A White Man Lost in America
August 2, 2016
Anthony Uplandpoet Watkins
No, this is not another story of an angry white man threatened by the new progressive, diverse America that doesn’t seem to have a place for him anymore.
When I was a child, and my mother would hold my hand and we would walk from one part of Decatur St to another. I am not sure we were shopping; we may have been attending to business as there were government offices in that part of town. All I remember is being about 5-6 and Mom saying, “That’s Rev. Martin Luther King’s church!” I didn’t know everything about Dr. King, except most white people I knew hated him but my mama thought he was a great man.
Now, don’t get me wrong. My mother was born in Mississippi in 1929, and later when I was old enough to date, she strongly objected to me dating a Korean girl in our church, and she made it clear she thought God meant to keep ALL the races separated. But she did believe that Negroes deserved to be treated as humans. Different, but human.
A few years later I went to a Christian school that was remarkably all white, even though I knew most black folks were Christian. All the folks, the parents, the preachers, the teachers, and anyone else I knew, stated the reason for the school was because of Darwin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair. But we students knew better. In fact, about half of the students came from families (and churches), where racism was openly practiced, believed and preached.
I remember being astonished at the open ugly naked race hate some of my fellow middle schoolers espoused. These were often some of the most “Christian” of the student body. As far as I know, nobody ever cared about Muslims, or Buddhists, as there were basically none around, but Jews and Catholics were viewed with about the same scorn as Blacks, as were gays. Transgendered people were mostly spared on the same grounds as Muslims.
In 7th grade a very nice person, actually a nice couple, moved into the old farm house across the road from us. We callled them homosexuals, and while my father didn’t really care for them, and my mother didn’t approve of their “lifestyle” she become friendly with the one we considered the “wife”. Georgina, as she preferred to be called was born a man and was named George. She always wore dresses and loved flowers, was a deeply religious and probably talented painter. I remember being invited on a family visit to look at her paintings and she explained how she got the proper lighting for a massive last supper, by setting up candles a few feet from the canvas and painting at night and watching how the real shadows fell.
Georgina went to Switzerland, I think, and came back and was so pleased because she had gotten the surgery and was now a “real” woman. The heartbreaking thing to Georgina, and to some extent to my mother and me, as we were friends with Georgina, was once she was physically a woman, her “husband”, left her for another man.
When I went back to school and told my Christian buddies about poor Georgina, they all said truly horrible things about “him” being a he-she. When I told my mother some of the things they said, her response was that we should not judge other people, and that we knew Georgina was a nice person, no matter what others said.
By now, Dr. King had been murdered. Things were pretty awful. Then came Watergate. Then came Lt. Calley, and the end of Vietnam. America was not the great light on a hill I had thought and as I had been told. But my mother would say, you know, it is better. Black folks have it a little better. We are all learning. We are moving forward.
Over the next decade, things did seem to be moving towards an age of enlightenment. Yes, we had a pretty horrible economy in the late 1970s with a couple of oil crises. Central America was turning into a mess, as was Angola and other places, but really, there had always been some place on fire. I believed we were going to make it to Dr. King’s promised land. I believed we were going to become a peace loving country that put human rights above exploitation for the American Empire.
Then came Reagan. I didn’t see Reagan coming. I didn’t know the reservoir that created George Wallace was still so close to full. And even with Reagan, I didn’t know that we would see an America sliding backwards through the ugliness of the early 1960s, struggling into the 1950s, to reestablish the years before my birth with the KKK and the red scare.
Somehow, electing a Black president almost seemed to make it worse. Objectively, it is pretty easy to see that President Obama has been a GREAT president, at or near a top 5 president. Yet, in spite of every effort to embrace all Americans, in spite of him leading us out of one of the worst times economically and through one of the great destabilizing periods, globally, he has drawn some of the worst racist vitriol and lies. We have seen backlash after backlash by the old white supremacy circles I thought were dead or dying.
We have people terrorized that Muslims are going to kill them and their families. We have masses of people who think we are becoming too brown too fast. We have people lashing out at gays, and by association transgendered people. We honestly have people concerned about the genitalia of the person in the next stall.
We have more and more poor people angry at those who would help them climb up to a more stable point on the economic ladder. We have more and more middle income people who forget that a generation or two ago, their parents were dirt farmers or severely underpaid blue collar workers who fought tooth and nail to be treated fairly and paid a living wage. And now these children of the working poor have taken advantage of their parents struggles and want to burn the bridges to the middle class so the poor cannot follow them out of the pit of poverty.
In my fifty-seventh year, as a human, as an American, as a father, a son, a brother, a grandfather, a husband, a poet, I realize I am lost. I do not know this country. I do not understand how those who have so much can be so small and spiteful and not realize how fortunate they are, how fortunate WE are.
Somebody draw me a map, give me the coordinates to the America I know is still out there somewhere in a parallel universe. Where the arc of Brown vs Board of Education, the Great Society, the Poor Peoples March, the decency policy of foreign policy of Carter continued. Where there was no Reagan, where America did not approach the promised land, stand on the mountain top and look in and say, “We cannot go there. It may be a land of Giants! Moses, why did you bring us here? We were safer back in Egypt!” and with that turn, climb down the mountain and go back and beg Pharaoh to take us back in as servants.
Can anybody tell me where that America has gone?
(with apologies to Dick Holler)
Update: This was written on July 2, and since then Dallas happened and since then Cops have killed 77 more citizens, including Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, and 19 people, Black, white and Hispanic that you never heard about. And because of these events, I have had extensive conversations with my Black friends and Black people who are complete strangers. Apparently, the great arc towards justice is more something white people have been imagining was happening. Apparently, the America I am looking for not only doesn’t exist, but never has. It’s time we get out our axes, our saws, our hammers and build this place. I promise, it can be a beautiful world, if we build it. As a small tool, I have made a website called Checkers. If you want to join us there, please do: http://anthonywatkins.wix.com/checkerswhite4color