I ACCUSE

Upon hearing the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case tonight I found myself in tears in a public place among very young people who apparently had not heard the news. I found myself crying on a bench in a local bar that I frequent and figured all the youngsters were looking at me thinking me an oldster given to maudlin moods for no apparent reason. Or maybe it was just dementia.

I was crying for an actual reason and I was yelling silently in text messages to compadres who understood. I blithely clicked the caps lock and shouted obscenities into the screen, pounding the poor phone with an accusing angry finger. I decided it was probably best if I left, so I made my way to the bar and asked for a go cup for the rest of my beer. At the end of the bar was a friend and neighbor, an Israeli, who I really like. He asked me how are you. I answered not good did you see the verdict. He said yes and he was delighted and the justice system worked and if I didn’t like stand your ground laws I shouldn’t live in Florida and a big smile was on his face and I knew I’d never see him the same way again, that our friendship was forever tainted, and I felt rage like I’d never felt before in all my life and wanted to push his face into the back of his skull.

I am a pacifist. An anti-capital punishment Gandhi-esque wimp. I don’t believe in violence. A peacenik. But lord I wanted to punch him, hurt him, smash him for his arrogant white grin. For his dogmatic self-righteous response. For his belief that this verdict was reasonable by some set of laws that I knew to be unjustly tilted. Maybe I’m wrong and the tilting is at windmills. I am not in jail now because I left and came home and talked to a friend and poured some rum and decided that rum and a keyboard was a more appropriate response to this horseshit. Poor you. You are now the beneficiary of my high minded response.

I pondered Emile Zola, my personal hero, and another friend reminded me that it was Bastille Day, so I’m hoping in the Pantheon, Mssr. Zola is smiling down on me, although I wish I had some of the Vin Mariani he was so fond of. Bordeaux laced with Cocaine. I’ll have to live with rum and nicotine.

I accuse the United States of America of institutionalized, deliberate racism. Yes. Deliberate. Shoot them, send J. Edgar to tap them, blackmail them, and call them Commies. Allow Mayor Daley to send cops in to shoot them, full out murder. (See Fred Hampton.)

I accuse the state of Alabama of allowing the Scottsboro 9 to have their lives rent asunder by a vicious “flower of white Southern womanhood” who lied through her teeth. And there were many more of these “flowers” including Carolyn Bryant who got Emmett Till murdered in grotesque fashion, her Knights in Shining Armor having been acquitted, admitted as much to Look Magazine after the verdict for $4000. These flowers grew like weeds, some of them named as weeds by their white husbands later, who felt threatened in some existential, or maybe not, sense.

I accuse white men of lynching those black men for allegedly looking at or “raping” white women while they themselves were systematically raping, in the true sense of that word, black women with impunity. They raped them to grow their slave stock. This did not stop with slavery’s end. They raped them while their wives were at the grocery store, growling warnings to the women that if they wanted to keep their jobs in his kitchen they must submit. I do not know of an instance of a white man being lynched for the rape of a black woman. I can only wonder with horror how many black men raised children knowing they were the product of a white man’s loins forced on his wife or his daughter. I cannot fathom the sense of hopelessness and powerlessness and emasculation they must have felt.

I accuse the states, too many to name, who saw black men’s bodies hanging or burned or castrated or shot or drowned or all of the above and said they deserved it, or it wasn’t state sanctioned, because lawd knew they were good Christian Bible readers and would never–it was only the ignorant white folks who did it. The “crackers”, the word that’s as offensive as the N-word as some of the pundits discussed these last two weeks (seriously?), the crackers, yeah, they the ones that did that, not us. We treat our black folks better than that even if we serve them their lunch on paper plates so they don’t contaminate our good China and we live above the Mason-Dixon line. (Even if we want them to tap dance at our weddings in tuxedoes like slaves did when they were happy and so were we. “Paula Deen, on sale, aisle 9.”)

I accuse the white people who didn’t rise up over the murders in Mississippi of Medgar and countless others with a lower profile and, oh yeah, the white (probably Jewish) Liberal Elitist Do-Gooders on the Freedom Rider buses. They shouldn’t a been meddlin’ in local affairs any way “cuz we do things NORMAL around ch’ere.” The white people who didn’t rise up when they shot Fred Hampton in Chicago, and Malcolm in New York City and Martin in Memphis and who thought it was a good thing that Huey and Bobby and George and Angela and Mumia were all tried or locked up, or both, and silenced—those white people should be ashamed. Silencing was a most destructive thing, as we left the young black males with fewer strong voices. But the powers that be manage it still, no matter what Amnesty International has to say about it.

It’s too easy to accuse the KKK. They really are easy targets with their hoods and Bible and virulent Christian interpretation of the good book. Evidently the Bible is mostly concerned with mongrelization, miscegenation and slavery as a given. (But lord how they love Moses who brought the folks out of slavery but that’s WAY different.) Instead:

I accuse the red liners of Los Angeles, the real estate agents of every damn state in “liberal abolitionist” Yankee states who planted those signs saying “Exclusive” or “Restricted” and everyone knew what that meant.

