“Someone once said to me that the people in general cannot bear very much reality. He meant by this that they prefer fantasy to a truthful recreation of their experience.”
~ James Baldwin, “Mass Culture and the Creative Artist: Some Personal Notes,” 1959
In recent days, I have been reading the writings of noted author James Baldwin. Partly redirected to his perspective after watching “I Am Not Your Negro,” a new film based on his unfinished book, I am trying to make sense of this present reality. But, I am also at a loss for words while in need of a strong defense so as not to be sucked into this alternate reality.
I need to hear the truth, to be reassured that it exists as I have never witnessed people so devoted to a leader that they are willing to accept egregious errors, to make his enemies their own, to attack anyone who disagrees with him. To be sure, I have read about it but I have not lived through it and I need coping skills. My feelings are similar to when I learned of the murders of nine members of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, South Carolina at the hands of Dylan Roof.
I was not prepared for my reaction. I was angry but not for the reasons that I would have suspected. I was angry because it had happened again and in my mind, it wasn’t suppose to. “Don’t we all know that this is wrong now?”
The answer was too much for me to bear. I didn’t speak for days. There was no explanation for this. “Don’t tell me about his belief in white supremacy. There is no reason to shoot nine bowed heads, nine praying heads, to kill people in church or any other place.”
This was too familiar. The address had changed but the attack was the same. I had learned about the deaths of the four little girls at the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama but that was different. They were in a book that I could finish reading and close. That was American history– not America at present. The lie of our progression came crashing down on my head.
This was happening right now and was being recorded in me. I didn’t want the words. Sure, I could close the book but I could not close my eyes. I thought that I had gotten much farther away from race. However, the daily headlines were pulling me closer still.
Travel bans, the arrest of “illegal immigrants,” the desecration of Jewish cemeteries, a rise in hate crimes and white supremacist groups, I don’t know how long I can last under this administration. I know that I do not prefer the fantasy, that I need to hear the truth about my reality and to find the words lost in these moments. This morning, I am wondering about whiteness, what it means to be an American and if we will ever get away from race.
I don’t want to take a vacation from race. I don’t want to go on a trip to separate myself from it. Because I am not the one who needs to leave; instead, I want to know how long I will have to live with this… this lie, this abuse, this power struggle? Is there no secret panel, no back door, no way out of this social contract?
Because this is not working for me. So, why does it work for so many others? Why are there not more persons seeking to get away from race?