A Pilgrimage and a Parsed History
This story hits deep into those places that are difficult to put into words.
On one hand, it is a wonderful lesson in persistence and desire for connection. It is easy for me to love these men and their obstacle-riddled pilgrimage. I have made similar pilgrimages and I know that talking to a headstone is a cold comfort. But combining that talk with the work it took to just get there and in the face of half the stupid population still celebrating America as a shining city on a hill is laudable in the extreme. Make no mistake, connecting to our forebears is our right as humans, but for countless black people in this country; it is a right that is denied through intentional erasing of names and identities. Slaves were named after their owners. Imagine that.
I heard a woman say recently, "this country is lucky we (BIPOC) only want justice and not revenge." I admire her evolved perspective; my perspective has never really evolved beyond the school yard. Maybe I have just seen too much; maybe I am emotionally stuck on the playground where justice is doled out swiftly and usually righteously.
I spent time in Gallup, New Mexico a few years ago. I was openly threatened and shunned in every shop I went into. I knew why. I know what my white face symbolizes. I understand and even accept their wrath. My girlfriend at the time said, “Why is everyone so angry here?” The current push to not teach American history through the lens of race or class is a foolish mission by the GOP. There’s no need to make laws; the majority of people don’t want to know in the first place. The majority of US citizens already ignore our actual history. My then girlfriend is indicative of the majority of citizens I meet who know nothing other than the myths taught to them by textbooks written by the winners. Very few Americans read Richard Erdoes.
These fuckin snowflake “anti-woke” folks never really come out and say what kind of America they would like us to teach, to read about, to learn about. All they ever say is what they don’t want. We know they hate the alphabet people (LGBTQIA+) and we know they hate facing the reality of four hundred years of indigenous killing and slave-inspired empire building. But, for once, I would like to see the RON DESANTISes of the world say something affirmative. Tell us how we should view the first few hundred years of our country. We’ve done a shit job of living up to the promises we made on paper, but maybe they see it differently. Maybe the words of Elizabeth Freeman, Frederick Douglass and echoed sentiments a hundred years later by Dr. King and the countless cries of oppression by any BIPOC have fallen on deaf ears? Whatever the case is, I sure would like to understand how these people view America’s past and present when it comes to Indians and slaves and immigration.
For heaven's sake, the Emmett Till Anti-lynching Act was signed into law in 2022! You read that right. 2022. Sixty-eight years after the brutal murder of that boy. And here’s maybe the worst part: there were three dissenting votes! Representatives from Kentucky, West Virginia, and Texas voted “nay” to an anti-lynching law in the United States of America. Can you imagine openly voting against an anti-lynching law? IN 2022? And being proud and loud about it? People disagree that lynching should be outlawed. Let that sink in.
I suppose the fact that there are only three dissenting votes is progress, but how many were just too chicken to vote nay? And what’s up with the 7 “no votes?” Chicken-shit humans who either stand for nothing or silently protest AGAINST human dignity?
When I was a kid, I used to hope that when scumbags like Jesse Helms finally died off, there might be a chance to finally evolve. My original hopes were the dreams of a child. Now, I know better. We are only now what we have always been. And our nakedness has forced the ugly people out of hiding and laws are being passed as I write this to eliminate the real history of how we came to own these United States. It won’t be long till we’re like fucking China and wiping clean the slate of history. In China you CANNOT learn about the uprising and massacre of 1989 in Tiananmen Square. People died on TV. I watched it from my living room. I know what I saw. Yet, the Chinese government has successfully erased it from history. You cannot Google it in China unless you want directions to the location. Chinese citizens live their lives believing Tiananmen Square is simply the center of Beijing and translates into the “gates of heavenly peace.” Just like Americans think the United States in a Shining City on a Hill. The latter is a phrase that Ronald Reagan built his political career on but was originally part of a sermon by the Puritan, John Winthrop, who believed the taking of this land was a God-given right. Laying the ground for fairytale thinking, which has been prevalent ever since.
Our country made a grievous error not destroying for all time the Southern sympathizers. And we are making a grievous error by not putting the Trump/Desantis traitors on trial and finding them guilty and putting them away forever. Lincoln’s gentle hand toward the secessionists always struck me as odd. But like my dreams during childhood have been tempered by the harsh reality of truth, so, too, has my understanding of Lincoln’s legacy.
I am a realist and I read and understanding history dispassionately though the lens of facts and foundational documents. I would rather see the naked truth, though it stings my soul, than live in a pretty lie. Our country’s history is on full display (for now) and tells us that even the so-called savior of our Union married into the largest slave-owning family in Kentucky, and commanded slaves as President. That is correct, Lincoln owned and sold slaves. And if Lincoln did, in fact, exercise “peculiar care and solicitude” with his slaves, it is more certain that the Todd’s of Kentucky did not. Besides, putting another human being in bondage and then selling her/him “gently” is not much of a fucking consolation. Even if we pretend that “honest Abe” exercised care, every married man knows it ain’t the cock that crows without the hen’s approval. And Mary Todd’s family was the largest slave holding family in Kentucky. Yeah, that’s Abe Lincoln’s chosen people.
What particularly moved me about this piece is that right now there are 49 of our 50 states that are considering “anti-truth” laws. Laws designed to avoid teaching ANYTHING that makes the learner uncomfortable or puts these United States into a bad light. The problem, obviously, is that we have more failures than successes when it comes to being who we claim to be in our foundational documents. We are a lie, and now those lies are to be sugared over in favor of something more palatable, something more mythological. Like the magical fucking God that Christians and Jews prays to, we are to teach our future generations that we are the benevolent nation that gave birth to freedom and democracy for all. Utter balderdash. And dangerous.
If you are not squirming and shedding tears when you are learning about the difference between who we claim to be as a country and who we really are, then you are learning a version of history where YOU are the winner. Congratulations. I mean that sincerely. But remember this: just because you are on the winning side does not make it the right side. History is full of evil people who win.
I don’t want to keep writing about this this morning. What I want is to drink my coffee and smoke a joint and imagine a world at peace. I have that luxury because a) I live in California, and we have legalized marijuana, and b) I am a white dude (more or less) and have NEVER ONCE had to consider the dangers of hopping in my car and running down to the supermarket to get some bread.
Evil does not take a day off, so we can’t either. I remember reading that quote (or something akin to it) from Bob Marley when he performed after an assassination attempt. So, I figure I better forget my lazy impulse and keep in mind that Democracy SHOULD be a verb, and that rest only comes when there is justice for all. “So proudly we all hail, in the land of the free” is from a song I wrote called “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee.” It is the irony we all have printed in our DNA. It is exhausting to keep an eye open in the kingdom of the blind. The rewards for sleeping are great; the punishments for being awake mount daily.