Friday, July 9, 2010

Many thousands gone ...and still going

I was pulling packing slips this morning; one was for the book, Many Thousand Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America. The economic injustice of slavery is enough of a travesty--multi-million dollar revenue gained by slave owners and the government over centuries in exchange for food scraps and pocket change, if any monetary compensation was paid at all to us. But what is also insidious about slavery is the contemptuous attitude that Whites developed for Black people over the centuries. They equated the menial economic status of Black people with our value as human beings, and made the moral error of degrading us, in their minds, to a status less than human.

Today, the attitude of contempt toward Blacks lingers among many White people. That was the context on January 1, 2009 in Oakland, California, that allowed White policeman Johannes Mehserle to pull his gun and shoot to kill a Black man, Oscar Grant, who was lying prone on the ground surrounded by Mehserle and other policemen. To compound the injustice, the all White jury propped up Mehserle's lame excuse that he thought he was firing his taser gun instead of his department issued weapon.

That excuse is blatant disrespect for the law--it says the law (as well as common sense and any professional self-respect on Mehserle's part) is void where it may result in a penalty against a White person for assaulting a Black person. That excuse echoes the sentiment expressed by (Supreme Court Justice) Roger B. Taney in the Dred Scott v. Sandford case, 1857, in which Taney said Black people were of an "inferior order" so much so that "they had no rights which the white man was bound to respect." Taney's opinion promotes anarchy as it relates to Black people in America.

But what shall we do about it today?

Cut out the buffoonery that we waste time consuming from the radio and tv and the movies, and give our children a clearer idea of what they are up against, for one. Also, in our homes, communities and churches, teach them the legacy of dignity, self-determination and achievement modeled by Tubman, Delany, Douglass, Truth and others during the dreadful period of enslavement. Our children must know that we didn't take it without protest. We must maintain the same attitude of agitation against injustice today in order to combat residual notions of Black inferiority.

Of course, it is not easy; the history is painful to recall. But living through those periods was not easy either, and many thousands gone did what they had to do in order to move succeeding generations that much closer to achieving economic opportunity and and social equality.

Face the truth of our past, and the wretched condition we lived under due to the wretched moral state of the people who oppressed us. But also, glean the inspiring stories about our struggle; raise those as our standard, and let's make more inspiring achievements to motivate the generations coming after us.

That's the greater aim I have in establishing Now Rise Books, to see improvement in our present state and greater possibilities for our people to live holistically sound lives, even if the social climate does not improve. I believe the social climate will improve, actually, as Black folks look at our past squarely, call it what it was, and begin to heal from the past. I know of at least one grassroots effort, the Community Healing Network, that is dedicated to bringing about that healing among Black people--check them out on Facebook.

Finally, the poet Margaret Walker called us out on a lot of our "stuff" in her poem, "For My People," but near the end of the poem, she sums up Black folks' well-meaning struggle as one rooted in the concept of social equality, to improve not only our own lot but also "to fashion a world that wiil hold all the people all the faces all the adams and eves and their countless generations..." (emphasis mine).

In the last verse, Ms. Walker issued a call to action that I took to heart and that has laid the foundation of what I am doing as a bookseller and writer encouraging our folks to learn our history. Walker wrote:

"Let a new earth rise. Let another world be born. Let a bloody peace by written in the sky. Let a second generation full of courage issue forth, let a people loving freedom come to growth, let a beauty full of healing and strength of final clenching be the pulsing in our spirits and our blood. Let the martial songs be written, let the dirges disappear. Let a race of men now rise and take control!"

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