Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Black Lives Matter

haunted streets and swollen cathedrals

The Conversion of Saint Augustine of Hippo
by Fra Angelico, between 1430 and 1435

signs and symbols
of wealth and poverty
thrown together
in a mixed stew
of pride and prejudice
haunt the streets
and swollen cathedrals
of life and death

take your pick
it’s free or
at least as painless
as possible
this habit of
indulging while
looking elsewhere
as though this
just happened
out of the blue

yes sir
no sir
thank you ma’am
and excuse me
for a moment if
I digress
to point out
obvious trinkets
decorating the outside
contaminating the inside
sick unto death

false pride and bankrupt prejudice
bursting now on streets
and in back alleys
everywhere

This is a comment on public or private displays of spite and outrage over what isn’t working well in this nation. And yet….so much needs to change. What’s a body to do? Yes to pointed protests. And what about our inner lives?

Augustine of Hippo leaves no space for disinterested onlookers or commentators on world or local history. In City of God, he suggests that every war ‘out there’ is at least an invitation, if not a mirror in which we are to discern our personal (invisible) wars. To his credit, he was at least as hard on himself as he was on anyone else.

This means my past as a white woman matters. Somewhere in me I still have unresolved warfare, some raging since my childhood. Other pieces stirred up along the way. Life isn’t simply a gift to unwrap and enjoy in a personal orgy of bliss. It’s also an invitation to face hard truths about myself and my relationships.

Do I like this? Not necessarily. It’s difficult and time-consuming. The work of a lifetime. Right now the focus is on my inherited ‘whiteness,’ and how I’ve dealt with it (or not), and what comes next. What does it mean to tell the truth about that?

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 July 2020
Image found at wickipedia.com

James Baldwin on Race Relations

It’s 1943, one of the years Harlem race riots break out. It’s also the day James Baldwin’s father was laid to rest.

In Notes of a Native Son, Baldwin talks about his relationship with his father. The chapter ends with his account of what sparked the 1943 Harlem riots, the nature of the rioting (only in the ghetto, chiefly against white businesses, not white people), and the nature of Black America’s long relationship with White America.

His account of this relationship is telling. Here’s how he describes “the Negro’s real relation to the white American.”

This relation prohibits, simply, anything as uncomplicated and satisfactory as pure hatred. In order really to hate white people, one has to blot so much out of the mind—and the heart—that this hatred itself becomes an exhausting and self-destructive pose. But this does not mean, on the other hand, that love comes easily: the white world is too powerful, too complacent, too ready with gratuitous humiliation, and, above all, too ignorant and too innocent for that. One is absolutely forced to make perpetual qualifications and one’s own reactions are always canceling each other out. It is this, really, which has driven so many people mad, both white and black. One is always in the position of having to decide between amputation and gangrene….The idea of going through life as a cripple is more than one can bear, and equally unbearable is the risk of swelling up slowly, in agony, with poison. And the trouble, finally, is that the risks are real even if the choices do not exist.

In some  ways, this is discouraging. As a white woman, it suggests I’m in bondage to a perpetual dilemma. Even more distressing is the possibility that this was brought on by my need to forget, not see, disremember, dress up in different clothes, and ultimately, dismiss as someone else’s battle or disease to fight.

Nonetheless, I find James Baldwin’s description of the relationship between Black and White Americans/America compelling. I’ve often heard Black women and men say they know us (White people) better than we know ourselves. I believe them, though they may not know me personally.

Put another way, I can’t count on being White-but-not-really due to my years of serving at a multiracial, multiethnic, multinational seminary. Instead, I can only be the White woman I am, a beginner every day of my life.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 June 2020
Moon Over Harlem painting by
William Henry Johnson found at americanart.si.edu

What ‘human rights’ don’t look like

Recently a friend sent me the following list. I haven’t been able to get it off my mind. It was compiled by Dr. Valerie Bryant, a Black therapist in Brooklyn, NY. In the list she names black citizens threatened or killed in recent years while engaging in the behaviors she names.

Think of Dr. Bryant’s list as a roll call clarifying the difference between living black or brown, and living white in the USA. It’s also an invitation to reflection about ourselves, and the meaning of human rights.

