Stay on the Bus … January 21, 2013

(1,767)

Martin Luther King Jr.Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., had a problem. The bus line in his local community had begun to raise a fuss about carrying the colored folks of the town. There were so many reasons for the conflict that it’s difficult to explain–but basically, Rev. King was a Negro minister in a municipality which believed in and practiced “separate but equal.” Racial mixing was frowned on except in the exchange of cordial, but brief, greetings in the marketplace.

The problem the young minister faced was that some of his congregation wanted to rebel and object to the lack of equality and respect given to the Negro community. But most of the folks just wanted to get along. They saw no particular reason, after all these years of struggle and winning significant improvements, to anger the white community over such a silly, little issue as transportation. But he was also aware of the power he possessed among his people as a member of the clergy. They would more than likely move out in any direction he deemed righteous.

He prayed about it. After he prayed, he decided that the true wisdom of God was to use discretion and humility instead of demanding acceptance, which would only be viewed as arrogant. He negotiated a deal with the bus company to allow the colored folks, who sat in the rear, to redecorate that particular portion of the bus to suit their culture and liking. The bus company thought it was an odd request but couldn’t see any reason why allowing the Negroes to do what they wanted to on the bus, within reason, should be denied–since no white person would step back there anyway.

Matter of fact, Rev. King sold the concept to his flock under the banner, “Redecorate Our Lives.” In other words, rather than fighting against society, requiring respect, his suggestion was that the colored community establish their uniqueness and the beauty of their culture, and therefore become a testimony through cooperation. It was a roaring success. The white community was happy because things were let alone, and the Negroes felt they had achieved a compromise, which allowed them to retain some dignity of their own.

Rev. King became so popular that he was asked to head a confluence of black educators who became consultants for Congress in Washington, D.C. Although the body of legislators continued to be predominately white, this gathering of leaders from the Negro community was permitted to input ideas on how to make race relations better across the country. In fact, Rev. King was one of the founders of the NCFL–the National Colored Football League, which he proudly touted often had greater attendance in their stadiums than the nearly all-white National Football League.

Oh, there were some downs with the ups. Martin was not pleased that the music and arts scene, never integrated, failed to blend the sounds of gospel, blues and jazz into the mainstream of the pop music scene. But most of the Negro artists were able to etch out a living among their darker brothers and sisters.

Probably Rev. King’s proudest accomplishment was his “Back to Black” campaign, begun in the late 1970’s, to take American families on pilgrimages to Africa, similar to the Muslims returning to Mecca or the Jews to Jerusalem.

Separate but equal” remained the law of the land but gradually was beginning to resemble equality more than just separation. Race relations were fine unless a few trouble-makers came along rocking the boat, insisting that the forefathers’ concept of all men being created equal was an inclusive concept MEANT to promote integration.

Although Rev. King was sympathetic to their feelings, he warned them that fighting against the general opinion of the population was not going to bring peace and contentment, but rather, a forced situation of interaction, which ultimately would only produce anger and resentment.

He was successful in calming the turmoil. He was well-respected within the black community and considered to be a healing force among the whites.

While attending a convention in Atlanta in 1992, he was preparing to give a speech when he had a heart attack and died. The topic of his last presentation was to be, “Separate but equal–thank God Almighty, at last.”

You see, this very easily could have been the story of the man. He would have lived longer, he would have been more accepted and he would never have had a bullet pierce his neck and bleed out on the balcony of a cheap motel in Memphis, Tennessee.

But everything we are today–all progress we’ve made, every idea of justice and every possibility of interaction, while looking each other directly in the eye, would be pure mythology. Dr. King wrestled with two Presidents to secure the civil rights legislation that steers the ship of social justice.

Yet we live in a generation which advocates “staying on the bus” instead of boycotting the corporation because of its unfair practices. We are civilized; we are rational and we are just … damned boring.

Remember today–one man had to make one choice. Do I find a way to work with the system? Or do I declare that system filthy, evil, and fight against it–willing to give my life?

Think about it.

