Ambivalence

It’s always ambivalence.

That’s the general feeling I associate with America. Take “General Order Number 3”, the official document associated with Juneteenth which says in part: "The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

There’s always that parting shot,

“…they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.”

It’s the loophole that Jim Crow and The Black Codes ride through.

And remember, The Emancipation Proclamation freed the enslaved of the Confederacy on January 1, 1863. Also keep in mind that there were Union states where black citizens remained enslaved until the passage of the 13th Amendment.

So, let’s recap: Two and a half years after The Emancipation Proclamation which preserved slavery in Union territory, the enslaved of Texas were informed that they had been freed, conditional on a broad interpretation of their “good behavior” (check out that other loophole in the 13th Amendment).

Hence the source of my ambivalence.

My daughter has a Juneteenth poster somewhere around here inscribed with the tag #freeish

Here’s to a day when we’re all free.

https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/General_Order_No._3#Physical_document

It May Be Time to Shake Off the Dust

Laban said, “This heap is a witness between you and me today.” That is why it was called Galeed. 49 It was also called Mizpah,[c] because he said, “May the Lord keep watch between you and me when we are away from each other. – Genesis: 31:48-49

If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet. – Matthew 10:14

A bit of drama from the Michigan state senate gained the national spotlight recently. In a campaign mailing, Lana Theis, the state senator from Brighton, implied that state senator Mallory McMorrow, of Royal Oak, was involved in “sexually grooming” children for a supposed pedophile ring and that furthermore, Senator McMorrow is supporting something called the “raced based” education of our children.

The first accusation carries serious legal implications and should not be taken lightly. One would think that an accusation of this magnitude, with dire implications for our children’s safety, should be shared with local, federal, state authorities rather than be included in a fundraising email.

The second accusation, that of supporting “raced based education”, is overly broad and open to interpretation covering a potential spectrum between The Honorable Elijah Mohammed and The Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. The major focus of the life’s work of both men had to do with race, yet from entirely different angles of approach.

Senator McMorrow did not take these accusations lying down. She stood in the Michigan chamber and delivered a powerful speech refuting Senator Theis’s lies and innuendo. Furthermore, McMorrow boldly stood up for the rights of citizens who are marginalized by Theis’s stance. The speech only lasted five minutes but it resounded around the globe as a long overdue response to the increasingly fascist, authoritarian, and racist public stance of the Republican party. Senator McMorrow has been rightly celebrated for the principles, passion and integrity exemplified in her comments. But her speech is not what I’d like to focus on today. It’s what she said after the speech. When asked if she would continue to work with Senator Theis in the senate, McMorrow stated that she had no interest in working with her further.

This would seem to run counter to the orthodoxy of a lot of politicians, including our current president, and many in the media, who urge Americans to find compromise with those with whom we disagree.

I’m here to suggest that it may be time to “shake the dust off our feet”.

When I was a teenager, we used to close our Baptist Youth Fellowship meetings at my home church in St. Louis with words taken our Old Testament text: “May the Lord watch between me and thee, while we’re absent, one from another.” We discontinued the practice after someone reviewed the text leading up to that scripture and put it in proper context. In short, it’s the story of the dissolution of the relationship between Jacob, the Patriarch, and his cousin, Laban, for whom Jacob had worked for 20 years. Jacob felt that Laban had not dealt fairly with him. In fact, Jacob had been ordered by God to take his household, consisting of two of Laban’s daughters, and his share of Laban’s flock – that he’d worked for – and leave. Once he’d learned of Jacob’s surreptitious departure, Laban pursued him.

He eventually caught up with Jacob and after a lot of back and forth and rehashing of grievances, we come to what amounts to a covenant between the two men that signifies the dissolution of their relationship. However, I do not interpret this as an amicable parting. For in verse 52 and 53 Laban further states: 52 “This heap is a witness, and this pillar is a witness, that I will not go past this heap to your side to harm you and that you will not go past this heap and pillar to my side to harm me. 53 May the God of Abraham and the God of Nahor, the God of their father, judge between us.”

These men will not be visiting each other for the holidays. They have irreconcilable differences. Jacob has taken a stand for himself and for what is right. To continue to associate with Laban would be foolhardy. Likewise, rightly, or wrongly Laban feels that he is the aggrieved party. For him to continue to ally with Jacob is pointless.

Turning to our New Testament scripture, we find Jesus instructing the disciples as he sends them out to preach and heal in his name. He has been very specific in his instructions, as one would think he’d be. These are his representatives. What strikes me is that Jesus makes the disciples completely reliant on the people they will be ministering to. He instructs them to take no coin with them, to not even take any extra clothes. “… for the worker is worth his keep,” he says.

This is vital because I believe it leads to the admonition to “shake off the dust.” If the people you are ministering to and working with don’t recognize your worth – and by extension, the worth of the God in you – move on. They aren’t worth the time. In similar fashion, Jacob, God’s anointed, had labored faithfully in Laban’s household. His worth was not reciprocated in kind, so God instructed Jacob to move on. When Laban caught up with Jacob after seven days, he chastised Jacob in bad faith for “abandoning” him. When it was obviously Jacob who had been mistreated.

All of this presumes that what one is trying to accomplish aligns with the will and purpose of God. But beloved, God does not want us to waste our efforts in alliance with those who would abuse us. We are to use discernment in our alliances. And while we are not to think too highly of ourselves, this is his mission after all, we are not allowed to waste God’s time. In verse sixteen Christ admonishes his disciples to be “shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves.”

So, I think Senator McMorrow was in order when she declared that she no longer intended to work with Senator Theis. There is an oft quoted epigram of Maya Angelou that says, “When people show you who they are the first time believe them.” Consider that the line is part of a larger quote that reads in part, “Live your life in truth. Don’t pretend to be someone you’re not. You will survive anything if you live your life from the point of view of truth.” Or again, again, as the Savior said, “If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.”

We’re Lying to You Most of The Time

“‘You’re acting all the time when you’re black’.” And it’s true. Black people are acting out roles every day in this country just to keep on getting by. If white people really knew what was on most black people’s minds it would scare them to death.” – Miles Davis, from “Miles – The Autobiography”

I offer this as an exhibit for anyone concerned about impediments to free speech as I believe the Times Editorial Board characterized it. I use it to remind myself once again that the concept of “cancel culture” is another tool of white supremacy. For black citizens it could mean your life. I’m thinking of Fred Hampton, MLK, & Malcolm X. They were “canceled” for just speaking the truth. For having the nerve to suggest that that full citizenship for black Americans, for the poor and marginalized, was long overdue. For just suggesting that America needed to change.

“If white people really knew what was on most black people’s minds it would scare them to death.” And when white people get scared, black people die. That’s why “lying to white folks” comes as natural to black people as breathing.

To be able to speak your mind without the threat of criticism, or even shame, is a privilege enjoyed at the expense of others. If the only threat to your ability to speak freely is criticism and shame, you’re still privileged.

Complicit

He’s likely dead now since it was 36 years ago and I’d reckon him in his late 60’s/early 70’s then. I was 19, home from college. I was visiting as a favor to my mom. He’d been bugging her for months for me to stop over when I came home. He started giving me money when I was in high school; $5.00 here, $10.00 there, when our paths crossed. I didn’t make much of it.

My dad died when I was 13. I thought he was being kind.

“I’d kill a motherfucker over you!” he declared after I’d been sitting on the couch a while. “I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” I replied, surprising myself at my calm. Pornographic material covered the coffee table. Not the high glossy Playboy magazines I’d snuck into the house when I lived at home. Rather it was some particularly raunchy, grainy black and white depictions of beastiality. Women in pointy coned bras whipping each other. Orgies.

I was surprised but not overly concerned for my safety. He scooted into the kitchen for cookies and koolaid. The juxtaposition threw me a bit. I passed on the koolaid. I may have taken a bite of a cookie.

Took me a minute but I put it together. “I have to go,” I said calmly, “I have a date.” Which was true. I’d timed the whole thing to give myself an excuse to leave, not knowing that I’d really need to leave.

He made pretext of “showing me something” in his bedroom before he’d unlock the deadbolt. The key was in his pocket. I firmly refused.

He tried to play coy. Cheerfully declaring that I wouldn’t be able to leave until he was “satisfied.” I calmly but firmly informed him that “if he didn’t open that goddam door, I’d put a chair through his front window” to leave. He actually looked hurt as he unlocked the front door. “When are you coming back?” he called as I walked down the porch steps.

I never saw him again. I now wish I’d reported him. But he had some standing in the community and I didn’t want trouble and I had some vague notion of not wanting to embarrass him further.

But what of his next “guest?” Perhaps someone who was not as confident as I was or as physically imposing. I towered over him. What if the next person was intimidated by the old man’s position in the community?

I put the whole episode behind me and moved on. But I’m reminded now as so many people come out to tell their stories of encounters with sexual predators that he could have tried it again. And that he could have been successful.

And that if he did harm someone, I’m complicit.

Archeological

Time well spent organizing the home office today. I’m tired of the dining room table and I need the additional flat screen.

Threw out a lot paper. Too much paper. Sorted some books I forget I had. Old photos. Old tech.

Some dormant projects I might revive. I wish I knew what I was thinking when I started some of it. Barely makes sense now.

No real money found (about 42 cents). But I turned up some interesting artifacts.

Could really use the money.

Home Front

Back to Michigan tomorrow after a brief sojourn home in St. Louis. Much has changed. A lot of people are missing. A few among the living. It’s strange how important it still is after all of these years to reconnect with familiar surroundings.

I wonder if the context will remain after those remaining have passed on or passed out of sight.

And I realize that it is presumptuous of me to assume that I’ll be the last one standing.

Wallowing In The Quagmire of Ignorance

“Personal attacks have no place in civil discourse” or so I was taught in high school by Mr. McCollister. He labeled it “Wallowing in the quagmire of ignorance.”

According to my grandfather, somewhere in scripture it says “… if you fall, don’t wallow.” His rejoinder was, “but sometimes wallowing just feels good.” I’ve found the highest expression of this philosophy in the blues.

I have yet to find the scripture he quoted but I did find this:

Simpletons! How long will you wallow in ignorance? Cynics! How long will you feed your cynicism? Idiots! How long will you refuse to learn?” – Proverbs 1:22 (Message translation)

A less than ringing endorsement of our current level of public discourse. But there it is. Our most striking example being the very public twitter feud between our current sitting president and Senator Bob Corker. President Trump consistently degrades Corker with the appellation “liddle” and Corker famously compared Trumps Whitehouse to “an adult daycare center.”

If we’re honest about it, most of us don’t mind when someone we don’t like is personally attacked. We enjoy seeing our “enemies” brought low. TV talkshow hosts Stephen Colbert and Seth Meyers (to name only a couple) do it regularly and they do it well. They make fun of Trump’s tan, Kelly Ann Conway’s hair, Sebastian Gorka’s beard. The humor is  pointed and it’s usually quite clever and it seeks to bring low those who would set themselves over us. It makes powerful people look ridiculous.

But I’m beginning to wonder if we’ve wallowed long enough. Mr. Mac used to caution that slinging barbs at one another makes us “feel good” but does little to enlighten or illuminate discussion and it closes off dialogue.

Not that people like Trump, Conway, or Gorka would be likely to listen. And talk shows are not the proscribed venues for “civic discourse”.

But the rest of us need start listening to each other if we’re going to get anywhere.

Because even though I hate to admit it, as much as I love Colbert’s monologue and as much as I agree with Corker’s assessment, I have neighbors that believe that Donald Trump is telling the God’s truth.

Progress In The Party of Lincoln

My grandfather voted Republican for a good portion of his life. Largely, because Lincoln freed the slaves, or at least that’s how it was told to me. I imagine it had a lot to do with his experience with southern Democrats for most of his life.  They were pro slavery, pro Jim Crow, and anti practically anything that had to do with full citizenship for black people.

So I imagine the choice was pretty easy for quite a while.

Conventional wisdom has it that the Civil Rights movement changed all that. Essentially the progressive planks of the Democratic platform – and LBJ’s signing of the Civil Rights Act – sent southern Democrats, the “Dixiecrats”, into the welcoming arms of the Grand Old Party. Which says a couple of things to me. One: Race (at least in this case) trumps party affiliation. Two: In politics, winning trumps everything.

Either way, it took a lot of coaxing and cajoling to get my grandfather to change his party affiliation, even after his party changed their racial affiliation. Loyalty trumped everything for that old man.

I wonder how my grandfather would feel  about Herman Cain. A friend commented to me once that she could not see how a black person could support the Republican party. I flinched a little, recalling my grandfather’s history, and kept my own council.

I’ve always tried to give people the benefit of the doubt, at least upon first glance. This is something my mother taught me. Something she learned from my grandfather. But I don’t think the old man would be too impressed with Cain after hearing him speak for a while. I think he’d see the hypocrisy of a man claiming to be a victim of the Race card while dealing it or in a black man promising to exclude members of a minority group from his (hypothetical) cabinet because of the behavior of a few within that group. I think he’d be struck by the irony of a true carpetbagger as standard bearer for the very people who historically exploited fears for the majority with the image after Reconstruction [exhibit A: BIRTH OF A NATION]. I think my grandfather would be put off the claim, put forth by Cain, that black people who don’t support the GOP “can’t think for themselves.”

I don’t know my grandfather’s voting record after breaking his solid streak with the GOP. I do know that he voted, rain or shine, whenever the polls were opened. I wish he could see what’s become of his once beloved, GOP. I wonder if he’d count it as progress.