Some days I do despair.
Yesterday a friend who has been on the front lines for peace and justice for a long time and has a better perspective than I do, reached out and placed her hand on my arm and said, “Take the long view.”
Take the long view. Keep on doing something every day to make this a better world, because there is always the feeling that the world is going to hell, and our situation is hopeless. Keep going. Have faith that eventually good will overcome evil.
Humans certainly challenge that sentiment.
It takes a long time to create change in attitudes and beliefs. Gradually, eventually, things change, we hope, for the better. It is hard to see that when it seems like we’re rolling downhill in an avalanche.
I have seen more than one elderly black man lately saying, “We’ve come a long way, but we have a long way to go.” There has been progress in civil rights, which the racist segment of our population would like to see rolled back. I believe that racists are as frightened and full of rage as the day Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
How could they not be? They go to violent lengths to sustain their beliefs. I doubt there’s a racist who would buy my theory that they are twisted, bitter, angry human beings because they have put so much energy over generations into convincing themselves and each other that their lies are true. That kind of contortionism makes you sick.
I was raised to be racist. There was no curriculum. It was the culture and the family I lived in. It was in the air we breathed and the language we spoke and the jokes we told.
In high school, watching the television coverage of the civil rights movement, I found racism ugly: Cops were beating people with clubs and blowing people down the street with fire hoses. Sending attack dogs after people. Tear gassing peaceful protesters. Shooting into crowds of college students, shooting activists in their beds. I saw the contorted faces of white people screaming and taunting and hitting black protesters, even children. I saw the bloody faces of protesters who had been beaten. I saw the smoking remains of the church that was bombed, killing four little girls.
If you go to the website of the Southern Poverty Law Center, there is a page listing what they call Civil Rights Martyrs. They are but a tiny fraction of the people killed for being black or standing with black people.
While this was going on, I was in high school on the coast of California. There was a talent contest one week, and my entry was my pallid imitation of Mary Travers singing, “The Cruel War.” As I waited my turn, two black girls got up to sing.
They did a duet on a Motown song, and that gym full of white kids went wild. I was so jealous. “It’s not fair,” I thought. “They have those black voices.”
They did, and they were good. They sounded like the hit music that we loved.
I was not aware until that day that there were any black students in my school.
What was it like for them, going to a school that was about two-thirds white, and one-third Hispanic? A large portion of our town’s population was Hispanic. Most of those people originally had come to labor in the fields and orchards. They were the underclass in that time and place. The descendants of the families who stayed now make up a lot of the middle class in that town.
I think of myself as a clueless liberal, but I also think racism is a cancer that has been killing this country since before it was a country, and I think we are under siege by fascism.
I am unable to communicate with people who call me a libtard. Know what I mean? There does not seem to be a common ground where we can meet each other as human beings. Yet.
Still, I write essays and I sing songs. I’m taking the long view.