SINS OF THE FATHERS

Published October 18, 2022 by Nan Mykel

I acknowledge that most white folks both look down on and fear blacks, and my guess is that most black folks hate, resent and fear whites.  I accept now that U.S. has a problem with systemic racism, after seeing and reading about police persecutions and especially the governmental role  of the  USDA, as discussed at length in the Nation’s 2021 article  “Forced Off Their Land,” by Kali Holloway:

“Since 1965, multiple federal agencies–most notably the USDA itself–have issued reports citing, as the US Commission on Civil Rights put it that year,  “unmistable evidence that racial discrimination”  within the Agricultural  Department “has served to accelerate the displacement and impoverishment of the Negro farmer.”

Recently I wrote against paying reparations for blacks, misunderstanding that it was not for years of slavery but for the discrimination of the USDA.  (Lindsey Graham had referred to it as “slavery reparations,” and I bit.)

Earlier this year the  Department of Treasury observed that “Racial inequality is the unequal distribution of resources, power, and economic opportunity across race in a society. While the discussion of racial inequality in the United States is often focused on economic inequality, racial inequality also manifests itself in a multitude of ways that alone and together impact the well-being of all Americans. This includes racial disparities in wealth, education, employment, housing, mobility, health, rates of incarceration, and more”.1

The Nov.-Dec issue of Mother Jones reminds us that the government also discriminated against black veterans of World War II.  Benefits of the G.I. Bill were administered at the state level, where white officials served as “gatekeepers.”

Fate arranged it–or bad luck of the draw–My genealogical line is tainted with prejudice.  My great great grandmother (b. 1831) was loosely related to to Judge Taney, and visited him while he was pondering his decision in the Dred Scott decision.  Our family genealogy says that she influenced the way he subsequently ruled.  I’m sorry.   An earlier settler from England mistreated his imported slaves, and Francis Scott Keys’ statue has been toppled.  Another forbear, much admired by me, was a Dixiecrat.  I’m sorry. 

As for me, if I have any prejudice it is of the unconscious kind.   I have the greatest respect for black women.  I loved Georgia. our elderly black babysitter whose husband died, she borrowed money from my father,  was unable to pay him back, and he griped about it.  She did not return to us. I missed her and our days listening to Arthur Godfreys and All the Little Godfreys on the radio. I recently learned from reading my diary written as a youngster that I mis-remembered a conversation with her.  I thought I remembered her saying that she’d  cook at my wedding and that I had corrected her and said she’d dance at my wedding, whereupon she laughed and said, “Wouldn’t that be something!”

Imagine my chagrin when I found my  diary recently and read that just the reverse was true.  I corrected her and said she’d cook at my wedding.  Her response was not changed, however. She laughed and said wouldn’t that be something.  As an adult in Atlanta I housed one of the black families heading northward as part of the Mule Train, and much later had three wonderful black counseling interns when I worked at the prison.

The impetus for this post was first, the statement I quoted in an earlier post this year by Lyndon Johnson,; the article mentioned above in the Nation; and an old song I recently found and read from the library’s giveaway shelf —I Hear America Singing  by Ruth A. Barnes in 1937.  The song/poem is as follows:

CHRISMUS ON THE PLANTATION

It was Chrismus Eve, I mind hit fu’ a mighty gloomy day–

Bofe de weathah an’ de people–not a one of us was gay;

Cose you’ll t’ink dat’s mighty funny ‘twell I try to mek hit cleah,

Fu’ a da’ky’s allus happy when de holidays is neah,

But we wasn’t, fu’ dat mo’nin’ Mastah ‘d tol’ us we mus’ go,

He’d been paying us since freedom, but he couldn’t pay no mo’;

He wasn’t nevah used to plannin’ ‘fo’ he got so po’ an’ ol’

So he gwine to give up tryin’, an’ de homestead mus’ be sol’.

I kin see him stan’in’ now erpon de step ez clear ez day,

Wid de win’ a-kind o’ fondlin’ thoo his haih all thin and gray;

An’ I membah how he trimbled when he said, “It’d h’d fu’ me,

Not to make yo’ Chrismus brightah, but I ‘low it wa’n’t to be.”

All de women was a-cryin’, an’ de men, too, on de sly,

An’ I noticed somep’n shinin’ even in ol’ Mastah’s eye.

But we all stood still to listen ez ol’ Ben come f’om de crowd

An’ spoke up, a-try’n’ to steady down his voice and mek it loud:

“Look hyeah, Mastah, I’s been servin’ you fu’ lo! dese many yeahs,

An’ now, sence we’s got freedom an’ you’s kind o’ po’. hit ‘pears

Dat you want us all to leave you ’cause you don’t t’ink you can pay.

Ef my membry hasn’t fooled me, seem dat whut I hyead you say.

“Er in othah wo’ds, you want us to fu’git dat you’s been kin’,

An ‘ez soon ez you is he’pless, we’s to leave you hyeah behin’.

Well, ef dat’s the way dis freedom ac’s on people, white or black,

You kin jes tell Mistah Lincum fu’ to tek his freedom back.

“We gwine wo’k dis ol’ plantation fu’ whatevah we kin git,

Fu I know hit did suppo’t us, an’ de place kin do it yit.

Now de land is yo’s, de hands is ouahs, an’ I eckon we’ll be brave,

An’ we’ll bah ez much ez you do w’en we has to scrape an’ save.”

Ol’ Mastah stood dah tremblin’, but a-smilin’ thoo his teahs,

An’ den hit seemed jes’ nachul-like, de place fah rung wid cheahs,

An’ soon ez day was quiet, some one sta’ted sof’ an’ low:

“Praise God,” an’ den we all jined in, “from whom all blessin’s flow!”

Well, dey wasn’t no use tryin’, ouah min’s was sot to stay,

An’ po’ ol’ Mastah couldn’t plead ner baig, ner drive us ‘way,

An’ all at once, hit seemed to us, de day was bright agin,

So evahone was gay day night, and watched de Chrismus in.

–Paul Laurence Dunbar

Whew!   I was initially suspicious of Dunbar’s motive. Was he knowingly writing a false tale? Was the language to make fun of the freed slaves? (Our culture today has made me suspicious.)  Was he a daring liberal? Was this a serious, possibly true poem?  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Paul Laurence Dunbar (1872-1906) was the only black student in his graduating class at Central High School in Dayton, was editor of his school’s newspaper and president of its literary society.  (Orville Wright was a classmate).  And his parents were former slaves in Kentucky.

So, why this post on race?  Probably some felt guilt when I hear angry voices shouting “he was a slave owner.”  And the disconnect when folks pretend to be Christians while reviling their God’s  other children.  To me it takes a lot of gall to claim to be religious and racist at the same time.  How can white folks deny  systemic racism at the same time they’re wishing blacks would go home to Africa?  I don’t know the percentage of current black U.S. citizens who came to this country as slaves, but it’s hardly their fault for having been enslaved and shipped here in leg irons.  There’s a photo of the leg irons used on slave ships, and probably for economic reasons they were not used on a slave’s two feet, but with the irons attached to the leg of one man and and the other leg iron to a slave next to him. (There’s pictures in an article on recovered wrecks of                                                                 slave ships on Google.)

I feel that this post is being written at an incredibly juvenile level but it does state my current opinions, fears, questions and disgust.  And wouldn’t it be a breath of fresh air if “Chrismus On The Plantation” were a true story!

Post Script: Writing this post got me to wondering about the contents of CRT, so I checked Google for books on systemic racism and found on book sites “way over 25 book titles.”

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