Shall We Go Down Asleep?
Until I met the historian Howard Zinn, at seventeen, I had never encountered a white person, especially a white man who identified as white, who didn’t seem frightening. I had every reason to feel this way, as history proves. There were of course “white looking” people, my mother’s midwife buddy and her family, for instance, who were not feared, because as highly respected farmers and healers, they inspired respect. Whether we even wondered why they were not brown skinned and spiral* haired like us, is doubtful; no one spoke of the rapes that black people – countless women and children but also men – endured at the hands of white rapists; nor of interracial passion and love, the latter of which I learned as an adult accounted for the straight hair and pale skin of the midwife’s children.
My mother had an almost friend in the person of Miss Janie, a white woman who lived down the road from us, but their inequality was obvious in what segregated society demanded they call each other: Miss Janie to Minnie Lou. Still, an “almost friendship” was something. My mother treasured it.
This man would have been terrifying to me as a child. Large, white, that drawl. And so it is a special treat to hear him speak words so different from what I might have imagined him saying.
Since the Fukushima nuclear meltdown of 2011 we are living at the edge of our extinction as a species. There is vast and ardent denial, but humans who are awake and doing the planetary homework realize the insatiable jackals of human greed have caught up with us at last. But perhaps we are simply programmed to die as divided and confused as we have lived.
But where’s the joy in that?
So far the beginning of the end is miserable and messy. Grown men terrorizing, raping, and bombing children will always nauseate. Police shooting unarmed homeless people and teenagers will continue to appall. The droning of grandmothers, the looting of Earth, the deliberate torturing of all species, will continue to make us heartsick and ashamed.
Into this burdensome sorrow comes this large, white, drawling man. A kind of Southern hill billy or back country Buddha*. There isn’t much good news these days about transformation, early or late, on our beautiful but dying planet. But this man is. Even if he still longs to return to an America that I know never existed.
But he probably means the America of the Sixties, when many Americans of all colors bravely opened our eyes.
*Buddha: the awakened one.
*I thank poet Dedan Gills for the lovely description of black people’s natural hair as “spiraling” like the rest of the cosmos.