I accuse the educators who put second or third or fourth rate text books into inner city, urban (read BLACK) schools with second or fourth rate teachers waiting out their pensions in the classrooms.

I accuse the legislators that approved the gerrymandering of voting districts in order to assure that the white voters would take the election over the top while the black voters were subjected to impossible and mind boggling “literacy tests” in order to vote. (I’ll post a link to one. I defy you to answer it correctly regardless of your educational level. Which was the point, actually.)

I accuse the Highest Court in the land of hard eyed cynicism in the Voter’s Rights Act decision.

I accuse the justice system that sees color and poverty and assumes both are criminal. I accuse the advocates of the privatizing of prison who see black men (and increasingly black women) as a head count that increases the profits for their corporations and the dividends for their stockholders. The advocates crowing about the growth of investments and jobs in their respective states.

I accuse the prison systems who view convicts as slave labor to be rented out and monetized. (Which in the process renders a preponderant number of black citizens ineligible to vote. Call me crazy for finding that way too convenient for the white monied establishment.)

I accuse the legislators who consistently vote down food stamps, education bills, early childhood education, and persist in using the Reagan-esque view of the “welfare queen” in order to divide the working poor against one another. Keep the poor white folks in a trailer park with a shotgun and a pregnant teenaged daughter who can barely read, is collecting food stamps, welfare, and another generation of poverty pissed off at the poor black folks in an urban housing project (if the housing project still exists) who’s in the same boat. Keep them pissed at each other, hating each other and they won’t notice the injustices all around them. Keep the trailer parks full of meth and the projects full of crack so the jails stay full and the useless long ago lost “War on Drugs” can keep sucking up our tax dollars. Make sure to call them “takers” every chance you get. Why on earth would we want to reinstitute LBJ’s “War on Poverty” or create treatment centers and job training and daycare for the working poor?

I accuse the state and federal agencies of waging that pointless money and life gobbling “War on Drugs” with disproportionate sentencing for the same amount of contraband consigning more and more black men to prison.

I accuse the white people who don’t think of themselves as racists of hiring a white person instead of a black one. Decent people who toss a resume in the trash and hire the Matthew instead of the Tyrell even if the resumes match in every other way. The people who interview the Michael and the Anthony and reject Anthony because he had the audacity to show up for the interview in black skin when his phone interview sounded so “promising.”

I accuse HUD and the local governments who went along with the demolishing of public housing for the very poor among us (who, for the record, astonishingly to some, are NOT all black) as a way to gentrify the poor to outlying reservations. Although not all urban poor people are black, the loss of public housing in urban environments seems to affect poor blacks disproportionately.

I accuse the corporations who removed blue collar jobs to cheaper markets thus making more Americans jobless, unless they’re willing to live on less than what should be a decent wage, then complaining of the laziness of the poor. In the doing of that they consigned a large chunk of the middle class of all races to the category of superfluous people, destroying entire cities in the process.

I accuse a centuries’ long system of marginalization for pushing young black men onto the corners to sign on to the life required in the underground/above ground economy that allows the arrests, family destruction and rivers of blood in the streets to continue.

I accuse this country of turning healthcare into a for profit luxury instead of a right, causing people of every race, creed and color to choose between pre-emptive treatment, medications or their light bill.

I accuse white people of complacency in the face of these grave injustices against black people as a whole, the list is too long to itemize. I accuse them because they fear their own white neighbors in some cases. They fear a loss of standing in their community and are willing to remain cowards at the lodge picnic rather than open their mouths to declare that the comment, word or joke heard while spooning out the potato salad was offensive.

I accuse white people of leaving comments on articles and blogs, comments written in safe anonymity, showing their unreasoning racism in the stark colors of hatred and ignorance. If I hear the word thug, rapist, gang banger, gangsta, or references to the “animal” wearing a triple-X white T one more time my head might explode. The word “urban” which has apparently come to mean Black, Poor, Gun Carrying, Criminal, Rapist, Home Invader, Car Jacker, Drug Dealer, irresponsible Baby Daddy is everywhere on the web and in conversation. I’m sick of it. I’m ashamed of you, all of you who write those comments from the safety of your home, spewing hatred from behind a screen and I know you are white. You make me ashamed to be white and I resent you mightily for it.

I accuse the United States of America of allowing the proliferation of guns to the point where black male children are dropping in the streets every day in Compton and Chicago and New Orleans or you name the city. No one cares. No one asks why. No one sheds a tear except the family. Some commenters say that’s good, one less mouth to feed on death row. As Tom Hayden said, (paraphrasing) “If this was going on anywhere else we’d call in the United Nations and start talking about genocide.” Well maybe not. We didn’t care much about the bloated black bodies in Rwanda now did we.