Then–when it’s your turn–this time, don’t compromise.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

A Creeky Encounter … January 12, 2013

(1,758)

Jim and HuckIt was a stream of water that ran by the road in my hometown. It was no more than four feet deep at its braggart’s point and so narrow in some locations that you could step across it on four rocks protruding from the water. Most people didn’t pay much attention to it. For some reason, they named our local high school after this brook–Big Walnut.

Most of the good white folk stayed away from it because it was a hangout–well, it was a place where some of the “negroes” from nearby Columbus would come to congregate on the weekends. There were a few fishermen’s shacks which had been erected near the water, where these darkened visitors would sleep and relax as they cast lines into the nearby flow, seeking to capture a particular style of varmint called a sucker. Now, a sucker was an ugly fish–big huge mouth, with what looked to be thick lips and humongous, bulging eyes. Yes, the good white folks of our town were very careful not to spend much time on the banks of the Big Walnut, or to ever even consider consuming a sucker.

I occasionally went down to look at the water because it wound its way through a very pastoral setting of trees and rocks. On one of those occasions, when I was gazing from the bridge down at the creek beneath, an older fellow saw me and motioned to me to come down and join him. I was terrified, surprised, frozen and intrigued, all at the same time. For you see, he was a negro.

I was fifteen years old and had never spoken with a negro. I had seen them. I had even tackled one in a football game with a nearby city school which was intergrated. But I had never had an actual conversation with anyone of that color persuasion.

He motioned to me again, and because he was an older chap and I felt deep respect for folks of that ilk, I picked my way down the hill to join him at the waterfront. As I arrived, he got a bite on his hook and right then and there, pulled up one of those ugly sucker fish, which looked to be nearly a pound and a half in size. He gave a hoot.

Negro:  Would you look at that, son? Halleluia! I have supper for tonight.

(I pulled back in terror at the sight of the ugly fish.)

Negro:  Have you ever eaten a sucker?

Me:  My dad says they taste terrible and have too many bones.

Negro:  Well, I probably have too many bones, and I’m not so sure I taste good, either. But if you smoke ’em, they are delicious.

(I must have had a comical, perplexed look on my face because he laughed.)

Negro:  Do you know what smoked is?

Me:  Cigarettes?

(More laughter.)

Negro: No! You’ve eaten ham, haven’t you? Smokin’ meat is like puttin’ it near the fire instead of on the fire, and lettin’ the hickory flavor do the cookin’.

(I nodded my head–not because I understood, but because I was bored.)

Negro: Do you like to fish?

Me: Yeah, kinda. My dad and older brothers are nuts about it. I like to catch fish.

Negro: Me, too. By the way, my name is Marsh.

Me: Pleased to meet you Mr. Marsh.

(I was speaking to him from a distance of about six feet, so as to give myself the first fruits of an excellent exit. He stuck his hand out across the distance.)

Negro: No, it’s not Mister. Just call me Marsh.

(I was staring at the hand of a Negro. It was big. I could see callouses protruding from every knuckle. I quickly glanced down at my hand, which more resembled a medium-sized, damp white terry wash cloth. What was I going to do? He kept his hand extended, determined to make connection. So I cautiously inched forward and shook his massive paw.)

Marsh: You come down here often?

Me:  No–because …

(I stopped in mid-sentence. I almost let it slip–that the community generally considered this to be reserved for Negroes and not available to the whites.)

Marsh: (interrupting) Let me guess. You don’t come down here because people who look like me seem to own this place, right?

Me: We call it Monkey Hollow. At least that’s what my dad said.

Marsh: He did, did he? Well, we people of a different point of view call it Goshen’s Point. Do you know the story of the place?

(I shook my head.)

Marsh: Tale is that an escaped slave arrived here with his wife and didn’t feel it was safe for him to live among the white folks, so he settled here by the creek, built a cabin and started to raise a family. He called it Goshen because that was the land where the Jews were safe from the Egyptians.

(Once again I nodded my head. I wasn’t really interested–just fascinated by being in the proximity of this aged Negro. I stepped a little closer–honestly, just to find out if he smelled different. I was told they did. He ended up smelling like fish and the residue of earth worms, which was not unusual for people who frequented the sport.)

