I don’t know if things will get better for Black people in America, but I am absolutely certain that they can.
Why am I so certain?
Let me tell you a story…
My father taught me awareness and perseverance. He taught me how to read and write and play music. Any kind of forward momentum I have ever felt in my life has come from his initial push.
I have felt this way as long as I can remember and in case you couldn’t tell, I’m a daddy’s boy. Always have been. So, you can imagine my panic a few years ago when my father got sick. He had a series of strokes and was diagnosed with cancer.
I became very protective of him. I quit touring and stayed close to home. I would take him around to run errands and to his medical appointments. He preferred to be driven in his car, a big, black Ford with veteran’s vanity plates that, showing his pride of his service and heritage, read BLKVET (as in Black Veteran).
One afternoon we were driving down the highway back from one of his chemo treatments when I notice an SUV all the way on the other side of the highway about to merge.
Normally, I don’t notice cars merging three lanes over, but I did notice this particular SUV that happened to have its entire back windshield covered with a decal of the confederate flag. I actually noticed the decal second. The first thing I noticed was the actual, full-sized confederate flag that was flying from a pole attached to the side of the vehicle.
Yup. Two giant, confederate flags on the same fucking truck. I guess the guy really wanted to make a point.
Now, look. I’ve got a little bit of gray in my beard, a career and I’ve never been to jail. I’m an adult and I know how to navigate my life.
But here’s the thing. Like I said, I’m a daddy’s boy. And my daddy was 17 years old when Medgar Evers was murdered, shot in the back. He was 19 when Malcolm was murdered, shot in the chest. Twenty-two when Dr. King was murdered, shot in the head. And the same night Dr. King was murdered, my father was arrested in Ohio for being Black. Understand, while Blckness was not what he was officially charged with, my daddy was jammed into a cell shoulder-to-shoulder-full with only Black men and probably every Black man the authorities could find.
The good people of Whereverthefuckever, Ohio, were in fear of a violent revolution and so, along with spending a life under threat for being Black while using the wrong bathroom or water fountain or entrance or making too much money or eye contact or being in the wrong restaurant or grocery store or town, my daddy and the Black men around him were made to fear for their lives in a makeshift internment camp, you know, just in case. But my daddy survived that and countless other systemic and personal harassments, indignities and threats during his 70 years of life in this country. And for him, an elderly, dying man to have to suffer one more harassment, indignity and threat presented as the confederate flags of some no account, milquetoast motherfucker who isn’t worth the smell of shit on his own breath, well, it was more than this daddy’s boy could stand.
Now, before I go on, in case you didn’t know, when a white person calls a Black person a nigger, it’s much more than a nasty name. A white person calling a Black person nigger is celebrating the fact that our society views Black people as less than human. It’s cheering at the fact that to be Black in America means to face personal and systemic violence alone. A white person calling a Black person nigger is saying, “You could die screaming, devoured by the very beasts that protect and nurture me and for that I am glad.”
A white person flying the confederate flag has more than all of the intentions and implications of calling a Black person a nigger but lacking the necessary courage required in singling someone out or even just using one’s voice. That’s what the fuck the goddamned confederate flag has always meant to me and a whole lot of other Black people.
And this motherfucker has two of them.
So, even though I am an adult with a career and a little bit of gray in my beard, I cut across traffic and pull up next to this bigot. And I’m staring at him. And my father, who is definitely not happy I’m doing this, is also staring at him. And I can’t wait for this fucking fool to look over and see two Black men in a black car with Black plates just staring at him. I can’t wait for him to lose his goddamned mind over the very clear judgment in our faces. I can’t wait to see him flip us off. I can’t wait to see his foul, racist blood expose that vein in his forehead.
But, when he eventually looks over none of that happens. Instead he sees us and immediately breaks eye contact, looks down and away. And he does so in such a manner that what he’s feeling is as obvious as his racism.
He was ashamed of himself and it was incredible to see. It was so striking that, if it wasn’t for the third confederate flag on his fucking hat, I would’ve thought he was just borrowing the vehicle from his racist uncle or whatever.
The whole thing was so crazy. I mean, I saw those flags telling my father and I that we were worth less. Then I cut across the highway and pulled up next to that racist motherfucker because I wanted to look him in his fucking eye and have him explain to my dying father and me who he thought was worth less. And he did. It was him.
And that made me realize that things can change. Because shame is a recognition of standards. It’s an acknowledgment that there are societal expectations that were not met. And if even this fucking idiot feels compelled to acknowledge those expectations, then those expectations exist for everyone.
But we have to make sure it stays that way.
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