...and Edwards is all right, as far as “all right goes.”I am, as was said by the late great Richard Wright and of late, John Edwards, a Native Son. I grew up in the racist separate and unequal South, Georgia, Tennessee and Miami, Florida, my hometown. Like all of Dixie, Miami was segregated: There was our part of town, “nigger town,” Jews and Dagos on Miami Beach and a sprinkled arrangement of Caribbean and South Americans.
My mother was a waitress at a fried food joint just down the street from the Seaboard Rail Road station. She was what is called a “Georgia cracker – a hillbilly.” She came from a dirtfarm family of Euro-Americans, Scotch-Irish, English, and the Cherokee Nation. There were 12 kids and an alcoholic, wife and child-beating father who died early from the disease. She was racist. My Atlanta born dad, gone to WWII, was a plumber, an alcoholic and a racist. In other words I was one step above the stereotypical southern white trash, minus a trailer park – My mother would die in one. Lonely, old, of a self-inflicted bullet in her head.
In Miami, my best friend was Audrey. I was 5 and he was 8. His mother was the cook. They were black. He could play the harmonica and climb the one tall coconut tree in our yard. I was every kid with an older friend, envious. I begged and begged him to teach me how to play the harmonica. I was not adept enough to scale that tree no matter how hard I tried.
But I did love music. There was no TV to distract my ear. My mother yodeled me to sleep and the radio of the 1940’s carried the music of the thirties and forties, the swing and romance music of the war, the wild wailing of Hank Williams and Patsy Cline everyday. So the sound of Audrey on that harmonica was more than music to my ears, it could be my first attempt to create what I loved. But I could never get him to show me and he would never explain why.
One afternoon as Audrey and I played in the front yard, my mother sitting on her chair on our small front porch, he finally succumbed and blew into the instrument and said something to the effect, “you try that. Blow there,” indicating the holes into which I was to exhale.
Known and very popular cialis coupon which gives all the chance to receive a discount for a preparation which has to be available and exactly cialis coupons has been found in the distant room of this big house about which wood-grouses in the houses tell.
There seemed an eternity from when he began to extend the harmonic from his mouth to my hand. As it traveled the few feet towards me I saw a flight of body move out of the corner of my right eye. Before my hand could grasp the instrument my mother had my hand and was yanking me to my feet. Dragging me towards the house she screamed something unintelligible at Audrey and he took off running with the harmonica in hand.
She screamed at me: “Don’t you ever put nothing in you mouth that belongs to a nigger. They are dirty filthy people. Their skin is filthy. Can’t you see that? You can get all kindsa diseases from them?”
The world as I knew it collapsed. I may have heard “nigger” before. I must have heard the daily mutterings of my white kin as they disparaged the African Americans so familiar to us Southerners. Not just the rag man, or ice man, but as they moved silently through out lives. But I had never been confronted with their insanity as I was on that day. And I knew. I knew in my gut, she was insane. Every white person who can think knows that shit is insane. But in the cultural redundancy it becomes Pavlovian, conditioned racism and/or a sign of great insecurity. That is what propels the overt racism at the heart of America. And I had resentment. How dare she take my best friend away from me when he had done nothing but liked me … befriended me?
I never saw Audrey again. My life changed. We moved to Chicago, Illinois – then the outskirts. Segregation was less strict but always present. The family business was building trades, unionized. The business hired blacks and they worked among us. If they were not equal, it was beyond my consciousness. I know in retrospect that it must have been but I never heard my stepfather, the son of a Polish-Lithuanian, Scranton, Pennsylvania coalminer, use the word “nigger” – nor act in a racist manner. But by then I was already alienated from the white culture. I was into music, rock and roll, alcohol and girls. When we moved back South o the segregated Florida Keys I was in my mid-teens, a rebel already gripped by my family’s genetic disease of alcoholism. I had found the blues and there was only two places to get the blues in your head: WLAC that great Nashville station that played the blues into the early morning hours, and black bars.
In retrospect I understand the privilege of my European-hued skin: I entered black bars in black neighborhoods to buy booze with both a sense of naivete, a true lack of fear, while my peers cowered, waiting in the locked car for my return. It would not occur to me until many years later, that I, a teenage white boy was as safe as if in my grandmother’s arms. No black person, male or female of that day and place would dare threaten much less harm me for fear of the kind of racist reprisal that would come from both civilians and the law. In my halo of ignorance however, I would linger long past the delivery of the beer across the counter enamored of the music and the ease by which the patron’s moved and talked, danced and laughed and played. In the most bizarre of strange ways, I felt at home. I felt as if in a nurturing womb of sensation and life alien to the world into which I was born.
