Tikkun Daily button
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton-Dixon
Valerie Elverton Dixon is an independent scholar studying ethics, peace theory, public discourse, and the civil rights movement.



The Dangerous Unity in Community

Jan17

by: on January 17th, 2018 | No Comments »

This Martin Luther King holiday, I attended an annual community celebration in East St. Louis that, this year, commemorated the 50th anniversary of King’s death. Its theme was “Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community,” which is also the title of a book King published in 1967. This King holiday found the public discourse a buzz with the question of whether or not the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is a racist because of remarks he made calling Haiti along with African and Latin American countries “shitholes.” In a meeting with congress-members regarding legislation around immigration, he also expressed a preference for people from countries such as Norway to immigrate to the United States.

Many political pundits expressed outrage at the comments, and some told the stories of their families who had come from places that could have been considered “shitholes” at the time their ancestors left. The story of the United States is the story of people who had the get up and go to get up and go, searching for a better life. Trump’s grandfather was a German immigrant, and his mother was an immigrant from Scotland. However, the questions that kept coming to my mind, other than the obvious racial question, are: what is the definition of a “shithole” place? What are its characteristics? How do we know it when we see it?

Is a “shithole” place a place where poor people live? Does it lack basic infrastructure? Is there a high unemployment rate? Do young people leave because there are no decent job opportunities? Is there poor education, poor medical care, and high rates of violence because people make their living through an underground economy?

If this is the description of a “shithole” place, Trump ought to look at the states where people voted for him. He ought to concern himself about “shithole” America. The ten poorest states in the United States including the District of Columbia measured by the percent of its population who are living in poverty are: Mississippi 20.8; New Mexico 19.1; Kentucky 18.3; Arizona 18.2; West Virginia 17.7; District of Columbia 17.3; Alabama 16.8; Arkansas 16.8; Georgia 16.8; Florida 15.3. Trump carried all of these places except New Mexico and the District of Columbia. (United States Census Bureau)

East St. Louis is a poor small city. It needs infrastructure repairs. Our young people leave because there are not many good job opportunities here. They move to the suburbs or to other cities because there is not much decent housing. The underground economy thrives, and there are far too many gunshots in the night. However, we are also the City of Champions, East Boogie, and the 89 blocks. We have a great spirit of civic pride because we have produced significant figures in various aspects of human endeavor, including jazz great Miles Davis and Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee. A documentary about the championship season of the East St. Louis High School Football team – “89 Blocks” – aired recently on the Fox Sports channel.

Many people see East St. Louis as a “shithole” place. But, they would be looking with eyes that do not see its potential clearly. One reason that I believe Senator Dick Durbin was so deeply offended by Trump’s remarks is that he was reared in East St. Louis and now represents us in the United States Senate. He could recognize the vile racism of the remarks that were an insult not only to Africa, Haiti and Latin America, but were an insult to poor people all over the nation. Why did not Tom Cotton who represents Arkansas, one of the poorest states in the nation, and David Perdue of Georgia, also one of the poorest states in the nation recognize the insult? They did not recognize the insult because they were blinded by their own racism.

Fifty years ago, Martin Luther King, Jr. celebrated his 39th and last birthday in Atlanta with a multi-racial group of people who were in the early stages of planning a poor people’s campaign. King and the leadership of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference had decided to shift its work from racial desegregation to attacking the problem of poverty. Poverty cuts across all races in America. It bares its teeth in every section of the country. King saw it as a part of the tripartite evils of America – racism, militarism, and materialism. King, one of the few leaders in America with the moral authority to bring people together across racial lines for nonviolent direct action with the aim of calling attention to and ending systemic poverty, became more of a threat.

Read more...

Star Wars: Where Are the Black Women?

