I learned a history not then written in books but one passed from generation to generation on the steps of moonlit porches and beside dying fires in one-room houses, a history of great-grandparents and of slavery and of the days following slavery; of those who lived still not free, yet who would not let their spirits be enslaved.
“Here,” she said, “in this here place, we flesh; flesh that weeps, laughs; flesh that dances on bare feet in grass. Love it. Love it hard. Yonder they do not love your flesh. They despise it. They don’t love your eyes; they’d just as soon pick em out. No more do they love the skin on your back. Yonder they flay it. And O my people they do not love your hands. Those they only use, tie, bind, chop off, and leave empty. Love your hands! Love them. Raise them up and kiss them. Touch others with them, pat them together, stroke them on your face ’cause they don’t love that either. You got to love it, you! . . . This is flesh I’m talking about here. Flesh that needs to be loved.”
If we have the courage and tenacity of our forebears, who stood firmly like a rock against the lash of slavery, we shall find a way to do for our day what they did for theirs.
Slavery never ended; it just evolved.
If slavery persists as an issue in the political life of black America, it is not because of an antiquarian obsession with bygone days or the burden of a too-long memory, but because black lives are still imperiled and devalued by a racial calculus and a political arithmetic that were entrenched centuries ago. This is the afterlife of slavery — skewed life chances, limited access to health and education, premature death, incarceration, and impoverishment.
Jim Crow is still around, but Jim Crow is old. . . . The problem is that Jim Crow has sons. The one we’ve got to battle is James Crow Jr., Esquire. He’s a little more educated. He’s a little slicker. He’s a little more polished. But the results are the same. He doesn’t put you in the back of the bus. He just puts referendums on the ballot to end affirmative action where you can’t go to school. He doesn’t call you a racial name; he just marginalizes your existence. He doesn’t tell you that he’s set against you; he sets up institutional racism.
In the South, we knew our adversary would stop at nothing to silence our activism. We knew we could never match his readiness to annihilate our resistance. So we ceded him that ground and challenged him instead to defend himself against the work of loving peace.
Civil Rights opened the windows. When you open the windows, it does not mean that everybody will get through. There are people of my generation who didn’t get through.
We’ve all had some level of injustice, whether twenty years in prison, or twenty minutes sitting in your car waiting for a police officer to determine your future. Or even a few moments in an elevator with some woman clutching her purse thinking you’re going to rob her — regardless of celebrity. That has happened to me.
People can debate how big a factor straight-up racism was in Trump’s victory. But his yearlong drumbeat of remarks and tweets and retweets, giving voice to white resentment toward people of color and religious minorities, offending millions and pulling scabs off old American wounds — all of that was not too much for the 62,984,825 people who colored in the bubble next to Trump’s name.
The only difference between man and man all the world over is one of degree, and not of kind. . . . Wherein is the cause for anger, envy, or discrimination?
When you’re dealing with something as deeply rooted as racism or bias in any society, you’ve got to have vigilance, but you have to recognize that it’s going to take some time, and you just have to be steady, so that you don’t give up when we don’t get all the way there.
Three hundred years of humiliation, abuse, and deprivation cannot be expected to find voice in a whisper.