I moved through that culture as if by invitation. And while I am not naïve today, my naivete and/or ignorance of the tensions between white and black, I not only became comfortable with the manner and language, I came to genuinely like the people that were hospitable to me, a boy so lost of himself, as all alcoholics are.
My disease would lead to even greater social dysfunction and running away from the alcoholic, terror ridden home of my mother and stepfather lead eventually to arrests and jails, that lead to reform school and the true legacy of the slave South. The legacy of apartheid, the phobic racism of the white population played out in ways that were not avoidable. Florida School for Boys at Mariana was segregated. One side was white the other “colored.” The twain only met at two places. One the reform school’s central laundry.
I did what I always did when I “couldn’t take it anymore,” whatever level of rage or turmoil indicated that feeling. I ran away. Caught I was brought to that other place where blacks and whites shared a space: a place called ironically “the White House.”
That is where the white state men took kids who violated too many rules, or ran away, black and white, were beaten. They called it a paddle, but it was two lather straps with holes that met at a tapered end that when used skillfully, tore the skin from the lower back, ass and upper legs of the boys.
It had two rooms. In the one on the left they beat blacks and the one on the right was where they beat whites. The beatings were torture – both physical as then came reining down one after another until the man doing the beating decided you’d had enough. They were psychological: they kept you waiting while they beat the other boys so you had to endure their screams; reminding you of what you had just experienced, or terrifying you of what was to come. They threatened to beat you all the more if you moved or called out. It was torture. You could hear in their cracker drawls the centuries of madness exercised against African Americans, Native Americans and the poor whites that fell victim to their rule.
For some reason I found sitting on the black boys rack waiting to be beaten in the other room bizarre. It seemed so odd that they wouldn’t just beat me where I was. It was my second confrontation with the construct of racial insanity.
When I was taken to the infirmary to have the briars imbedded in my legs from where we’d hidden in running from the State cars, the town doctor who came once a week or upon call for the injured refused me anesthesia as he scalped out the briars.
“Boy like you don’t deserve no pain killer,” he said to me as I cried out from the pain.
My third meeting with the institutional racism of the South was as a basketball player on the school team. In Chicago my stepfather had taken me to see the Harlem Globetrotters. Like the millions who would come to be amazed by their ball handling that impression never left me. I then shared it with the bald headed jock of a coach during time out. He raged, sending me to the locker room. He followed me into the room and grabbed me by the throat screaming, “what was that you said – what did you say about them niggers?” He continued to scream at me, slamming my head into the locker over and over again. Only exhaustion or some level of appropriateness caused him to stop. I knew then what every sane person in America knows. Racism is not just discrimination – it is just not about dividing the poor and working class – it is about a terrible, psychotic strain that runs like a blood-born virus throughout the American consciousness.
I grew up following the trials and tribulations and supportive of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Civil Rights movement. By that time I had become a drummer and disc jockey already a dedicated blues fan of Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, Bobby Blue Bland, then falling in love with the jazz of Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Coleman, Dizzy Gillespie, Monk. I hung with black people, I jammed with black people and then one day I fell in love with a beautiful black woman who remained with me as my alcoholism took me to prison. In the Southern California of the early 1960’s prior to the Watts Rebellion prison was the Belly of the Beast. There I would meet America, the land that the white Christian Jesus gave to the Anglo-Saxons head on.
My relationship with the woman of color would brand me a “nigger lover.” The guards hated me, the white prisoners hated me, blacks treated me with a mixture of admiration, suspicion and out-right hostility for having taken that “black woman from them.” You either surrender, die or fight. I fought. I survived. And in a tortured way, I won. I became a prison organizer. I helped organize the first multi-racial prisoners union in the history of this nation.
And one day I became comrades with George Jackson, long time resistance fighter, black liberation leader, comrade who one tragic day would become known throughout the world as The Soledad Brother. After attempts by guards and white racist prisoners to kill me; when I didn’t surrender to the racism psychosis bled through the prison system George contacted me. We became friends and comrades. We shared both an analysis of American and the “Dachaus of America” that were holding African Americans as political prisoners; that were the catchall for the poor and dysfunctional of this nation. We shared dreams of a different America, a different world, one of personal, social and economic equality. We were socialists in a world of economic vampires.
I believe no greater bond can be made among humans this pledge of a shared vision and the work to bring it to fruition. It is a cause beyond one’s self. It is about selflessness.
When they came at me again spiriting me into yet another “administration segregation” where so many of us were killed or maimed, George came to my aid, securing the legal aid of the wonderful late Charles Garry and Fay Stender who saved me. I owe my life to him and to the late Huey Newton.
Newton’s decent in drug induced madness aside, they embodied the living legends of African American freedom fighters: Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth, Nat Turner, Sinque, Denmark Vesey, Malcolm X. And of course, John Brown. How can you value their heroic efforts to bring humanity to America and not see the world differently from that time on?
