“Blah, blah, blah,”
he spoke incessantly,
As I sat in the doctor’s waiting room,
I wasn’t hearing the audio as
I watched the recorded “highlights”
of the testimony.
I thought tears
would flow anytime as
I began thinking of that
other trial last week,
with those infamous tears.
The chyron below gave me
some of his words:
‘This was a life-or-death situation.'”
I remembered the video evidence,
submitted by one of the murderers–
Three men against one,
three aggressors against one victim,
two vehicles against two shoes,
two guns against none,
three against one,
white against black.
Ahmaud Arbery was an unarmed jogger
just hoping for a country
his right to live.
I wrote about Ahmaud Arbery’s murderers in September 2020 here in “Say His Name–Ahmaud Arbery,” the third poem on that post.
Today’s Ethical ELA poetry prompt is by Anna J. Small Roseboro “Mixing Them Up Today: Anagram Poetry.” She had us find anagrams for our name and use them in a poem about a person or event in fiction or in real life, or a concept we’ve taught. I wrote about Cora, the main character in The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead.
Cora redressed as Bessie
wasn’t able to kiss freedom
on her underground rides.
She resided in sirens
of berserk oppression,
misery and evil her forced drink.
Cora’s chosen kindred died, Desires denied, Seeker of choice, Risker of hell,
The powerful sneered and reeked
of the monstrous beds they made, Serene skies their lie.
Stand beside Cora’s memory,
America’s dressed in this history.
May a keen sense of ownership indeed send us to our knees
to repent, rise, and render hope
for a new day.
This chapter about the Juneteenth celebration at Galveston Island has helped me walk further along a new path of truth in America’s history. This passage, written by a young black man, also speaks to me, an older white woman, who learned history in a similar way with white-washing and lies to hide the deeper truths of white supremacy that people didn’t want to say aloud. We are also seeing it in our lived day-to-day history in this, the 21st century.
I watched these young people read to the audience parts of history that placed our country in context. I felt, in that moment, envious of them. Had I known when I was younger what some of these students were sharing, I felt as if I would have been liberated from a social and emotional paralysis that for so long I could not name—a paralysis that had arisen from never knowing enough of my own history to effectively identify the lies I was being told by others: lies about what slavery was and what it did to people; lies about what came after our supposed emancipation; lies about why our country looks the way it does today. I had grown up in a world that never tired of telling me and other Black children like me all of the things that were wrong with us, all of the things we needed to do better. But not enough people spoke about the reason so many Black children grow up in communities saturated with poverty and violence. Not enough people spoke about how these realities were the result of decisions made by people in power and had existed for generations before us.
Smith, Clint. (2021) How the Word Is Passed, Little, Brown and Company. Kindle Edition.
For so long
arisen from history
lies told about slavery
lies about our country
Not enough people
realities of power
for generations before us
I’m trying to find a balance in how to read these rich chapters. For the first few chapters, I highlighted things I wanted to remember on my Kindle. This time I took notes in a journal. After three pages of notes and two poems, I was still only half finished with the chapter. Hmmm…I’ll keep trying.
How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America by Clint Smith is a book that has the power to transform us. I pray it does. As Ibram X. Kendi said, “We need this book.” I hope everyone who reads this will get a copy and read it too.
I have known Clint’s work because I listened to the Justice in America podcast, which he did the first two years with Josie Duffy Rice. This week I’ve learned more about his poetry. Here he is reading two of my favorites: “Counting Descent” and “History Reconsidered.”
“History Reconsidered” is a powerful poem that I’ve been thinking about all day. I wrote this golden shovel poem using Smith’s line: “Oppression doesn’t disappear just because you decided not to teach us that chapter.”
We Need to Write a New Chapter
We were lied to when we studied oppression
of enslaved American people. It doesn’t
count that we vaguely learned slaves disappear
when Civil Wars end. A moral, righteous and just
country would repent and repair wrongs because
white supremacy is evil. Truth. But you
can see from what’s happening today that many decided
to nurture white supremacy, and not
dismantle it in order to create a more perfect union. Some want to
halt the telling of truth, the new books that can teach
our children and adults that some Americans indeed proclaimed us
to be the land of equality and freedom, while simultaneously living the lie that
they owned other human beings. We need to write a changed chapter.
Smith’s book is full of new (and some known) content that is so heavy and difficult to hear, but Clint’s love and respect for people and his poetic language contribute to making the book a readable treasure that in fact we do need.
Here are just a few of the old quotes Smith includes that show some of the truths we were not taught:
“And if any slave resist his master, or owner, or other person, by his or her order, correcting such slave, and shall happen to be killed in such correction, it shall not be accounted felony.” Virginia Slave Code, 1705 (Footnote iv, Loc 1274)
“So far as history reveals, no other slave society, whether of antiquity or modern times, has so much as sustained, much less greatly multiplied, its slave population by relying on natural increase.” ~C. Vann Woodward, historian, 1983 (Loc 364)
“Louisiana looks to the formulation of a southern confederacy to preserve the blessings of African slavery.” ~Louisiana’s commissioner in a speech at the time of secession, 1861 (Loc 833)
Last month just after I had purchased Clint Smith’s book How the Word is Passed, I saw this tweet by Sally Donnelly:
Just finished my 1st read of this rich, thought-provoking book by @ClintSmithIII So glad I created a virtual summer book club so I can read it again. I invite you to join me in July. Read & add a reading notebook page of your thinking to this Padlet: https://t.co/IzUyCHtMMa
It is not too late to join in. Please consider discussing this important book with Sally, me, and other educators.
