homes, our schools, our churches, our neighborhoods, our schools and businesses, and our prisons. That’s what most of us are called to address. This, I would suggest, is our true history—untold for the most part in all its horror and its glory.

Even so, until we deal with the truth about our racial and cultural history, we will not make major headway as a nation. For this we need a leader who will make the history of multicultural America a top priority. I fear Mr. Trump is not up to the task.

Other noteworthy events in my week:
• I signed up for an Open Mic Night at my church on October 15. I’m going to read 2 or 3 of my poems. The first time ever! It’s a benefit for our Deacon’s Fund.
• On the down side, I found out I have a small but nasty pre-cancerous skin lesion that’s going to need a torture and torment method to ensure its demise. But not until after Open Mic Night!

Thanks for listening, especially today. If you’re interested in the highs and lows of our multicultural history, I highly recommend the title pictured above.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 29 September 2017
Image found at amazon.com
Daily Prompt: Witty

kneeling for justice

hot sun focuses
with laser-beam precision
on one fallen leaf
illuminating darkness
barely hidden beneath rot

I’m a white woman with a history of being beaten and humiliated. A history I can pretend to ignore if I so choose. In fact, many people I’ve met in my adult life would prefer it that way. It’s easier for everyone if I’m an exception to the rule.

The rule, of course, would be that good girls are rewarded. I don’t buy it. In my experience, good girls rarely find their voices or their strength. They’re too busy trying to please or appease whoever is just above them on the food chain. Or the love chain. Or the work chain. Or the social chain. Need I go on?

Fallen leaves. We love to sing their praises, especially in autumn.

Yesterday evening I went out for my evening walk. The air was exceedingly hot, dry and heavy. Not a cool downdraft anywhere. Walking my favorite paths was like pushing through desert heat. Beautiful in its way, yet almost unbearable.

The search for justice is like slogging through a wasteland of dry leaves falling prematurely from still-green trees. They’re just dead leaves. No problem. A dime a dozen. There must be something wrong with them.

The analogy isn’t perfect. Yet my hat goes off to brothers and sisters who dare kneel for justice denied.

Kneeling wasn’t a safe action in my girlhood, unless it was to pray alone before God who never abandoned me. As an adult white woman I choose to kneel today with those who focus light yet again on what has long been barely hidden beneath rot. Wherever it resides.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 September 2017
Daily Prompt: Focused

Disappeared

Disappeared
without a trace
comes home to haunt us

Dis-membered
lives and bodies broken
past yet present

Suppressed
roots of our
current discontent

We don’t have to accept this state of denial. It leaves traces that scream to be heard. We are a multicultural nation.

We don’t all agree that this is a proud heritage. Nonetheless, not once in my upbringing or schooling did anyone introduce me to the full history of multicultural America, the so-called United States. We seemed content with stylized stories that perhaps told part, but not nearly enough of the truth.

The seminary in which I taught and served as dean had a proudly diverse student body, faculty and staff. Yet every time there was a national racial incident (Rodney King, for example), I was reminded of how much I didn’t know or understand.

During my last year at the seminary, I was part of a small faculty group that piloted a way to work together on issues of race and multicultural differences. We took up-front time coming to agreement about how to be safe within our diverse group. Then we got to work, doing with each other the personal and group work that might be done across our campus and institutional structures.

One of the most riveting books we read was A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America. It’s now out in an expanded, updated edition. The author Ronald Takaki, was born and raised in the USA. His ancestors came from Japan, and he looks Japanese. And yet…he was still considered an outsider.

Takaki’s well-documented book begins with American Indians, before the so-called discovery of this country. From there, he traces the chronological history of multicultural America to the present.

This is the American History I was never taught in school. Takaki packs it with data, stories, photos, archived news articles, and astute insights into why we are diverse, and how each group was received into these United States. He also has a vision for what we might learn from this history about our future as a thriving multicultural nation.

We’ve forgotten our roots. We’ve suppressed them and found ways to cope with or rewrite the truth about our past. We’ve done this in public and private, newscasts, corporations, universities, neighborhoods, families, churches and communities of faith, and in our educational system—to name a few. Textbook wars are still fought to keep certain voices from seeing the light of day.

Sadly, this approach suppresses the truth about brave women, men and children who found and still find ways to work together against our national habit of creating insiders and outsiders.

What kind of future do we want for our country? What would it take to get from here to there?

For starters, you might read this book. You might find yourself in it. Or, if you’d like a shorter, equally riveting edition, there’s an edition for young people. Same title, with well-documented stories and photos. Both books are difficult to put down.

Add it to your reading list!

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 31 May 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Trace

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