Watched a segment of Eyes on the Prize on PBS last night. Shouldn’t have stayed up but couldn’t stop watching either. They were telling the stories of 1961-63 civil rights movement events in Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia. The freedom riders, those at Albany, Georgia, and those in Birmingham were telling their stories of nonviolent protest and the violent reactions (and non-responses) by local, city, state and federal officials. No matter how many times I’ve seen clips of Bull Conner or the governors of those states, it still sends chills up my spine to hear them spit such vitriol about Black folk. Sad too was the response of the white pastors who criticized King. If you haven’t read King’s response (letter from a Birmingham jail), you should.
We like to think we Americans are defenders of justice and democracy. But just 40 some years ago, my boys wouldn’t have been able to ride the bus to another state without being segregated. They wouldn’t have been able to sit at an integrated lunch counter. They couldn’t go to an integrated school. Frankly, we couldn’t be a family.
I’m thankful that they have not endured these things. I’m thankful that we can live in an integrated neighborhood and that they do not have visual reminders that their kind is not welcome. And yet, I worry about two things. First, I worry about the lax attitudes we now have about racial divides that still exist. Nobody is getting hit with a fire-hose on national TV, but have we really become integrated and willing to allow our churches, communities, and country to be led by Black leaders? On Sunday, my 6 year old asked, Why do so many brown people (like him) play football? Then he asked, Why aren’t brown people coaches? Only whites do that, right? Breaks my heart. Though I told him no, and rattled off some Black coaches, I also had to say some folk aren’t willing to tolerate a Black leader. Why Daddy? All I can say is I don’t know and it isn’t right.
Second worry. We think racism is just what happened in the south and that it isn’t a northern problem. While I love (love? That sounds weird) seeing these shows telling this important part of our country’s history, I think it takes our eyes off the prejudices that we have here in the North. Here’s one little example. When people ask me where my adopted kids are from (and only White people do this), they often show surprise when they learn they came from Chicago. My assumption is that they imagine the romantic idea that we saved them from some poor corner of Africa and brought them to the land of plenty. But, from Chicago? I suspect the idea hasn’t crossed their minds because dominant culture folk tend to not see what’s right under their nose and so Black folk remain invisible for the most part.
Needless to say, I couldn’t sleep last night–and I don’t think it was the coffee.