This month’s blog was supposed to be a humorous account of our annual yard sale, but that will have to wait until my mood is lighter, maybe after the mid-term elections. I’ve been struck by Adult Onset Attention Deficit Disorder, a condition that makes it impossible for me to concentrate on one topic if that means I must banish our current events from my thoughts and writing.
We are today who we have always been. If we weren’t who we’ve always been, trump would not have been elected, his base would not be as powerful as it seems, and the hatred of brown people seeking refuge in our country would not have invited trump and his DOJ to remove children from their parents.
I’m tempted to write “they” instead of “we,” because Americans of color, no matter our economic, educational, or professional status remain to a certain extent outsiders in this nation. But the newly popular DNA tests whose results help us find our genealogical pasts yield proof that few Americans of color can claim to be exclusively African. For that reason and when it makes sense historically, I’ll stick to writing “we.”
We are today who we were when we slaughtered the original inhabitants of this land, separated young Native Americans from their families, sent them to faraway “boarding schools” where their culture and history was “taught out” of them, and then carved their property into reservations and ordered them to live in those restricted areas. Some people protested, but not loudly enough.
Here’s where I have to change the subject pronoun.
They are today who they were when they kidnapped millions of Africans, bound their hands and legs in chains and shackles, and consigned them to generations-long terms of slavery. It was routine practice to rip children away from their parents. Taken to the opposite side of a state or farther, to a different state resulted in many children never again seeing their mother, father, or siblings.
The Abolitionists gave speeches and wrote newspaper articles decrying this evil, but it took a war’s bullets, blood, and deaths to end the “peculiar institution.”
We are today who were in the 1940’s when we entered the communities of Japanese Americans and commanded these U.S. citizens to forsake their homes and live in government built detention camps. Many voices that might have been raised in protest were silent, unaware of what was happening. While the history texts used in the 1950’s and 1960’s described WWII and the horrors of the Holocaust, they devoted only a scant paragraph or two about our own country’s participation in ethnically-based mass incarceration. No doubt there were people who spoke out against this travesty, but their protests were muffled by rubber and nylon ration regulations and dreaded “I regret to inform you” telegrams delivered by young grim-faced men whose innocence was washed away by the tears of the missives’ recipients.
I’m thankful that today fewer of us are who we were when we committed those inhumane acts. Thanks to the media, we can see and hear what’s going on at our nation’s southern border. Some of us listen to the children’s cries as parents would listen. We want to dry their tiny tears and offer hugs that promise a reunion with their loved ones. Very soon. Others of us huddle under our sorrowful memories of having cried out for parents who couldn’t be near to comfort us.
I’m very grateful to all of those who march, demonstrate, and hoist signs laden with messages of opposition to the intolerance and cruelty that would tear children from their parents’ arms, label them by number or code, and scatter them to distant places, as if they were tumbleweeds.
I give thanks for the large number of Americans who know we don’t have to remain who we were. We are free to be better than we’ve ever been. We are free to remind others eager to hack away the foundations of our democracy, that we shall not abandon the freedoms guaranteed us by the U.S. Constitution.
Renée Bess is the author of five novels, all published by Regal Crest Books, LEAVE OF ABSENCE; BREAKING JAIE; RE:BUILDING SASHA; THE BUTTERFLY MOMENTS; and THE RULES. Her most recent project, OUR HAPPY HOURS, LGBT VOICES FROM THE GAY BARS, is an anthology Renée co-curated with Lee Lynch. As of this writing, it is a two category finalist for a Goldie Award. Renée blogs here at Women and Words the fourth Thursday of every month. Her website is: http://www.reneebess.com