Friday, April 13, 2012

A Fool and His Gun

Calhoun’s Cannons for April 13, 2012

The past is never dead.  It’s not even past.
                                    William Faulkner

             On that dark rainy night, The Neighborhood Watchman didn’t watch.  He didn’t have to. He had a gun, you see, and when you have a gun you don’t have to just watch.  Especially when you live in a shoot-at-will, stand your ground state.  So just watching wasn’t part of the dramatic script unreeling in his head.  He could be Shane and save the neighborhood from a suspicious black kid in a hoodie. The police dispatcher told him not to get out of the car.  To wait and watch until the real police could arrive.  But a man with a gun does not wait.  He doesn’t have to.
            On that dark rainy night, The Kid was walking back from the store to his Dad’s place, which was located in a townhouse community that felt it had a need for a formal Neighborhood Watch program.  The Kid was walking while black, after dark, in a “gated” community, in a shoot-at will state and had unthinkingly compounded his peril by wearing a hoodie.  Worse, he was armed with a bag of Skittles and a can of iced tea.  In America, that can be a lethal combination.  The Kid noticed the Watchman following him.  He called his girlfriend.  He was worried.  He told her he thought he was being stalked, followed, and threatened by the man with the gun. Was he frightened?  Surely, he was frightened. Then something bad happened.
            And for weeks, the authorities did nothing. Why should they?  They had a Watchman armed with a gun in a shoot-at-will state and a dead black kid in a hoodie.  Case closed.       
                        And from those events, amplified by the hungry media, there soon rose the sounds of an old American anthem played on the black and white keys of a country that has never come to terms with its dark history. And buried deep in that anthem is the call and response hymn of the terrified white slaveholder, outnumbered by his living property, always hearing the muffled footfalls in the kudzu vine the jungle music of Nat Turner and his sharpened cane knives coming to the big mansion in the night.  
            It’s found in the ubiquitous racial dog-whistle music, the theme song of an unreconstructed  south, north, east and west, the unacknowledged original sin whose stain permeates everything even though no one dares speak its name.  The fear is America’s crazy Uncle locked up in the attic whose mad song can always be heard beneath the blare of the God Bless America ooompah band. Or slyly amped up enough to be heard while still remaining ingenuously deniable by unscrupulous political demagogues feeding the dark beast to get their votes. Or ratings.  Or the whispered reasoning behind shoot-at-will, stand your ground laws:  A chicken in every pot, a gun or two or five in every home, because America is a place filled with dark shadows and who knows what is lurking in that kudzu?
            A black kid in a hoodie, for one.
            And so the song continues.  We elected a black man as our president for the first time and pretended we were living in a post-racial world.  But with Obama’s election, gun sales skyrocketed, because, well, you know.  Unspoken, but sizzling on the internet was the belief that Nat “Obama” Turner is coming to the big house to get your guns.  And your women. It was subconscious dog whistle music happily manipulated by the unholy alliance of the NRA and ALEC, and it fueled the spread of shoot-at-will laws into twenty-two states, all urgently needed because there is no problem, no sick, irrational fear in the American heart that cannot be solved or soothed with more guns.    
            And soon the ugly spirit of the Know-Nothings that has always infested the American psyche became a lively talk-radio back beat.  Rush Limbaugh called the President a “thug” (Yes, Harvard is known for graduating thugs and gangstas.), while candidate Gingrich declared that he was the “food stamp president,” wink-nudge (Ah, the eternal Welfare Queens in their Cadillacs.  That one never gets old.), and Tea Partiers waved a poster of Obama with a huge Afro and a bone through his nose, Har-har-har. 
             And now America has another O.J. Simpson moment, a 24/7 televised trial, an over the top media-fest that will let us pretend that we’re having a national dialogue about race.  But it will be another phony conversation.  It always is.  The self-inflicted wound our Founding Fathers brought down on this nation has never been healed or cleansed.  It festers still.  One hundred and fifty years after the Civil War and Jim Crow, fifty years after the civil rights marches, black parents are still giving their sons “The Talk.”  It is a speech that Emmet Till would have understood perfectly: If you’re a young white man, copping attitude will get you an eye-roll.  If you’re black, it may get you a bullet.  Be careful of what you wear, how you walk, how you stand.  Guard the expression on your face.  Don’t run, be respectful, say Yes sir, No sir, Yassir, Yassir. 
             That’s the Black American Anthem, playing still on the black keys.  It’s a song you need to understand if you want to survive if you’re black in a world of Watchman who don’t watch, a country of shoot to kill laws written by scared, ginned-up, armed-to-the-teeth citizens who perceive their world as a terrifying place filled with kudzu and the clink of the cane knives in the dark.
            And all it takes to start the music is one damned fool.
            And his gun.             


Anonymous said...

"an over the top media-fest that will let us pretend that we’re having a national dialogue about race."
And well covered by John Stewart.

-Mr. Easteng Sragiv
"Mechanical Man"

Churadogs said...

Dear Mr. Sragiv, Yup. Stewart will have a field day once the trial cranks up. Will we have a new set of Dancing Itos?

Anonymous said...

it's difficult for me to understand/put myself in the shoes of folks who are caught up about race and fear of "other."
growing up in hawaii did that to (or for) me.
the more homogeneous a society, the more fear of "other" we have.
but that fear is inherent in living things. (i saw a documentary about starfish and coral killing off species of their own kind because they had slightly different coloring than they had.)
i use my life to poke and prod that part of the fear. i do it with my big, fat mouth, my weird sense of humor, and a slight sense of superiority.
(this, of course, rankles my friends.)
a friend sent me one of those "funny" email things. it was about people with very intense facial tattoos and piercings and the captions made disparaging remarks about them.
i loved those tattoed people BECAUSE they were different and told her i did. the more we are different and let people know that we are, the more we serve justice and the world.

Churadogs said...

Amen. Go for the difference because we're ALL different in our own way.