More For You Than Anyone Else?

Hello Mary, et. al.

“He [Trump] did more to help everyone plus blacks that anyone has done in a long time.“ This is the quote that I’m going to be responding to and attempting to address from the statement you made earlier on in this thread., Mary. I want to make sure that I’m being very specific about the subject so that my response will be put in proper context. This will be a long walk, but we will get there eventually.

When I said that I was going to answer as one of “The Blacks”, I did so with my tongue firmly implanted in my cheek. I, and anyone else, can only truly speak for myself. But that term, and the sentiment that is most frequently behind it is so central to the way that so many Black people that I personally know, and the way that I can infer from data, that most black people feel they are viewed by non-black people: a monolith, not as individuals or fully capable for thinking independently and for themselves...therefore, not fully part of the actual human experience or even capable of doing so. Historically throughout this country, that is how large swaths of the majority population have literally viewed us, and even codified those thoughts in laws up to and including the constitution of the country.

This premise is wrong.

If you accept that we are actually human beings with all of the potential for greatness and foibles as any other group of people that you could put together randomly, then you should accept that we are actually individuals and tend to act as one as frequently as any other group of people when something appears that may be either in the best interest of all of us, in the good direction, or because there is something acting in a negative direction that would affect all of us. That’s what human beings tend to do.

It can be very difficult to get an enormous percentage of human beings together on most endeavors and have them agree on something unanimously. Human beings that come from the American Experiment tend to do this much more frequently than people from other countries. It’s part of the culture of this country, and most Black people in this country are very much AmericanIt can be very difficult to gets in that way too. Mary, I have no idea of how many Black Americans you have encountered throughout your life and in what capacity you have done so. Having been born Black and grown up around Black people and people of other backgrounds, I will speak to my experience and say what I have said above with great confidence.

Here are two examples. I assure you that the first example works among any randomly selected group of people, let alone a “racial group” of people. Let’s take six people who work in an office and they are trying to order one pizza. The chances that those six people would say that they wanted exactly the same kind of pizza on the first try is just about zero. somebody’s going to not like one of the ingredients selected at first. Somebody else might be allergic to something else. Somebody else doesn’t eat a certain kind of food for personal or religious preferences. And somebody just wants a Subway sandwich instead of pizza. That’s how it goes. You got a group of people together as small as even six people, and it’s going to be difficult to come up with a gigantic consensus right from the start. There’s a chance that you might be able to get there very easily, but there’s also a chance that somebody just going to settle so that they can all eventually eat. That is normal.

My second example is me. This is the only example I can speak with 100% authority. It is about 9 o’clock at night right now and I have been awake for about 14 hours. I can say with a great deal of confidence that I don’t think that I have a greed with about 25% of what I have done throughout my day. I think I probably could’ve spent much of my time better. And I had total control over what I did. I can’t think of any day that I have ever had where I did better than about 95%, and I am a population of one person. It is beyond difficult to get  100% concurrence on what I do, let alone doing that with somebody else, or multiple other people on something as simple as ordering a pizza. That is normal.

But if you took either the group of six people, or myself individually, and they were somehow stranded without cellphones or cell coverage in a very nice car, in the middle of January, in -25°F weather, in the middle of a field , in the middle of the night, without any heat, and without any food, there’s a pretty good bet that way more than 90% of the people (or myself individually) will make a very quick decision about trying to get the heck out of that situation that they are in. There’s a very real threat to their very existence going on right then, and it makes it quite clear, because humans don’t like existing under those conditions, that even though the interior of the car that broke down is very nice, maybe nicer than a car they’ve ever been in, they still need to get the heck out of where they are right now so that they can survive.

If once the group got to a populated area 20 miles away and away from the very dangerous conditions that they found themselves in, and somebody at the out-of-the-way restaurant that they were able to find asked them, “Why did you leave the inside of that very nice car? That’s a beautiful car! If I had a car like that I would never leave! Why would you do that to yourselves?”, every single person in the group would look at the person asking that question like they were crazy. These people’s lives were at risk, and this person is worried about the interior of a broken down car. How could this person not see that there was an existential threat for each and every one of those individuals? They would be wondering how could that person not see that they all decided to chance at all and hope they could make it somewhere else and not stay there and surely succumb to what awaited them where the car laid at rest? How could that person not see all of the conditions that existed that was the threat to them if they stayed where they were?

This clunky metaphor is clearly meant to be a parallel to what most Black Americans feel toward not only Donald Trump, but the GOP in general. With all things being equal and under normal circumstances, the group of people, and myself as an individual, might make all sorts of choices and vary more frequently. but most frequently since the early 1970s in the United States, all things are not equal. And all things are definitely not equal now with this current president. This current president and the entire suite of things that he offers and attitudes that he projects and enables, is an existential threat to, apparently, 92% of the Black American population. This president only has 8% support among Black Americans. The numbers have not been that much better for the GOP in the last several presidential elections. You can look up the data.

