The following is something I have not shared with very many people. But it has been on my mind of late and I just want to put it down on paper, so to speak.
Lately, as I spend more and more time with African-Americans, I have come to see that everyone hates them. With Denver having a booming African population, it has become clear that even, and sometimes especially, Africans hate them. Naturally, this triggers my desire to defend them. But why?
Why do I love African-Americans so much? They aren’t my culture. We have very different lifestyles. There are some similarities in worldview, but once we leave the Gospel and Word of God, there is often a terrific break. My daughter loves the church and her friends there, but as she gets older, it’s going to be more and more difficult for her to live in both the white and black worlds. Yet I persist. Why? Why? Why? Why?
I’ll tell you.
So there I was. Balad, Iraq, ca. 2008 AD. It was my third of three deployments. My squadron–the aircrew at least–was exclusively male. The lone life support troop was often female. Can you imagine it? She’s half-way around the world, all by herself. Not all by herself, of course. She’s surrounded by men in their most primal environment. At this point in my story, you can probably guess that she was African-American. And she was Christian. I noticed this right away. The LORD was her rock.
One evening, she was with us at our dinner table. She ate quietly. The conversation was loose and the jokes were filthy. One of the more senior officers couldn’t seem to avoid vulgarities. Some might say he was in rare form with this woman present. It was like he was a fly and dick jokes were the light. He’d tell a story, and then the next would be worse. I kept looking towards her and I could tell she was not happy. I just wanted him to give it a rest. He didn’t.
When we returned from dinner, this woman went back to where she worked. There, for at least ninety nights, with no days off, she diligently cleaned and prepared all of our helmets, survival radios, vests, and most importantly the night vision goggles. She was the definition of mission-essential. She did this all by herself–save for when one of us would grace her with some attempted pleasantry.
Something inside me would not let the dinner scene go unaddressed. So I got off the couch and took a moment to walk over to where she worked and struck up a conversation. I said, fully expecting an explosion of gratitude, “If I was more of a man, I would have put a stop to the conversation you just had to listen to at dinner.”
I remember her stony eyes more vividly than her words, but I do remember that with great resolve, she said, “Would you have?” Then she repeated it, “Would you have?”
What about you, reader? Do you possess enough penetration to see my mistake?
She didn’t want some empathetic friend. She didn’t want some “we’re all in this together” moment. She wanted righteousness. And the fact that I admitted that I knew it was wrong, made me more guilty, more unrighteous, than my boss.
This young woman had something most of us don’t recognize and are unable to do anything more than talk about if we do see. It’s something only got by experience. It’s something that’s forgettable–but that would be a tragedy.
The more you hate on her, the more you kill it. And for what?
I don’t know. Maybe that might help you understand why I love African-Americans and think you should too.
Vanity Fair‘s current over-Thor-in-a-flattering-red-t-shirt’s-right-shoulder headline, “Can a man of God end a 21st-century SLAVE TRADE?”* caught my attention while checking out of the grocery store today. I haven’t bought a magazine in forever, and yet after just putzing around watching a bit of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid last night, I confess that I do not have the fortitude to quit reading cold turkey. (Sidebar: I’d never seen that movie, but it seems to me that besides J.K. Rowling owing her success to her J.R.R. Tolkien ripoff name, she also wasn’t very creative after all with Lord Voldemort. Lord Baltimore. Lord Voldemort. Just sayin’. End Sidebar.)
When I was in the Air Force, because of both the protect-the-weak aspect of the work and the worldwide deployment, in my last few years there was recurring training on human trafficking. We were to be vigilant on duty and off duty–if you get my drift. Aren’t euphemisms great? Instead of sex-slave, we say human trafficking. Wouldn’t want to offend the P.C. gods. Anyhow, sex-slaves are one thing, but two years into my re-indoctrination into the civilian world, I found myself teaching remedial math at a local inner-city (read: black and Hispanic) high school. Out of the blue I gathered that something fishy is going on. On the bulletin board outside my classroom hung all these student projects that were calling for the end of slavery. “WTF?!” was all I could not say out loud. Thirteen year old kids who couldn’t fill out a multiplication table were being encouraged to affirm that not enough was being done to end slavery? I was speechless. Add to this that students wrote sentences that were allowed to make it to the wall like, “This took me back 150 years.”
In any case, I just finished up learning about the origins of Friars and Monks and the like, so when I opened up the magazine and saw that the “man of God” was a Friar who photographed well, I began to read. Then the it was my turn, so I let my training take over and made the command decision to add the magazine to my cart. My question, “What the hell is going on with slavery? I thought that that abomination was eradicated once and for all from the planet. Am I really that out of touch?”
I think I mentioned previously that one concept that we discussed last semester was formal curriculum versus hidden curriculum. Churches are notorious for lacking due diligence to match these two up, and if Friar Xavier Plassat can be trusted, Brazil is guilty of the same charge. Slavery (formal) is illegal, yes. But “conditions analogous to slavery” (hidden) are still present.
Mom, Dad: don’t worry. I haven’t purchased a plane ticket.
