In the Belly

My coworker streams an Internet radio show he calls Enliven Radio. He invited me to last night’s show. I had no idea what I’d signed up for. I am usually careful to write in a way that is color-blind. I don’t want ethnicity to be something people get stuck on. Yes, I am a WASP, have in my genealogy ancestors who were reprehensible, and have done things which some folk can’t get past. But, those are things I can’t control. What I can control is how I write about other people. This post, though, can’t escape the elephant in the room called “race”. Race is one of those topics that everyone has an opinion on.

Racism is so loaded with cultural tropes and mythology masking as history that its mere mention launches a flight of words across a battlefield at those idiots on the other side who don’t understand. Yankees are religious zealots who raped and pillaged their way across the land to conquer those peaceful, harmless fuzzball indigenous people who were fine with their ideal, pastoral life on berries and tree-bark. We should all be so lucky. Those evil white bastards hunted, captured and enslaved Africans for their fun & profit in the New World. Southerners are all Scotts/Irish moonshiner criminals who were offered long prison sentences or a boat ride to ‘merica whereupon they bought enslaved Afro-Americans and made them grow tobakky and pick cotton sold to their Imperial British overlords. My ancestors believed they were following the Holy Spirit in leaving the British Empire and Holland to make a new life in the virgin paradise of the New World. There were heathens to evangelize. So exciting and new.

Race is American tribalism. It is choosing to define who we include and who we shun based on cultural ideas regarding them that are in and them that ain’t. A feature of our lives is that we feel things to be true so they are stipulated to be true. White folks are racist, always have been, always will be, never believe them when they say otherwise. Black folks . . . I don’t even have to finish the sentence. Already those two words evoke a library full of words and a museum full of images, good and bad. You are supposed to know that racism is a bad thing. That’s obvi, no?

I sat in a room among three black women and three men, two black and me, WASP asshat on full display. I was the Gaijin On Display. The host had chosen “Black Lives Matter” as the topic of the show. It was going to be a long two hours. Just being in the room was enough to start these women on a 120 minutes of left-wing talking points, rolling out the laundry list of sins of white people like me, who all have white-power tats, drive pick-up trucks with gun racks and love our racist religion and assault weapons we use to shoot n**gers for sport. I was to understand what was understood about me.

What I understand still is that our current political debate is a rhetorical war. There is no interest in peace. Someone must win, some tribe must defeat and subjugate all others for there to be peace. It is the oldest definition of victory–to injure or kill an opponent such that they cannot continue to fight and then to rule his land. 5 people in that room were defeated soldiers in a battle lost a long time ago. These 5 wanted their victory, to be able to stand on a mountain of white male bodies and raise the flag of the Black Liberation  movement.

It must be destroyed,” one of the women said. No specifics on what must be destroyed or post-apocalypse, what would take its place. But to be among the tribe, to be counted as a member, the words had to signal all the right things. You had to be angry at that wascally white man who was so evil to the po’ black folk. You had to demand that you get your 40 acres and a mule or maybe its cash value in today’s dollars. The wascally white man had to apologize in a way sufficient, amenable to the assembled in the room. Black Lives had to Matter, as if they don’t, and Matter in a way amenable to those in earshot.

A couple thoughts. First, I remember those days when my recently broken up marriage was raw for me. The Empress’ name was enough to trigger a rant about how evil and worthy of revenge she was. There isn’t enough gold sufficient to recompense me for the injury I nurtured from sins I said she committed against me. There are no words sufficient to sooth my wounded soul. I had plenty to say about her, none of it good. A lot of what I heard from the women last night sounded like petulant ex’s recounting the sins of those they left. There was a lot of “I deserve, I am entitled to carry this hurt because the evil is so great.” Maybe it was, but who is it that ferments the yeast of those wounds so carefully? Second, it’s easy to throw rhetorical tropes at a stranger expecting them to be devastating body blows which incapacitate him. It’s how you win, all the easier because it is a stranger and your tribe will thank you for protecting it from the foreign body.

The answers isn’t a system more amenable to anyone. Never mind the system, be it Imperial Rome, Roman Catholicism, the Czar, Utopian Socialism, Socialist Democracy, Anarchism or whatever. It is us, as it has been since the Romans obliged the Jews and crucified a dissident carpenter. It is local, grassroots, small acts of kindness that are never noticed, never on TV, never viral, but are how the world has changed at crucial points. What’s the answer to racism? Loving kindness, loving our neighbor as ourselves, you know the rest.

It will always be easier to signify, to signal through acts of sufficient emo-punch, allegiance to a tribe. There is something deeply satisfying to us when we do something to signify our fealty to whom we belong. We hunger for it. We want to be in, to belong, to be a valued member of our gang. To do the other thing, to shake the hand of a Jet, to be Crip and share a meal with a Latin King, to love an enemy, to learn to fight in a way that causes the opposition to beg for it to stop, these things don’t come naturally. We have to work against our nature, against all the loud voices in our heads screaming to fight, don’t flee, but to battle and win or die honorably as one of the fallen.

This is what these women did. They gang signed, signified, represented to a white man what they thought he needed to hear so that he would shut the fuck up and realize what he’d done, bastard. We are not better on a warm Wednesday morning in early August. The heat in the room exceeds the late summer cool outside. They signaled and instead of getting it out and making things better, learned how to get out more, to escalate more, to punch, kick, bite, scrape, shoot, rape, pillage and destroy more. No justice no peace? Define justice. How about no peace no justice?

I live because some Christian brothers held me accountable when I was so proud of a book I’d read saying I had to forgive her. It was for her to come correct, to forgive me, to apologize to me, to behave the way I knew she was supposed to, bitch. That I had to forgive her, apologize to her, to behave as God called me to behave, was a grave injustice. Yet it is what saved a wretch like me, lost and now found, blind but now I see. I forgave, apologized and continue to struggle to live as God calls me to live and I am alive because of that.

I don’t like preaching, telling you what to do. Do you. Recently, an aphorism went viral, “holding resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” I’ll just say this. Our way out of this isn’t more verbal boxing matches. It is through the hard work of Matthew 5. Not news and not very innovative. It is what works and what we must do.