Friday, April 27, 2018

Black lives: the Underground Museum

I can't begin to tell you how much it sickens me to see what strikes me as a great resurgence of racism - and not just in our neighbors to the south. How we love to say things like, "Oh, that's just in the States," or "our history was so peaceful,"  conveniently forgetting the apartheid of residential schools which literally stole children from their parents and held them hostage. We never heard about these things at all, of course, and I think if we had, we would have thought in terms of what an advantage it was for these poor underprivileged "Indian" children to get a good solid Catholic education.

Blindness. I don't want to start. Chatham, where I grew up, seemed for some reason to have a disproportionate number of black people. Disproportionate? That means five per cent rather than none! But black culture was a presence, if not from the citizens of Chatham we lived and worked with, then from Detroit, that source of vibrant new musical culture along with alarming rumbles of unrest.

But there was something else about Chatham. I think my schooling was lily-white until I got into Grade 9 or so (not that it had anything to do with the parallel social movement of integration, no sir!). Then suddenly there were black kids, maybe two or three in a class of thirty. Compared to the zero of before, with all those classes of kids at the Dutch reform school who seemed to be universally blonde and blue-eyed, it was a lot.

It was a confusing time. Black culture was cool, we thought, but we wanted the "good part", Diana Ross and the Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Afros and "black is beautiful", and wanted to leave out the ugly part, the violence, the riots. Of course I knew about Martin Luther King - he was my hero - but I was beginning to have just sprinklings of awareness of other leaders with names like Huey Newton, Bobby Seale and Malcolm X. Meantime, something seismic happened on a more intimate level that rocked our school, and everyone's school. It was a song by a folk singer named Janis Ian, and it was about a white girl dating a black boy. It was called Society's Child, and the refrain was, "I can't see you any more. . . " The girl's mother would not even let the boyfriend in the house. To me, the most chilling line of all is the very last one: "I don't want to see you any more." Her mother's ugly mentality has won a mean little victory.

This song caused a furiosa of response, but it was all underground. Girls huddled around their lockers whispering to each other about it. "Did you hear it? That song? . . .I heard it. . .yeah, it's true, isn't it." Not one person thought the song was inaccurate.

I don't know why were such idiots about it, why we didn't discuss it openly in school, but then we never discussed anything important in school. This was never more apparent than when my mother started talking to me one day about her favorite history book, Romantic Kent by Victor Lauriston. "There's a chapter in it about the Underground Railroad. Chatham is one of the termination points, you know."

About the what?

Once my mother had explained to me, more or less, what the Underground Railroad was, and that Chatham was instrumental in helping escaped and fugitive slaves to settle and build new homes and create communities, a question screamed in my head: why didn't we learn about this in school?

We learned nothing of the Underground Railroad. Either it didn't occur to the school board to put it on the curriculum, or they were embarrassed by it. Chatham had a famous son, Fergie Jenkins, a nationally-known champion ball player, and he was a real nice colored man. Wasn't that enough? We had Mahalia Jackson who came all the way to Chatham to sing for us, but, oops, Mahalia wasn't allowed to stay at the William Pitt Hotel because the management was sure she would be "much more comfortable" in another hotel across town.

I see racism minimized now, I see people writing in comments sections (and why do I still read them?) about how it has all been blown out of proportion, how black people should just forget the past and suck it up and be glad they live in the greatest country in the world (and you know the country I mean, and it isn't Canada). Unfortunately they omit one little fact: that greatest country in the world was founded on the backs of slaves. The United States would not, could not exist without slavery. Slaves were the engine that made the entire machine run. If by force, if by theft of liberty, then what was the damage? They could always go over there and get some more, because slaves were a renewable resource.

But why do those black folks still insist on making such a fuss? I have seen diatribes about indentured workers, Irish mostly, and about how they were treated "just as badly as the blacks". It's the same mentality that whittles down the Holocaust: "but lots of other groups were just as persecuted", "other atrocities took place in history and nobody notices", and maybe just maybe they got that infamous six million count wrong.

I try not to write these days, I really do, because when I do this is what comes out. Truly, I'd like to only post silly videos and animations and things I enjoy doing, because none of it makes one jot of difference anyway. I have almost no readers, and I keep this going only for something to do. I have had weird surges in readership that then died, and I don't understand the surges and I don't understand the dying. I guess I will keep on as long as it amuses me, but there are certain things that will never amuse me, and atrocity against humanity is definitely at the top of the list. 

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