By Ernie McCray
All my life I’ve heard that there’s nothing more American than apple pie. Well, I see that as kind of a lie as, based on my life experiences, there’s nothing more American than racism.
If apple pie was in my face as much as racism has been I’d be a 500-pound black guy as racism is as ever present as oxygen in a black person’s life, from the moment you’re born until the day you die.
It’s been passed along in America as a stumbling block against our human hopes and dreams like a baton in a relay race, in so many forms: slavery; Jim Crow; the constant tampering with our voting rights; white flight; execution of unarmed dark-skinned people on the streets, on a whim; mass incarceration and on and on and on ad nauseam…
It can show up in our lives, unexpectedly, anywhere at any time. Like the other day I was kicking back in my pad, sitting in my easy chair, nursing a manhattan, watching TV and a woman pops up on the screen holding a pitcher of some of the most incredibly filthy water I’ve ever seen. It was Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, courtesy of the Flint River. Flint, it must be noted, just happens to be 60% African American.
So I was suddenly looking at racism that had risen from a river, knowing deep in my heart and soul that whoever was responsible for this criminal neglect, this gross crime against humanity – no way would they have gotten away with something as horrible as all that in, let us say, Ann Arbor, Michigan.
What a slap in the face to any notion of “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter,” for that matter, as there are 38,328 white people who live in Flint. Most of them poor. Their water’s bad too.
And that leads me to another facet of racism in America. Poor white people, all along, in our history, have often been in the same boat with black people, economically, but having been sold, throughout that history, on the notion that they as whites are “better than” and people of color were “less than,” they’ve been forever reluctant to get involved in struggles for racial equality.
Very few have taken time out of being white, for a moment, to entertain ideas of just how great America could become if we only sought ways to come together to ensure that everyone’s human needs are met in this society.
It must be mentioned, however, that white people have always contributed to my people’s struggles. There were white abolitionists who helped end the trading of slaves; white freedom fighters were among those who challenged the status quo of segregation down south; so many white “Occupiers” seek economic justice for all today.
But there just hasn’t been enough of my white brothers and sisters willing to “Just Say No” to racism.
I wish I knew a way to get them to check out black history so they can get an understanding of how entrenched racism is in our society and get a sense of how their lives are seen as privileged and maybe find ways to get up the nerve to challenge the racist thinking in themselves and their families and their friends.
I wish I knew how to appeal to their empathy, without which they can never come to comprehend what people who are different from them go through in our country.
I wish I could paint a picture for them of how satisfying it feels to one’s soul when they take part in a non-violent protest and see how peaceful such action can be.
I wish I knew, most of all, how to make them realize how vitally important it is for them to teach their children about race, and expose them to the wonderful books and television shows and movies that tell stories of people of color from all walks of life, from all over the world, doing wonderful things.
Without some generation being taught to appreciate how rich we are because of our diversity, we will have forfeited a beautiful opportunity to end the long-standing racial inequities that constantly threaten everyday American life and culture.
We will have continued casting aside an opportunity to bring about racial harmony.
If the racism that has risen out of the waters of the Flint River, poisoning black children, doesn’t motivate us to create a better world, what will?
Photo courtesy of https://www.flickr.com/photos/
John Lawrence says
Ernie, a lot of what perpetrates racism today is the Republican party. They are the ones who are taking away African American and Latino voting rights. Racism is a mixed bag. Some families like my own are mixed race. At Christmas this year My daughter and myself along with the gay girlfriends of African American twins were the only white people there. The husband, mother-in-law, my three grandchildren and the twins are all African American although they like most African Americans have Caucasian blood, some of them much of it. As far as I know my grandchildren have not had to deal with racism yet probably because the majority of their schoolmates are black, brown and beige as Duke Ellington would say.
The Flint river is the way it is because Republican governors have appointed dictatorial managers to executive positions in many towns where Republicans rule thanks to the 2010 census and subsequent election which let Republicans gerrymander districts so as to create permanent Republican majorities.
Not to minimize the effects of racism against black people but historically, I would say it is bigotry, rather than simple racism.
Bigotry includes racial bias but also those historical biases that followed after every ethnic group came to this land. The British descendants looked down on the Germans, who in turn looked down on the Irish, who in turn discriminated against the Italians, etc. etc.
Something else that is classically American is discrimination based upon the ability to PAY. We see this every day right up to the present.
Ernie McCray says
John and Michael-Leonard: You make powerful comments in this conversation.
Thx, Ernie; you make insightful and powerful commentaries to comment on :-)
Frank Rossman says
What kind of a person would press The Button that destroyed the city they are sworn to protect? Either a traitor or a paid stooge.
Frank Rossman says
Of course the Snyder Administration’s request for Disaster aid was denied. The US Federal government does not consider a tyrant using chemical weapons against his own citizens as a “Disaster”, that’s considered an “Attack” against his own citizens. The US doesn’t support the Assad administration, nor should they support the Snyder administration. Aid will come, but it must be administered by authorities other than the Snyder administration. Michigan and Syria, worlds apart, but closer than you think. Repeal the Emergency Manager law!
Frank Rossman says
The Governor Snyder plan for Flint: 1. Evacuate Flint 2. Raze Flint 3. Complete KWA pipeline to ensure fresh water for Executive class who will move into….4. New Pulte community built on the ash and bone of Old Flint. Prices starting in the $350,000. Move in as early as Spring 2017
Frank Rossman says
Unfortunately, the Michigan Militia does not have the weapons it needs to defend the People of Flint from the hostile actions of a Domestic Government. Bullets and bombs have no impact on a VIRTUAL CORPORATE ENTITY like Team Snyder. This is not an armed conflict, this is Cyber-War. Fought through legal documents, business plans, and engineering procedures.
Team Snyder does not protect itself from bullets and bombs, it protects itself from prosecution, disclosure, accountability, and negative media.
Team Snyder does not fear ARMED resistance, it fears CIVIL RESISTANCE!
Repeal the Emergency Manager law!
Register. Vote. Attend. Serve.
Frank Rossman says
Here is my attempt at a ballad, sung to Neil Young’s “Hey hey, my my” in remembrance of the Lead Poisoning of Flint. I hope it inspires some real musicians to create a song that will be played by Michigan radio stations every year to remember what happened in Flint. Just like we remember the Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald every year. Lead Poisoning of Flint: Pure Michigan. Never Forget.
Dr. J says
Excellent points. Stay on it. J
Mandy Barre says
Thank you. Nice piece, Ernie. However if we can gun down and slaughter little children and do nothing about it, why would we or could we ever presume someone would do something about poisoned water that could take years to manifest itself? Racism, overt selfishness and lack of compassion…so sad. Religious organizations have dropped the ball too. People don’t live their faith.
My family is white and we get how wrong this is. We are active in our community to combat this and many other ills. All of us can share this article widely. And read another article that so exquisitely points out the horrid divide we find our humanity in: https://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/style/a-white-moms-plea-to-the-white-parents-of-my-black-sons-friends/2016/01/06/a32441a0-b47e-11e5-a842-0feb51d1d124_story.html