I am 72 years old. I am Black. I am heartsick. I am tired. I am horrified. I am scared. I am mortified. I am enraged! I am undone. I am hopeless….
This has been my state of mind since the murder of George Floyd, and I feel like I’m sitting Shiva for our country because it finally hit me that all the work I’ve spent my life pursuing toward racial harmony has pretty much come to naught. Actually, the “Karen” story (Amy Cooper) about the White woman who tried to destroy an innocent bird-watching, Harvard-educated Black man’s life sent a dagger through my heart and dropped me to my knees. The George Floyd story just finished me off! The “Karen” story didn’t happen in Mississippi, it happened in New York City. She wasn’t an old fart set in her ways, she was young. Ms. Cooper probably worked with African-Americans, maybe even socialized with them. She keeps shouting to the world that “I am not a racist,” and yet, when politely asked to obey a law she was breaking by someone who was Black—rather than complying—she weaponized her White privilege against an innocent man by falsely accusing him of assaulting her. At the very least, she could have ruined his reputation and his livelihood, but at the very worst, she could have gotten Christian Cooper (no relation) killed by the cops who would have come running with guns blazing to protect this White damsel in distress.
“Nothing’s changed,” I said to my White husband whom I’ve known and loved for almost 50 years. “Sure, you and I were ‘allowed’ to get married a decade or so after Loving vs. Virginia struck down the miscegenation laws in America, but the plight of my people has been two steps forward (Emancipation), three steps back (Jim Crow Laws), four steps forward (Civil Rights Act), five steps back (Police brutality and White Supremacy Terrorism)…it always seems that Black folks come up short when the math is tallied regarding equality and justice. You know what the problem is, don’t you, Honey? It’s slavery! To coin a phrase from Van Jones, ‘Our Black skin is our sin’ and systemic racism started from the moment we were dragged onto American soil as chattel. The institution of slavery gave even the lowest form of White man (unintelligent, KKK’er, whip-yielding, gun-toting, racial terrorist) a license to reign over us and left the most excellent of Black person (educated, honorable, God-loving, hardworking, peace-loving) with a target on his/her back.”
“As a White man, what do you have to say about that,” I said to my husband.
“Just listening,” he replied.
My poor, sweet husband. The thing is that I know he listens because he is one of the good guys—what the Jews used to call “Righteous Gentiles”—non-Jewish people who risked their lives to help Jews escape the Nazis. In my case, his children’s case, our grandson’s case, and our Black friends’ cases, he is a “righteous White man” who tries to understand the racism that plagues African-Americans. But he is still a White person. Still endowed with certain “inalienable rights.” And as I mused about how closely connected in spirit the false accusation of Amy Cooper was to the killing of George Floyd, I realized that both situations happened because White people thought they could get away with their actions because of their entitlement—the law be damned.
Consequently, I decided to invite a couple of other “righteous White people” over for a “social distancing bring-your-own-drinks—but go home if you have to pee—cocktail hour” on my very large wrap-around deck. We sat six feet apart while we caught up on our lives, and had a conversation about race—three White people and me.
(For the purposes of this story my “Righteous White friends” will be called Joe and Meg. My husband will be referred to simply as “WW—White and Wonderful.” This is only a snippet of a much longer conversation.)
ME: Hey you three, what does it mean to be White?
WW: Watch out, everything you say to her will probably end up in a blog.
MEG: I don’t know…I can tell you that I know that I can’t possibly know what it means to be Black, no matter how hard I try. I’ve never walked in your shoes.
ME: Excellent politically correct answer, Meg, but it still doesn’t answer my question.
JOE: I’m not White, I’m Jewish!
ME: Of course you’re White. You’re an Ashkenazi* Jew. If you were a Sephardic** Jew, I might cut you some slack.
JOE: I’m just sayin’, I’ve suffered racism. Oy, how I’ve suffered. I’m fine until certain people find out I’m Jewish, and before you know it—I’m dealing with anti-Semitism.
ME: I’m not denying that, but for the sake of this discussion, you’re White. You know why? You can blend in and no one would ever know you were Jewish. My skin color announces my Blackness as soon as I enter a room. In fact, there have been times when I’ve been promised rental properties over the phone or set up business arrangements via email and White people assumed by my “articulate” speaking voice and excellent grasp of the King’s English that I was White. But the minute they laid eyes on me, I lost said rental property with the bold pronouncement: “Oh, I thought you was White. You sounded White on the phone. You need to know we don’t rent to niggers in this town.”
