Sing a song full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,
Sing a song full of the hope that the present has brought us;
Facing the rising sun of our new day begun Let us march on til victory is won
—“Lift Every Voice and Sing,” James Weldon and Rosamund Johnson
The January 6, 2020 insurrection at the nation’s Capitol was no surprise to me. I’d experienced how the election of Barack Obama had activated and renewed overt racial hatred in a country that fancied itself post-racial when it was anything but that.
The current president’s tenure, which sought nothing more than to blot out what his predecessor had achieved, was demonstrably undergirded by a devout following of a large number of Americans who were unfazed by his nationalism, treatment of women, crass mean spiritedness and anti-BIPOC policies and positions, many of whom who identify as Christians. I was confounded by my naiveté when racist wrath exploded in Charlottesville, Virginia, during the Unite the Right’s 2017 Klan rallies that were the harbingers of what we witnessed on January 6.
I was born near the end of the Civil Rights era, in 1965. I attended integrated schools as part of the experiment that is American public education where I was miseducated, along with generations of my peers with the single narrative of American exceptionalism where all the heroes and heroines were white and the rest of us were only mentioned as ancillary, dispensable characters cast as merely the enslaved, farmworkers and savages.
As a parent, I taught my children as much as I knew about our culture and their lived experience provided a grounding that their formal education did not. I have often lamented how naive I was to think that they would not inherit the world that we all have. Quite frankly, I didn’t know I’d see days like this either. I have always hung on the words, hopes and visions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the lyrical genius and hopefulness of Stevie Wonder, Earth Wind and Fire and Prince—those who put hope’s score to music, that love would conquer all and a belief that the arc of the moral universe would someday bend in the direction of justice.
I genuinely believed that the worst was behind us. During Thanksgiving 2018, though, our 100-year old family friend, Mrs. Mary Fleming said that the racism we were now under was worse than she had ever known.
The wanton police brutality, culminating in last year’s heinous lynching of George Floyd in public view and all those too many to name before and in between who got no justice and no peace have kept me woke and awake.
What enrages me most is to have my elders, among them, my Ma, Brunette Paul, who is 78 years young, relive the terror they experienced during America’s Jim Crow apartheid years in what should be their golden years.
My mother easily recounts the night the Ku Klux Klan rode through her Stillman College campus in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and the fear she experienced crouched under her bed not knowing what would happen; the humiliation she experienced while integrating a school in my hometown of Daytona Beach, Florida, as a newly-minted elementary teacher where she had to eat her lunch alone in a janitor’s closet, during the half day she taught at the white school and other demeaning experiences that were legislated par for the course during her early youth and adulthood.
For sure, the year 2020 left me weary with silent tears, muddling my way through a pandemic and the festering sores of my country’s brutal maltreatment of my fore mothers and fathers, still never acknowledged or settled.
The lyrics of the Negro National Anthem, penned by Florida brothers James Weldon and Rosamund Johnson often come to mind:
We have come over a way that with tears has been watered,
We have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered,
Out from the gloomy past, till now we stand at last
Owing all to those on whose shoulders I stand, my greatest desire is to shield my loved ones from harm, and also to ensure in all ways possible that the truth of this matter is told and never forgotten or whitewashed, lest future’s children be also blindsided. It is about race, which is its own power and wealth in a nation which values this construct as currency so. That’s all it ever was and to forewarn those to come that given history’s record, that is all it will ever be—at least ’til victory is won.