What will you do when the revolution arrives at your door?
The question has been raised by two of my three FB friends who happen not to be white: performer Tabby Johnson and ex-Toronto cop Calvin Lawrence.
Yes: We are, in this allegedly enlightened age, still so profoundly un-integrated.
Reading of the newest murder of a black person at white hands, in the land of the allegedly free-est, the question rages again.
I've often recalled, but this time once again with particular heft, the quote from the black grade-school girl, in an ancient special publication by Life Magazine, a collection of photos essays about different groups in America.
She was asked, What should we have done with Hitler?
Her answer was: "Paint him black and send him to America."
We're talking 60, maybe 70 years ago. What has changed?
Yes, there's a black middle class, there was a black president....but how would you like to be black in America today?
Remembering a visit to South Africa, late 1989, Mandela still in prison. Black maids living in white people's backyard bunkers, seeing their children in distant townships perhaps once every 3 months. Ostensibly decent white relatives saying: "They" don't feel it as much.
This, from people who, a short generation before, had been "they" to racial cleansers and genocidal burners.
There were mutterings in the streets;; carjackings that could end in murder: the advice, don't fight it. There was the blindness to the present, the blindness to the past.
Walking along a Capetown beach, seeing a silhouetted unknown group approaching - remembering worrying: Are they black? What to say to them: Hold on, I'm liberal, I'm on your side?
Remembering: a Toronto Star story assignment about an NY-based anger manager, making his bread lecturing to inner-city school kids.. The mid 1990s, now: the Bronx, demarked and walled and locked down, like a prison for kids, black kids, in the heart of the city.
Remembering, back farther: a young Georgia-born bellhop coming on to 16-year-old me, on vacation with my mother in Miami - the guy - who had no idea of my ethnicity, no axe to grind, just thinking it made him sound like a big man - telling me out of the blue: "Where ah come from we hate the Jews more than the niggers, because the Jew hahdes behahnd a white man's skin."
Remembering: the Toronto Star strike of 1992, triggered by the contracting-out of the delivery drivers. Previously, the Star had owned every stage in the paper's production.
Editorial balked at striking - what's it to do with us? Eventually we went out. and it lasted six weeks. This month, after contracting-out and cutbacks that, in the end, affected everyone, the paper has just sold at fire sale. Only a victim of digitalizing and Covid19?
Today, ordinary - whatever that means - Americans who, justifiably, feel disenfranchised, may believe the American leader is exercising his godlike protective power on their behalf, against an army of alien oppressed upstarts.
The rest of us wonder: What to say, when the oppressed reach our doors?
Do we agree with the trumpeters: All this is excessive? Not our problem? Looting rightly means shooting?
Or might we think of the words of repentant WWII Nazi sympathizer, Pastor Martin Niemōller:
First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist.
Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out— because I was not a trade unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
They're always, dismissa
bly, coming for the others. It isn't our problem. Or: They are the problem, not us.
When will it sink in on us that we're next? And that if we don't all confront it together, we'll sink together too?
Or, when the wheel rolls round to point our way, who will speak for us?