Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Divide and Conquer

James Baldwin | The Fire Next Time

In the mid-1960s I first read James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, a collection of two published pieces. Each deals with how to survive as a black person in the USA. The first is a painfully realistic letter to James Baldwin’s nephew. The second describes Baldwin’s own struggle as a black Christian, beginning at age 14.

Now, at the end of 2020, I’m reading Baldwin’s small book again. Sadly, most white citizens of the USA still haven’t figured out how to do the right thing by our black citizens.

Instead, we’ve formed factions for which we ‘need’ an enemy (who isn’t necessarily our enemy). Something or someone to squabble about. A diversion from painful realities. Sadly it seems to offer a way of winning, even though we’re all losing.

Remember divide and conquer? As children, we played it all the time.

Sadly, people in power love to see us fighting each other instead of fighting against an unjust system in which some human beings continue to pay an unjust price. Given our history, it seems white citizens would rather fight each other than deal with injustice to people of color.

Early in his second essay, Down at the Cross, James Baldwin describes our perennial problem. I’ve highlighted the line that caught my attention.

There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be “accepted” by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this—which will not be tomorrow and may very well be never—the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.

The Fire Next Time, pp 21-22;
First published by The Dial Press, NY, 1963
Vintage International Edition first published 1993

If this is the biggest question we white citizens face, it doesn’t matter which way we voted. What matters is whether we can learn to “accept and love ourselves and each other.”

We don’t need our perennial “Negro problem” in order to feel good about ourselves. Why not? Because this never was a “Negro problem.” It’s been a White problem from the very beginning.

Highly recommended, even if you read it way back when.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 December 2020
Book cover image found at

A vexing situation – Sexuality 5

I’m tired of dancing around the politics of sexuality, whether proclaimed by the church and church-related institutions, or by political parties on both sides of all aisles.

All my life I’ve lived by other people’s agendas. Toed the line (most of the time). Made sure I didn’t cause a problem for the powers that be (even though I did).

For a change, this is my agenda: As a follower of Jesus Christ, I am to

  1. love the Lord my God with all my heart, soul and mind
  2. love my neighbor as I love myself
  3. love myself

It couldn’t be simpler or more terrifying than that. Those three, taken together, are my bottom lines. Any attempt to gain my loyalty or affirmation falls short if it requires me to add or subtract from this list.

If I were applying to teach at a seminary and made the first cut of candidates, I might say something like this to the search committee.

  • I would like to hear from each of you about your personal journey, including things you’ve struggled with in your life, and how this affects the way you relate to seminarians, particularly regarding sexuality. In return, I’m committed to sharing the same thing with you about my struggles, and the way this has affected my work with seminarians, both male and female.

Perhaps this is unrealistic or unfair. In any case, I don’t think I would get many takers.

I am now and have always been an outlier about sexuality. Partly due to my troubled past with my father. But also because of multiple friendships with gay men and lesbian women, my own troubled past, and fear of being drummed out if people don’t believe me or, more likely, find me unworthy.

When it comes to sexuality, no one has an undamaged mind, heart or body. In addition to relentless private victimization, the advent of ritualized, commercialized pornographic images and social media voyeurism makes a mockery of our felt need to root out those who flagrantly (publicly or privately) violate their own sexuality or the sexuality of others. We have been sinned against, and we have knowingly and unknowingly passed along our anguish.

Finally, though this post is about men as well as women, we women have more to lose when it comes to sexuality.

Nonetheless, if we women keep arguing and distancing ourselves from each other, we’ve lost even more. It doesn’t matter whether we’re homosexual, heterosexual, transgendered or bisexual. It doesn’t matter what color we are or how many husbands or partners we’ve had, or what we have or haven’t done in our pasts. What matters are areas of common concern, and taking initiative to meet each other around those issues, even though it may mean meeting some sisters for the first time.

I’m a dreamer. So was Jesus Christ. As one of his followers, how can I refuse to go where he went? Yes, it’s a kind of death. But the kind that passes life along to our daughters and sons, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, neighbors, and even to ourselves.

As always, many thanks for listening.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 9 April 2018

wild nor’easter

wild nor’easter
whiplashes its way
through the night

And we aren’t even at the center of the storm. Fury comes to mind. Along with chaos, heavy wet snow, traffic at a near standstill, unpredictable wind gusts and icy cold. Our  generator has run since about 6pm last night. The sun is out and the damage is visible. Not much in our yard, but a mid-size tree fell during the night, roots and all, across our neighbor’s driveway. It was chaotic.

I can’t help thinking about our President and the current state of our disunion. Chaotic. I know…some think chaos is inevitably linked to creativity. Perhaps it is.

I think of it as a sign of breakdown that may or may not end well. Especially when chaos comes to dominate the multiple pronouncements, tweets, behaviors, faces and voices of POTUS. It’s so all-encompassing that I’m tempted to expect and demand nothing better. Or adjust to it as the new normal.

Many years ago, for three seemingly endless years, I had a Dean who thrived on chaos. The kind he created around himself and across the seminary daily. I remember vividly the day I figured out how to comport myself in his presence.

