For those with open ears, open eyes, and open hearts, the bleeding wounds of racism in America are evident everyday- every hour and every minute for many. It is a complex, jagged, and deep wound which, because of neglect or intentional denial, has spread throughout the entire body of our country, and has been bending us for so long that few of us recognize the extent of deformation it has caused not only in our corporate body and mind, but within our American soul.
I am racist. I say that in the same way that I am honest about the fact that I have arthritis, or that I want- at some point everyday- to salve my ravenous emotions with the balm of Jim Beam. Those are just facts, realities about myself with which I must live and compensate for with the best of my awareness and abilities. I don’t know specifically where and when arthritis first began to grip my spine; nor do I know when the diseased defaults to racist attitudes began that I still am so easily able to display from time to time. Both of those things (along with the continuing desire- after fifteen years of abstinence- for an alcoholic fog to soften the day) are infestations I had no control over at the time they entered my being.
I’ve managed all of them, to an extent. I intentionally do not not drink and do what I can, with others, to keep Jim Beam and his sidekick, Bud, at bay. I swallow pills daily to keep my over-active anti-inflammatory systems in check. Racism, however, is probably the most difficult infection to deal with because of the daily reinforcements and affirmations that pour onto it, like gasoline on a fire. It flares at times, it sizzles often, and is always a (usually benign) ember that burns within me.
I don’t want it to be there. It is much, much smaller than it once was. And if I try to justify its presence based on a comparison of it to the hot coal which burns in others then, indeed, it was never very large. But it is there, and I hate that it is there. I want it gone.
I know the hope for its complete eradication is still generations away, for myself (i.e., my children and their children) and my country. I am not able to say I will die one day with nothing but a cold ash of racism within me. But I do hope, and will act on the possibilities of seeing that hope manifested as soon as possible in all the ways I can, whenever I can, wherever and however I can. My children are already less burdened (not only because of me, by any means!) of my various afflictions than I will ever be, thank God.
And I do thank God for that, and a whole long and glorious line of my fellow Americans who have been courageous enough to reveal the wounds of racism to be no mere reality which are harmful to some, but that are crippling, festering, killing wounds that are endemic to all of us. The blessing of being 58 years old in America is to have been alive in the same place, breathing the same air, as some of these past and present healers.
Two of them, of course, as they have been, are, and will be for so many Americans (and wounded people everywhere) are Martin Luther King, Jr., and Malcolm X. In fact, the first piece of American literature that I would recommend to anyone- even above The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and Grapes of Wrath– is King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail. Soon after that, I would urge anyone to read The Autobiography of Malcolm X, by Alex Haley. Many people my age or older will remember Malcolm X in the fiery contexts of the early 60s, a time of frightening cultural change. Read him again, in the light of the forty years of history we have lived through since his death, and you will find yourself mourning his murder.
As of yesterday- and, yes, it is the reason I’m writing all of this in the first place- we heard a a speech by Senator Obama that may one day find itself in the same heady categories as the two pieces of literature mentioned above. Because of his unique cultural stance, he was able to elaborate on racism in America in a way that no one before him has personally been able to do. In black and white, African and American terms, his genetic voice and his intellectual honesty and wisdom have provided content for years of discussion and action and- most importantly- real social and soulful change. Whether a person is a supporter of his candidacy for president or not, this speech deserves to be read, studied, and pondered. In fact, I would urge those who are most opposed to that candidacy to read it most contemplatively.
And I say that not because it might change your vote, but because it might change you. I’ve overheard too many conversations about why someone is a Clinton or McCain supporter to not also have heard heart-breakingly racist statements being made in the guise of political or ideological language. Not all of those supportive statements for other candidates are racist, by any means, but enough are for anyone to know, if their eyes, ears, and hearts are open, that the blood and pus of racist wounds are still running fresh.
Read Senator Obama’s speech here.