Marsh: What is your name?

Me: Jonathan.

Marsh: That’s a good Bible name. Jonathan–the best friend of King David. A good young man who got himself mixed up in family loyalty. Instead of siding with his friend, David, he followed his dad…to death.

(I crinkled my brow a bit because I knew the story, but found it more interesting coming out of the mouth of this wrinkled alien.)

Marsh: Is this the first time you’ve ever talked to a nigger?

(My expression must have been worth a million dollars, because Marsh laughed like he had just discovered a treasure.)

Marsh: You have heard us called niggers, right?

Jonathan: Well, once or twice, I guess, but never … near one, if you know what I mean.

Marsh: I do, son, I surely do. Usually they call us Negroes, right?

Jonathan: I guess. If that’s all right.

Marsh: I guess there’s a name we call every person to their face and another one we use behind their back. What do you think, Jonathan? What would Jesus think about that?

Jonathan: I don’t know. Are you a Christian?

Marsh: I sure am. But not like you.

Jonathan: What do you mean?

Marsh: You see, Jonathan, I’m a Christian because I need to be one to survive and get along in this world. You’re a Christian because there’s a church down the road where your friends go, that has some mighty good pot-lucks from time to time.

(I was offended.)

Jonathan: I believe in God.

Marsh: I know, son. I know. It’s just that my faith allows me to believe that God believes in me, too. That God somehow or another is able to escape staring at my color and sees right down to the tiptoes of my soul.

(I frowned, making him smile. Marsh held his freshly caught fish up to his face)

Marsh: Don’t you think this sucker looks just like me? Big lips and bulgy eyes?

(I didn’t know what to say.)

Marsh: You run along. I sure have enjoyed our conversation. I just hope you know that we Negroes–niggers, or monkey, or whatever you hear us called–are able to talk and really don’t bite or hurt nobody.

(I bit my lip because I couldn’t think of an adequate retort. Marsh turned around and started fishing again. I wanted to say something meaningful, warm or profound, but ended up pulling myself up the hill in silence.)

Marsh was the first Negro I ever talked to. Since then, I have purposefully had thousands of other conversations in honor of my initial “creeky” encounter.

I also have grown up and left my small-town, both in location and in thinking. Truthfully, I never did eat a sucker, smoked or otherwise.

But I did somehow manage … not to become one.

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

Are egg whites racist? … August 9, 2012

(1,602)

Usually late afternoon.

Yes, on days when Jan and I don’t have a gig, we will slip out to the swimming pool and do a small workout to justify our calorie intake and tease ourselves with the possibility that we are remaining in fairly good shape. We followed that pattern yesterday.

Arriving at the pool, there were five young kids and two mothers occupying the space. They happened to be black. We happen to be white. (Actually, as you know, that’s quite incorrect. They actually look more cocoa-mocha-latte, and we, more a peachy-pink cotton candy. But needless to say, there was a color differentiation.)

The children, who had been playing, when they saw us coming, stopped in mid-scream. Now, I don’t know if that was because we were a different shade, a little older, or because I am a big, fat man. (I always like to have a variety of reasons available for rejection.) Nevertheless, there was a moment of silence honoring our arrival.

Jan and I quickly got into the pool, tried to speak to the little ones, but they would not respond, and we started splashing around. I immediately noticed that one of the mothers was walking up and down the shallow end of the pool, peering into the water. So I decided to ask her.

“Are you looking for something?”

She was a bit surprised at my inquiry. She paused, thought it over, and replied, “Yes, I lost one of my earrings in the pool and I’m trying to find it.”

Well, I looked over at the shallow end and there were twelve little feet attached to six little bodies, which were going to make it difficult to conduct an adequate search.

“Let us help you,” I said. Again, she was surprised.

So Jan and I began to swim in the shallow end, feeling along the bottom for a tiny earring. About ten minutes passed, and the mother gave a sigh and walked away, believing that the quest was futile. But Jan had a moment of brilliance and swam up toward the steps which exit the pool, and there, sitting on one of them, was the earring.

