Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe: The ribbons: what now?

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Reading and Writing and the Occasional Recipe

The ribbons: what now?

Sunday, November 30, 2014

So about the ribbons, the black and white ribbons I put on after the shooting of Michael Brown because I wanted an outward sign of my sadness. I said I would wear them for 100 days and hundredth day was November 28, right after the grand jury declined to indict Darren Wilson. Not the day I wanted to shed that sign, but I did. Not the right day, but what day would be?

Some people assumed they were kriah ribbons, the torn black mourning ribbon which, in the Jewish tradition, is worn for the first 30 days after the death of a close relative. Just as taking off the kriah ribbon doesn’t mean the end of mourning, taking off my ribbons doesn’t mean the end of my thinking about the privilege that comes with being white and the injustices that come with being black.  

So this is what I’m thinking my tall, hoodie-wearing grandsons do not have to be raised with warnings about not looking somehow “threatening” ....about what kind of downside could there be to a society in which everyone felt included...about people who voice support for the police yet don’t seem to respect them enough to hold them them to a higher standard of maintaining civic order....about ubuntu, the African concept of our interconnectedness, the idea that I cannot be free to be fully human unless you are also. 

In this video I saw online, Tory Bullock talks about how the daily realities of being a young black man make Ferguson not a watershed moment, but just one more in a long line of heartbreaks. Sort of the way it turned out that Sandy Hook was just one more gun-related tragedy. 

So I took the ribbons off. I carry my sadness now where it doesn’t show as much. I offer you this poem, written in 1938 by Langston Hughes, and I hope we can do better.

Let America be America Again

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.

(America never was America to me.)

Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed--
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.

(It never was America to me.)

O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.

(There's never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this "homeland of the free.")

Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?

I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery's scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek--
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.

I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one's own greed!

I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean--
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today--O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.

Yet I'm the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That's made America the land it has become.
O, I'm the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home--
For I'm the one who left dark Ireland's shore,
And Poland's plain, and England's grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa's strand I came
To build a "homeland of the free."

The free?

Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we've dreamed
And all the songs we've sung
And all the hopes we've held
And all the flags we've hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay--
Except the dream that's almost dead today.

O, let America be America again--
The land that never has been yet--
And yet must be--the land where every man is free.
The land that's mine--the poor man's, Indian's, Negro's, ME--
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.

Sure, call me any ugly name you choose--
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people's lives,
We must take back our land again,

O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath--
America will be!

Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain--
All, all the stretch of these great green states--
And make America again!

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