So instead of questioning the motives of the people that are being affected by the policies of one party or President and making it seem like those people are not thinking correctly for reacting in a giant group like they are all the time, doesn’t it seem to make more sense to look at the reason why they would almost totally act as one, something that is uncommon for large groups of human beings? Shouldn’t one question what it is that keeps driving one group of human beings into a very abnormally large unanimous consensus against what it is that you were doing if you honestly want to try to come to your way of thinking or set of actions that you wish to an act? If you actually believed that those are fully functional human beings with the ability to think on their own and are not acting out of some knee-jerk, inhuman instinct, then the answer to that question should be yes! (That is assuming that one honestly answers that question.)

But, Mary, a lot of people on one side of the aisle do not seem to be able to think from that perspective…and that is the fundamental problem. For Black people in this country, even when we present all of the evidence and all of the issues that need to be addressed, they are not addressed in any serious form or fashion. It seems as though people in charge on one side in particular either do not care, cannot figure out a legitimate solution, think that we are making up the issues, and generally don’t believe that there were actual problems. They think we should be happy to stay in the nice, broken down car. They seem to think that and we are unable to speak and think for ourselves…in other words they repeatedly and constantly seem to think that our lives don’t matter. And given that, how on Earth are we to be expected to go with the choice that makes things even worse, in the main, than the bad conditions we already face? We shouldn’t be and we aren’t.

But if somebody actually asked and listened to what was being said by the people in the car all along and not just guessed that everything should be OK where they were and that they should be happy that nice car they have, then maybe something could get solved. But never seems to happen.

I’ve tortured all of these metaphors enough, and it’s the first time I’ve written them down on digital paper. That means it may not of come out as perfectly as I would have liked, but I think I got close enough that I hope that you and anybody else reading this will understand. This is not meant to be anything comprehensive, but I hope some of this opens up your mind along with the link to an essay that I wrote about three weeks ago upon the passing of my uncle, and a panel discussion that I was part of last week. I hope that you and everybody else takes a look at both of the links. The essay that I wrote is much more concise and much shorter than this. And the video is quite long, but it might be a conversation of the type that you have never seen before and might prove more useful than I can even hope. I hope you take this enormous number of words as an extension of my hand to try to help you understand a perspective that you might not have taken to account before.



It’s Mourning In/Of America

I was at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery in south St. Louis county this morning to observe the burial of my uncle, Bethel Smith. It’s the second trip in about 2.5 months to a military cemetery that I’ve had to make to bury one of my father’s younger siblings; we lost my aunt, Carolyn Mitchell, in February in Chicago right as the pandemic was making its appearance outside of the west coast. Aunt Carolyn rests across the Mississippi River in Illinois about 200 miles north at the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery, and Uncle Bethel joins his wife, my aunt Delores at the second largest military burial ground in the country here in Missouri.

It was a pretty day outside. You can see in the picture how blue the sky was. I saw some deer slowly roaming through the headstones. You could see the sparkling edge of south leg of the Gateway Arch up the river. It was a peaceful scene. It wasn’t a normal day. But it was pretty.

We were surrounded by about 200,000 Americans, but we couldn’t have been much more socially distant. My uncle couldn’t get the gun salute that he earned because of COVID; staffing was cut. We had to stand outside of our cars about 50 yards away from the shared plot with masks on as they lowered his casket so as to keep those of us still on this side of the grass healthy. My cousins had to wait for an hour so that the workers could cover everything up before they could approach the spot where their parents rested to say a final goodbye. They went to see their other relatives that were buried there to pass the time.

My dad had had enough though, and rightfully so. He’d done what he could for his best friend. I’d one-day, round-tripped a drive for us to the other side of the state to Kansas City four days ago for the funeral 250 miles away. There was a personal and funny eulogy by their mutual friend, a pastor, that flew up from Texas just for the day. Dad did his tribute to his childhood bedmate and knocked it out of the park, as expected, but somehow even better than expected. But it was getting warmer outside. He’d more than represented already. He’d more than done his duty. It was time for me to do mine.

I drove him, my sister, and brother-in-law the 30 minutes or so back to U. City so they could carry on with their day. I dropped them off at the houses and stayed in the car since I needed to make a rare fill-up for the car. I took off for the gas station. It was still a pretty day, but getting warmer.

I’d been basically incapable of leaving the house much in the past couple of weeks because I’d been suffering from a particularly bad flair-up from my home country’s congenital birth defect. This breakout was a bad one, but predictable. I’d been on a really big roller coaster ride this time.

At times I was feverish…beyond angry and seeing red, which made me pace around. I felt the blues…as depressingly similar spoonfuls of pablum and bile were both swallowed and spewed, seemingly all around me, if tried to read anything. But this time I kept trying to avoid seeing an orange mass that kept trying to pop into my line of sight if I tried to look at a screen; but it kept showing up and getting in the way of my vision like a pesky floater in your eye that you have no control over.

But my nature wills out and I’m a traveler by nature. Roaming is as congenital in me as what forever ills this land. I will literally get sicker if I’m not traveling and exploring and doing something novel, regularly. Today was a great driving day. I’d already psyched myself up the night before to go out to the cemetery to do what I had to do. And after I’d arrived at Jefferson Barracks the first time, I’d already felt better about having to go. I was more chill. I was OK. So I sanitized the 87 octane pump handle, filled up, took off my mask, and rolled out. It was almost hot now, but it was still pretty.