I accuse our nation of cutting back on necessary services because it’s in their interest to maintain an underclass, separated by virtue of class. Keep the white underclass ignorant and poor but agitate them to hate the black underclass and you have them in your control. They won’t look at the “other” classes. It’s the blacks, the Latinos, the “illegals”, the Jews. It’s not us, not the corporations, the 1%, the legislators, it’s them, always them, we can always find another THEM.

Divide and conquer, keep them scrabbling amongst themselves, killing each other, hating on each other and they won’t think to look at US, the folks who are really in control, who are making out on the development, the knocking down of housing, the gentrification, the cuts in food stamps, the screwed up schools, the building of prisons. Keep the people busy and distracted with lust for the new truck, the new gadget. Entertain them with football, Ultimate Fighting, wrestling, soap operas, reality shows, (hey, too bad you got no money for good food, you weigh how much? Great! Biggest Loser!), NASCAR (nevermind the fossil fuels and sponsorship involved that could be spent on housing or food or schools: Wave the Flag! Talk about guns! Proud to be an ‘Merican!). You’re too skinny, you’re too fat, take this pill, try this makeup, use this cream. Got a problem with erection? Take this pill (please ignore the 10K guys in the ER that ARE the side effects you laugh at.) Wait, Johnny Depp left his wife? Some idiot NY Congressman sent pics of his junk on a smart phone? Honey Boo Boo is cupping farts? It’s all good. They can see her and her family as less than themselves and all in HD. Hey, what’s that non-ammonia color for my hair and why is Beyonce blonde?

I accuse our nation of subversion of the Constitution while busily attempting to tell us what the Founders thought. They were all stalwart visionaries. If they were schtooping the slave women, well, that was just the way it was. If they thought you, the renter of an apartment, condo, house or god forbid a trailer were less than land owners, well we chalk it up to their “era.” They knew what they were doing and it was revolutionary.

Yes. It was. But don’t yammer on to me about their democratic point of view. They didn’t see YOU as one of THEM. They worried themselves sick about a real democracy, which they viewed as mob rule. If you were a woman, or a non-landowning white, or a black man you were SOL. All the fireworks in the world can’t erase that bias. I believe, however, that the best of them would have recoiled from our current reality: the NRA, or 100 round drums of automatic firepower, tacit acceptance of not only exclusion but mass incarceration. They could not have foreseen a form of genocide that profits by the blood in the streets. Well, maybe they would accept it, being products of their time. Many of them made their fortunes on the backs of black people after all. Since we can”t know, then let’s just leave them out of our current discourse and make an attempt to evolve their vision of democracy. I’m not sure we’re up to the task. We seem to have become in some cases social Darwinists who don’t accept Darwin’s theory. Capitalists without compassion. Exceptionalists blind to our own injustices. Humans in America who get sentimental over Moms and our children, and yet:

I accuse you, this country, of allowing the death of an unarmed teenager to be deemed irrelevant, justified. I accuse you of discounting the loss of a son to a mother.

I accuse you of telling every young black man that his life doesn’t count.

I accuse you of making me ashamed of my whiteness, ashamed of my justice system, ashamed of the fact that a young boy can be gunned down and no one is responsible.

I accuse you of my shame, something black people have felt for centuries now, in this country. It’s a kind of poetic justice, but one I thought I’d be spared.

I accuse you of rigging the system of justice, of equality, of basic fairness. I accuse you of orchestrating this for three centuries in order to keep your hierarchy and wealth and power intact.

I accuse you of making me want to put my head under the covers and ignore what happened today in Florida, but the faces of all those who came before me won’t let me abandon the hope that we can do better. That’s what makes me an American. That’s what makes me a patriot. That’s what makes me a Pollyanna?

That’s what makes me hope we can do better.

The Scottsboro 9 case was 90 years ago. It made international news as did the Zimmerman trial. If for no other reason, can’t we do better so that we don’t look like ignorant jerks as we rant against human rights violations in other countries? Ninety years out, and still we persist in this bigotry. If you can’t get past your bigotry, have you at long last abandoned your oft professed belief in exceptionalism? Is your flag waving just an act of theatre?

If it is, doesn’t that bother you?

It does me. Which is why I accuse.

Sam Jasper is currently waging a largely silent war against gravity and gravitas. It’s a delicate balance. Sam is co-editor of A Howling in the Wires (2010) and a partner in Gallatin and Toulouse Press. She was a contributor to Pelican Press’ Louisiana in Words (2007), and reprised her contributor role in the Chin Music Press’ Where We Know (2010). Sam also erratically maintains a blog called New Orleans Slate (named not after the online mag but the roofing tiles of old buildings and the primary school chalkboard on which the nun’s pointer hung) and has a collection of letters written immediately after Katrina at the Katrina Refrigerator blog. Sam is also a regular contributor at the Back of Town blog.

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