Dec26

by: on December 26th, 2017 | 3 Comments »

A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away there was a world where there could be found no black woman who could speak more than a sentence. It was a world of the most strange creatures and robots and technologies, but black women could only be seen in the background, usually at a bar or some place of entertainment. It was a period of civil war where rebels were fighting a war of resistance against evil forces in the universe. It was a world where The Force, a power that holds all things together in balance, both the good and the evil, the light and the dark could be summoned for the sake of restoring justice and peace to the galaxy. But, there were no black women of any consequence to be found.

On Christmas Day, my children and I went to see the latest Star Wars movie. We have been going to see these movies since they were children. I suppose I have become inured to the absence of black women until this movie when it came to the casino scene. There were black women represented in the latest version of the Star Wars bar, then it occurred to me: There was no black woman character of any consequence. I started to pay attention, and I started to look for the black women. C-3PO has more lines than any black woman in the movie. I left the movie livid.

So, I came home to think about the presence of black people as main characters in the films. I could think of only three black men – Billy D. Williams as Lando Calrissian in “Empire Strikes Back: Return of the Jedi”; Samuel L. Jackson as Mace Windu in “Star Wars Episode I: the Phantom Menace”; and John Boyega as Finn Galfridian in “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi”. I am not counting James Earl Jones as the voice of Darth Vader or Lupita Nyong’o as Maz Kanata. They are black actors who did not play identifiable black characters.

Star Wars has been a multi-billion dollar franchise for movies, toys, and other merchandise for 40 years. Yet, the Star Wars imagination does not stretch to include black women in any major way. Why is this?

Perhaps the creative minds that created the Star Wars world are not familiar with human history and the place of black women in it. As of this writing, science tells us that all of humanity descends from a black woman in East Africa. Black women have been queens in Africa one of the most famous of which is Hatshepsut in ancient Egypt. Amina is a 15th century warrior queen of Zaria, Nigeria. Yaa Asantewa of the Ashanti Kingdom in Ghana fought against British colonization. Ana Nzinga Mbanda of what is now Angola resisted the Portuguese slave trade and colonization. The Dahomey warrior women are renowned for being fierce fighters and the last line of defense to protect the king.

Perhaps African history is too obscure to expect the creative minds behind Star Wars to know. They ought to know that there was a black woman who was Queen of England, Queen Charlotte the wife of George III, having descended from the Africans in the Portuguese royal line. Josephine de Beauharnais, the first wife of Napoleon Bonaparte, the first Empress of the French, was born to a wealthy Creole family in Martinique.

Read more...

An Angel Tree Christmas

Dec25

by: on December 25th, 2017 | No Comments »

As I write this, NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, has tracked Santa somewhere over Texas. As you know Christmas Eve is a long day for all four Santas. The northern hemisphere Santa starts east and travels west to work the time zones. Sometimes, if he has time, he will stop by my house of coffee and cornbread. But, not this year. He knows that my schedule is jammed with my own efforts of resistance against Trump, and Santa approves.

I did not even go to the North Pole to help in my usual capacity of address verification. There is a group of us who go every year to help Santa locate children who may have moved or become homeless or who have been displaced for some other reason. When I told Santa that I would not be able to come this year. He gave me a local assignment. “I want you to visit the Angel Tree program at your church,” he said. Santa never commands, but it is very difficult to say no to him.

I have been familiar with the Angel Tree program for years. It is a program sponsored by Prison Fellowship where parents in prison sign their children up to receive Christmas presents from them. Local churches take the names and buy, wrap, and distribute the gifts. My mother was committed to Angel Tree. My Christmas memories of her include her shopping for and wrapping the presents in our basement. And she did it all with such joy. I find Christmas tedious. I am bah humbug about the whole thing. I consider the holidays female slave days full of shopping, cooking and cleaning until I hear the Messiah, especially the Quincy Jones adaptation, and then I can breathe in the true meaning of the season. This was not the case with my mother. She seemed to enjoy all the shopping, cooking, and even the cleaning for the holidays.