Here’s my problem with the word slavery being thrown around today. It’s sensational nature precedes and overpowers it’s descriptive nature. That’s my judgement. America is so sensitive and guilty over its unconscionable past that, me as evidence, using the word slavery sells magazines (and online ads…). And social programs. And makes young white teachers sleep easy at night because they find themselves standing nobly amidst an atrocity, much like Lincoln and the Blue. I shamefully admit that “slavery” interests me more than “human trafficking.” But it’s an abuse of a journalist’s responsibility just the same.
For any cranky readers, please calm down and realize that I haven’t opined one way or another on the reported situation in Brazil. I will now. It’s horrific. The horror is not the conditions (though they are horrible) but that money has such an effect on people that impoverished, uneducated men and women hop on buses that are taking them who knows where, for who knows how long, and that other calculating men and women send out those buses to be able to “improve” their standard of living.
My take? I work in the heart of downtown Denver. The homeless are unmissable. One day I got a call that video security noticed a person laying outside the back door and he/she looked unresponsive. I made my way to the back door and opened it, hoping for the best. I saw matted grey hair and a lot of layers of black clothing. I said, “Excuse me, sir. But I think you are going to have to move from this spot.” His head turned, and she said, barked rather, “Of course, I have to fucking move.” (For a more accurate account of her demeanor, think back to the Princess Bride “Booooooo” scene.)
I do not possess the mental capacity to discern all the nuances of that exchange. What does it matter what I think about slavery in Brazil? I think Brazilians need to stop slavery. I’m not the one turning a blind eye to it. Are you? How about you? Are you turning a blind eye to slavery?
That homeless woman though? Some dad, some mom, some brother, some sister, some child, someone was the first to turn a blind eye on her. It surely wasn’t me. And least that’s what I tell myself so I can sleep at night.
*Langewiesche, William. “Slaves Without Chains.” Vanity Fair Holiday 2015/2016: 94+.
“Does anyone know who this man is?” asked the teacher with a playful smile. The question proved her worth on many levels. One of the two women in charge of the small class of four and five year old pre-kindergartners, she was about the only diversity these white youngsters ever experienced. And on this occasion her husband, also black, came to the classroom on some errand still wearing his business attire. He towered a healthy six foot two over the seated suburbanites-in-training.
The children shook their heads, revealing that they did not have a clue who the man was.
“M-? Is this your dad?” she joked again at poor M-‘s expense.
M- opened her eyes wide, shook her head in the horizontal plane and verbalized, “No.”
“So no one knows who this man is?” the teacher egged on one last time.
Finally, a beacon of light. Of all children, it was the daughter of Pete Deakon himself–writer of should-be-world-renowned blog post Black People Does Not Exist and self-proclaimed leader of the twenty-first century Renewed Effort to Stop Self-Segregation Movement in America (Denver its origins)–it was his little girl, the beloved H-, that fearlessly raised her hand and said, “I know who he is.”
Naturally, other children began to follow their new leader and place their hands in the air, indicating that they too had come to recognize the man.
Quieting down the kids, the teacher asked, “H-, you know who this man is?”
“He’s Martin Luther King!”
There are instances, as rare as double rainbows and three wolf moons, where the lines between our concept of pure joy and the reality of it blur. This is one of them. Take a moment, then, and join me in both picturing and experiencing the delight of the adults present in that classroom last week.
The man did not disappoint, by the way. He looked down at H- and declared, “I do have a dream.”
Black People does not exist. Black People is not an organization. Black People has no leader. Black People has no agenda. Black People has no logo. Black People is not looking to increase its membership. Black People has no bank account. Black People has no buildings.
Black People does not hate White People. Black People does not believe in looting. Black People does not encourage lawlessness. Black People does not teach its young members to ignore policemen. Black People does not fear for its life.
Black People does not align itself with views held by Al Sharpton, Eric Holder, Barack Obama, or Bill Cosby. Black People does not have a dress code. Black People does not believe the dream is deferred.
Black People is not responsible for Ferguson. Black People does not support Michael Brown’s family. Black People is not angry at Darren Wilson. Black People is not angry, period. That’s because there is no Black People.
You may wonder where Black People came from if it does not exist. You may be curious and ask, “Did Black People ever exist?” The answer is irrelevant to the universal goal. The goal is to get there. And no, there will never be defined more clearly than as an abstract place that I want to arrive at safely–with you.
The only way to get there is together. It’s the slogan of this blog. It is by no means an original concept. Air Force pilots and flight crews say it in the negative or inverse, well, they say it this way: “You don’t crash in compartments.” It is a stark reminder that aircrews use to eloquently express the concept if you know something is wrong with the flight and choose to let an outside pressure–real or perceived–prevent you from sharing the information and consequently the aircraft crashes, you die too. In this case, the mechanical problem is the widespread belief of a falsehood–that Black People is a real thing.
Crew, Black People does not exist. This has been true for some time, but it is now clear that the safe landing of this flight depends on you believing it. Black People does not exist. There is no Black People. Believe it.