…As a white person when you go out in the street, you don’t have to think twice of being murdered by a police officer or citizen acting like a police officer.

Or as a white person,

I can go birding (#ChristianCooper).
I can go jogging (#AmaudArbery).
I can relax in the comfort of my own home (#BothemSean and
#AtatianaJefferson).
I can ask for help after being in a car crash (#JonathanFerrell and
#RenishaMcBride).
I can have a cellphone (#StephonClark).
I can leave a party to get to safety (#JordanEdwards).
I can play loud music (#JordanDavis).
I can sell CD’s (#AltonSterling).
I can sleep (#AiyanaJones)
I can walk from the corner store (#MikeBrown).
I can play cops and robbers (#TamirRice).
I can go to church (#Charleston9).
I can walk home with Skittles (#TrayvonMartin).
I can hold a hair brush while leaving my own bachelor party (#SeanBell).
I can party on New Years (#OscarGrant).
I can get a normal traffic ticket (#SandraBland).
I can lawfully carry a weapon (#PhilandoCastile).
I can break down on a public road with car problems (#CoreyJones).
I can shop at Walmart (#JohnCrawford) .
I can have a disabled vehicle (#TerrenceCrutcher).
I can read a book in my own car (#KeithScott).
I can be a 10yr old walking with our grandfather (#CliffordGlover).
I can decorate for a party (#ClaudeReese).
I can ask a cop a question (#RandyEvans).
I can cash a check in peace (#YvonneSmallwood).
I can take out my wallet (#AmadouDiallo).
I can run (#WalterScott).
I can breathe (#EricGarner).
I can live (#FreddieGray).
I can be arrested without the fear of being murdered. (#GeorgeFloyd)

***These are NOT human rights if only white people have them.*

With compassionate rage
Valerie Bryant, PhD
Fort Greene Bklyn 11205

How would my world change if I woke up with different colored skin than I now have? Can I remember how I was taught to think or talk about skin color?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 21 June 2020
Image found at stlpublicradio.com

I just struck gold!

Who was Amelia Boynton Robinson, and who is that young man sitting next to her? And do you know who’s in the photo on the right? Or what year it was? To find out more, check it out right here. It’s the second entry from the top. You can read more about Amelia Boynton Robinson’s life right here.

For the last few weeks I’ve been searching for gold, interpreted by me as

  • easy to read/watch
  • lively and informative
  • brief, riveting commentary with real photos of real people
  • a semi-crash course only better
  • attention to women as well as men
  • inspiring without glib promises
  • tuned into today’s challenges
  • excellent communicator

It’s impossible to take in everything all at once. So I’m now following Chris Preitauer’s blog.

Beginning at age 7 I grew up, went to college and had my first ‘adult’ job in the Deeply Segregated South. I saw and heard a lot. Sadly, I didn’t formally or informally hear much about Black Lives. Nor was I encouraged to get curious about why. In the 1950s and 60s, Black citizens were treated differently than White citizens. Not just in the Deep South, but in the not so Deep North.

So yes, I’ve found gold! Someone from my era (sort of) who became involved.

I hope you’ll look at a few of his pieces. They’re to the point, challenging, and inspiring without pretending our current challenges will be easily resolved.

Thanks again for visiting, reading, and leaving your footprint!
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 June 2020
Photos found at ChrisPreitauer.com

Lest we forget | Wilmington, NC, 1898

I first put these pieces together in February of this year. Why? Because I’m convinced most of us haven’t adequately studied the history of racism in the United States. Outstanding books are available for those with time and opportunity to read them.

Nonetheless, I found these news clips riveting, tragic, and sadly, an echo (in different language) of our current situation. These aren’t editorials about what happened years ago. They’re evidence documenting this tragedy as it unfolded.

If you’re not able to read books about the history of racism in this country, read these old documents and study the photo at the bottom. To learn more about the photo, check out this article about the Wilmington (North Carolina) insurrection and massacre of 1898.

 


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 June 2020
Photo and records found at Wickipedia.com

Still I Rise | Maya Angelou

A family of African American war workers in a makeshift bedroom in Little Toyko, Los Angeles in the 1940s. (Los Angeles Daily News/UCLA Archive)

“Still I Rise” is Maya Angelou’s tribute to the courage and endurance of African American women. It’s also the title of one of her books of poetry. My brief comments follow.

