“Pit race against race, religion against religion, prejudice against prejudice. Divide and conquer! We must never let that happen here.” Eleanor Roosevelt
“I wish I could say that racism and prejudice were only distant memories. We must dissent from the indifference. We must dissent from the apathy. We must dissent from the fear, the hatred, and the mistrust. We must dissent because America can do better, because America has no choice but to do better.” Justice Thurgood Marshall
It was encouraging to note in the UU Bulletin/October 2018 the renewed push for diversity, adding, “Organized religion is changing at breakneck speed. We can’t wait to tell your story.” I’ll take them at their word, so here’s a little story.
As a young Canadian boy I loved music, memorized the lyrics from virtually every song that crossed my path. Young minds can do that. Many are still lodged in my age shrunk gray matter. Even at school we learned songs and poems extolling the daring deeds of young Englishmen spreading civilization, like Sherwin Williams paint, over the globe.” We cut our teeth on Kipling, knowing the cultures of Europe assured us virtue (the white kind) would always triumph over savagery due to our innate superiority!
The chosen people. Victors write the history. Certainly proving, for example, that muskets and rifles usually prevail over spears and arrows. Such cocky assurances reflected right now in racist groups like “Rise Above.” Some of whom are on trial for their fascistic, Charlotteville antics. You have to wonder, rise above what? THEM. Of course. They occupy cultural corrals from Maine to California. Elvis sang black, and called it by name. The Ghetto.
But getting back to my youthful attachments to music from Australian swagmen to the American South. Here’s two that stuck with me:-
“Gone are the days when my heart was young and gay. Gone are my friends from the cotton fields away
Gone from the earth to a better land I know. I hear their gentle voices calling. ‘old black Joe.’
I’m comin’, I’m comin. For my head is bending low. I hear their gentle voices calling. ‘old black Joe.”
“Round de meadow am a ringin’, the darkies mournful song. While de mocking bird am singin’. Happy as the day am long.
Massa made de darkies love him, ‘cause he was so kind. Now dey sadly weep above him, ‘cause he leave dem behind.”
What are the odds a slave actually wrote those lyrics? But a young Canadian was enthralled by such exotic settings, maybe even desiring to stand in romantic Southern finery at the Camptown Racetrack. Do dah.
A wish actually fulfilled as a young man attending Air Force technical school in Biloxi, Mississippi in 1956. Not much romance in the “Whites” or “Colored” signs everywhere. It seemed like another planet! Especially one afternoon when cars laden with black folks in their Sunday best pulled up to the beach. Bill working up a tan to impress pallid Canadian relatives. They’d changed in their cars, headed across the beach, only to be beaten back to them by about twelve white thugs armed with bicycle chains.
In order to “rise above” you must first disqualify your adversary, real or imagined, as a human being. In Vietnam it was quite simple to write off those defending their homeland, first against the Chinese, then the French, then us – as gooks, slopes, slants. Well you get it. Maybe related to rag heads. Non-whites have occupied such default settings way too long.
Clearly it’s not just an American “problem.” Canada mistreated our aboriginals such as Iroquois, Algonquins, Innuits too. Australia, where daughter Kathy now resides, have the Maori difficulties. Spain treated South American indigenous people much as we did our native nations. How ironic Europeans now feel invaded by those they invaded in creating those gorgeous cathedrals and castles in the guide books. Guess we just need more walls these days!
As an old, white, male I’ve gone on long enough. I should add #Me too! Prejudice! Obviously (our) history is so replete with whiteness it’s almost in our DNA. UUA with its majority of clergy female has begun the rough road into the future, but time’s short. By providing a greater public face to the community, perhaps we can break even more ground. There’s a more even-handed world, perhaps even survival at stake…