MEG: She’s right Joe. Have you ever been chased by White people when you jog or ride your bike? Have you ever been denied a place to live?
ME: We’re getting off topic here. One of you three White people tell me what it means to be White so I can go get me some of that. I’m tired of the struggle.
MEG: Well, being a WASP is what being White means to me. I’m about as White Anglo-Saxon Protestant as they come. There is not a shred of color anywhere in my background. I’m ashamed to say that the racism in my family was blatant. I’ve tried my entire adult life to overcome it. I also think everyone is just a little bit racist though.
ME: True, but for the sake of this discussion, it’s about racism against Black people.
WW: I’m a direct descendant of Governor Bradford of the Mayflower. Got the papers from the Daughters of the American Revolution to prove it. I was always told I could be anything I wanted to be because I came from that stock—even President of the United States. I never thought of it as White privilege, it was just what I could aspire to if I wanted it.
ME: Yeah, don’t I know it. His mother has been dead for ages and she is still rolling over in her grave because WW married me instead of a White girl. Talk about Black skin being my sin.
MEG: That’s it. I guess being White means being part of the status quo and never having to think about “fitting in.”
JOE: I’m Jewish…I think about not fitting in all the time.
MEG: But if you didn’t tell anyone you were Jewish…it’s not the same burden.
WW: Maybe that’s it: Being White means you get to assume, presume, and expect certain rights and privileges. You think your life is supposed to be whatever you want it to be because you are a White male, especially. When that doesn’t happen, it often comes as a total shock. For instance, when I was out of work for four years, the worst part of it all was the despair of my dreams deferred. This was not supposed to happen to me. I kept telling God and Eleanor that this sure is a waste of a perfectly good White boy!
ME: And what did I tell you?
WW: “Get over it. Now you know how the Black man feels.”
MEG: I’m not so sure it is relevant what it means to be White to White people if we want to solve racism in America. I think if we are human we need to listen to the stories of the pain and fear that Black people are experiencing and learn from it without getting defensive about being White. It’s not really about us.
ME: Well, it kind of is…
WW: I think that’s the key: Listening and absorbing the stories. Sometimes I think our entitlement and privilege keep us from hearing the stories about people who aren’t like us. People in general are terrible listeners. Those histories of the African-American journey since 1619 are there to teach us, if we just listen and work to bring about the needed changes.
ME: I know what it means to me to be Black. It means never feeling completely comfortable or totally accepted. Being Black to me means always being on guard because some White person feels he or she is entitled to hoist a Confederate flag in my community—all the while claiming they are not racist—“It’s just my heritage.” It’s always making sure I’m not perceived as the “angry Black woman” to White people as I respond to that gun-toting White Supremacist that the goddamn Confederate flag is my heritage too—a heritage of bondage, enslavement, and terror and it needs to burn in Hell, not be flung in my face. I can never, ever relax. My Black skin might scare them if I’m too demonstrative—too passionate about a subject. Too anything! Remember Honey in our early Jesus freak days how some White Christian chick told me that my Afro offended her, and I needed to get rid of it because she thought I looked like a Black radical and that freaked her out? Good grief. This chick was supposed to be my sister-in-Christ for Christ’s sake. Ride or die for Jesus and all!
WW: I loved that Afro on you. Talk about sexy!
ME. Focus Babe. I think the thing that chilled me to the bone this week is that it doesn’t seem to matter how much education a Black person has, how much money, how much status, how much talent, how innocuous our activities—our skin color can get the police called on us by any entitled White person—just because they can. We are rarely given the benefit of the doubt. Remember how Professor Henry Louis Gates Jr., Harvard’s most prominent scholar of African-American history, got arrested by a Boston policeman for entering his own house? You know, he’s the guy who helps celebrities find their roots, right? President Obama held a beer summit with Biden, Gates, and the cop to smooth things over. Conservative talk radio and Fox News trashed Obama about it for years. Well, we know now that Gates and that policeman became friends. In fact, the policeman gave Professor Gates a sample of his DNA, and the two of them turned out to be distant cousins and share a common Irish ancestor. (So take that and shove it up your ass, Fox News.)
