Times That Try The Soul Are These

When I was in grade 6 my best friend was a girl named Sue. I remember the day she showed up in class, as we all turned to the back of the room, and in through the door had walked this girl, with overalls over a beige and black striped shirt, with a mass of curly black hair on her head, wary dark brown eyes, and beautiful dark caramel skin. She was the only black person in our school, she was at our high school only 1 of maybe 3 black kids that attended.

Her family had moved from London out to Dodge that year, all 6 or 7 of them I think, she came from a large boisterous family, and she was the youngest. I think it was for her they had moved out of town, for her to get away from the city, live a more quiet life then her older siblings had. Sue was very smart, very creative, very interesting, very wise too at such a young age. At 12 she knew more than I, had more awareness of the world, a different perspective born out of the older siblings that had come before her. I being the oldest had no such siblings to guide me, and I was enamoured with her large family, of people coming and going, of loud and sometimes chaotic sort of family, and completely different than what I had known, until I met her, until I saw her that day standing there at the back of the room, as wary of us as we were of her.

eggs in tray on white surface
Photo by Daniel Reche on Pexels.com

It can not be easy being the only one, the stand out from the crowd one, the one everyone sees. I being painfully shy would have been horrified by that, and my heart went out to her, and that maybe is what bonded us that first year.

Over the next few years, we grew apart, her going off to academic friends, concentrating on sports and more, em, constructive pursuits. I meanwhile was busy getting high under the bridge in Dodge, Sue was off, heck, I have no idea, doing whatever the academic/sporty girls did.

It was actually our friendship that first made me aware of my dad’s prejudice, as we/I danced around what his reservations about her meant. While Mom loved Sue upside down and backwards, loved her for her self, her intellect, her regal stature, her certainty and self-awareness, all were things she loved about Sue. Dad, on the other hand, was always a bit stand-offish, and mom tried to explain why he was that way, but I didn’t understand, and he kept it to himself, as my mom ruled the roost and that sort of belief system had no place in her world, her home, her daughters would not be of that mind.

My father grew up in the Jim Crow south of the ’50s, at a time when words like ‘superior race’ were the basis for laws that separated black from white, justified lynchings, and all manner of racist laws meant to subdue and rule those who they were convinced were lesser.

Today when I watch genealogy shows featuring a black American, inevitably that racism surfaces, and stories of injustice and racism that stirs my hackles, as the show moves through the civil war, and afterwards during the changes that for the first time allowed black men to vote.

I got thinking about all this after watching this episode of Who Do You Think You Are featuring Regina King, as she looks back at the life and legacy of one of her great-grandfathers. The program traces back to this Moses Crosby, in the 1860s after the civil war, his times, his trials. He was a school teacher, a pastor. He was a leading man in his community, with his education he with the Republicans of the time helped black men in his community register to vote, informed them of their rights, and therefore caught the eye of all those disenfranchised white southerners who had lost the civil war and, well, suppose it was to the black man they focused their anger, and the seething open wounds of the war between the states, over issues of value, humanity and profit margins.

The President assumes, what no one doubts, that the late rebel States have lost their constitutional relations to the Union, and are incapable of representation in Congress, except by permission of the Government. It matters but little, with this admission, whether you call them States out of the Union, and now conquered territories, or assert that because the Constitution forbids them to do what they did do, that they are therefore only dead as to all national and political action, and will remain so until the Government shall breathe into them the breath of life anew and permit them to occupy their former position. In other words, that they are not out of the Union, but are only dead carcasses lying within the Union. In either case, it is very plain that it requires the action of Congress to enable them to form a State government and send representatives to Congress. Nobody, I believe, pretends that with their old constitutions and frames of government they can be permitted to claim their old rights under the Constitution. 

Thaddeus Stevens speech of December 18 1865

Well, as she says, not much has changed. This ancestor of hers was one of those foundational elements within the black community, an early 19th-century activist, a pioneer, giving rise decades later in the ’60s to the civil rights movement and the Black Lives Matter today.

He is one of the lights in the dark, though certainly not a small flicker, but rather a beacon of illumination.

