Sunday, October 26, 2008

A Talk With The Elders

Found this over at DailyKos:

"I wish I were an Alabama trooper, then I could kill a n****r legally..."
by lollydee [Subscribe]
Sun Oct 26, 2008 at 03:38:42 PM PDT

I had Sunday lunch over my aunt Patsy's house today and she sang those words to the tune of the Oscar Mayer jingle, recalling the summer of 1966 following the riots in Chicago. She was fourteen years old then, and she had never been to the deep South, but she told me that she figured that the mobs there during the open housing march she and her parents were attending probably were just as bad.

"A group of white kids were singing it at us and throwing things while their parents watched them. One white boy just stood there, not saying or doing anything. I thought to myself that maybe that kid would grow up and be different than the trash he was raised in."

My aunt told us that her boyfriend at the time wasn't a fan of Dr. King's non-violent methods, a loyalist instead to the Black Power movement. The Vietnam war was heating up and she thought this might have further radicalized young blacks, contributing to the disintegration of the coalition that had been brought together during the early 1960's.

It's a heavy conversation to have at a casual Sunday lunch, but it's eight days away from maybe electing the first African-American President and no one at the table can talk about much else.

My aunt is an ardent supporter of Barack Obama, but she scoffed a little at me when I talked excitedly about how what is happening now is a revolution, a new uprising.

"You be careful how you handle yourself. People back then got to thinking all crazy and believing all this change was gonna come all of a sudden. Radicals said dangerous things and then even white folks who were behind us started moving away from us. Be prepared for the bumps in the road."

I knew exactly what she meant by that. Whenever a Conservative talks to me about why they believe what they do, I like to remind them that the Conservative movement was a direct response to the Civil Rights movement. I can't help but to wonder what the response will be to electing Obama.

"I don't think McCain and his camp are as bad as the people back then, though. I think that they're really just trying to win an election and are getting a little desperate. They don't believe what a lot of those people do, they just want them to vote for them," my sister said.

My aunt poured herself some juice and sat down, shaking her head.

"McCain is old enough to know what he's doing. Don't you believe that. He might as well be telling those folks that if a black man takes power he's only gonna do stuff for black people, period. That's what they're hearing, if not worse."

My dad nodded his head, "People forget that one of the most profound by-products of the civil rights movement in Mississippi was the rebirth of the Republican Party."

History break: In 1972, two Mississippi Republicans, Thad Cochran and Trent Lott were elected to the House of Representatives. Neither one of them sounded like the Radical Republicans who had once attained power in the state. Both were State's rights advocated and were opposed to further federal civil rights measures like affirmative action. By the 80's they were both in the Senate and then Lott became majority leader in 1996, even though their policies often went against a sizable African American population who now had the right to vote.

Black voters at that point had the power to use their voices to move the struggle forward, but lacked the belief that they could play a major part in the political process. My father calls this "an invisible leash".

Some white people are shocked. The African American turnout is unprecedented. It must be fraud, not this many new voters could be registered. Georgia is close to being blue? North Caroline is in play? Virginia might give it's electoral votes to a Negro?

With the nomination of Barack Obama by the Democratic party, the leash holding back people like my aunt's second husband who grew up in the deep south, once watched his 19 year old cousin get lynched, and has never voted in all of his 78 years, is off.

I know we like to pretend that race in this election is a non-issue, but I think doing so is a great injustice to the descendants of one of the most shameful periods of American history. They are savoring this step forward.

"There is a lot of joy down at the meeting place. (Of a woman's club she belongs to) We all voted early. I worry every time I pick up the paper about someone being hurt like they were way back when," she said. "You all laugh at those videos you send around at those people at them Palin rallys, but I don't thinks its funny."

My Dad got a little indignant. "It's funny because they're so stupid. They can't kill us like they used to by coming and murdering us on the street."

I didn't say anything. It's clear her and my uncle still bear the pain of their past and of the people who died before them.

My aunt raised an eyebrow at him. "There was a nice young white girl over here the other day asking if I needed a ride to the polls. I told her I already sent in my ballot absentee and she told me how excited she was about Obama being elected and asked what I would do on the night he won."

