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Monday, March 21, 2016

After the Anti-Racism Rally


Last week, recruitment fliers from the KKK turned up in the nicer neighborhoods around our little town, Lexington Virginia.  WHITE POWER.  WHITE PRIDE.

For people of color, Jews, LGBTQ folks, and others targeted by the KKK, this was an ugly reminder of what we face as we walk around the world in our very human bodies.  But for many of our white neighbors and colleagues, these fliers were a shock - even though we've testified time and time again about how POC or other targeted groups often feel unsafe, our energies spent negotiating microaggressions or outright oppressions, our time spent jumping hurdles other people don't seem to see.  The shock was, as one speaker noted, a wake-up call.

Taking this kind of shock and molding it into action is not easy, but in less than a week, a new group formed - CARE - Community Anti-Racism Education initiative, and this group took the lead in making today's anti-racism rally happen.  Pastor Lyndon Sayers spoke eloquently about the need for white people to educate and take action against racism without depending on POC, LGBTQ and others to call out racism and shoulder most of the work.  This was a wonderful moment for Lexington; a claiming of responsibility and solidarity.  I'm very glad my wife, Margo Solod, and I were there to witness speaker after speaker - white, Black, Jew - stand before a microphone in a public park at "rush hour" (with looky-loo traffic just yards away and one screaming white man on the corner making his beliefs known), and loudly denounce racism, accept the burden of dealing with it, and affirm the work to be done.  I heard (not just once but twice) the history of genocide and land theft brought up in the name of Indigenous peoples who have suffered colonization - something rarely, if ever, heard at a non-Native anti-racist gathering.

I saw my colleagues, students, and neighbors brought together, and it was good.  

It was good.  Not perfect, but good.  One speaker quoted George Washington's letter to the Jews of Newport, which has long been cited as the founding father's commitment to religious freedom.  The line “every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid”  made me physically wince.  Ouch.  Maybe, not such a great person to quote from at this gathering, as I'm sure that vine and fig were planted, watered, trimmed and watched over by enslaved Africans, whose very lives were owned by Washington; people who had no vine and fig of their own, and never would.

Still, I am heartened that the KKK fliers have been met not by silence and ennui, but by voice and action.  Thank you, Lexington.  

And thank you, those who came before us - you're still lighting the way.


After the Anti-Racism Rally

“every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid.” – George Washington, Letter to the Jews of Newport

We walk home arm-in-arm, chilled
by March winds. You heat up homemade

tamales – pork, butternut squash, queso –
and we eat with our fingers, scrape

our teeth along corn husk ridges and valleys
filled with masa tender as marrow. 

Before darkness falls, before the moon rises,
I go outside, stir steamy compost with a pitchfork,

pick up dog shit in the grass.
You want this to be a metaphor,

don’t you?  Or some apt allegory
for how cleaning up racism is a lot like

scooping dog shit so you don’t
step in it while weeding the Cosmos?

Maybe it’s the rich black compost
that appeals to you:

how we make beauty out of rotten
hulks of onions, green pepper cores.

Sorry to disappoint. This is merely a report
on my daily life.  Rebellious?  Radical?

Hell no: a small-town lesbian enjoying
ties to her indigenous roots, relishing her fig

and vine, dinner with her wife, all 
without permission or license

from the KKK – folks, that’s nothing less
than a fucking miracle,

a miracle built on bodies, blood, bones -
on dreams too tough to decompose.


Deborah A. Miranda

2 comments:

  1. The George Washington "quote" is in reality just him quoting from the bible, but w/e.

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    1. Yes, I'm aware of that, and will comment in a second. However, can you tell me how that changes the fact that Washington's home, his land, and much of his wealth was built directly on the backs of enslaved Africans? He owned a total of 318 enslaved people and was a slave-owner for 56 years, and this greatly contributed to his well-being, comfort, and power. That is why I refer to his status as a man who valued his own sovereignty, yet owned other people because of their race. By the end of his life, Washington had evolved to the point where he ordered his enslaved people freed upon his wife's death. Our speaker quoted from this letter to Truro Jews, however, and I looked it up to get Washington's exact words. References to "vine and fig" occur three times in the Old Testament. At http://www.mountvernon.org/digital-encyclopedia/article/vine-and-fig-tree/ Dr. George Tsakiridis says, "The phrase is also notably found in a well-known letter that Washington wrote to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island. In the letter, Washington proclaimed, "May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants – while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid." The usage enforces the notion that it was Micah 4:4 that Washington referenced, as he added "none to make him afraid" at the end of the sentence.10 This particular usage of "vine and fig tree" was important due to the fact that Washington was quoting the Hebrew Scriptures to a Hebrew congregation, re-enforcing his ecumenical leanings." And, by the way, since I use my name and identify my location in this blog, I prefer that those leaving comments do, as well. I tend not to publish "Anonymous" comments, but for this post, I've made an exception since I wanted to clarify your point about the quote from the Torah (what Jews call the Old Testament).

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