Now, it's really America.
And, it's about damned time.
I was born in 1961 on the Southside of Chicago and I heard about a place called America. I was told that, in America, all men were created equal. And, I heard we had a Declaration of Independence that said, if government didn't serve our interests, "We, the People"- had a right to rise up and replace that government with one that did.
Last night, we did.
And, now, it's really America.
Granted, it's been a long train coming. I remember, in 1967, Reynolds Aluminum went out on strike. So, my father packed up everything we had and put me in the front seat of a big old U-Haul truck. And, as he left Chicago, he drove by the old plant one last time. Black folks manned the picket lines. He pointed to them and said to me, "That's why we're leaving."-
And, though I'll go to my grave believing he wasn't a racist, I think he understood how complicated the world was becoming. So, he brought his family back to Tennessee.
In the hills, the powerbrokers in my life tried to control the message, as much as they could. Everywhere I turned, there were angry white people ready to tell me how worthless I was. But, thanks to my school bus driver, I heard that sinful Rock'N'Roll music every day, coming and going. And, though I couldn't put my finger on it, I knew there was something special about Jimi Hendrix, Otis Redding, and Stevie Wonder.
Reaching adulthood, there were off-ramps to racism available-- invitations to join "the militia,"- jokes I'd be embarrassed to repeat. But, the math didn't add up.
On one hand, my people offered me a faith system riddled with fear and hatred. Whitey the Boss Man offered me back-breaking minimum-wage dead-end work. And, a redneck girl laid down the law-- I was supposed to quit going to Cleveland State Community College, give up my dreams of being a writer, get her pregnant, and take up payments on her forevermore.
On the other hand, Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia invited me to join their fraternity. From the get-go, Phi Mu Alpha has always been color-blind. They accepted me based on my love of music, not my pigment. In graduate school, it was a black man that taught me the taxicab trade. It was a black man that gave me my first job in education. It was a black woman who gave me my second job in education, when the first one played out.
And, somewhere between Affirmative Action and Clarence Thomas and hip-hop and O.J. Simpson, I learned a very important life lesson""
When your official friends have abandoned you, when you've run out of options, and when your back's against the wall, black folks will take you in.
Black folks understand.
But, then, the dark days came, and they wouldn't go away. Everything I'd ever held precious about being an American seemed to go up in smoke. My American government was torturing people and illegally wiretapping its citizens. Habeas corpus went out the window. Posse comitatus was a suggestion. There was Abu Graib and Gitmo and Jack Bauer and a million other things that all added up to one thing--
The American President thought the Constitution was something best used for wiping his ass.
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