More often than not, I find myself filled with almost unmanageable sadness and anger at the monumental injustices in our country, and it is a struggle to keep that sadness and anger from consuming me.
But my sadness and anger pale in comparison to the seething rage of our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters, whose rage is generational, going back more than 400 years. It is “blood memory” rage.
To minimize or underestimate this Black and Indigenous rage is to risk the white person’s undoing. It is to risk annihilation.
But it is not to safeguard some semblance of security for our white “way of life” that attention must be paid to the rage of our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters. Rather, it is to acknowledge our shared humanity and forge a hopeful future.
For far too long, the white way of life has expected, even demanded, a certain “civility” from our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters in relation to the larger culture. We expect a more or less silent acquiescence, a proper obsequiousness, to maintain the all-important status quo, as long as that status quo reinforces white supremacy (there, I said it). Even better if our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters remain invisible.
But how can we, the white majority, presume polite, well-behaved “citizenship” from our Black and Indigenous brothers and sisters, when we have not conferred equal citizenship to them? And, throughout our history, when we have made modest gains in affording this access to citizenship, we turn around and take it away.
I am old enough to remember Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech culminating the March on Washington almost 60 years ago. The power behind his movement was nonviolent protest. He was aware that any other strategy would be met with total destruction. White people were not taught about the firebombing of Tulsa in 1921, but every Black person knows the story. Generational trauma, again.
There are other means besides nonviolence. Acclaimed playwright, Lorraine Hansberry, wrote in 1962: “I think, then, that Negroes must concern themselves with every single means of struggle: legal, illegal, passive, active, violent and non-violent. That they must harass, debate, petition, give money to court struggles, sit-in, lie-down, strike, boycott, sing hymns, pray on steps — and shoot from their windows when the racists come cruising through their communities.” Hansberry knew beauty and love, but she also knew, as Langston Hughes pondered, “What happens to a dream deferred . . . . does it explode?”
Malcolm X, doubtful of the efficacy of nonviolence, embraced the mantra, “by any means necessary,” in the struggle for justice. I remember reading his ominously prescient speech, “The Ballot or the Bullet.” At least half of our United States, in strategically and surgically limiting the former, are inviting the latter. It is almost as if the white supremacists are taunting, “Bring it on!”
I have often wondered if the white man’s fear and, dare I suggest jealousy, of the Black and Indigenous man has to do, in part, with the white man’s pathetic sense of inadequacy in comparison to the Black and Indigenous man’s exquisite beauty and imagined prowess. Why else was castration a common accessory to lynching? And didn’t even Laura Ingalls Wilder teach us, “The only good Indian is a dead Indian”?
This is my sadness. This is my anger. They are exacerbated by personal complicity in a multiplicity of injustices, including “owning” stolen land. I am not oblivious to the very real possibility in the very near future of Langston Hughes’ imagined outcome. Must it be inevitable?
The Rev. David Tryggestad of Duluth is a retired pastor and a regular contributor to the News Tribune Opinion page.