January 21, 2019

we heard the news

"Mama said, 'Kids, I'll be right back'
And left us in the K-Mart parking lot;
On the radio, we heard the news:
In Memphis, Dr. King had just been shot;
So late that night, I sat alone,
Feet propped up on the big dashboard,
And I cried myself to sleep again
Like every time before."
-- Kate Campbell, "Galaxie 500"

I defy you ....

... to walk through the halls of the Lorraine Motel, now the National Civil Rights Museum, to look at every exhibit ....

... to stand inside the bus where Rosa Parks once sat, near the front, while the simulated driver yells at her to go to the back ....

... to keep walking through countless exhibits documenting the history of racism in America, granular, undeniable, filled with faces you have never seen, names you have never heard and will not recall afterward ....

... to climb the stairs and walk through the preserved motel room with its awful 1960s decor, out onto the balcony ....

... I defy you to stand there and not be shaken.

I am white.  I do not know what it is to be black in this country.  I do know that blatant acts of racism-driven hatred make the news now, things that would be commonplace and simply not mentioned fifty, one hundred years ago.  I know this is progress.

I also know that like the thousands of photos and stories in the museum, the names and faces of common people, there are thousands of acts every day that do not make the news.

I picked The Kid up from school earlier this week.  As I walked down the sidewalk toward the school doors, I passed a car where two old men, both black, stood propped against the passenger side, arms crossed, talking, shooting the breeze.  I look everyone in the eye and nod when I walk past them, and I did the same on this day.  "Hey, how you doin'?" they said.  "Hey, doin' good," I said back, and smiled.  Except that this time, it didn't feel like a pleasantry.  It struck me that there was a time in their lives when that exchange would have been forbidden.  They have lived to see some change.

Keep fighting.

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