Hands In The Melting Pot
“Sometimes they call me John, “Booker Wright said. “Sometimes they call me Jim. Sometimes they call me nigger – all that hurts – but you have to smile. I always keep that smile.”
Booker was a waiter in Greenwood, Mississippi in 1966 speaking to a television crew for an interview that was aired nationally. Weeks later, he was dead. The racism of that time was deep and easily offended by the truth as spoken by the oppressed. These strictures had lasting effects for generations, on Jim Crow and Joe Black, who both carried deep hatred in their souls.
The passage of time and distance facilitates change and gives way to hindsight and self-introspection. Society changes, morality becomes moral and people gain greater comprehension of the understanding of humanity. Yet the anguish of injustice grows louder, the voices, clearer.
Jim Crow morphed from the brash keeper of the Klan’s flame to the quiet fire of a perceived inbred superiority. White sheets became business suits, burning crosses became coded language and blatant discrimination became a backroom idol, worshipped by the handlers of fear and the fearful.
Joe Black harbored an intense hatred and distrust of an entire race, a tenet ingrained over the span of lifetimes. And soon, Joe Black replaced fear with an anger that simmered just beneath his skin and blinded his ability to see the soul of any white person.
Racism has two sides. Prejudice has many more.
And then came self-examination.
It started with language – words having power to alter social mores – setting in motion changes that were constant and gradual. Generational labels that traveled a ragged line; from nigger to Negro to Black to Afro-American, these titles were indicative of a shifting perspective of race and a precursor to a social shift of Blackness.
There is a new Black now, generations removed from Jim Crow and Joe Black, a new decade, the children of children’s children who know nothing of lynching and beatings and Stepin Fetchit. No knowledge of the tremendous weight of living under a social institution that deemed a life valueless due to the color of one’s skin. This new age Black (some even say African-American) has no way of relating to the struggle that got them from that day to this hour. Martin Luther King, Jr is a man that they see during Black History Month. The life of Malcolm X came to them via a theater screen. Their view of life is a clean slate – to the utter amazement of Jim Crow and Joe Black.
What do they do when their children don’t see race the same way that they do? What can they do when their children reject their aged teachings of irrational hate? What happens when they see the world changing around them?
Maybe a heart to heart talk with the soul is in order. Maybe there has to be recognition of the beauty of the multicolored, multi-cultural hands reaching into the melting pot.