I sometimes wonder if the Republican Party has become the receding roar of white America as it pines for a way of life that will never return.
Nostalgia is nice as far as it goes, but it’s no way to run a country. In fact, nostalgia for a “simpler time” when “values meant something” is a GREAT way to start a shooting civil war. Just ask the Confederates.
Since the ’70′s I’ve heard the same old tired refrain from old white Republican guys: “It’s time to take this country back to when men were men, women were women-and if they weren’t, we raped and beat them until they WERE, fa**ots were in the closet-and if they even thought about getting out, we’d beat them to death, n***rs were lynched if they dared step out of line and WE RULED. WITH AN IRON FIST. We white men stomped out ANY AND ALL rebellion from these so-called “minorities”. And God told us to do it.” Now, the old white Republican guys dared not put it THAT way, but when they talk about “taking America back” that’s EXACTLY WHAT THEY MEAN. Oh, they can put all the flowery scented bullshit on it they want, but that’s exactly what happened in “the good old days”. Hamden Rice recently put it this way in an incredibly good diary (a rarity these days) on Daily Kos last year:
So anyway, I was having this argument with my father about Martin Luther King and how his message was too conservative compared to Malcolm X’s message. My father got really angry at me. It wasn’t that he disliked Malcolm X, but his point was that Malcolm X hadn’t accomplished anything as Dr. King had.
I was kind of sarcastic and asked something like, so what did Martin Luther King accomplish other than giving his “I have a dream speech.”
Before I tell you what my father told me, I want to digress. Because at this point in our amnesiac national existence, my question pretty much reflects the national civic religion view of what Dr. King accomplished. He gave this great speech. Or some people say, “he marched.” I was so angry at Mrs. Clinton during the primaries when she said that Dr. King marched, but it was LBJ who delivered the Civil Rights Act.
At this point, I would like to remind everyone exactly what Martin Luther King did, and it wasn’t that he “marched” or gave a great speech.
My father told me with a sort of cold fury, “Dr. King ended the terror of living in the south.”
Please let this sink in and and take my word and the word of my late father on this. If you are a white person who has always lived in the U.S. and never under a brutal dictatorship, you probably don’t know what my father was talking about.
But this is what the great Dr. Martin Luther King accomplished. Not that he marched, nor that he gave speeches.
He ended the terror of living as a black person, especially in the south.
I’m guessing that most of you, especially those having come fresh from seeing “The Help,” may not understand what this was all about. But living in the south (and in parts of the mid west and in many ghettos of the north) was living under terrorism.
It wasn’t that black people had to use a separate drinking fountain or couldn’t sit at lunch counters, or had to sit in the back of the bus.
You really must disabuse yourself of this idea. Lunch counters and buses were crucial symbolic planes of struggle that the civil rights movement decided to use to dramatize the issue, but the main suffering in the south did not come from our inability to drink from the same fountain, ride in the front of the bus or eat lunch at Woolworth’s.
It was that white people, mostly white men, occasionally went berserk, and grabbed random black people, usually men, and lynched them. You all know about lynching. But you may forget or not know that white people also randomly beat black people, and the black people could not fight back, for fear of even worse punishment.
This constant low level dread of atavistic violence is what kept the system running. It made life miserable, stressful and terrifying for black people.
White people also occasionally tried black people, especially black men, for crimes for which they could not conceivably be guilty. With the willing participation of white women, they often accused black men of “assault,” which could be anything from rape to not taking off one’s hat, to “reckless eyeballing.”
This is going to sound awful and perhaps a stain on my late father’s memory, but when I was little, before the civil rights movement, my father taught me many, many humiliating practices in order to prevent the random, terroristic, berserk behavior of white people. The one I remember most is that when walking down the street in New York City side by side, hand in hand with my hero-father, if a white woman approached on the same sidewalk, I was to take off my hat and walk behind my father, because he had been taught in the south that black males for some reason were supposed to walk single file in the presence of any white lady.
This was just one of many humiliating practices we were taught to prevent white people from going berserk.
I remember a huge family reunion one August with my aunts and uncles and cousins gathered around my grandparent’s vast breakfast table laden with food from the farm, and the state troopers drove up to the house with a car full of rifles and shotguns, and everyone went kind of weirdly blank. They put on the masks that black people used back then to not provoke white berserkness. My strong, valiant, self educated, articulate uncles, whom I adored, became shuffling, Step-N-Fetchits to avoid provoking the white men. Fortunately the troopers were only looking for an escaped convict. Afterward, the women, my aunts, were furious at the humiliating performance of the men, and said so, something that even a child could understand.
This is the climate of fear that Dr. King ended.
So, the next time some Republican starts babbling about “taking America back” and “bringing back our values, etc.” remember-THIS IS WHAT THEY ARE TALKING ABOUT. The white man rules and everyone else lives in fear. Is that something we want to go back to? Anyone? Yeah, I thought so. There will be a civil war in this country if the crazy-ass “Christians” ever dare try to institute that bullshit on us again. Count on it.
My grandmother was raised in Arkansas on a working farm. She had to get up at 4 in the morning every day to help her mother with the farm chores. She was the oldest girl in the family, so she couldn’t get out of it.
In those days, EVERYONE worked on the farm. When they said “family farm”, that’s what they meant. The reason why I mention this is because of a poem that my grandmother had framed and hanging in their house-it talked about doing the chores, cooking from scratch, etc. And it ended with this: “The good old days can go to hell.”
Well, the “Good old days” CAN GO TO HELL.