In addition, there is another book study going on this summer with the same book. The two studies align well, as Sally’s study will be throughout July, and this one goes a bit later and concludes with a visit from the author.
In the 1930’s America created a middle class. It was perhaps better than having only extreme wealth and extreme poverty, but it was created with white supremacy at the core. My family benefited from the G.I. Bill after WWII. My parents were able to buy a home. Then in the 70s, because of strong unions and a good part-time job, I was able to “put myself through” a California State University, which was tuition-free then! My husband worked full time with his union job in a grocery store and put himself through a private college with no loans, even saving money for grad school while he did it.
Now, look at all the black veterans who came home from serving in WWII. Systemic racism kept them from taking advantage of the benefits of The Servicemen’s Readjustment Act of 1944. The same Act that allowed my family to buy a home in the suburbs. Though we were not wealthy, my husband and I came from home-owning families, admission to colleges, and other benefits of being white.
It is time to dig deep and pull out our roots of racism. There are reparations to make. We need to redistribute government aid that is being showered on the wealthy.
The Story of Being White in ‘Murica
There’s a story in this place.
A father came home from faraway war,
part of the Greatest Generation,
but broken into pieces.
His country helped him pick up those pieces,
cobbling them together with a home loan
and hope from his wife and twins
There’s a story in this place
Five more children came along
and grew up in an L.A. suburb
a stone’s throw,
but a universe away,
from the burning riots
in the redlines of Watts in ’65
There’s a story in this place
A story where all those kids
grew up, not wealthy, but they had
safe water and air,
funded schools, food security,
safe contact with police
because they were white people
Black and brown people lived
in other neighborhoods.
All those kids grew up
and became home owners
and got jobs that could sustain a family
With scholarships, part time union jobs,
and free tuition–
some of the kids in that suburb
even graduated from university
and became professionals
There’s a story over there
A story of America built
on the backs and blood
of labor stolen
A story I closed my eyes to,
A story heard only
through sanitized textbooks
A continuing story I don’t know
A story of black colleges
bursting at their seams,
“white” colleges unavailable to them,
no room for all the GIs who wanted to go
It’s a story of black veterans
who fought for America
but couldn’t get a loan
A story of black neighborhoods redlined
A story of discrimination that persists today
It is time to brush aside McConnell’s redline
for no new taxes for the wealthy
It is time to shift spending priorities
and lift up the working class
It’s five generations too late for
Forty acres and a mule
Well past time
Last night in our family Bible study we wrote prayers of lament, like in Psalm 13 (How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?) and Psalm 22 (My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?).
Prayers of lament start out with protest, continue with petition, and end with some kind of praise, at least anticipated praise. Here is mine:
God are you here in your church?
Why does it not look like heaven?
Why have we distorted your Body so much?
When will we give up white supremacist
theology for the upside down
Realm of Jesus?
Have you abandoned your church?
Do you laugh or cry
about the mess we’ve made of it?
Can you just start over, God?
Re-transfuse the church with your blood,
and do whatever you have to
to make us serve the Jesus of the Bible,
not the “white” Jesus created
by enslavers and murderers.
I want your will to be done
on earth as it is in heaven,
but it is hard to believe it will happen.
I want to praise you
because I know you will fully come.
I do believe,
but help my unbelief.
Wednesday’s coup attempt happened on the day of Epiphany, when Jesus, the Light of the world is made known. On this same Epiphany day, more white Americans had an epiphany–a sudden and powerful manifestation of the truth, power, and ugliness of our white supremacist foundation.
This was two years ago, and prior to her comment I had not considered the fact that it affected everything. Now, every time something else happens I think back to her comment and believe it even more. We saw it again yesterday.
The ridiculously unprepared police force at the U.S. Capitol and how these mostly white domestic terrorists were treated starkly contrasts with this summer’s police brutality against Black Lives Matter protestors (mostly black).
The only good thing we can say about the trump years is that we have had five years of the racism pot at a rolling boil, spilling and burning the whole country. The simmering under the surface had been harder to pay attention to.
Here’s another metaphor: Instead of living decade after decade in a country marked by general malaise about race relations, we have to acknowledge the five years we have lived with projectile vomiting and explosive diarrhea. White people can’t ignore the symptoms anymore, can no longer say it’s just a stomach ache, suck it up. White supremacy has reared its ugly head and we have seen it.
Wednesday was Epiphany, the day in the Christian church when we celebrate the revelation, the unveiling to the world of Christ’s deity, the light of the world. It is the commemoration of the magi arriving to worship Jesus. Yes, they came from afar, fell down and worshipped, giving valuable gifts, all to Jesus, a toddler.
So perhaps it is fitting that the whole world received a divine epiphany on Wednesday, a sudden and powerful manifestation of the truth and power of our white supremacist foundation in the U.S. On Epiphany, at his rally trump supporters were encouraged to go to trial by combat and mob the U.S. Capitol. Later after the violence, looting, pillaging and desecration the mob was told by trump, “You are loved. You’re all very special.”
Thursday, a day late, I celebrated Epiphany and the Light of the world, Jesus. I decided to have an Epiphany tree for awhile. Today I am grateful that many white people may have received a clear epiphany for the first time. They have seen unquestionably that white supremacy affects everything and we must all work to dismantle it. May God give us strength to keep fighting.