Still I Rise

You may write me down in history
With your bitter, twisted lies,
You may trod me in the very dirt
But still, like dust, I’ll rise.

Does my sassiness upset you?
Why are you beset with gloom?
‘Cause I walk like I’ve got oil wells
Pumping in my living room.

Just like moons and like suns,
With the certainty of tides,
Just like hopes springing high,
Still I’ll rise.

Did you want to see me broken?
Bowed head and lowered eyes?
Shoulders falling down like teardrops,
Weakened by my soulful cries?

Does my haughtiness offend you?
Don’t you take it awful hard
‘Cause I laugh like I’ve got gold mines
Diggin’ in my own backyard.

You may shoot me with your words,
You may cut me with your eyes,
You may kill me with your hatefulness,
But still, like air, I’ll rise.

Out of the huts of history’s shame
I rise
Up from a past that’s rooted in pain
I rise
I’m a black ocean, leaping and wide,
Welling and swelling I bear in the tide.

Leaving behind nights of terror and fear
I rise
Into a daybreak that’s wondrously clear
I rise
Bringing the gifts that my ancestors gave,
I am the dream and the hope of the slave.
I rise
I rise
I rise.

Maya Angelou, poet; found in Sterling’s Poetry for Young People series, page 30.
Published in 2013 by Sterling Children’s Books, New York, an imprint of Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.
Editorial material © 2007 by Edwin Graves Wilson; Illustrations © 2007 by Jerome Lagarrigue|

Maya Angelou’s poem is worth reading out loud and slowly, using every ounce of imagination to join her. Not necessarily as a sister, but as a beginner or better yet, a follower.

I struggle over what I can and cannot do to join her in these closing days of my life. For now I’m reading poetry, watching documentaries, reading news articles and editorials, and listening online to black friends and strangers talk about what’s happening.

For centuries, racial injustice has bled into today’s mega-epidemic of prisons, soaring rates of Covid-19 deaths among African Americans, closed or understaffed medical facilities, corporate greed, random killings, modern-day enslavements, distrust, fear and weeping rage. Unaddressed, this blatant, calculated and habitual injustice also stokes our current epidemic of unleashed white supremacy.

As noted above, try reading Angelou’s poem out loud and slowly. What do you hear?

Praying for discernment, courage and peace,
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 8 June 2020
Photo found at http://www.latimes.com

What’s going on? | Update and freebies

Onlookers raise their fists following a memorial service for George Floyd in Minneapolis, Thursday, June 4, 2020. Floyd, an African-American man, died in Minneapolis police custody. (Victor J. Blue/The New York Times)

Unless we face reality as a nation, and maintain momentum, we’re in trouble. No matter who the next President is.

Covid-19 has disproportionately impacted people of color, the sad and sorry outcome of our history with Black Americans. Despite this, Mr. Trump and some of his followers seem content with the way things are. He has politicized the killing of George Floyd by, for example, invoking different standards for his militaristic ‘peace-keepers,’ and those seeking change for all of us.

Change won’t be easy. Yet it could be productive if we face reality and maintain momentum. I’m heartened by news reports about state officials outlawing tactics used by officers and others to subdue (kill) Black men and women.

Last Wednesday, in the midst of all this, our electricity went off. D and I were watching a riveting documentary called “I Am Not Your Negro.” It’s about James Baldwin. We finished it today, after the electricity came on. It’s powerful, brutually honest, and puts the burden of proof on us as citizens. Especially on white people like me.

Today I found a site that offers a number of documentaries and movies FREE for this month. They’re about the way we’ve treated Black Americans in this country. “I Am Not Your Negro” is offered to a selected number of cities. However, “Just Mercy” is available for anyone, along with “Selma.” Click here to find out more.

Finally, last Wednesday afternoon, the tri-state area experienced sudden, intense downdrafts and storms that ripped through cities and communities. Our county was hard hit, with huge trees blown over, power lines down, and a number of deaths.

No electricity, no internet access, no telephone, no TV. It’s good to be back!

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 6 June 2020
Photo found at chicagotribune.com

Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?

