Thursday, March 31, 2016

I Celebrate My Birthday, I Encounter "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep" All Over Again: Continuing Challenge of Confronting Racism in American Culture

Charles Wilber White, "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep," Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art

(My apologies that the Salon video embedded in this posting below seems to be set to come on automatically when you open the posting. I wanted to let you know this may happen before you click to open the posting, so that you can, if you wish, mute it immediately.)

Thanks to all of you esteemed readers who left birthday greetings for me yesterday. I'm slow to respond to comments, because Steve had planned a small trip for us in celebration of my birthday and I've been on the road yesterday and today. Yesterday, we drove to Crystal Bridges Museum (some 215 miles northwest of us), and spent the afternoon walking around the museum, enjoying its always intriguing collection of American art, strolling on the beautiful wooded grounds of the museum, and then enjoying a birthday meal at the museum restaurant overlooking the Crystal Springs from which the museum takes its name. A perfect birthday meal for me — a deviled Scotch egg followed by a chipotle Caesar salad, with a glass of the Australian white wine offered for the restaurant's happy hour (they called it a "culture hour," but they didn't fool me: it was a happy hour) . . . .

At Crystal Bridges, I was very moved to see Charles Wilber White's 1956 graphite-and-pen-and-ink drawing "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep." As you know, on Easter Day I blogged about the old African-American spiritual "Oh, Mary, Don't You Weep" after we had sung it on Holy Saturday at a seder supper at the Baptist church pastored by our friend Wendell Griffen. White's drawing seeks to capture the dignity (and pain) of African-American women left as survivors when family members are lynched. In 1955, 14-year-old Emmett Till was murdered in Mississippi, and a not-guilty verdict for his killers was quickly railroaded through the court system. The following year saw one race-based atrocity after another, including the bombing of the houses of civil rights leaders Martin Luther King and Fred Shuttlesworth. It saw the kidnapping and rape of Annette Butler of Tylertown, Mississippi, a 16-year-old African-American girl.

Mississippi, the same state that just yesterday pased "religious freedom" legislation (which the state's Republican governor declares he'll sign into law) permitting businesses and organizations to practice open discrimination against queer citizens of the state — who have never enjoyed any legal protection from discrimination in the first place: the battle goes on and on and on . . . .

When I think of this history and then watch video clips from the Trump rally in Paul Ryan's town of Janesville, Wisconsin, Tuesday, at which a 15-year-old girl was pepper-sprayed in the face after an adult male groped her breast, as the crowd screamed, "N——r lover! Communist! B—ch!," I really want to hang my head in despair and shame: we're over half a century away from the open, hateful violence of the Civil Rights period, and this kind of thing is still going on in the USA? And, as Nate Silver reported several days ago, Donald Trump is enjoying not merely support but robust support not only among white evangelicals in the South but also among white working-class Catholic voters in the North? And the intellectual leaders of the American Catholic church at places like Commonweal want to talk about the danger of "illiberal" minority groups who, as Commonweal claims, want to shut down the free speech of Trump and his supporters?!

Do tell. Not the danger of "N——r lover!" and "B—ch!," but the danger of "illiberal" minority groups seeking to defend themselves and others in their group from abusive taunts and outright violence: this is what captures the imaginations of the "liberal" intellectual leaders of American Catholicism right now. Along with the non-existent suppression of free speech that Commonweal believes "illiberal" minority groups represent . . . . 

Some intellectual leadership. Some pastoral leadership. The abdication of pastoral and intellectual leadership by many prominent lay leaders of American Catholicism at this point in time, and their tone-deaf response to minority groups (both people of color and queer people) seeking their rights at this point in time, are shameful in the extreme.

Here's a video clip of what has just happened in Paul Ryan's hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin:

And here's a video clip from Candace Smith on Twitter in which you can hear the racial slurs and other hateful language slung about by Trump supporters at this rally:

In fact, Trump has mainstreamed the kind of hateful racial slurs we're hearing his protesters use at his rallies, made them legitimate in a new way. His supporters targeted the young woman because she and other protesters were supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. As they screamed their filthy racist taunts, they also screamed, "All lives matter," proving that this slogan, which is an attempt to deny that racism exists in American society, is all about defending racial injustice as those wielding it attack the Black Lives Matter movement.

I turned 66 yesterday. I've fought for years (and many others have fought much harder) to combat racial injusice in my society — to defend the vision of our American democracy as the beloved community that will allow everyone to live a more humane life. What can I do now, as the Trump folks scream "N——r lover!," while they pepper-spray 15-year-old girls in the face, except commit myself to continue doing what I've been doing, throughout whatever is left of my life?

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