When You Pray Move Your Feet

I just finished reading the late great John Lewis wonderful memoir, Walking With the Wind.  At the end of the book, he refers to the old African proverb, “ when you pray, move your feet.”  He then goes on to say “as a nation, if we care for the Beloved Community, we must move our feet, our hands, our hearts, our resources to build, and not to tear down, to reconcile and not to divide, to love and not to hate, to heal not to kill.  In the final analysis, we are one people, one family, one house – the American house, the American family.” 

Moving our feet speaks to action to reach out and work with people who look different but are us.  We share so much in common and it is those opportunities to engage and empathize with people with different backgrounds and see our shared interest and humanity.   While COVID has made it difficult to interact with people, it has given me the opportunity to reflect and realize that I need to spend more time, once it is safe, with people with diverse backgrounds, needs, and yes skills.  I have been volunteering in a limited way in West Oakland with an organization that feeds low-income families and helps them with energy costs and medical supplies.  I want to redouble my commitment and get to know more of the families within the organization.  

Another critical element of “when you pray move your feet” is organizing and coalition building.  Housing, economic, health, and environmental conditions need to be improved.  We need more effective policies, regulations, and resources to enable communities of color to thrive.  We need to get rid of toxic waste, economic inequality, provide stable housing, etc.   We have to be in coalition with other community organizing efforts, environmental justice organizations, community development efforts and others.  

I hope that as a church community,  MPC members will commit to working together in coalition with others to improve policies and resources to reduce the racial, economic, and environmental inequalities in Oakland and the larger Bay Area.  That is the best way to achieve change.  My five cents of advice would be to work on eliminating toxic facilities and improving air quality in low-income communities; repatriation that recognizes economic discrimination; and changing zoning laws to allow for more housing density near public transportation systems.  

I know there are a number of excellent ideas from MPC members that we could explore and come up with some key priorities and action.   I am optimistic that when COVID is behind us, that we can move forward and work to improve conditions for individuals, families, and communities of color.  

We  have the chance to use our faith to pray and move our feet to help build a beloved community.  After all, John Lewis left a wonderful legacy of creating “good trouble.”  That is a legacy that we can strive to live up to.  

Robert Zdenek

Here are some actions you could take

by Kathy Sawyer

1. Write your U.S. senators telling them to write a bill taxing the rich, those who make $100,000 a year or more to pay reparation taxes of $5000 a year indefinitely to go into a fund to distribute to Blacks. Reparations to Blacks are way overdue.  Their ancestors gave free labor as slaves, and since then they have been treated unfairly. Many times they are paid less than the Whites for the same job.

2. Look on the web or think what contributions Black people and other minorities have given us. Then write your U.S. senator and representative to write a bill to make a new holiday called Cultural Heritage Day. It would be a day to think and celebrate your heritage.

3. If you are a teacher, take a good look at your history book to see if it covers the bad treatment of and contributions of Blacks, Indians, Japanese, and so many other minorities. If it doesn’t, advocate to  your school superintendent to revise the history books to include that information.

4.  If you know a non-white person capable of doing a leading job in government, industry, teaching or other places that could make an impact, encourage him/her.

5. Write your U.S. senator and representative to study the federal budget and prioritize aid to the people of the U.S. and the world. It is horrible that there are hungry, homeless, jobless, uninsured people. Please cut the budget to the military. We don’t need to be the world’s policemen. We need to fight violence and hatred with love. We need to work with the nations of the world to make this world a better place.

6.  On this MPC Anti-Racism Taskforce website, read the poem Let America be America Again, by Langston Hughes. Read the poem carefully and let it sink in. Then think what actions you can take to make America better for people and the environment.

7.  Help change the color of people in power by your votes, donations and advocacy. 

8.  When you see or hear of an injustice,  contact the person or people who can help bring justice and good treatment. It may be your U.S. or state legislatures, mayor, governor or any number of people. You can usually find their addresses on the web.

9.  Surf the web for This Beloved Community. This is based on Martin Luther King Jr.’s teachings.  There are several websites.

10. Write the U.S. Department of Justice and ask them to reform the entire justice system, including police accountability, open-minded police, judges and prison officials, and make it fair for all people of all colors.

11. Write your U.S. senators and representative to write a bill to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day.