We waited and she didn't say anything. "What will you do?" my Dad finally asked.

"Sleep. But I'm gonna tell Jim (my uncle) to have his gun loaded."

I laughed. "I hope we've gone beyond all that. I think some people will be mad at first, but they'll get over it. We've had black Senators, a Secretary of State. It's not the same. It's also different because the law is on our side this time."

"What about that man that spit on you?"

I though about it for a second. "He spit on me, he didn't beat me up or try to kill me. I'm perfectly unharmed. It was a childish reaction but it was nothing compared to what people back then went through."

"Aha! That's because Obama ain't President yet! Do you think he would have just spit on you if it were November 5th? And what if that story that girl made up about being robbed and beaten by a black man hadn't been proven to be a lie?"

"I don't know," I said.

"That's right. You don't know. I hope we've come far enough, but don't make fun of folks for being afraid of otherwise," she said. "Us old folks know the way this all works," she warned me. "We've been down this road before."

Another history break: The Holocaust revealed to the world the atrocities that could be committed by people driven by an ideology of supremacy and moved quite a few people towards the belief in the ideal of equality for all, but the red scare led by Joe McCarthy came along and erected a hurdle for civil rights activist to overcome. People were so afraid, that they were opposed to social change in general and handed white supremacists a potent weapon in which to smear the opposition. W.E.B. Du Bois was so tarnished by the communist label that he virtually disappeared from American life. Not until McCarthyism subsided did the civil rights movement regain momentum.

Read the paragraph I wrote above, and replace the word "communism" with "un-American".

It's a tough conversation to have. I tried to reassure her. "They can rant and rave all they want, their time is over. People send those videos around because they are in the minority. Their actions make them look ignorant. They're part of the reason McCain and Plain are looking so foolish," I said.

My aunt nodded. "I hope you're right. But now that you and your brothers and sisters are out there on the front lines, I just want you to be cautious and aware of the type of people you're up against."

It's funny to hear her say "front line". I instantly think of the people at the Media, PA office and here at DailyKos. I joke about having a Dem Mafia, but in likelihood, I'd worry more about a game of Trivial Pursuit breaking out at campaign headquarters than a revolution.

But in truth it’s people like us, chatting away in forums like this, who are on the front lines of one of the greatest cultural showdowns in our history.

Racism and prejudice have been at core of the political identity of the Republican party. Even if Obama is elected, he isn't going to be able to excise those qualities overnight. When you get a hard line Conservative into a heated discussion about this election, they always produce a Willie Horton or a Bill Ayers or some other contagious viral smear ready to infect their supporters with fears of terrorism or anti-white prejudice or whatever the code word happens to be this week.

They’re trying it even now, with the McCain campaign running ads showing Obama as darker than he is, next to other blacks in power alongside of a fearful looking white woman, switching a letter in his name to make it become "Osama" to invoke memories of 9/11. They are pulling out all of the stops. If one were to believe everything coming out of that camp, when Barack Obama is elected president, gangs of gay black Muslim immigrants will rape our children so they can force them all to have abortions.

But why not use smears? These tactics almost always worked in the past.

"This year is different, and that's why we're seeing the panic across the aisle. They aren't working anymore," I told her. "Sarah Palin’s claimed that Obama doesn’t see America as "you and I" and people didn't rise up to stand behind her, most people laughed at her."

She shook her head again. "That's good. Stay positive, baby. But just be careful."

I sat back. "I will. But I have to admit I can't wait to see some people's heads explode when he's elected. It's going to be a good day."

I was a little surprised when she frowned at me. "Hold no hatred in your heart. Do you think I'd have lived as long as I have if I held onto that anger?"

Zechariah Chaffee, Jr. once said, "The real value of freedom is not to the minority that wants to talk but to the majority that does not want to listen."

So after this election, the bigger issue of letting go of the anger, at least for me, will be the hardest thing of all.

Thanks for all those who indulged today's navel grazing. Eight more days.....

Listen to the elders. Their caution steadies with our hope.

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