So, I did not mind going to the Angel Tree program. At our church, the Angel Tree families are invited to come and have breakfast and lunch. We break into groups for Bible study after breakfast, and then return for lunch and the distribution of the gifts. This year when I went, I asked how I could help and it turned out that the person who was supposed to work with children six and under may not be able to make it. So, here I was saying yes to working with little children.

Once upon a time in my life, I was a teacher, but I taught adults. Post graduate adults. Most were young adults, but adults none-the-less. I taught my first Sunday School class when I was sixteen- years- old, but the students were eight-years-old. This was way out of my comfort zone. Two other women and I took a group of ten to fifteen children into the nursery to play and to talk about the Christmas story. The older children sat with me at a table and we talked about the nativity. They had the experience of going on a road trip and having to stay at a motel. They could imagine how scary it would be not to have a room at the end of the day. When I told them Mary was about to have her baby and that the only place she and Joseph could go was the stable were the animals were, the six-year-old girl in the group was horrified.

I have become so accustomed to the Christmas story that it has become rote. It is routine. This little girl’s shock reminded me that the idea of a human being having to give birth in a stable is a shocking, horrible, heartless thing.

Read more...

An Interview with Frankenstein

Oct31

by: on October 31st, 2017 | Comments Off

All Hallows Eve is the time when the thin silver thread that divides life and death, divides fact from fantasy from flesh, disappears. It is a time when imaginary beings come to life. As I write this, that time is almost over in the Central Time Zone. I worried for a moment that I would not be able to finish my interview with Frankenstein before the dividing line returned. However, Frankenstein, contrary to his persona, is a gentleman in every sense of the word, and he made sure to speak to me before the dividing line re-emerged, and we would not be able to communicate again until next year.

I must confess that these last two days have been difficult for me. I have been depressed. Just sad. I cannot quite put my finger on the reasons for my melancholy state. The weather where I live has finally turned to fall, and the past two days have been a gloomy gray. I am sad for my country, heartbroken for the United States of America. The perp-walks have begun. Indictments of people close to the Trump campaign for president are facing charges. One has pleaded guilty. I thought that this would make me happy, but it does not. I am happy that our system of checks and balances on corruption and power is working, or at least, it has the possibility of working if justice is served.

At the same time, it is a sad commentary on the state of our nation. Some of us resist daily the various ways that the United States of America allows injustice. We defend the right to protest, the right of NFL players to take a knee. We question the sanity of John Kelly, Trump’s chief-of-staff when he lies on a member of Congress or “misremembers” in a pathetic attempt to shield Trump. Now he says that the Civil War happened because the two sides could not compromise. What kind of compromise does he imagine? We resist the laws that are being passed under the radar, laws that allow Internet providers to sell our browsing history without our knowledge or consent and without compensation to us. We resist the law just passed that takes away the right of bank customers to join in class action suits. Trump is taking away the requirement that employers provide funding for contraceptives, and we will not begin to think about the various ways that this administration is weakening the EPA and other agencies intended to protect people. Immigration authorities want to hold a sick child in custody, preparing to deport her.

I say and say again that we get the government we deserve.

That was yesterday. Today, another human being decided that it was his duty to commit a mass killing. He thought it was his responsibility to some ideology, to some way of thinking that makes the murder of other human beings not only thinkable, but justifiable. All of this was on my mind when I finally was able to connect with Frankenstein. Here is a portion of our conversation.

VED: Mr. Frankenstein, I want to thank you for taking the time to speak to me today. I know that Halloween must be a busy time for you.

FRANKENSTEIN: Please, you do not have to call me mister. Frankenstein is enough. I am happy to be with you.

VED: Let me begin with today’s terrible news about another mass killing in New York City. This time, it was a young man driving a truck in a space for bicyclists and pedestrians. What is your opinion of this type of violence?