My mom, Jamae Milam, died 3 years ago on Thursday. She was out at the cemetery too. I hadn’t been to see her yet. My uncle, Clyde Turner, who’s house was around the corner from ours, died about 2.5 months before mom did. I hadn’t been out to see him yet either. My mom’s younger and only brother, James Scott, Jr., was out there as well, and I’d never seen his plot; I had attended the funeral at the time in 2011, but not been back for a look. And my great aunt, Irma Milam French, aka “Auntie”, was out there. My first time ever out at JB was for her funeral in 1997. I don’t think I’d seen her headstone though.

I was fine with not having made this tour before. I didn’t feel guilty, but it was time. I was ready. I wanted to say “hi” to my people. I needed to be around some people that knew me and that I knew. I wanted to be around some folks that had been through worse than I’ve been through, been called worse things more frequently than I’ve been, and been called un-American and not worthy by so many in this country (and even at that cemetery) because of their existence and resistance then, let alone what they what they would think about what was going on right now.

I wanted to be around some soldiers in my family there where they lay today. Because, while I do not like and cannot stand the jingoistic and nationalistic crap that so many “real Americans” hide behind and wrap themselves up in, I know that, on some level, some of those people will be able to find some sort of humanity in Black people if only because they put on a uniform and their “Americaness” is etched in stone…never to be erased or denied. Somehow, they’ve existed here and they didn’t know that Black military families was a thing, but they might know now. I don’t need their stamp of approval to exist. And I don’t claim valor from my deceased family members’ service (hello Uncle Tilmon) and those of their spouses (hello also Aunt Hazel) either. That’s theirs alone. But I point this fact out in this picture because it’s a possible point of contact for actual communication for some people; it’s an extra credit point that shouldn’t be needed but is part and parcel of all the extra that “we” always have to do to get half as far.

Always having to do that extra just to exist and to be recognized and to matter in this life is nonsense and flat out burdensome. That fact for some of “us” is truly part of why “we” are so pissed off AGAIN this time. One shouldn’t need to have been in the military or have been from a military family to be given respect. One shouldn’t need to change their voice and hope that their names are not too Black sounding so that can try to get the loan they want or the apartment they need. One shouldn’t need to have gone to Harvard and “only” be a bird watcher to be considered not dangerous. And one shouldn’t need three camera angles, good audio, and 8 minutes and 46 seconds of footage to be believed when they say that they get harassed and killed by the police all the time no matter what they do or how much they comply.

But while some people will never understand how much extra we always have to do just to get through the day and think that’s OK, I will never think that. I’ll always think that extra is wrong. Because while all of my relatives here are recognized as humans and Americans because of this military pedigree, they were also literal sharecroppers, cotton pickers, janitors, health care workers, scholars, educators, cartographers, engineers, government intelligence, screw ups, and geniuses…you know…HUMANS. And that should be enough for ANY ONE, not just my family.

This extra shit is unfair and unjust, period, and that’s an understatement. But we’ve done it because we’ve had to, and we do it because WE’RE. NOT. GOING. ANYWHERE. “We’ve” been here since our ancestors were brought here against their will and are entirely integral to the existence of this place whether some people want to acknowledge it or not. We are here. Canada doesn’t want any more Americans, and we’re not going there. It’s too cold up there. And it wasn’t a normal day down here today south of the border, but it was warm and it was pretty.

So I said “hi” to all of my people and I felt much better after the trip. I wasn’t that sad. I was a little, but really not that much at all. I wanted to tell them that we’d all been locked up in our houses for the last 3 months, that more than 100,000 people had died, that there were cities burning all over the country, and that things were still super bad since unemployment was so high, and that 3 inch hornets were coming, and that an orange man was in the White House and he was very bad. But that would have given them the chance to say, “Whew….I’m glad I’m not up there,” and I didn’t want them to laugh at me for being up here…so I withheld that information. (They might know already anyway…) I made it back home and thought about how I could try to start to talk and not yell at 300 decibels about what’s going on; so, I made this barely thought out note.

And with as many words as this was, I really haven’t said anything yet. This isn’t even a preamble to what needs to be said and heard. And things will certainly not only be said and heard by me in the near future.

You see, as much as I’m a congenital traveler, I’m a congenital communicator. I can’t help it. I talk too much and want to hear others and show others even more. But more than that I want all things to be understood by all people. It’s naive, I know, but I don’t care. It’s what allows me to get out of bed every morning to try again another day. And if you don’t have hope, you have almost no reason to try to go on. But I will go on.

In the past, I tried to set up my entire life around these two congenital conditions of mine. Other things got in the way before I could fully complete what I wanted to do in the way I wanted to do it, and life happened; but life happens to everyone. I’m not special, but I do count. And since I know that my life and all other Black lives matter, I’ll carry on. I’ll keep on keepin’ on like my family and people always have. I’ll go on and and continue to try to learn and teach and to be better, because for me that’s what makes up a normal day. And for me, that’s pretty good.