It is in that light that one can see the pathetic, American corporate chosen, paltry offering of Barack Obama. No one who values that history – understands the demands of ethics can support Barack Obama as the “first black president.” That is like comparing Booker T. Washington to W.E. DuBois or Frederick Douglas.
And Hillary Rodham Clinton? At one time Frederick Douglas argued against the equal nature of the oppression of women and that of the African American. His point was that white women by the nature of their relationship with the patriarch white male already had more rights and/or access to rights than did the African. The fact that his own male blindness prevented him from understanding the misogynist nature of this society, white and black, prevented him from approaching the issue more soundly.
However he may have been prescient and the questions is very simple: Would Hillary be a high profile contender for President if it were not for her relationship to Ex-President Bill Clinton? Does she on her own, have either the experience, a list of political or social accomplishments, a level of professional expertise warranting “front runner” status among the Democratic Party’s professional politicians? None apparent.
Clinton as the first female president? If you disqualify her from the list because of the lack of credentials you only have her as woman with the highest, political public profile. Compare her elective record to Nancy Pelosi or Dianne Feinstein. Neither would be any more acceptable as a “progressive” candidate. As a woman, leader of her own constituency, what extraordinary honors has she to her credit? None. On what ought to be the number one issue concerning women, the violent, misogynist war against women and children by rape-battery-murdering men, she’s said virtually nothing.
Can you imagine an African American running for president who did not list the disparity of black males arrested and imprisoned; the continuing nature of racial discrimination they face in virtually every living social situation – housing – jobs – insurance – loans and credit - health care. Or commenting on the number of inner cultural murders by African American young men by African American young men? Or the high level of death dealing drugs destroying the life and health of young people in the community? They would be boycotted in the least, if not ran out of the neighborhood.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is in the race because she is a past White House spouse – that of the most wife-cheating, Democratic Party presidents since John F. Kennedy. How can she speak for women given that she “stood by her man” as he lied to her, her child and to the American people?
And lastly, John Edwards: he alright as “far as alright goes.” Every black person knows what that means – it translates into for a white man he is ok, but I still don’t trust him very far. Let watch and see what he does next.
The Populist Edwards arguably “won” the debate the other night as the woman and the black candidates went at each other, leaving the unnamed “white boy” sitting stiffly on the sidelines. Even when Obama repeatedly referred to himself as the black candidate and Hillary as the female candidate, he acted as though Edwards had no other personage than being a “white male,” the demographic he pointed out that Edwards was playing for in South Carolina.
Why didn’t Edwards verbally slap Obama’s racist comment right back in his face? Why didn’t face down Obama when he proffered that patronizing “now John, don’t get defensive” remark the last time Obama played the race and gender card?
Why doesn’t Edward get it when the one answer to the nation’s health care crisis is a One Payer system – that finally cancels out the predatory insurance industry; why doesn’t he get it that this sub-prime loan rip-off has torpedoed the American (and world economy,) and that there is plenty of cash available to help poor – working and middle class folks, (only a millionaire jerk would suggest $650.00 as a helping hand in economic and petro crisis of 2008,) simply by ending the war and cutting the fear driven defense industry’s budget?
Why doesn’t he get it that his father and the other workers in that factory and all their kin have every bit as much right to the protections that black people do: if you understand the history of the South you understand that the blacks and the white yeomanry were opposites of the same glove Massa – Boss Man used to slap each of them down? (And this does not dismiss the worsened conditions of African Americans – it acknowledges the legacy of the depressed nature of class when it came to the poor and working white people in the South.)
I almost believe Edward’s commitment to end poverty and to fight for the working-middle class. What I think he lacks is the authentic connectivity to those folks. That may be too many years in the rarified courtroom with other thousand dollar-suited lawyers – it may be just too damn much money that cushions him from the hard scrabble, part consumer greed, part necessity kind of life that makes it OK to shop at world scavenger, slave labor Wal Mart. I don’t know. But it also keeps him from the one intangible connection to the constituency that could build the ground swell needed for him to be the next best president of the US.
And one last thing: the integrity he wears on his sleeve can’t just extend to the poor-working-middle class oppressed! Integrity means saying NO when the constitution of the United States is trampled right before your very eyes and free speech is only offered to the rich: He never said one word when fellow Democratic Kucinich was censored out of the race. And if you can’t trust him on the principled issue of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States as his principle adversary, George W. Bush is destroying it, then how can you trust him to change “the broke government” in Washington?
Michael O’McCarthy is the Special Features Editor for the Los Angeles Free Press, author of REBELS IN HELL, and widely published journalist and blogger at The Hollywood Liberal.com.
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