Poison In The Streets

by Thomas Henry Pope, July 13, 2016

This week in America poison is fouling streets and public squares. It is jamming airwaves and bandwidth. It is running like blood across suburban lawns and down the steps of the Capitol building. And though horrifying, distressing beyond words, it is a good thing. It is good, because what has long been hidden in the veins of America must run out.

The pain of our Black citizens needs no corollary. It needs no chorus or supporting cast to be true to all the ideals of injustice. Even the word “pain” is inadequate to capture the indignity and cruelty endured by a broad race of people, dragged here in chains and crushed into one class to serve the whole, first as slaves and then as scapegoats. No true Christian would stand by for a minute as others were treated this way. Not to mention that no White man would endure such treatment for a second.

And yet the hordes that have become the rest of America do stand by. We have become spectators of a national sport of degradation, watching and forgetting in equal shares, wrapping ourselves in the Stars and Stripes to vanquish the chill of spiritual gloom that rises with the American sun.

Many times in our history we have found ourselves on such a precipice as this week presents, where leaping from familiar ground would constitute commitment to a true revolution, such as (some of) the White Founding Fathers thought humanity deserved in 1776. [Sadly, that first time, to increase their odds of survival against their British oppressors, our outlaw ancestors backed away from their mission and opted for a union designed to sanction poison little different than that which they had fled in Europe. They drew up documents prescribing decency-on-occasion and democracy for some. Hymns touting our God-given excellence rose in churches and the masses bought shares. That force and example have rolled through the centuries unchanged even by a Civil War, a war that continues underground and in our collective blood.]

Over and over in precarious moments like these our leaders in commerce, church and state have obfuscated their aims with language stressing the need for patience and incremental renewal of that bewildering potion known as the American Dream. They have dangled baubles to the poor and oppressed until desperation distracts those sad people from seeing the doubled-down return to a status quo, where the land and creatures of all magnitude are pillaged for profit. Now even the climate is sagging under the stress.

The list of our miseries is long and reads like the names of soldiers killed in Iraq. A sampling: The work of a Congress attuned to hiding corruption in the name of legislation; the gunning down of police officers in Dallas; the fusion of religious bigotry with select phrases from the Constitution (freedom to worship and maintain militias, for example); the dishonoring of women in the marketplace, the media and the bedroom; the destruction of civil liberties and voting rights; the murder of Black people for being black and the use of poor Whites as stooges. What these conditions have in common is that they arise from our one proud tradition: that of taking no prisoners and ignoring all consequences. It is a tradition that has become devoid of compassion.

Building as they do on the acceleration of obscene profits for a few and the abuse of many, the events of this week offer us another opportunity—a precipice—to examine what we have wrought in the name of freedom and liberty. The stories of rape by elites in universities and media, the report in Britain about a corrupt rush to war, the live-streamed the murder of Black men by police and the arising of a narcissistic presidential candidate who lies with impunity could cause those in power to consider banning the blood sport they have so long enjoyed. At some point they, too, may finally long for a taste of life without the burden of hatred. The fear they carry about what might happen if the citizens cannot be distracted and the signs of rebellion by those citizens have combined to slit our wrists. And in context, this is a good thing.

It is up to us as a nation to realize that the heaviness in our hearts results from the design of our culture. We are causing it. Now is a time to realize that our misery will remain unless we actively remove our reliance upon it. If we can liberate ourselves from Great Britain in one century and obliterate a tsunami of Fascism in another, then surely in this century, we can transform our culture into one that fulfills the promise our forebears once dreamed of. If we are to have a future worth living for anyone, it is time to bring accountability and decency into all aspects of our way of life.

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