And if the word “integration” means anything, this is what it means, that we with love shall force our brothers to see themselves as they are, to cease fleeing from reality and begin to change it, for this is your home, my friend. Do not be driven from it. Great men have done great things here and will again and we can make America what America must become. – from James Baldwin’s “A Letter to my Nephew”
When shall we date the beginning of our most recent time of troubles, Trayvon or Oscar? Did our troubles ever truly conclude? Have we been deluding ourselves? Have we not been seeking refuge in one form or another since post–WWI blacks, wearied by the unending sight of strange fruit, headed north looking for respite? Shall we cast our eyes back further to the close of reconstruction, when the flickering wick of hope fell to the ground extinguished and crumpled under the weight of compromise? Or should we look to our arrival on these shores, when we first harvested those amber waves only to see others enjoy their bounty? I know the truth of things, now is not then; but on certain evenings I am haunted by memories, the blood of ancestors.
I recalled being told, years ago, about the death of classmate. One afternoon his relative told him that her significant other had struck her. So he, rightly in my estimation, went to see the young man. Did he want to talk it through or more? I do not know. I only know that he went to visit the young man, and the young man shot him. I remember considering my own actions in similar circumstances, and concluding that I would have made a similar decision. Faced with that choice, I could not imagine avoiding my death. I was blessed not to be in that place at that time. My life continued by the grace of God.
That scenario came to mind as I watched as the scene in Texas unfolded before me. Had I been in McKinney that afternoon, I might not be alive this morning. If that had been my daughter, sister, or mother hair grabbed, flung to the ground, love itself would have compelled me toward to a confrontation whose end I could not foresee. Not to rescue her from one officer, but from a society that has dehumanized, abused, and exploited the black female form for far too long. As I watched the video, images of shackled black female bodies from our past rose to greet me. The scene of the captured female, with her tears and moans ignored, felt frighteningly familiar. I was undone.
A few days ago we arrived (or returned) to a place in our culture when a black father, had he been present, would have faced a choice: watch your daughter get abused or obey the most natural of human instincts and protect your child, with jail as the best outcome. Black men from our past knew this danger, this fear; I now join their number.
I do not speak of unreasoned violence, but of exchange; my back for hers, so that she might breathe a little, and know that she is loved. Then we could weep together as loved ones must.
But in the midst of our tears, unbidden, we will remember whereof we are made and rise to face our accusers not in anger, but pity. We shall turn our fierce love towards our confused brothers and sisters, if only to remind them that the backs that built this country are not easily cowed or broken. We have overcome whips, dogs, water hoses, lynching trees, and mobs before. We shall do so again. God is with us and our cause is just; we are not afraid.