12. Write your California legislators  to end cash bail. It is unfair to the people who can’t afford bail. There are 500,000 people in jail because they can’t afford bail.

Head Start

by Bob Zdenek 

I was one of the fastest kids in my class till the 4th grade when I started needing almost annual leg surgery to remove growth calcium deposits along my growing bones, called multiple exostosis.  This slowed me down significantly even though I was able to adjust and play competitive sports in high school and beyond.  I was no longer one of the fastest kids in school running exercises.  I  was always looking for a head start so that I could be competitive in the race.

I think having a “head start” is a good analogy that I benefitted from as a white male in society especially with people of color.  This “head start” of white privilege is both due to family and societal forces,  which have had a huge impact in inequality.  The Federal Government and state and local governments have historically discriminated against people of color, notably African Americans since the end of formal slavery, especially in the 20th century.  

The Federal Housing Authority (FHA) refused to provide mortgages to people of color in most residential settings.  Financial institutions “red-lined” communities and in many cases refused to provide loans for minority families and businesses.  The advent of the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) mandated that lending institutions invest in communities where they receive deposits.  Billions of new dollars have been invested in these communities, but there is a long way to go, and CRA is under frequent attack, and has been watered down from its strong origins in 1977.  African Americans have 1/10 the assets of whites around $15,000 while the average white family has assets of over $150,000.  One major injury or setback can make the vast majority of families of color insolvent. 

The interstate highway system tore through many strong minority communities, and I have not even talked about urban renewal or what the distinguished author James Baldwin called “negro removal” .  This resulted in hundreds of thousands of families being displaced from their prime location neighborhoods.  The social fabric of these neighborhoods was torn apart.  Another huge issue is environmental degradation and the fact that nearly 75%  of communities of color live near toxic facilities.  I have learned from my work with 350 Bay Area that 3000 people die annually from particulate matter (PM) in the San Francisco Bay Area, which is spewed from trucks and fossil fuel refineries in the midst of minority communities.  

I could go on an on, but the point is what do we do as individuals and society to create a more level playing field for African Americans and other people of color.  We can start with children which is why I used the head start analogy.  The Head Start program which services pre-school children of color has done a significant job in helping low-income children get ready for school.  Senator Cory Booker has introduced legislation several times for Children Savings Accounts (CSA) to provide a down payment for education that is matched based on income and can create the resources to increase the likelihood of children of color attending and graduating from college.  Loan forgiveness and restructuring loans is another opportunity to reduce the disparity between African American and white wealth.

Climate change response needs to be centered in environmental justice work that removes environmental hazards, creates jobs, and addresses the social determinants of health so that African Americans can lead longer and healthier lives.  

This brings me back full circle to head start.  I benefitted from a head start from my family and societal policies and resources that have enabled me to have a productive and healthy live.  We need a new societal norm or contract that Black Lives Matter and that as a society we will develop the will, environment, and resources to improve opportunities and conditions for African Americans and all communities of color throughout the United States. 

Mission work and anti-racism

Rev. Talitha writes:

Someone recently commented on how my experience in mission work, volunteering in Uganda, must have set me up well for anti-racism work. I was caught off guard by the question, hadn’t considered it that way, and spent a few days turning it over in my mind. The answer, I’ve decided, is “actually less than you’d expect,” and here are some further thoughts on the topic.

I went to Uganda at age 21, with my sister (age 19), a suitcase full of easy-read Bibles, ten thousand dollars from our church and friends, crowdfunded to spend as we saw fit, the best of intentions, and very little mission education. We were young, of course, and learning as fast as we could, and every lesson seemed precious. But there was a lot that was lacking.

I learned about what it feels like to be an outsider. Living in Uganda for several months I learned how to exist in a foreign culture where I stuck out not just culturally but visibly and obviously. I learned how wonderful it was when someone extended hospitality to me in my discomfort. You would think this lesson would naturally turn me into a good ally for people of color in white-dominated spaces. But the analogy does not hold far. Yes, it taught me the importance of hospitality, for I experienced the temporary gracelessness of disorientation, and I was grateful to those who extended helpful hands to me in hospitality. But I never lost the power and privilege of my US passport, US dollars, and white skin. I was not discriminated against, and in fact I was always given preferential treatment, like the cousin of some movie star, because I was American.