After the civil rights movement of the ’60s, racism huddled more in the shadows than in the open, it went underground and left to its own devices, out of view, and so it grew silently off at the edges of society. Over time it morphed and embraced those, like my father, who don’t consider themselves racist and get very angry when they are accused. They now have embraced white nationalism as their objective, not supremacy, no, no, but that the loss of whiteness is somehow a bad thing, and should be avoided at all cost. Which of course begs the question, how is that not, em, racist I have no idea how that squares in their mind.

But, nope, they swear up and down they are protecting the colour of their skin, well, and I’m not so clear on what the consequences they foresee in their skewed lens, though degradation and some sort of cultural collapse fearmongering BS usually bubbles up out of the cauldron of hatred that man in the White House stirs up with his alignment with this group.

Yep, racism has now gone mainstream again, all packaged up with different lipstick and rouge, but still, the same old thing, same old song and dance of a disenfranchised group left behind as the rest of us have made our way forward. Instead, this group has grown under the surface, and today justify their actions and beliefs, so fearful of a future that will leave them behind, and that scares them. It is from that vein I see the many who follow this neo-racist movement led by the 45th POTUS.

The next steps ahead, as I as well look back at the times of Lincoln and that war that broke out when such a large chasm divided the nation. It would be foolish to not acknowledge the possibilities looming on the horizon ahead, today, and that fear and loathing that exists so tangibly on both sides, that refusal to listen, to hear, to compromise, and the desire of this bunch to demonize democracy and install a king on the throne of America, where the law is the king and there is no other.

But this is not all that we ought to do before inveterate rebels are invited to participate in our legislation. We have turned, or are about to turn, loose four million slaves without a hut to shelter them or a cent in their pockets. The infernal laws of slavery have prevented them from acquiring an education, understanding the common laws of contract, or of managing the ordinary business of life. This Congress is bound to provide for them until they can take care of themselves. If we do not furnish them with homesteads, and hedge them around with protective laws; if we leave them to the legislation of their late masters, we had better have left them in bondage.


If we fail in this great duty now, when we have the power, we shall deserve and receive the execration of history and of all future ages.

ibid

And, again, what has changed?

I guess maybe if we keep doing the same things as we were doing then it’s a guarantee we will keep getting what we were getting. Thus, if we want change we have to do it differently. I don’t know what that difference is, or if that has started already, but I think so. There are multitudes who do not want to go where those loyalist rumpTians desires, remaining in the eventual flow of progress, constructing their straw men, their pawns, to drag us all back to the past. Wishing to wall off the desperate, whitewash the wrongs of a man unworthy, in one of these times that certainly try one’s soul, as Thomas Paine wrote in the opening lines of The American Crisis from 1776.

Chapter I – The American Crisis – December 23, 1776
THESE are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as freedom should not be highly rated. Britain, with an army to enforce her tyranny, has declared that she has a right (not only to tax) but “to bind us in all cases whatsoever,” and if being bound in that manner, is not slavery, then is there not such a thing as slavery upon earth. Even the expression is impious; for so unlimited a power can belong only to God.

To my mind, the future has no colour, and if it does its surface only, for what lies beneath is of far more significance. There lies the greatest weakness in these white supremacists, these nationalists and all their prejudices are what weakens their flimsy foundations, and it is that fear that will in time be their downfall, as we know the only thing to fear is fear itself, as it is that chasm that will swallow them.

“I know there is strength in the differences between us. I know there is comfort, where we overlap.” 

 Ani DiFranco

I’m not interested in this white-washed world these nationalists want. I have no activists in my own tree, but just the same as many, folks who came here to begin again, for hope, for their beliefs, or a better future than the one home offered, wherever home happened to be.

I pause to take a look around, to see the lay of the land, to find what sort of beliefs ignite this fear, and how can it be conquered? So, if ignorance breeds fear than knowledge, therefore, brings hope. If isolation stirs hate than a community can bring love and understanding.

As much as the Democrats in the U.S. are set to take over the house, to be an oversight to this out of control commander in chief, this agent of chaos, self-professed nationalist, you can bet the rhetoric of his side is going to become a far more vocal force and I nervously look down yonder south to the land of my birth and wonder what the future holds as they face this crisis, of not just race, but the very foundations of America to Democracy itself.

Maybe missed in all the focus and fuss of that mayhem that surrounds the POTUS is a congress of the many for the many people, a true representation of “WE” the people, of the many colours and creeds, a community of diversity, full of possibilities, a wave of change, not a wall built from ignorance and fear.

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