FRANKENSTEIN: First let me explain that I have lived many lives. Since I am a character of the human imagination, I come into existence at different moments in history in different forms. I exist to bring certain archetypes into focus so that humanity can see outside its own mind its deepest fears, dreams, desires, and capabilities.

In my first incarnation, in Mary Wollstonecraft Shelly’s novel, I was a murderer. I accidentally killed a young boy. An innocent woman was convicted of the crime. Then I killed as a matter of revenge. I killed my creator’s best friend and his bride. These were not mass killings. I did not kill for ideological reasons. I killed because of my own pain. The old saying is true: “Hurt people hurt people.” Human beings do harm out of their own pain.

Read more...

I Surrender

Oct2

by: on October 2nd, 2017 | Comments Off

This morning when I opened my tablet to the newspapers, I was greeted with the reports of another mass shooting in the United States. This time, it is the deadliest mass shooting in history. I had no words. No tears. No feeling. I watched with a kind of numb sense of surrender. I told myself it was time to face the awful tragic fact that I live in a country that does not mind mass murder. They happen nearly every day in the United States and only make the news, only make us stop in our tracks, when the numbers are high. We value guns more than human life.

I have written about gun violence in the country over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over again at the Tikkun Daily Blog alone.

This June, in my Juneteenth essay, I wrote about our nation’s enslavement to gun violence.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2017/06/19/juneteenth-2017/

In April, I tried to take a more humorous view of gun safety laws as a homage to April Fool’s Day and called for a rule that no white man under the age of 65 be permitted to buy a gun

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2017/04/01/a-modest-proposal/

In June 2016, after the mass shooting in an Orlando night club I wrote about how this happens over and over.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2016/06/13/here-we-go-again/

I have written about the gun culture in the United States as idolatry.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2016/01/11/human-sacrifice-and-the-idolatry-of-the-gun/#more-58931

After the mass shooting in Charleston, South Carolina, where a young white racist gunman killed black people at a prayer meeting, I wrote a two-part essay about the Cost of Cowardice, the cowardice to face issues of race, and the cowardice of our elected official to defy the National Rifle Association and give us gun safety laws.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/06/24/the-cost-of-cowardice-part-one/#more-56596

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2015/07/22/the-cost-of-cowardice-part-two/#more-57034

In 2013, I wrote about the Power of Mothers to bring about change, comparing the relatively new organization Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America to Mothers Against Drunk Driving. My hope was that as women organized around the issue of gun safety laws, it would make a real change in our nation’s politics.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2013/05/16/the-power-of-moms/#more-38552

After the killing of elementary school children in Newton, Connecticut, all I could do was lament and keep saying that we have to elect representatives who will not fear the NRA.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/12/24/a-lamentation/#more-35141

In December of 2012, grieving over the deaths of children in Newton, I quoted a portion of my book where I propose the unicorn as a symbol for the world of justice and peace that we want to establish.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2012/12/21/unicorns-exist/#more-35139

After the mass shooting that nearly killed Rep. Gabby Giffords, I wrote about the Second Amendment within the context of 21st century technology. This amendment was not intended for a moment where guns can kill tens and wound hundreds in a matter of minutes.

https://www.tikkun.org/tikkundaily/2011/01/10/21st-century-weapons-technology-and-the-second-amendment/#more-18559

Read more...

Protest is Patriotism

Sep26

by: on September 26th, 2017 | Comments Off

The 45th president of the United States, in a profane rally rant intended to play to a crowd of voters in Alabama, invited owners of National Football League teams to fire players who took a knee during the national anthem. The ensuring firestorm has revealed that he does not understand what the central idea of the United States is. It has often been said that the United States is a country that is not built on ethnicity, rather, it is built on an idea and an ideal.

The idea is that citizens have both a right and a duty to craft a government that insures their human rights among those rights being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The ideal is that the nation is perfectible. The work of every generation is to work for a more perfect union.