The reason it isn’t a good analogy is that my cultural disorientation was chosen and temporary. Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) in the US today may know what it’s like to stick out in a white-dominated space, but that is not because they are new visitors in need of orientation. They have been here all along, and are well oriented to the systems of power that serve white people at their expense. What we need in America now is not mere hospitality and smiles from white people in white-dominated spaces, but the dismantling of the systems that built and continue to maintain those exclusive spaces.

I did learn a lot about colonialism – though I did not realize it at the time. The place was set up for the white gaze: a British-colonial orphanage with breaks for morning and afternoon tea, in a boarding school model crowding hundreds of children together in a setting that pulled maximum sympathy from visitors with pocketbooks. The British model of orphanages does not quite make sense in Uganda — even the definition of orphan (a person who has lost both parents) does not make sense in a culture where extended families are as strong as they are in Uganda. I will note that fifteen years later Children of Uganda, the organization I worked with, has evolved following the advice of the local (Ugandan) leadership. Now children are generally supported in an educational context as close to home and family as possible. Many will by their teen years end up in boarding schools, which are Uganda’s primary mode of education still. But they do not start there any more; instead of taking them away from their extended families, now children are supported at home with education, economic empowerment, and income-generating activities. But at the time I visited the organization was set up not for ideal family support, but for *me* to have a beautiful experience, as hundreds of young children in dormitories, having far too few adults to pay attention to them, were primed and situated to fall in love with any visitors who had time and smiles to spare. The mission field was set up for the comfort of the missionary. I did not even have to learn another language.

The thing is, I did not know enough to reflect on these realities at the time. I saw myself, unquestioningly, as a noble helper, bringing my money and talent to share with those who needed it. I did not begin to grasp the enormous privilege that went into my passport and plane ticket, my free time (months to be spent as I wished), and even the lack of language barrier for easing my way into a foreign culture. I was sympathetic for my new Ugandan friends who lacked these privileges, but it did not occur to me to protest the unfairness. Mission work that perpetuates the status quo without calling for dismantling of the systems of inequality is just tourism with a side dish of spirituality.

Don’t get me wrong. Traveling can be an important spiritual practice. It opens the mind, refreshes the imagination, and should teach you that you are not the center of the world. But fighting racism should do even more. It should decolonize your mind and make you question how power works. I am now convinced that the colonizers of the world (and we their descendants) owe reparations to countries like Uganda, much in the same style as we owe reparations to Black Americans for the centuries of slavery. I still send money to support children through the COU program, and perhaps this counts a little toward my share of the collective debt.

Many of our readers have probably traveled, too, and volunteered, and donated. Thank you for your work in helping to meet the needs of the world. I hope this reflection can help you to look closer at the systems that created those needs, and ask what we could do to change those systems.

Morris dancing, anti-racism, and me

Most church members have seen me play bass and guitar, sing a lot, and perhaps even lead a sea chantey or two at camp: you know I’m a folk musician. But most of you have never seen me doing the folkiest and geekiest of my hobbies: morris dancing. Morris dancing is a tradition from England which was probably already old when Shakespeare made fun of it. It has vaguely pagan roots in that you stomp on the ground to wake it up and bring fertility in the spring; you also are required to wake up before dawn on the first of May and dance the sun up, to ensure the summer comes.

Morris dancing has been a perfect fit for me since I first joined a “side” (local dancing group) at age 16. I was always athletic and had good rhythm but I was much clumsier than my ballerina sisters, and, well, morris does not specialize in gracefulness. I was always intrigued by obscure history, and comfortable with the geeks, scholars, and hippies that attended folk dance camps and festivals.

Just a few weeks ago some white nationalists in England published a call co-opting morris by encouraging young men to join morris sides and bring their white nationalist friends along. They specifically called on young bigots to join morris sides with elderly members and dwindling numbers, in order to keep English heritage alive for their grandchildren and protect it from disappearing in a sea of immigrant culture. Actual morris dancers responded swiftly, shutting down this proposal by writing anti-racist statements to post to their websites and associations, making it clear that we do not dance morris out of any sense of cultural superiority and that such bigotry is not welcome with us. It caused us to reflect, too, on other things we had been working on, such as denouncing blackface (which exists in morris tradition), combatting sexism (it was in my lifetime that some all-male sides would not even join a festival where women danced), and speaking out for the abolition of a dance term rooted in racism (did you know? to use the word “gyp” – as in to gyp someone – is an insult to the Roma community, and a phrase that should be consigned to the dustbins of history).

