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?
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