By Patricia Spears Jones
At ridiculous hours of the morning many of us are up thinking, dreaming, screaming, writing. These are days of great peril. These are days when the demands of the body politic seem unrelenting. And by the time this document is published, the perils will have increased and the demands on our minds, hearts, and bodies will have increased.
The past is being examined now to offer some guidance as to how to go forward. As in, what would have happened if Reconstruction had been allowed to work, if the newly freed Black citizens had been able to live as citizens. If White Supremacists had been fought and not allowed to grow in number and influence. If the daily brutality put upon Black people across the former Confederacy had been severely curtailed. Well, we know what did happen and what continues to happen. Black people continue to be disenfranchised; surveilled, brutalized and murdered by the police and “civilian militia” at a constant clip. The initial demand of BlackLivesMatter was to stop killing Black people.
That demand is so simple, but for too long White People, you know the good White People simply thought their Black “friends, co-workers, lovers, cousins” were exaggerating, were paranoid, or just plain lying. But these Good White People knew plenty of Bad White People—friends, co-workers, husbands, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins—who boasted of any number of indignities performed on citizens of color. Talk about color blind, but the color is white. And Whiteness is the American race problem and has been from the get-go.
I have often said that the election of Barack Obama began the racial conversation that had been unacknowledged for decades. The idea of Black people in power and being competent and confident was just too much for a White population raised on the notion that Blacks by virtue of their Blackness were less than. Donald Trump’s blatant disrespect of the sitting president was the high-end version of what was not whispered over cocktails on Wall Street or barbeques in backyards or in churches, lodges, and professional associations. “The White lash” as one friend called it was firm and fierce; thus, a Republican Senate that would barely entertain legislation much less a budget developed by Obama. And an electorate that kicked out Democrats who signed on the ACA as if providing health care access to millions was a bizarre plot to take away what—fear of bankruptcy from high medical bills. Whiteness harms White people as much as it harms everybody else.
We really do have competing mythologies in the body politic and Black People have been the greasy wheel that has made the wagon turn because that wheel of justice, democracy, progress is often stuck in the mud of White Privilege, White Denial, White Indifference. Part of the body politic has to do that heavy oiling. And right now, that wagon is slowly being shoved towards a direction that may bring the nation out of the sticky mud of systemic racism, so that we can move towards a serious experiment in democracy, justice, generosity and comity.
But every progressive, racial justice protestor, every liberal, every thoughtful citizen attempting to march, move, reflect upon this challenging, yet affirmative, time in our nation’s history is met with state-sanctioned violation and violence, lies, conjecture and conspiracy theories and the cognitive dissonance of at least a third of the voting population which supports the president in his desperate grab for more power to destroy democracy, and smash a growing progressive coalition. We are daily lashed to the media’s presentation of those lies, theories, and conjecture. We are literally being tweeted to death.
When the video of George Floyd’s murder is seen, it is the nonchalance of the police officer that is truly chilling. That nonchalance, that indifference to suffering—many White people were suddenly seeing what Whiteness at its most cavalier looks like. But isn’t that what we see in the blonde locks, snarky comments, disregard for public health, for sacred spaces, for the sacrifice made by men and women in American uniforms in the daily manipulations of the Trump administration. Like the officer, too many men and women have put their feet on our necks. They have laughed at our demands for justice. They have pissed on our petitions. They routinely disparage our regard for this planet and the inherent dangers from global climate change. Mostly, they care about power, money, and cosmetic presentation—which is what the RNC Convention was all about. And they are using racist rhetoric, money manipulation, “the media” and lies lies lies to remain in power so that they can suck the lifeblood out of this vulnerable democracy.
Because the peril is not only that state-sanctioned violence but also the systematic destruction of bureaucratic norms that uphold public health, that insure civil and human rights, that protect vulnerable populations, that keep the air clear and water unpolluted, that respect sacred lands, that treat asylum seekers with dignity and respect. We are facing what is often stated as a depraved indifference to human life as seen in the “federal response” to the pandemic. As I write this, more than 191,000 Americans, most of them poor or working class, most of them Black and Brown, many of them “essential workers” or the elderly, have died from Covid-19.
The president knew in February what this nation was up against and declared that it would go away. And maybe, just maybe he knew that the virus would harm the most vulnerable in this nation—so he simply gave a nonchalant response to what he knew was a huge public health crisis that was about to descend upon this nation. He put all of us in greater peril even as he found ways to profit from the federal response—the corrupt practices of the administration are unrelenting. We are in peril and the times demand that we do everything in our power to stay alive and remove the leader of a death cult which White Nationalism is. We have not had a president since Barack Obama walked out of the White House. We have had an increasingly complicated and ugly performance of the presidency, one very much like protagonist in The Autumn of the Patriarch—sometimes fiction provides the perfect explication. And here we are poets, writers, artists, scholars trying our best to persist in our resistance to tweets-induced despair. We are in the fight for and of our lives and I try each day to have faith that our desire to survive and thrive is greater than their desire to dominate and kill.