Nine black lives should matter enough that everyone in America reads this article by Kiese Laymon, because it’s the truth. Praise Jesus:
His grandmother was born in Mississippi in the 1920s. My dad was born there in the late 1930s. It explains a lot about my impatience with letting white people play innocent. If they’re fucking contemptible, say it. We don’t have to tell Master what a fine gentleman he is. This is the true face of America commemorating the worst massacre of the Reconstruction era:
We should try to make it seem like a joke for any white American to be proud. They’ve been doing it to us for several hundred years. Just look at this shit:
Say this about the Old Confederacy: At least its leaders had the courage of their own bad convictions. Today’s neo-Confederate GOP politicians, vying for primary votes in Dixie 150 years after Appomattox, proved themselves to be laughable cowards. Confronted with the simplest of questions – should a state capitol display a flag that stands for slavery, racism, and treason? – they hedged (all of them), spouted gibberish (Ted Cruz), or went into hiding (Rand Paul). If they’d been the Rebel generals in the Civil War, it would have been over in a week.
In the case of South Carolina, the cowardice was even more pronounced. Not even the slaughter of nine people in a church could stir the consciences of the Republican presidential contenders. They came out against the flag only after the previously hedging Governor Haley came around. No doubt she spent a long weekend calculating how failing to do so would inflict economic retribution on her state much as the “religious liberty” law had threatened to bring corporate and convention boycotts to Indiana. Before Haley finally spoke up on Monday, the only major Republican figure to unequivocally call for the flag’s banishment was Mitt Romney, who isn’t facing GOP primary voters in 2016. After Haley joined him, we were treated to the embarrassing spectacle of Bush, Rubio, and Walker – by most reckonings, the GOP’s three leading candidates – all asserting that they had agreed with Haley all along. This combination of disingenuousness and spinelessness on a no-brainer issue should disqualify all of them from the White House.
White people think we’re animals, but you know how people commonly trust their pets as judges of character? Black people do have at least one privilege: seeing the way white people behave when the other whites aren’t looking. Consider the possibility that black people understand white people better than they understand themselves. White people live in denial of the things black people experience white people doing to them. Being mixed-race and talking like a white person, I know how white people talk when they forget I’m black. The black friend who laughs along with your racist jokes is mentally noting that you’re a motherfucker he can’t trust if things get bad. At least if he was raised by old people who know what’s up.
The contempt is mutual:
Sometimes, Kie, at five in the morning, we had to go to white folks’ house and wash they clothes outside, no matter how hot or cold it was. Sometimes they might pay in you in some change. Most of the time, they pay you in a little cornmeal. Anyway, we sometimes would be behind they great big houses washing they clothes in the tub out there, and hanging them up before school. And the little white children who was no older than us would be in the house pointing and laughing.
Grandma paused and I heard the beginnings of unspoken words pushing against the back of her throat. “We would walk to school after doing all that work, and every single day, a school bus of white folks would pass us and some of them same kids who was laughing at us in they backyards would be on that bus pointing and laughing at us because we dressed like we just got done working, and because we was walking to school instead of driving.”
I asked Grandma if she wished she could be on that bus too.
“Naw,” she said. “That’s what breaks my heart. The truth is that we ain’t never even thought being on that white folks’ bus, or not cutting that cane, or not picking that cotton, or not washing them white folks’ clothes. We knew that was the kind of work niggers had to do. Our thing was that we knew that the white folks didn’t need to be laughing at us for trying.”
Trying what, I asked her.
“Well, trying to make it to tomorrow with food in our belly, and clothes on our back. Shit, trying to not hit them upside they head. That’s when I knew something wasn’t right with the insides of them folks. How you got damn near every man-made thing we wish we had, and you laughing at us for trying to get less than a thin slice of what you got? It makes me sick,” Grandma said.
“And let me tell you one more thing about these folks. Sometimes, we do the same work for them on Sunday mornings,” she said. “And instead of driving by and laughing while we walking home so we could put on some church clothes, the white folks would drive right by us, slow down, say hello, and keep driving while the kids in the back steady laughing.”
Laughing at what, I asked her.
That’s what I’m saying. You supposed to be on your way to church. What you laughing at? Church don’t mean nothing to these folks, Kie. Nobody in they cars, or on they buses told them to stop laughing. Do you hear me? They love to watch the devil. If church meant something to them, they would have made them stop laughing. They would have paid us right. They wouldn’t be throwing us off in jail for doing the same thing they do. The education would be different, too. That boy over in Charleston, he wouldn’t walk up in no church and killed those folks either if they believed in church. They just wouldn’t treat us like they do. Why they ain’t blaming that boy’s parents? Or his community? If you shot up one of they churches, those white folks woulda killed you as soon as they found you. And every nigger in America, at least the ones who got some sense, would be ashamed. These folks ain’t never ashamed of themselves, Kie. Hard to be ’shamed when you think you own the world. It makes me sick.
We should stand up to the abusers.
I told her that loving white supremacists in the face of white supremacy is a hallmark of American evil, and a really a fundamental part of the black American experience in this country.
It’s what we’re supposed to do, I said.
Many of us have made a life of hoping to get chosen for jobs, chosen for awards, chosen for acceptance from people, structures and corporations bred on white supremacy. We’re hoping to get chosen by people who can not see us. Knowing that they hate and terrorize us doesn’t stop us from wanting to get chosen. That’s the crazy thing. Everything about this country told Grandma, a black woman born in Central Mississippi in 1920s, to love, honor and forgive white folks. And this country still tells me, a black boy born in Mississippi in the 1970s, to titillate and tend to the emotional, psychological and spiritual needs of white people in my work.
I told my Grandma that we should have chosen ourselves. I tell her that we should have let us in. We should have held each other, and fallen in healthy love with each other, instead of watching shame make parts of us disappear.
What do we make of the shameful work of being chosen? Our family eats that shame, quite literally. Other families drink the shame. All the work that we put into forgiving white supremacy, white power and white people, and then hoping to be chosen by those people, should have gone into talking about – and collectively reckoning with – our familial experiences with sexual violence, food, and trauma.
Shame strangles, I told Grandma; truth sets free. But what does any truth set free look like? I know that I don’t know.
What I do know is that love reckons with the past and evil reminds us to look to the future. Evil loves tomorrow because peddling in possibility is what abusers do.
Theodor Adorno: The need to let suffering speak is a condition of all truth. For suffering is objectivity that weighs upon the subject.