ethel’s words

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The Black Experience has not been relegated to history. Like the Native American Experience that continues with vicious vigor, it clings to every rough edge in white culture. It defines “Blackness”. It began when slaves were freed--thrust into a society that wanted to use them but did not want to associate with them. (Freed slaves did not have to be fed during idle seasons.) The endless proscriptions and prescriptions were fortified by the Jim Crow laws. The unpredictable and usually life-threatening treatment of (then) “colored” persons--both genders, all ages--created an insecurity almost as painful as slavery.

Racism still permeates white culture, poised to leap from pages of a book; ready to sound like clanging prison doors; haunting the crooked wrinkles of the white brain, whence it will color a voice with anti-Black echoes.

Am I forgetting all the years that have passed since a right to vote meant any color as well as any gender? (I still shudder at the bloodstains on freedom’s ballot.) Am I not remembering “how it was” and forgetting the irreversible changes?

Surely I could not forget those turbulent years--even as one not on the sidelines but able to withdraw at will. I could not forget the inchoate victories. Yet, today, I still see Black youths (along with other black-haired ethnics and a sprinkling of poor whites) herded into concentration camps called prisons. I see fewer-than-expected-increases in Black access to higher education. Fame goes to rappers--at whose genius I marvel--but where are the opportunities for engineers, doctors, architects, physicists, that we hoped would appear? We may marvel at the skills and talents of entertainers and athletes--but still we deplore the promotion of sports (especially the continuance of boxing--that horror of the poor) to the detriment of other pursuits.

A few years ago there was a huge protest over a word; I commented then that I was puzzled--maybe confused. I have always recognized the superior leadership abilities of Black Yankee Americans. But at this stage of struggle--a WORD? Still, I remind myself that I depend--a lot--on mainstream media. (Why so much coverage of protest of a word, and so little on The Million-Man-March against violence--that revolutionary inspiration so far ahead of white time? An insight into taming humanity that is so lacking in current political thought? (Now, consider who did it.)

The Black Experience that I observe is still: unequal opportunity, unequal justice under law, unequal treatment in finance, and (over-) representation in prisons. We should not be blinded by the vision of a few breaking through walls. The Black experience may no longer include nameless bodies in the Mississippi, but the brutalizing of Rodney King--one of the exposed cases we know about--was not so long ago. Not long ago.

Ethel C. Hale