Anyway, as we did the work of denouncing white nationalism and warning off would-be racist co-optation, we also reflected on the sources from which we draw our morris tradition. It is passed down person to person, generation to generation, of course, but if you go looking for scholarship, most of it stems from one source, Cecil Sharp (1859-1924), who was prolific in collecting and publishing folk traditions. And unfortunately, he would probably find himself quite at home with the white nationalists who tried to send their young men to join morris sides last month. He was a collector who sought out “pure” sources of song and dance, untainted by the waves of immigration bringing new folk traditions to England. When he traveled to Appalachia and traveled around collecting folk songs he deliberately left out any Black music he encountered, though the extensive Black contributions to American music are clear, undeniable, extensive, and valuable. We rely on Sharp’s records. But his records are incomplete.

Black Americans had and still have rich sources of folk music that were not counted as traditional or canonical, because Sharp and others collecting at the time were not interested. Sharp was blinded by his racism; but we don’t have to be. We can look clear-eyed at the situation and acknowledge what we are relying on: a history as incomplete as the old census records that only listed landholders. As incomplete as the medical studies on heart attacks that only included men. As incomplete as the begat-lists, in the Bible, all fathers and sons with no mothers or daughters listed. And we must mourn the music that was lost for this; all the incredible songs that passed on African culture in America, that carried coded messages for enslaved people, that developed into jazz and the blues, and that were lost and forgotten because the singers were not taken seriously by historians.

Morris dancers are not the only people to have to fend off white nationalists. It could happen anywhere; but we must be alert to our vulnerabilities. Do we romanticize a particular version of the past? Do we wish to escape something about modern life? Is there some utopia we look backwards for? And on whose backs were those mythical utopias built? Whether European peasantry, the cruel spoils of colonialism, or America’s sins of genocide and enslavement, we must not ignore this part of the story. The same questions can be asked about renaissance faires and even our own Yule Feast. There are great gaping vulnerabilities there, where racism can take a foothold, if we do not stop to do the remedial work of anti-racism.

As for me and my morris team, we are looking to the future. We have figured out how to dance on zoom, which a scant few years ago would have seemed like a science-fiction marvel. We published a statement that concludes by saying “Morris is a living tradition. Living traditions adapt. Traditions that don’t adapt won’t be living for long.” And we are imagining creative ways of doing reparations. My proposal is that we pool money together to support folklorists researching, preserving, and celebrating Black music and dance history, to do the work that Sharp ought to have done.

Read Ezra Fischer’s deep-searching article about racism and foundational folklorist Cecil Sharp: http://ezrafischer.com/anti-racism-and-the-folk-revival/

Read my morris side’s anti-racism statement: http://berkeley-morris.org/antiracism.html

And yes, you can now watch me dance, thanks to the newly invented tradition of Zoomington morris:

Associate Pastor, Rev. Talitha Amadea Aho

Miscegenation

Miscegenation   [ mis-i-juh-ney-shuhn] noun  Marriage or cohabitation between two people from different racial groups, especially, in the U.S., between a black person and a white person:In 1968 the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that state laws prohibiting miscegenation were unconstitutional. sexual relations between two people from different racial backgrounds that results in the conception of a mixed-race child. (from dictionary.com)

I’m married to a Black man.  I didn’t choose him because he is Black.  I chose him because he is a good man with good values and an amazing mind (not to mention good-looking).  Would you care if your child brought home someone of a different race, culture, or religion?  Which ones?  Why?

My Black in-laws have always been completely welcoming to us and their grandchildren.  The miscegenation laws often cited the dangers of having mixed children as their rationale.  Why would we care about having mixed-culture children?  There are parents in many cultures who care a lot about having their children marry into their own group.  In Genesis, we’re told Abraham sent back to his home town for a wife for his son Isaac and ended up with a close cousin.  Is it because of the status?  Are people afraid that their grandchildren will lose status and opportunity?  Are they afraid their grandchildren will not be accepted by those of their own in-group?  Are they trying to keep the lower status group from moving up through half-caste half-access?  Why do we care? 