WW: Maybe that’s the answer to the beginning of healing for our country from racism. Maybe if we as White people recognize our privileges and entitlements and stop clinging to them, then we could seek out what connects us as human beings with all people of color.
ME: And WORK, WORK, WORK together to change policies, and laws, and institutions…
CONVERSATION ON RACISM TO BE CONTINUED…
*Ashkenazi Jew: originally from Eastern Europe, Germany, Russia
**Sephardic Jew: originally from Spain, Portugal, Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia
Lest you think I’m being hyperbolic comparing Amy Cooper’s false accusation to the policemen’s heartless murder of George Floyd, I find that the demonic spirit of both comes from the same well-spring—racism. Our history is replete with these nightmares that haunt African-Americans on a daily basis. Here are just a few:
1891 Joe Coe’s lynching—Lizzie Yates, a 5-year-old, said she was raped by a Black man. Coe was a railroad porter, husband and father of two. Witnesses vouched for his upstanding character and whereabouts on the day in question. Many years later Lizzie Yates confessed she had lied.
1921 Tulsa Race Massacre—Sarah Page accused a Black teen of assaulting her, which later on proved not to be true. Dozens of Black people were killed, hundreds were injured and thousands were left homeless or displaced. Greenwood (affectionately known as the Black Wall Street) was home to scores of lawyers, teachers, preachers, bankers, and business owners. The entire town of Black residents was burned to the ground by Whites (nationally renowned Black surgeon A.C. Jackson—the best in the nation—was gunned down while standing on his front porch trying to cooperate with the attackers). What wasn’t burned was confiscated. It has been recorded that for years afterwards the once wealthy Black women of Greenwood saw their jewelry worn with prideful abandonment by White women who passed them on the streets of Tulsa, Oklahoma.
1923 Rosewood massacre—Fannie Taylor accused an unidentified Black man of assaulting her (accusation proved to be a lie—she was having an affair with a White lover who beat her). Many of the Black people in the mostly Black township were massacred by White Supremacists and Rosewood was obliterated.
1931 Scottsboro boys’ trial for rape—Victoria Price and Ruby Bates (suspected of prostitution, they tried to escape potential morality charges by accusing nine black teenagers [age 13 – 19] of raping them on a train). The women were examined by a doctor but no evidence of said rapes were found.
1955 Murder of Emmett Till—Carol Bryant accused 14-year-old Emmett of whistling at her and flirting (a few years ago—6 decades later—Bryant admitted to falsely accusing Emmett and said: “nothing that boy did could ever justify what happened to him”). Emmett was beaten, mutilated, shot in the head, and thrown in the Tallahatchie River after being bound to a 70-pound cotton gin fan. He was discovered three days later. His face was so disfigured his own mother couldn’t recognize him. The killers were acquitted, although they subsequently boasted to Look Magazine (for thousands of dollars) that they were responsible and proud of it. After his death, Emmett Till became an icon of the civil rights movement.
DEAR WHITE PEOPLE: If you are wondering why you should read about these horrors (after all, you didn’t commit them—no one you knew was involved in these crimes—you weren’t even alive for the majority of them)—think again. I challenge you to listen, learn, and absorb these stories and many, many more. Unfortunately, there are too many to list here. But that is what the Google machine is for. Search out these stories, not only to appear “woke,” but to gain an understanding of why traveling through life with Black skin can truly be misinterpreted as the mark of Cain by many a White person who will swear on their mother’s grave that they are not racist.
Cartoon used by permission: 239607 The Death of George Floyd by Jeff Koterba Omaha World Herald NE
Eleanor Tomczyk is an author and a humorist who is an award-winning voice-over performer. In 2011, she created the blog, “How the Hell Did I End Up Here” which features mostly satirical posts that have thousands of readers around the world—although she was recently banned in Pakistan (for real!). Tomczyk’s three books were featured in a recent book festival: “Monsters’ Throwdown,” “Fleeing Oz,” and “The Fetus Chronicles—Podcasts to my Miseducated Self.” Currently in her 70s and living life like it is freakin’ golden, she is a consummate storyteller and much sought-after motivational speaker. If you don’t believe me, just ask her!
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