American Reporter Correspondent
January 7, 2003
AN EASY RIDE TO A RUDE AWAKENING
PHOENIX, Ariz. -- On Dec. 20, the feature on National Public Radio's Weekend Edition "All Things Considered" was called a Race Roundtable. NPR brought together in their studios a relatively small group of people from the Historical Society of Washington, D.C., to discuss former Senate Majority Leader Lott's remarks and to ask where America goes from here. Historically, the nation's capital has been the site of race controversy from the beginning - and still is today.
We'd heard the news about Lott's fiasco at Sen. Strom Thurmond's 100th birthday party (later called the Blooper of the Year) when he offered a compliment to Sen. Thurmond and at the same time opened up a window to his core. Lott is a respected man, always highly regarded among his peers and constituents. But even his many apologies didn't erase his saying we'd be better off today if Sen. Thurmond had won the presidency - running on a pro-segregation platform.
It was almost old news. I felt from the outset he couldn't have meant we'd be better off with segregation. The South has come much too far. Since I never knew segregation growing up in New York, I'm only glad it no longer exists - anywhere. At least, not legally.
I once heard a definition of blacks in the North versus blacks in the South: In the South, blacks can come as close as they like, hugging and warmly greeting white neighbors when they meet, but don't let them climb high or, God forbid, get uppity. In the North, blacks can climb as high as their ambitions, talents and abilities will take them ... as long as they don't move in next door. It's all in the attitude, and I've witnessed both.
After a replay of Lott's remarks, moderator Michelle Norris asked for the views of those who heard it. One young woman said she didn't think the senator understood exactly what has happened in his own lifetime. Another said: "He said what he meant and he meant what he said." Another "squirmed." She grew up where everyone was equal and she wanted to go back where there are no such discussions.
Kate, feeling ashamed in conversations about slavery, couldn't believe that race was discussed at community meetings in her neighborhood. What was the context, she wondered? It was "scary." When pressed for why it was scary, she said she felt she was being attacked. And then, in an effort to assuage Kate's feelings, a young man spoke.
I will make no effort to paraphrase his rapid-fire extemporaneous remarks but will quote them fully,courtesy of the npr.org Website, in all their eloquence. He asks a question I never heard posed before - and I do not have the answer.
"Wilbert Glover here. I want to go back to the discussion that Kate was having, where she walked into this - sounds like this minefield, where people started talking about racism and slavery, and she said that she felt ashamed. I don't want you to feel ashamed, because you didn't own any slaves. But what I want you to understand is my pain, because we, as African-Americans, from the way I see it - we came out of slavery running. We have never had an opportunity to mourn.
"And sometimes I feel like what we need to do -that my people need to just go on the Mall and have a day of mourning, so we can understand what happened to us. And I have always understood slavery. I began to - I under - it was an economic thing. I can understand that. Everybody practiced that. But one of the things I never understood -and I remember asking my mother - 'Why do the whites hate us? They have everything. They got the best schools. They got the best books. I don't understand why they hate us. I don't understand when they hung us, why did they mutilate our bodies like they did?'
"You understand what I'm saying? Nobody has ever answered those questions for me. I understand slavery. I'm willing to let that go; let the nation go. You understand? But I think that what we need to do is just go somewhere and just cry without somebody accusing us of being weak, without somebody criticizing our behavior. I remember, as a kid, I used to look at America as the mother of us all, and I was just this kid that she didn't want. So I straightened my hair, and that wasn't right. I bleached my skin, and that wasn't right. I used to say, 'ain't' and 't'aint' and 'y'all,' and then I fixed my language, and that wasn't right. And then there was a time I just gave up on America. I got mad at it, and then that wasn't right. You understand what I'm saying?"
Glover resumes: "And I don't want you to feel guilty, but when I cry and when I say it hurts, I want you to hear me. That's all, you know - not feel bad, because you didn't do anything, see. But hear my pain. That's all I'm saying, you know?"
Panelist: "Yeah. I hear your pain."
Mr. Glover: "You didn't do a single thing. You are as much a victim as I am."
This is the crux of a deplorable situation, and Mr. Glover's legitimate question continues to go unanswered. He asked his mother, "Why do whites hate us?"
It's not about color; it has never been about color.
Fifteen years ago in Pittsburgh I saw African-American students waiting in line at a fast-food place. Those neighborhood students in tee shirts and Reeboks waited, almost snubbed, while other blacks, African exchange students in native dress, were greeted with smiles and served first.
No, it's not about color. It's about pain.