In the liberal Bay Area, we seldom get any negative reaction as a mixed-race couple.  Our beautiful daughters are usually accepted in this area where there are many mixed-race children, but they also are sometimes asked “what are you?”  Do people need to categorize them in order to know which stereotypes to pre-apply before knowing them as individuals?

I once dated a Korean man whose mother would not approve of any non-Korean wife because they feel they carry their deep lines of genealogy with them and someone not of their culture or of several (my parents are Swedish, Scottish, and a mix of other northern European peoples) would cut off her son’s true line, making it so that his history was not passed to his children.

I don’t think that’s why people only want their children to marry into their own religion.  I think that’s more about what others would think and anti-other prejudice.  Some may feel that only with a shared culture can a marriage work well. 

Inter-marriage was illegal in parts of the US until 1968, and even in California until 1948 [Perez v. Sharp].  I enjoyed the movie “Loving” which tells the story of ending the miscegenation laws in the U.S.  Listening to Emmanuel Acho on “Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man,” I learned that black people also couldn’t really marry each other when they were slaves.  Any member of the family could be sold off at any time when they were considered property, so even if they had been able to, it wouldn’t have meant much legally.

We’re not the only culture that has made intermarriage illegal based on prejudice.  In Nazi Germany, it was illegal for Aryan Germans to marry “Jews, Gypsies, Negroes, or their bastard offspring.”  At some points Chinese people were forbidden to have relations with Iranians, Arabs, Indians, etc.  Israelis can’t intermarry locally, but marriages performed abroad are recognized.  So many strange ideas are still around about needing to stay in your tribe.

Maybe staying in your tribe was important at some point in human history, but I’m guessing that intermarriage would make for stronger genetic make-up than marrying within families, even back then!  Our daughters are gorgeous.  The mix makes them better! 

-Deborah Brooks

Links

Handout on miscegenation I created for an ESL class at Chabot College
Uncomfortable conversations with a Black man – talking with two black/white couples
Born a Crime
Loving:  Real News Report     Movie Trailer  

The Trouble with my Favorite Movies

When I was 11 years old, the local movie theater in my small Ohio town showed “Gone with the Wind” (1939).  My parents groaned at sitting through a four-hour movie but agreed to let me go with a friend.  It instantly became my favorite movie.  I fell in love with Clark Gable and was crushed when I learned that he had died when I was only four years old.  I even got permission to write my Ohio History term paper on him because he was born in Cadiz, Ohio.  When asked at Sunday school for my female role model, I immediately picked Scarlett O’Hara.  While I flinched at the portrayal of Prissy, I didn’t question the depiction of the other slaves.  I didn’t realize until years later that the late-night excursion of the white men to clean up the shanty town was the beginning of the KKK.

 At about the same time, I saw “To Kill a Mockingbird” (1962) for the first time and it became my second favorite movie.  Although both these movies were set in the South, they depict racism in very different ways.  I adored the character of Atticus Finch, as portrayed by Gregory Peck, and compared my father to him in the eulogy I read at my father’s memorial service.  I didn’t understand that Atticus represented the white man as savior to the black race.  Just as the slaves in “Gone with the Wind” were portrayed as helpless, so was the falsely accused black man Tom Robinson in “To Kill a Mockingbird”.

“Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” (1967) also made my top ten list back then.  This time, the black man wasn’t portrayed as helpless but as matinee idol handsome Sidney Poitier, a brilliant physician and medical professor who had just been chosen as an assistant director for tropical medicine with the World Health Organization.  He was a parent’s dream of a perfect son-in-law but, back in the 1960s  when interracial marriage was still illegal in 17 states until six months after the film was released, his engagement to the daughter of a white liberal couple in San Francisco caused them much soul searching.  “In the Heat of the Night” (1967) again starred Poitier as the perfect man – smart, brave, and dignified.  This time he portrayed Mr. Tibbs, a Philadelphia police detective who solves a murder in a small Southern town after first being accused of committing the crime.  I didn’t realize until much later that these last two movies were saying that to be accepted as equals, black men actually had to be better than any white man.  They were not allowed any faults, setting an impossible standard for anyone to meet.              