The United States was founded in protest and in revolution. A decent respect for the opinions of humanity caused the founders to declare a political philosophy that would be a guide to those who came after them. Now is the time to remind ourselves of our foundational philosophy. The Declaration of Independence says:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. – That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, – That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

The Declaration speaks of the duty of human beings to throw off despotic governments. “But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

The power of life and death that police as agents of the states hold over citizens may be considered despotic when the officers who kill citizens are not brought to justice. Twelve-year-old Tamir Rice ought to have been free to play with his toy gun alone on a playground in safety. Rather, he was shot by police within two seconds of them arriving on the scene. No one paid a legal price for this crime. And, there is a long list of black and brown men and women who have been killed by the police for no good reason and those police officers have paid no legal price.

This is the reason why Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem before games last year and why many of his colleagues in various sports in various level of sports joined his protest. He was doing his duty as a human being and as a citizen of the United States.

Read more...

Games of Thrones and #NoConfederate

Aug6

by: on August 6th, 2017 | 4 Comments »

First, I must confess that I am a Game of Thrones fan. To be more precise, I am a Tyrion Lannister fan as interpreted by Peter Dinklage. I continued to watch Game of Thrones after the first episode primarily because I was fascinated by Tyrion. I love his wit and his joy of life. As the series progressed, I started to love his cunning, his morality, and his willingness to walk away from everything and to return again when he thought he could serve a leader who would be good for the people of the Seven Kingdoms.

I was and remain at once enthralled and deeply dismayed by the imagination of George R.R. Martin in the books and by David Benioff and D.B. Weiss in the television series. They have conjured an entire world complete with history and religion and food. They have imaged flying dragons and a human queen who can withstand fire. They have given us a human being, the Three-eyed Raven, who can see everything past, present, and future. I enjoy the library at the Citadel, the warrior women and the dangerous queens. Games of Thrones earned an everlasting place in my heart for bringing back the great Diana Rigg as Lady Olenna Tyrell. The Game of Thrones imagination imagines an army of the dead that is the ultimate enemy of the living, and the saying of the House Stark is correct: “Winter is coming.”

My disappointment comes with the rapes of women and the torture porn. It especially comes when I look at the world these wonderful imaginings have given us, and I see a world where African or Asian people hardly exist. We have seen a few minor black characters, but it seems beyond their imagining that there could be high born black people who would have something to say about who will sit on the Iron Throne. Perhaps this would be a good starting point for a sequel as Game of Thrones, the television show, comes to an end.

Rather than thinking with delicious anticipation about what a sequel to the series could be, we are instead faced with an HBO announcement that Benioff and Weiss will produce a show called Confederate. The premise of the show will be what would the world be like if the Confederacy had won the Civil War and slavery existed to this day?

What? Who thought this was a good idea? (See: https://www.theatlantic.com/amp/article/535512/)

Here is where I reach the limits of my own imagination. I cannot image how anyone would think that what the world needs now is a fantasy about the enslavement of African American people continuing to the present day. How can anyone think that such fiction is appropriate when the truth of the aftermath of the Civil War is hardly known?

Let us consider the true history. After the Civil War, federal troops were stationed in the South to oversee Reconstruction. A Freedman’s Bureau was established to help the formerly enslaved to build new lives. We NEVER got our forty acres or our mule. We NEVER got reparations for hundreds of years of stolen work, but that is another essay. African Americans insisted on education, so people, black and white, can thank African Americans for the existence of public education in the South. African Americans served with honor and dignity in state legislatures and in the United States Congress. Do not believe the racist propaganda of the movies that depict freed men and women as pawns in the hands of corrupt carpetbaggers from the North.

Read more...

A Declaration of Resistance

Jul4

by: on July 4th, 2017 | 6 Comments »

When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for citizens to resist the immorality and unjust policies of their elected officials and to assume the responsibility of citizens to insist upon a course in keeping with the spirit and the letter of their founding documents, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the resistance.