  • Say as little as possible.
  • Don’t answer questions about any of my colleagues.
  • Stick to the point and get out the door as quickly as possible.

That day I knew exactly who was in his office before I went in for my appointment. It was someone I worked with often, and depended upon as a faculty colleague. Almost as soon as I sat down across from the Dean’s desk, he began asking questions about the colleague who had just left the room. I refused to answer, and got my agenda on the table.

I also knew that the moment the next person walked through the door, the questions would be about me. Indeed, he found ways of gathering bits of information and turning them to his own benefit. I knew I was on his hit list, as were several other colleagues.

There had been a warning sign I missed the very first day I met him. I was on the search committee tasked with finding candidates to be our next dean. He was one of several we interviewed in person.

He didn’t know me prior to that day. Yet the moment he walked into the committee room he broke out into a great big smile, came straight over to shake my hand and tell me how much he had heard about me and how much he was looking forward to meeting me. Indeed. Had I only realized….I’d just met another version of divide and conquer.

Through a series of unexpected events, he became our Dean and left us broken and divided as a faculty, not sure what had just hit us. We were reluctant to talk with each other about it until he was gone and we knew we were in safe space away from the seminary.

I credit our interim Dean for calling us together in a hospitable setting. Many, including me, carried unexpressed shame, anger and tears that broke out when we met to process what had happened.

Never again. Chaos as a management technique was like living hell. I’d rather endure a fierce Nor’easter any day or night.

©Elouise Renich Fraser, 3 March 2018
Photo found at – January 2018 Nor’easter off the East coast of the USA

Misfit and Misbehaving

It’s the early 1950s. I’m about 11 years old. I’ve just taken my assigned seat in my 6th grade classroom at a private church school. I look around the room and it hits me in the eyes.

All but three girls are wearing matching white skirts with a bold flower pattern around the hem of each skirt. The flower pattern is in five rainbow colors with not one, but two skirts in each color. My two best girlfriends are wearing blue flowered skirts.

Our teacher, clearly caught off guard, says there must have been a fire sale on this particular pattern. The skirts are homemade. Obviously this was a planned event.

I’m mortified. Why didn’t I know about this? My mother is one of the best seamstresses around, and could have whipped one up for me. I try to make it OK in my mind. Especially since only three girls in the class aren’t wearing the uniform. The other two are the least popular girls in the class. Surely there was a mistake.

My two best girlfriends try to make it OK. I wasn’t left out because they didn’t like me. It was because the club had decided there could only be pairs, and I was the odd girl out. Besides, I was at least a year younger than they.

Which wasn’t the full story. Along with the other two misfits, I was a scholarship student. My parents couldn’t afford to pay tuition. It didn’t matter that I was bright, intelligent, interesting, faithful, truthful or any of that.

Things got worse during recess. The club had designated certain parts of the public park (a lovely downtown square in Savannah, Georgia) as their special places. They had rules about who could play with whom during the first part of recess, and where they would meet for regular club meetings during recess.

The following day was a ‘regular’ day which meant the club didn’t wear skirt uniforms to class. My friends talked the club into letting me join as a substitute club member. I would have to have a blue-flowered skirt. However, I could take part in activities in the park only if one of my two friends was absent that day. And I would have to vote the way my friend would have voted. That way the voting wouldn’t be off-balance.

Long story short: My mother agreed to make a skirt, but couldn’t find the same flower pattern. I wore my painfully obvious substitute skirt once or twice before the club disbanded.

In the end, this episode wasn’t about how smart, friendly or truthful I was. It was about white money and white family history. Which is to say the white Protestant pecking order and the subservient pedigree of white hens.

What I now understand:

  • It’s important to divide white women from each other as early as possible.
  • This will serve the goals of white male supremacy.
  • The tactics of divide and conquer are cheap, easy and effective in almost any setting.

Tomorrow is the beginning of Women’s History Month. I wonder how willing I am to refuse being divided in order to change history?

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 28 February 2018
1950s young teen fashion images found at

Monday Morning Sunshine

We had a cool front come through during the night, with blessed relief from 100% humidity day and night, cool breezes, and the slightest hint of sun behind those clouds which will, of course, dissipate in their own good time.

Still, I want some Monday morning sunshine. So here it is, beginning at the top with one of my favorite taken-by-me photos of D, my loyal partner, at Longwood Gardens on the day of our 52nd wedding anniversary. Isn’t he gorgeous? So is that sunshine, I might add.

Coming in a close second is the second main male in my life right now–Prince Oliver Smudge the Second. He’s perched on one of his thrones, alert as ever, loyally watching over my first main male to make sure he doesn’t fall asleep in front of the computer. Also taken by me, this time with my mini IPad (instead of D’s fancy camera).

Next we have one of my favorite Calvin and Hobbes strips about the infamous Divide and Conquer Strategy. I debated using it for my last post, but decided it was too lighthearted for the subject matter. Still, it makes a great point, and the little stab at the end might help you keep your sanity and upbeat outlook at least alive, if not thriving.