The portrayal of black people in American movies has had a tortuous history.  If not cast in stereotyped roles, black actors were often not cast at all because Southern theaters did not want to show the races mixing.  Hattie McDaniel was the first black actress or actor to win an Academy Award for “Gone with the Wind” in 1939.  A black actor did not win again until 1963, when Sidney Poitier (who else?) won for “Lilies of the Field”. The next black actor to win was not until 1982 when Louis Gossett, Jr. won for “An Officer and a Gentleman”.  Oscars so white indeed.  But black writers and directors are getting funding.  Movies like “Moonlight”, “BlacKkKlansman”, “Black Panther”, “Get Out”, “Queen & Slim”, and “Just Mercy” are being made and being recognized.  It gives me hope.   

Merging onto the Anti-racism Highway

As I begin this journey of educating myself on racial justice issues (starting from scratch), I’m realizing that there are many ways to get “from here to there.”  Several months ago, I asked a Black friend to educate me and tell me how I could “get over” my racism, and his response was essentially “not my job” – you need to educate yourself and other white people.”  Initially I was a bit hurt until I realized that he was right, and I know now that I’m definitely not the first person who has asked that question of a Black friend and received that answer. OK, that’s fair.

So where to start?  Sometimes when there are so many choices of what to do first, it can be paralyzing; I didn’t know where to start, so the intention went by the wayside.

After the George Floyd murder and the resulting countrywide protests and talks with friends at MPC, I realized that I have to start NOW.  There are even more resource lists available than when I checked before. At the same time, I’ve also noticed that there are some resource lists that are several years old – people have been working on this issue for a very long time and I have a lot of catching up to do.

So I was grateful to see the Presbytery’s Zoom meeting and the 21-day challenge.  It was something specific that I could start with.  One of my first picks from the challenge list was high on many of the lists:  “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack” by Peggy McIntosh (written in 1989).  In it she discuses how “white privilege” can be described as an “unearned advantage” – and then lists 50 (not all-inclusive) effects of having that advantage.

One of Peggy’s points is that once you are aware of your privilege, you can use that privilege to educate others.  My brother is a religious conservative living in Colorado Springs (home of Focus on the Family).  Normally my brothers and I don’t discuss politics, as we’re on opposite ends of the spectrum.  When I mentioned this challenge to him, he was somewhat resistant (“what about all the Blacks who kill other Blacks?”). However, he also seemed to have an open mind. I told him that I’d send him something that could explain white privilege and I thought Peggy McIntosh’s article would be a very good choice.  Done!

Here’s to continuing to learn and act … and on to the next item on the list. 

Let America Be America Again

This poem by Langston Hughes provides a telling contrast to “Make America Great Again”.

Let America Be America Again

Langston Hughes – 1902-1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.

O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
America!

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

I THINK I GET IT

     A good friend of mine recently sent around a link that had its origin in a white person asking a Black friend to explain white privilege.  This led to Facebook posts and ultimately to an article in Yes! Magazine.  The author, Lori Lakin Hutcherson, draws on experiences from her own life that illuminate the nature and reach of white privilege.  In gracious, forthright discourse, she develops layer upon layer of context from which even the most un-woke person can grasp the meaning of white privilege.

     This highly contextual primer on white privilege has led me to reimagine milestones and everyday experiences and events in my own life that resulted in neutral or positive outcomes that might have turned out very differently had I not been white.  For instance, I have been recollecting my first days as a new associate in a San Francisco law firm some 35 years ago.  Very welcoming and congenial.  But just the other day I had a glimpse of how it could have been something sour, demeaning, debasing.  Another good friend of mine told me about her first day at work as a community college professor, some 35 years ago.  A white man strolls into her office – she is Black – does not introduce himself, does not say “Welcome!” or “Hi, how is it going, let me show you around?” –but rather queries – “And you, your parents, were they married?”  To this day she is still dumbfounded by this slap-in-the-face substitute for what should have been a hospitable greeting that first day on a new job.  And I think I get it.  White privilege is not being un-welcomed, dismissed and negatively stereotyped that first day on a new job.

     Here is the article:
https://www.yesmagazine.org/opinion/2017/09/08/my-white-friend-asked-me-on-facebook-to-explain-white-privilege-i-decided-to-be-honest/

Susanne Lea   

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