We hold these truths to be self-evident that all human beings are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. These Rights include those outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international declarations of rights that belong to human beings not by virtue of citizenship but rather by virtue of their humanity. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among human beings, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,–that whenever elected or appointed officials become obstructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to resist and to work to elect new people who will provide policies leading to Safety and Happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that elected officials ought not to face resistance for light or transient causes, and accordingly all experience has shown that human beings are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by consistent resistance. But when a long train of abuses, pursuing invariably the same object evinces a design to reduce them under Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty to resist and vote into office different leaders who will Guard their future security in the most expansive sense.

The history of Donald Trump is a history of repeated injuries and lies all having in direct object the weakening of our government and his own advancement at any cost. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He built his political career upon a malignant foundation of a pernicious lie, namely, that President Obama was not born in the United States of America. He lied to the public for years, saying that he had paid investigators to prove that President Obama was not born in the United States. We have neither seen nor heard from any of these investigators.

He ran a fraudulent “university” and conned people out of their hard-earned money.

He is a man who has disrespected women both before, during and after the presidential campaign. He bragged about sexually assaulting women, and when women came forward to say that he had indeed made unwanted physical contact with them, he insulted them personally and threatened law suits. He has called women names, body shaming them, and seems to have an unhealthy obsession with women and blood.

He started his presidential campaign insulting our fellow Mexican American citizens. Throughout the campaign, he has given us a divisive and mendacious discourse. He has debased the public conversation both as a candidate and as president by giving his opponents demeaning names and making fun of them. He called for violence against protestors at his rallies, even at one point offering to pay the legal bills of anyone who was charged with violence against protestors.

He has tried to bully and demean members of the media. Protection of the freedom of the press is enshrined in the first amendment of the United States Constitution. While the Constitution prohibits Congress from making a law that would abridge the freedom of the press, the spirit of the Constitution requires a person who takes an oath to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution to show respect for members of the media. The media are not the enemy of the people as he has suggested, the media are the people.

Read more...

Juneteenth 2017

Jun19

by: on June 19th, 2017 | 1 Comment »

June 19, Juneteenth, commemorates June 19, 1865, the day the Major General Gordon Granger and United States troops landed in Galveston, Texas with news that the Civil War was over and that the slaves were free. The Emancipation Proclamation had gone into effect on January 1, 1863, and many slaves had heard the news then and had walked away from slavery. Many of them, my maternal grandmother’s grandfather among them, walked away from slavery and joined the Union army.

The 13th Amendment to the US Constitution that abolishes slavery having already passed the Senate in 1864, passed the House of Representative on January 31, 1865. It was well on the way to confirmation by the time Maj. Gen Granger reached Galveston. Juneteenth has been celebrated from that day to this as a moment to pause and to remember the meaning of freedom. It is a privilege and a responsibility. It is a time to rededicate ourselves to education and to self-improvement.

However, on this Juneteenth, I think it is important to think about the character of freedom. The Juneteenth story is a tale of human beings remaining in bondage because they did not have the information that they were legally free. Masters kept that news from their slaves. Further, even after the enslaved human beings learned the news, military force was necessary to allow the reality of their freedom. This was also the case during Reconstruction, and at the end of Reconstruction, when federal troops left the South in great numbers, a kind of neo-slavery in the form of share cropping  and legal apartheid became common.

Freedom is a determination. It is not only physical, but it is a spiritual effort as well. It is a spiritual acceptance. Rabbi Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ, Jesus a prophet of Islam, Jesus the moral philosopher taught that those who follow his teachings would be free: “If the Son therefore shall make you free, you shall be free indeed.” (John 8:36) The Apostle Paul writes: “. . . where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.” (3:17) When we become aware of the existence of Divine Love in our lives that is not only beyond us but that also dwells within us, we are free.