Finally, a rousing rendition from Norman Blake in true Southern country music style, from the soundtrack of “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” Sing along and don’t be bashful. It’s great fun!


© Elouise Renich Fraser, 16 October 2017
Photos taken by ERFraser, 11 Sept 2017 and October 2017
Cartoon found at
Daily Prompt: Loyal

No, I will not give up!

The mood in our country is ever more divisive, thanks to the old divide and conquer strategy. It seems Mr. Trump is a mastermind at this. Not just at getting us to quarrel with each other, but at maintaining his position as the Man in Charge, trickling glory down or withholding it, at his time and in his way.

My readings in the Psalms this past week were encouraging, yet troubling. They were all about what happens to the wicked. In particular, those whose god has become great wealth, who take delight in the adulation of adoring publics, and who seem to believe God is made in their image and thus on their side.

Mr. Trump, already a follower and lover of great wealth, displays leadership traits that are confusing at best, willfully destructive at worst.

Most troubling is his habit of changing the subject strategically so that it’s not about him, but about someone else or somewhere else or the flag or patriotism or immigrants. It seems his happy moments are fleeting. Never enough to fill the deep hole in his heart.

I serve but one God. Is it possible to do this without confessing my personal failings? Of course not. Nonetheless, I don’t buy the argument that everyone has their weak spots or failings. As though we should give others a free pass, particularly our leaders.

Hebrew and Christian Scriptures have somber warnings to religious and political leaders about the way they govern. This includes strategies such as pitting the strong against the weak, rich against poor, social class against social class, women against men, immigrants against residents. The possibilities are endless.

The strategy of muddying and distorting reality keeps us riled up and at each other’s throats. So distracted that we cannot effectively call out leaders for failure to lead on behalf of everyone. We’re too busy jumping on the us-versus-them bandwagon.

I don’t know how to engage mammoth power. Or perhaps I don’t appreciate the power I do have. Which would be my one brief life, a pen and my prayers.

This feels like less than two small loaves and a small fish. Barely enough for me; not nearly enough for those who gather each day wanting to hear truth and hope. Especially in times of political, social and geographic upheaval.

Being a faithful Christian citizen has rarely felt so heavy. The bottom line is simple: Whom do I serve? And am I ready to do this at any cost? My spirit is willing; my flesh is weak. Which is why I depend on others like you, regardless of your political or religious persuasion.

As a follower of Jesus, I’m in this for the long haul. Today I’m grateful for the company of others learning to live each day without giving up the fight for justice, or hope for today and tomorrow.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 14 October 2017
Image found at
Daily Prompt: Succumb

Dear Readers | Kickback

I know ‘kickback’ isn’t exactly the right word. But it captures how I’ve been feeling today after posting For the Child’s Sake. I’ve been having stomach punches.

Not literally, but psychically. In my mind and my emotions. Second guessing. Fearful that I’ve said too much. That the wrong people will take it the wrong way.

None of this, mind you, is rational. It’s my hyper-sensitive reaction to speaking truth that’s deeply personal to me.

I’ve had this reaction before. So many times I can’t even count them. In the classroom, in small groups, in one-on-one conversations, and when I make my writing public. Especially if it’s about a sensitive topic. Which, in my world, could be anything at all—especially if it’s about me or people I know.

I’m hyper-vigilant. This means, given the content of my Divide and Conquer post, it takes a massive effort to speak truth forthrightly. And then close my mouth.

I’d much rather word-smith every statement with explanations that eventually deprive what I’ve said of its power to convey truth.

So I spent most of this afternoon ruminating about the post. Running scenarios in my mind about what might happen if the ‘wrong’ people read it, or if I’m ‘wrong’ in my account of what happened.

Yet it isn’t about accuracy or logic or sane precautions. It’s about the habits of my mind that conjure up worst-case scenarios, realistic and unrealistic. They didn’t just show up one day on their own. They’ve been with me since I was a child, and may have helped me survive back then.

Now, however, these habits often work against me. I don’t want people to take offence at what I write. Yet in the end, it may not be clear exactly what I’m trying to communicate.

It’s difficult to be clear, and then let my words sit there. Not softened or ratcheted down. Not edited for niceness to avoid offending people who may take me to task or simply disagree with me and write me off.

So that’s the stew I’ve been working on all afternoon. I think it’s a sign that what I wrote in that post matters deeply to me. Especially because I’ve been there, too. A child in need of an adult ally.

Here’s the bottom line for now. I know I’m a highly sensitive person. I won’t always have another highly sensitive person around to help me through my doubts and fears. This suggests I must be my own adult ally. The sensitive child in me (yes, she’s still there!) needs this ally. So does the sensitive adult woman who’s typing these words right now.

Thanks for listening.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 17 June 2015

Divide and Conquer

There’s a familiar battle going on in me today. It isn’t primarily political or religious. It’s personal. A battle of voices.

It’s been raging ever since I sat down to write. Which makes me wonder Read the rest of this entry »

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