Covid-19 has been disproportionately deadly to populations already struggling to survive. Especially, but not only, Black Americans. The blatant killing of yet another Black citizen is pushing us to the brink of chaos.

I’ve spent the last few days listening to and reading responses to our current situation. Today I’m passing along a few notes, and the link above to Pastor Charles Montgomery’s excellent discussion this morning. It’s well worth watching.

Pastor Montgomery begins with Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s question: Where do we go from here: chaos or community? (The title of his last book before his assassination in 1968)

If we want to understand what’s happening today, Pastor Montgomery suggests we begin with three reasons for our current chaos.

  • polarization caused by fear
  • politics fueled by anger (and  driven by fear)
  • radicalization inflamed by injustice, real or perceived

These three tensions are pulling at the fabric of our nation. Trying to tear us apart.

What’s the alternative? Choosing not to live in fear, but to love God and one another.

This echoes the question Jesus asked one of the religious elite, and then answered with a story-question, Who is my neighbor? (Luke 10:25-37). The unexpected answer: The Samaritan who dared to stop and become the neighbor of a Jewish man beaten up, left to die on the side of a road, and bypassed by the religious elite. Go thou, says Jesus, and do likewise.

The Samaritan got involved. Not out of sympathy, but moved by empathy. He understood what it was like to be ignored, belittled, or even left dying on the side of the road.

Furthermore, he didn’t waste any time. He used what he had at hand, and did what he could until this man was healed.

If I want to be like the Samaritan, Rev. Montgomery suggests I ask myself questions like these:

  • What captures my attention when I see someone different who’s in trouble? What’s the first thought that goes through my mind?
  • Who are my friends? Not just at church, but in my neighborhood, on Facebook or WordPress.
  • With whom do I talk? What do I read? (Or do I cocoon myself in a ‘safe’ small world?)

Distance is a barrier to peace. Empathy comes close to pain without minimizing, ignoring, dismissing, or questioning the other person’s character. It remains present, asks questions, offers support, prays, dresses wounds, uses what it has at hand.

Empathy doesn’t try to fix the situation. Take charge. Pontificate. Or ignore.

Please pray for us, and for millions of others in similar situations.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 2 June 2020
Video posted on Facebook.com

Don’t call me Sweetie

This morning I’m feeling backlash. Not from out there, but from inside. A reminder that I’ve moved into a new chapter of my life. It’s time to state yet again, for myself, who I am and who I am not.

Here’s my older version, written in response to my father’s insistence that I was less than this:

I am a mature, responsible adult woman.

Here’s my updated version, written last night. Longer, and in your face because that’s where I am right now. Strong, not all sweet and charming.

I am a mature, responsible, intelligent,
wise and sensitive adult woman of a certain age.
My name is Warrior or Elouise —
not Sweetie, not Cutie, not Little Old Anything,
not Over the Hill and
not Out of Order.

Finally, here’s my well-loved, frequently used mantra that’s good for all seasons:

I am God’s beloved daughter-child.

You can mess with me, but don’t be surprised if I mess right back at you. Not that I’m an expert on everything. I’m not. I am, however, a Fast Learner with nothing but time to lose. This is, after all, the Last Chapter of my life, and time is running out.

I’ve watched this past year as young women and young men of all colors and ethnicities have stepped up and spoken out on behalf of justice, mercy and sanity.

My generation cut its teeth on issues such as feminism, segregation and Viet Nam. Today’s young adults are dealing with their own laundry list of horrors, some passed on by my generation. For example,

  • random acts of violence against people of color, immigrants and targeted religious believers
  • mass murders in schools, towns and cities across the USA
  • the breakdown in local and national legislatures over how to protect the most vulnerable among us
  • sexual abuse run rampant for generations regardless of ethnic, national, economic or leadership status
  • bathroom wars and fears about who can use which facilities, especially but not only in schools
  • the power, abuses and addictive lure of social media and pain killers
  • steady rise in suicides among young people

I want to do what I can to support these young adults. And perhaps learn a thing or two. How? I don’t know. That’s part of the fun. I’m just going to keep writing and listening. And see what happens next.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 24 February 2018
Photo found at startribune.com, Baltimore

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