In 1964, Fannie Lou Hamer “testified” before the Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The highlight of her remarks was when she exclaimed “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired!” In so doing, the impoverished Mississippi Delta sharecropper secured her place as a leading light in the Civil Rights movement. Describing her home state as the antithesis of “the land of the free and the home of the brave,” she rebelled against that definition by calling it out as “the land of the tree and the home of the grave.”
So, here we are in 2015. As yet another round of racial animus erupts and national political conventions loom, I am compelled to echo Mrs. Hamer’s lament. I cannot even begin to tell you how sick and tired I am. It’s the same shit, albeit a different century.
On June 17, a white man named Dylan Roof invaded Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and massacred nine people engaged in studying the bible. Roof’s online manifesto “criticized blacks as being inferior while lamenting the cowardice of white flight.” It was illustrated with photographs, many of them showcasing him with a Confederate flag. I don’t know what chapter and verse the bible study group was concentrating on when Roof opened fire, but he obviously did not heed the sixth commandment that exhorts the moral imperative of “thou shall not kill.”
These are all well-meaning and useful demonstrations. But the problem remains. The crux of the matter is that too much has been done to too many for too long. While all of this Kumbaya energy was in effect, seven black churches burned in Florida, Tennessee, North Carolina and South Carolina. We don’t know that these were all racially motivated attacks, but my inbred paranoia instantly leads me to that conclusion. Neo-Confederates are massing in the streets. The Ku Klux Klan is on the rise. The Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups in the United States, “estimates that there are a little more than 930 such groups in the country right now. Most of these are white supremacist groups or white nationalist groups…. There were 194 such groups in 2000, a number that dropped to 149 by 2008, but after President Obama’s election, the number jumped to more than 1,000….”
All of this makes me afraid… VERY AFRAID. I do not know what will happen next, but the cynic in me thinks it will not be good. Black people have soul wounds that announce our vulnerability to the whims of white people who persist in believing we are the enemy. The fact is that the enemy lies within.
By now, I hope we all know that race is a social construct. But that does not mitigate the reality of our daily lives. We continue to be influenced by deep seated prejudices that afflict not just the hearts and minds of individual people but the fundamental institutions and systems that govern our society. Economic inequality, health status, incarceration statistics, and the willful killing of unarmed people of color by police are but a few irrefutable examples of that reality.
Eliminating the Confederate flag on public grounds is needed, but the symbols of white hegemony are everywhere… flags, street names, buildings, rivers, bridges, schools, parks, courthouses. We cannot and should not eliminate them all because we need to remember what they stand for in order to be inspired to not repeat the past. And that is EXACTLY what is happening. We continue to channel egregious beliefs and behaviors that brought us to this moment when people are compelled to display signs announcing the truism that “Black Lives Matter.”
I know that “hurt people hurt people.” I learned that on the road to writing my book about healing from the ravages of slavery. But it is a hard pill to swallow when you continue to be the object of venomous attacks…. When you walk through life with a target on your back…. When your children are being killed… When your brothers are incarcerated at alarming rates… When your people are dying from the continuing harm of being black in a society that devalues and criminalizes your every move. We are obviously living in the valley of the shadow of death as opposed to Dr. King’s mountaintop.
Black people have generally taken the high road, instantly extolling understanding and forgiveness. Our proffered hand has too often been reciprocated with rabid dog bites. I am sick and tired of aggregate excuses and no longer inclined to forgive—yet again—horrific breaches of the moral imperatives I hold dear. I cannot help but ask: “WTF is wrong with WHITE people?” Why are they so afraid of us when they should be afraid of themselves? Although it is true that many white people are on board for a change of paradigm, there are too many who clearly are not.
People keep trying to overcome racism by “striving for greater love and kindness between blacks and whites.” We cry, hold hands, cluck teeth, cross bridges, emplace flowers and teddy bears, and eulogize the dead with lofty farewells. Obviously, these gestures are not enough. The dead remain dead and very little has changed. As Gil Scott-Heron said: “The revolution will not be televised.” It will occur when each and every one of us does the WORK that is required to make things RIGHT!
When I saw the valiant Bree Newsome scale the flag pole at the state house in Charleston, South Carolina to take down the Confederate flag, I was in awe. She didn’t wait for an arduous legislative process to unfurl. She took the matter into her own hands. In my youth, that could easily have been me. In my dotage, I am sadly relegated to cheering from the sidelines. It disturbs me that most people will only engage in civil disobedience via social media rather than undertaking REAL action in the streets.
“Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” (Psalm 23:4) I have no doubt that the people massacred at Mother Emanuel Church knew those words well.
We are surely walking in the valley, but I for one am not comforted. I remain sick and tired.
About the Author
Sharon Leslie Morgan is a nationally recognized pioneer in multicultural marketing and co-author of Gather at the Table: The Healing Journey of a Daughter of Slavery and a Son of the Slave Trade. An avid genealogist, she blogs extensively and is the founder of OurBlackAncestry.com, a website devoted to African American family research.