By Ernie McCray
Making America great again
sure sounds like something worth doing.
But the word “again,”
implies that America must have been
great somewhere along the line –
and when I run the feasibility of that
through my long-active mind,
having not been deaf or blind
in my time,
a couple of questions come to mind,
on the fly.
“When was the country ever great?”
And “Where in the hell was I?”
Oh, there is greatness all over the place
in the USA.
Great things: art, music, science, who’s going to argue with that?
Great human beings: who can beat Lincoln, Cesar, Fannie Lou and folks like that?
Great opportunities: in this country you can reach for the moon and places like that.
But, just speaking for me,
I have had to sit at the back of the bus,
sip drizzling water from nasty water fountains
designated for us,
and wince at the battered pictures of Emmitt Till
in Jet Magazine
as that was the American scene
and there was nothing about the hateful routine
that seemed great to me.
And the spirit in all that
is still alive today.
And the farther you go back in time,
I would say,
“The un-greater it gets”
day after day after day.
All the genocide,
leading to the Red Man’s demise,
his being brutally colonized
under the guise of being civilized,
watching, horrified, as his ways of life
were stripped away,
and his lands occupied,
leaving him to wander and flounder,
without hope, relocated to reservations,
with gaping holes in the core of his soul,
mourning the castration of traditions
that had been handed down to him
from ancient civilizations…
And then came the ships crammed
to capacity with black Africans
like so many chickens in an inhumane poultry pen,
to be dumped on the shores of the Americas
to lives in bondage in a form of slavery
unparalleled in its savagery,
leaving, in its wake,
after the slaves were supposedly set free,
a legacy of bigotry
that’s been as hard for this nation
to shake as an addictive disease –
as the nation denied itself a golden opportunity
to pursue, at this time,
a real-life democracy,
pursuing, with no pause,
with relative ease,
Jim Crow Laws,
hanging the descendants
of people, who had once been property,
burning down their churches
as they prayed to their God on their knees;
creating covenants deciding where they could or could not live
and keeping them from dining anywhere they pleased;
separating them from white folks in swimming pools
and skating rinks and movie houses and schools.
And then Rosa refused to give up her bus seat.
And Martin had us
singing and chanting and marching
to freedom on highways and bridges
and parks and streets,
energizing and mesmerizing
us ever time he would speak.
And Malcom threw in “by all means necessary”
as an idea for seeking justice and equality
and RFK was awakening to the plight of the race
as had no other Kennedy.
And, I guess, because “Freedom Isn’t Free”
they brought out the billy-clubs to knock us to our feet
and the dogs who gripped and tore at our flesh
with their sharp pointed teeth
and the firehoses
that swept us down thoroughfares
like toy boats
caught up in the currents of a summer monsoon rain
rushing rapidly towards a storm drain,
holding fast to our hopes and dreams
to keep them from drowning.
Oh, all that was just the other day.
And here we are today,
talking about being great again,
something we’ve never ever really been,
while, in the background,
a superstar sings to our nation’s police
to a funky soulful beat:
“Please stop shooting us down in the street!”
And the country freaks,
screaming,”How dare she?”
as if the song was promoting the most horrible of ideas
rather than a simple plea
for everyone to have a chance to live with dignity.
Oh goodness gracious me, America:
There can be no greatness
where hatred is given free range
but there can be greatness if it were given a chance,
if being great is what we sincerely want to be:
a country where
all races and ethnicities and reasonable creeds
are free to just be.
It’s never been tried actually
but, proverbially speaking,
there’s a first time for everything
and we have to remember
our children are looking and listening.
If our country is ever to be great, it’s on them.
So when do we begin?
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