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