In a riveting speech to the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, Fannie Lou Hamer, co-founder and vice-chair of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, expressed her frustration with the hypocritical machinations of party leaders, when she declared, “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” A staunch civil rights activist and freedom fighter, Hamer worked with the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee [SNCC] to help organize the remarkable “Freedom Summer.” A descendant of slaves and sharecroppers, she experienced the contagious virus of white supremacy firsthand.
Now, more than fifty years later, we are caught up in the throes of another season of being, “sick and tired of being sick and tired.” George Floyd. Breonna Taylor. Ahmaud Arbery. Philando Castile. Eric Garner. Sandra Bland. The litany of names is endless. From the yesterday of public lynching photographs appearing on the front pages of American newspapers to the today of cell phone videos capturing what some describe as state sanctioned police lynchings; from the Civil Rights era to the Black Lives Matter movement, the current rage is venting the same discontent. From a “good ole boy” President Lyndon Johnson to a narcissistic, fake President Donald Trump, the more things have changed, the more they have remained brutally the same.
The pandemic of historical race hatred and racial violence will not be cured in the United States or in the world, until the so-called “good” White people stand up and say, “Enough is enough!” When Donald Trump rallies his support base with the slogan, “Make America Great Again,” it reminds too many of us that this country’s greatness was fired in the
furnace of slavery and Jim Crow racial segregation; social systems based on the ideal of “affirmative action” for white people. In too many ways, eight years of the Barack Hussein Obama Presidency spawned the virulent white backlash we are witnessing today.
The real tragedy in the reactions to the killing of George Floyd, is no one can claim to be surprised. The spark lighting the flames is not new. Newark and Detroit in 1967. Los Angeles in 1992. Ferguson in 2014. Too often, the American discourse on race takes place in a self-serving memory vacuum. Mr. Floyd’s death is just another example of “the same old, same old.” Black people are still “Strange Fruit,” but the melody is now older than old. Black anger and frustration have once again erupted, because the real truth in this country screams, the so-called Justice system will not do the right thing.
In, Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, Andrew Hacker writes, “Race has been an American obsession since the first European sighted ‘savages’ on these shores. In time, those original inhabitants would be subdued or slaughtered, and finally sequestered out of view. But race in America took on a deeper and more disturbing meaning with the importation of Africans as slaves.... That Americans of African origin once wore the chains of chattels remains alive in the memory of both races and continues to separate them.”
What distinguishes the African American experience in this land is the fact it begins in 1619 when “20 odd Negroes” were traded for supplies in Jamestown. Designated three fifths of a human being in the original Constitution, we would not be legally recognized as human beings and as citizens until the ratification of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments during the Radical Reconstruction era [1865-1877]. The civil rights of Black people were then cynically abandoned to “restart the economy” when President Rutherford B. Hayes removed Federal troops from the south, which permitted White southerners to effectively win back their racist way of life in a new Jim Crow peace. By 1896, the Supreme Court sanctioned racial segregation as the law of the land.
The perception of the police as an “occupying force” has been the reality in the Black community for hundreds of years. In America, “property values” are sacrosanct and Black Lives clearly do not matter. This society is spiritually sick. It is time for mainstream White America to search its collective heart for answers. Today’s White Americans are descended from the “silent majority” that tolerated slavery and racial segregation because it served their thin-skinned pride and sinister group self-interest. If there are “good” police men and women, it is time for them to take a stand against the “bad apples” they know exist within their ranks. We live in a country that is more appalled by the rioters, than it is concerned about the combustible conditions that fuel the rioting.
If there is a glimmer of hope in this current manifestation of the “dis-ease,” it can be found in the wide diversity of the people who are taking part in the peaceful demonstrations. They are Black and White. They are Latino and Asian. They are gay, transgender and straight. They represent a generation of young people that has grown up together. Unlike so many of their parents and their grandparents, they do not fear each other. They know each other in ways that were virtually unknown for previous generations. As they march together, we are seeing them literally “walk the way of a New World.” The only real question becomes, will the current generation of political, civic, religious and educational leaders follow their lead?