The lady’s friend called to the mother, who came over, and earring and mother were reunited. She was grateful. The children noticed she was grateful, so they began to speak to us. It ended up being a wonderful afternoon swim.

I share this story with you because we live in a generation that offers three explanations for the present climate of interaction between the races.

The first group consists of those who are in denial. They will tell you there is no racial problem in this country, insisting that they are colorblind and would not treat anyone any differently, no matter what the circumstance. They will say they just wish people would calm down and live their lives and do not understand what all the fuss is about.

The second group takes an intellectual approach to the issue. They will proffer that all we need is more education–a way to change the language. They contend that what we say about the races and how we address one another–what words are included and what words are rejected–are the key to discovering harmony. This is a very popular opinion. This group believes that merely by changing the language, we can heal the wounds.

And then there’s the third group (which may just include me). I disagree with the first group. There is racial tension in this country, because we have all been brought up around the idea that “difference is dangerous,” and therefore, suspicion of some sort or another is warranted to protect ourselves from looming disaster. Everyone on earth at this particular time sees color unless they happen to be under five years of age and their parents have not yanked them away from a playground situation where they got too near someone of differing ethnicity.

The second group amuses me because changing the language develops a politeness without the heart for understanding. So if I decide not to use the “n” word and they decide not to call me “cracker,” is this going to be merely in my presence? Or will the language still be forbidden during private times? And in the process of changing the language (which has been done many times in my lifespan, by the way) when do we choose to believe that “negro” should become “black” and “black” transform to “African American” and “African American” should be avoided because it’s segregationist? And what WOULD be the new term of the week? Changing the language is worse than merely being cosmetic. It’s like having the pimples and pretending like they’re pretty.

The real answer is to change the fear–and the only reason we fear anything in our lives is because we haven’t experienced it. The race issue will never be resolved in this country until we do something together.

It’s the truth. You never develop a relationship with folks until you do something with them. You can talk, send emails, write letters, exchange books, sit through a movie or watch similar television shows, and the end result will still be nervous energy and careful selection of words. You have to do something together. It doesn’t matter what it is.

At one time they thought blacks and whites couldn’t serve in the military together, and then they threw them in a foxhole and discovered that fellowship was quickly established. Because “Young Black Joe” and “Red-Neck Bobby” were being shot at by a common enemy, they quickly became fast friends. It used to be forbidden for the races to date or marry, but actually, marriage between human beings of every color may be the most helpful step towards racial harmony.

The reason that religion is a holdout on assisting the world in becoming harmonious over this issue is that the church itself is segregated–and if you’re not worshipping together, you begin to believe that you have a different God.

If in the process of one week, you do not interact, work, fellowship, laugh, talk, argue, discuss, or travel around with a person of a different race, you will still find yourself to be a reluctant racist. You won’t be proud of it–you will certainly deny it. But the only way to get rid of racism is to change fear. And the only way to change fear is to do something together.

My cocoa-mocha-latte friends yesterday were terribly frightened of their peachy-pink cotton-candy human invaders. I will tell you, we could have occupied the same pool and it would not have changed. But when we had a common mission of finding an earring, all the boundaries were brought down and suddenly it was okay to smile at each other, and in no time at all, our skin color didn’t matter.

It would help if the church would work on alleviating segregation from Sunday morning. It would certainly help if would stop talking about changing the language and would begin to address changing the fear, and it is certainly mandatory for all of us to stop acting pious on the issue, pretending that we have escaped all prejudice.

Yesterday, those little kids saw a big, fat white man and a white woman coming to the pool. They couldn’t help themselves. I saw a pool occupied by children who were black. I couldn’t help myself. But what we did was to find something we could do together, and in the process, color faded.

Make up your mind. Otherwise, you’re going to spend all of your time wondering whether offering egg whites to your guests of color could be misconstrued as a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.

If you want to restore normalcy, go out and do some normal things with people who are different from you, and establish normalcy with them. Otherwise, go into denial, try to change the language and end up with an undercurrent of racism that will eventually drag us into the deep and drown us all.

 

The producers of jonathots would humbly request a yearly subscription donation of $10 for this wonderful, inspirational opportunity

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: