A “Black Face?”/A “Black Heart?”
Choose for yourself.
My intention this week was to wait until after the State of the Union address to see what gut cringing bullshit that Trump came up with to further humiliate himself. Like last years speech, however, this year’s was no different . . . a yawner. He did make several references to his legal woes and the Democrats intention of looking into his criminal affairs as “ridiculous partisan investigations”. The president is such an ignorant little shit that he doesn’t understand words matter. The pundit’s takeaway on his calling for an end to the investigations was obvious. He’s scared and wants all the meanies to stop picking on him. Fat chance on that front Donnie.
So, other than making several off-the-wall comments about immigrants, the wall, and the usual crap du jour, the evening was more of a showcase for the Democratic women dressed in white in the audience and Nancy Pelosi who Trump managed to all but ignore in his decidedly rude manner. I think, however, there should be a law that presidents can’t call out members of the gallery to highlight specific atrocities to gain emotional points from their base. Granted, most of the people deserve recognition for their individual acts heroism or the misfortunes that befell them. Since Ronald Reagan started the practice, the call outs have gotten out of hand and should be prohibited. It’s about the State of the Union, not the misfortunes of others.
Because of Trump’s stagnant speaking style and lack of glamorous presence, the speech was a wash, which is fine with me because there are hugher issues out there that need discussing. A headline I saw earlier today stated something like What’s Going on in Virginia? Beneath the headline were three images: Governor Ralph Northam, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, and Attorney General Mark Herring. Fairfax is accused of sexual assault stemming back to a 2004 encounter that he calls 100 % consensual. His partner, however, didn’t see it that way. Fairfax doesn’t concern me at this point. He will have to deal with the accusation and justice will prevail. The Governor and the Attorney General, however, are another matter.
In the past I wrote about growing up in East Texas in the 1950’s and 1960’s before and during the Civil Rights movement. In our part of the Texas, blacks and whites didn’t mingle until late into 1960s when segregation was forced on public schools. I am a little older than Northam, but generally speaking, not that much older in terms of cultural maturation on the subject of race. So, in one sense, I can understand both him and Herring not giving a thought to painting their faces black to go out partying. I certainly don’t condone it, but at the time, black face simply wasn’t an issue to white Southerners. This fact does not make the act any less abhorrent.
The question in my case, and the majority of the friends I grew up with, is were we racists? I think the honest answer is yes and no. I never saw any of my friends dressing up in KKK sheets or darkening their faces with shoe polish. Indeed, acts like that would have been seen as stepping over a line, and no one wanted to go there. For the most part, we were products of our culture. One which raised us to be respectful of others and to cause no undue pain on those we came into contact with on a daily basis. Granted, as I said above, ours was an insular existence in which 99 % of the people we came in contact with were as lily white as we were. This represents the “no” part of the equation.
But were we racists? Yes, I am sorry to say we were. Racists in the sense that the predominant influences in our culture were exclusive of other races simply because that is the way the south operated back then. I know that some of my friends were raised by more enlightened parents who had experienced other parts of the country and saw the race issue differently. For those of us who’s families lived in our area of East Texas for generations, we got a lethal dose of racists ideas and attitudes instilled in us from birth until the time we were able to break free and form our own more enlightened ideas about people of color. Some, unfortunately, never did and remained under the thrall of the zeitgeist of the time and region.
I am proud and fortunate that I left home shortly after high school and made friends with several influential people of color who changed my way of looking at race and the differences between people that don’t really exist in reality. As I have said often, race is a cultural phenomenon, not a genetic, religious, or based in law. It is a choice we make consciously every time we look at someone different from us. In East Texas when we were growing up, we literally had no choice.
Granted, the 1960’s and Martin Luther King, Jr. helped ease many of us into a new reality, but honestly, the more things change, the more they stay the same. Racism still exists, not just in the South, but across the nation. As long as people choose to separate themselves from others who have a different color of skin from themselves, there will be racism, ageism, and ever other kind of hatred that is based on culture, not reality. I think many people who lived through and emerged on the other side of the Civil Rights Movement chose to be enlightened. That in itself is honorable. Yet, it does not negate our youthful ignorance and the ideas our society foisted on us.
Getting back to Northam and Herring, I guess what I am driving at is that, yes, I can understand how two men from the South could think painting their faces black was not something they should worry about. It was a joke. Nobody would get hurt. Yet, we now know a lot of people can and would get hurt. As a white person, there is no way I can understand the pain, degradation, shame, and anger that a Black person endures throughout their lives simply because of their skin color. Dr. King described it best in Letter from a Birmingham Jail when he wrote;
“Perhaps it is easy for those who have never felt the stinging darts of segregation to say, “Wait.” But when you have seen vicious mobs lynch your mothers and fathers at will and drown your sisters and brothers at whim; when you have seen hate filled policemen curse, kick and even kill your black brothers and sisters; when you see the vast majority of your twenty million Negro brothers smothering in an airtight cage of poverty in the midst of an affluent society; when you suddenly find your tongue twisted and your speech stammering as you seek to explain to your six year old daughter why she can’t go to the public amusement park that has just been advertised on television, and see tears welling up in her eyes when she is told that Funtown is closed to colored children, and see ominous clouds of inferiority beginning to form in her little mental sky, and see her beginning to distort her personality by developing an unconscious bitterness toward white people; when you have to concoct an answer for a five year old son who is asking: “Daddy, why do white people treat colored people so mean?”; when you take a cross county drive and find it necessary to sleep night after night in the uncomfortable corners of your automobile because no motel will accept you; when you are humiliated day in and day out by nagging signs reading “white” and “colored”; when your first name becomes “nigger,” your middle name becomes “boy” (however old you are) and your last name becomes “John,” and your wife and mother are never given the respected title “Mrs.”; when you are harried by day and haunted by night by the fact that you are a Negro, living constantly at tiptoe stance, never quite knowing what to expect next, and are plagued with inner fears and outer resentments; when you are forever fighting a degenerating sense of “nobodiness”–then you will understand why we find it difficult to wait. There comes a time when the cup of endurance runs over, and men are no longer willing to be plunged into the abyss of despair. ” Letter from a Birmingham Jail
If you never read the Letter or have not in a long time, you should. It puts Northam and Herring’s foolish acts in perspective. Should they be forced to resign? Yes, I think so. They were both grown men in a more enlightened time than when we were raised and should have known better. Additionally, they both have courted the Black vote to gain success throughout their political careers and owe a deep debt to their constituents; a debt that the cloud of racism will almost certainly taint making it impossible for them to repay.
It is sad that in the 21 st century we are still battling stigmas that have been around far too long. When will we grow up as a nation and find the clue to overcoming our less charitable natures? This is why Donald Trump has to go. If you are not part of the solution, you are most definitely a part of the problem.