Such an awareness gave enslaved persons the courage to walk away from slavery before the Emancipation Proclamation or Juneteenth or the 13th Amendment. They recognized that the Creator of All loved them and wanted them to be free. However, freedom is not free. Free people have an obligation to work for the liberation and for the dignity of all of humanity because the image of God lives in humanity. A divine life force lives in all of nature and creation.

On this Juneteenth the United States is still in bondage to gun violence. We have reached a point in the nation where mass shooting happen so often that they barely rate discussion. On Wednesday, June 14, a lone gunman opened fire upon Republican lawmakers, some of their staff members, and members of a congressional security detail. It seems that the gunman targeted this group because they were Republicans. As of this writing, no one has died from that shooting.

On that same day, there was a mass shooting at a UPS facility in San Francisco where an employee killed three of his coworkers before turning the gun on himself. Since that day, there has been precious little discussion about the horror of mass shootings, about the easy availability of guns, about the incredible number of mass shooting that happen in the United States. The discussion has been all about political discourse, how our political rhetoric is too heated and too divisive. Some of us have been making that case for years, especially since congress member Gabby Giffords was shot in January of 2011.

Read more...

On “Crossin’ Over”

Jun15

by: on June 15th, 2017 | Comments Off

I am blackwoman in America.

And, I love being a blackwoman in America. I agree with Zora Neale Hurston when she says:

“I am not tragically colored. There is no great sorrow damned up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all. I do not belong to the sobbing school of Negrohood who hold that nature somehow has given them a lowdown dirty deal and whose feelings are all hurt about it. Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world – I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife.”

I know why I love every drop of my DNA, the African and the European. I love myself because I honor the story of my ancestors. I know what they endured to survive with their humanity in tact so that I could exist.
This past Sunday, I was reminded of this when I attended a sold-out performance of “Crossin’ Over: A Musical with a Measure of Silent Rebellion” mounted by The Black Rep in St. Louis, Missouri. [Full disclosure: My son is a brilliant actor and a skilled carpenter with the Black Rep] This production, crafted by Ron Himes and Charles Creath and directed by Himes, is billed as a musical, but it is not exactly that. There is no libretto, no dialogue that tells a story and provides the occasion for songs and dances. While it is all music, it is not opera. The music is a program of songs, but it is not a choir concert.

With all the dramatic elements of a good play, a tight ensemble cast of four men and four women and African drummers take us through the African American experience from pre-slavery Africa through the hell of the Maafa which includes the horrors of the trans-Atlantic middle passage and slavery. After slavery, we experience the blues and early gospel and then travel through the civil rights and black power movements up to the present day gospel that shouts praises in a way that takes us beyond the pain of the human condition in general and beyond all this pain plus the stress of living in a still racist United States of America. For those of us reared in the black church tradition, many of these songs are familiar and beloved. For me, this is especially true of the Dr. Watts, a kind of a cappella singing, that is as beautiful to my ears as Gregorian chants. It was thrilling and amazing to hear the house sing along with this call and response tradition.

In her poem, “What Do We Tell Our Children Who Are Black?” Dr. Margaret Burroughs reminds us that it is our responsibility to tell our children the truth of our history. Our children need to know the truth of global black history so that they will be “confident in the knowledge of his(her) worth.” According to Burroughs our history gives us strength. It gives our children the strength to survive. She writes:

“And survive he(she) must! For who knows?
Perhaps this black child here bears the genius
To discover the cure for. . . cancer
Or to chart the course for exploration of the universe.
So, he(she) must survive for the good of all humanity.

It is in this truth that “Crossin’ Over” returns theater to its origins in ritual and homage to the gods, creating sacred space in the Emerson Performance Center at Harris-Stowe State University. In the beginning of theater humankind wore masks to allow the gods to speak to humans through humans. Later, individuals would perform the various parts of a ritual in a theater like setting before audiences to allow humans to speak back to the gods and to each other. In this event, the lines between the sacred and the secular, between the human and the divine, become porous and we are able to cross over. This is its own transcendence. It is a deeply spiritual moment.

Read more...