Men of Reason will define a Ghost as nothing more otherworldly than a wrong unrighted, which like an uneasy spirit cannot move on,- needing help we cannot usually give,- nor always find the people it needs to see,- or who need to see it. But here is a Collective Ghost of more than household Scale,- the Wrongs committed Daily against the Slaves, petty and grave ones alike, going unrecorded, charm’d invisible to history, invisible yet possessing Mass and Velocity, able not only to rattle Chains, but to break them as well.
-Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon.
A Confederate Flag hangs in a college dormitory suite. Our hero, the black suitemate, Francisco Cardoza opens the door and walks in, his backpack heavy, fingers and toes cold, numbing from the late fall chill. The semester is in full swing, the brisk and cheerful sounds of progress, of people bettering themselves. First in family-ers laugh and promenade, breaking slowly free of their crude and uneducated parents, creating bonds with the other millennials with whom they will one day collude to take back the pension funds and push the old-timers into the sea. The past seems dead – hilarious and impotent—> AND YET, the Old Stars and Bars, leering, bloodred and commanding, fluttering diabolically in the forced air currents of the dirty white air conditioner. The sterile fluorescent lighting in the suite only enhances the garish discord of the tableau.
The white suitemates are already seated. They grin devilishly, half-circled in desk chairs like a council of high priests, trio of judges, kidnap squadron, family at intervention.
“Do you like our flag? (‘neeeee-gro’ one of them mouths silently)”
Nearly three-hundred years of ancestral memory roil painfully over our hero. It is dark and thick as pitch. It suffocates, cloys, smells and tastes of blood. It shrieks and pounds in his ears. It burns his back, waters his eyes, makes him gag and cough. Our hero Cardoza turns and stumbles outside into insalubrious calm and warm breezes of a violent pre-storm grey. A song is suspended in the saturated air – some shrill, haunting cry, a mixture of a slave song and manifold, reverberated scream.
“Hey, where ya going?” A hooded face popping from the dormitory window, the hand lifts the hood to reveal the ‘neeee-gro’-mouthing suitemate painted in the colors of stubbled and insolent youth. “We were going to watch Birth of a Nation!”
Did a Racist Act take place here? A Hate Crime? They did me no violence, no judgment, not even a tangible discrimination. It was all artifacts, reminders, the violence of history and memory. And yet how it stung… Does racism live in the thought and action, or has it taken deeper root, in the very fabric of American culture, World Culture, Human Culture?
I don’t want to go on a lynching party against Michelle Obama unless there’s evidence, hard facts, that say this is how the woman really feels. If that’s how she really feels — that America is a bad country or a flawed nation, whatever — then that’s legit. We’ll track it down.
-The Reverend Bill O’Reilly.
Meaning not “Yes, let us lynch this woman, for she has dark brown skin and therefore her life is below the law.” but rather, a more nuanced, “I don’t wish this woman any physical harm, but let us, White America, take a moment to remember that sixty to eighty years ago, we could indeed ‘go on a lynching party’ against this negro woman, Michelle Obama, to take her from her home in the humid night, bind her and carry her to a floodlit and festive grove – a gathering of friends and neighbors – hang her from a tree, smile for photographs, pass pints of whiskey and gin, go home and never hear of it again, never be punished for these actions. Let’s remember, because it’s a comforting thought, a reminder of our power, White America, and the ease at which we can re-conjure ideas about the inferiority and powerlessness of the ‘African American’ race.”
Yes, that’s racism, thinks our Cardoza, stalking across the campus lawns, a theory growing in his mind. That’s the stuff! Not a set of judgments or actions, but the fast-alloying of negative deposits, a tapping of the mighty Injustice Reservoir, that vast buildup of ‘wrongs unrighted’ that hang molecular in the atmosphere like this very static gathering before the storm, courting lighting from the heavens, to strike, Strike! STRIKE.
He decides to try it.
“Jesse Owens vs. The Aryan Race, 1936 Olympic Games.” He enumerates to a passing white student, a Methuselah Barrow, sallow and thin, with long hair, slicked back. “You guys looked like you were running backwards!”
The sallow freshman appears taken aback. Is this some kind of joke? He stops and tests his hypothesis, tries to play the game, but gently. “Elvis Presley stealing Chuck Berry’s Swagger.”
Our hero grimaces, he wants a fight, not a bull session. He had been glad-handed too many times. “The first OJ Simpson Trial. Ron and Nicole Brown all cut up like Helter Skelter. ‘If it doesn’t fit, you must acquit.’”
The sallow freshman is disgusted. “I really don’t want to do this dude. It’s just not fair. What do you need to put this to bed? If I Did It and The second OJ Simpson trial, Amadou Diallo, South Africa until 1994, Fred Hampton, Soul Plane, Code Name: The Cleaner, ‘Get your hand outta my pocket’…”
As Barrow speaks, an army materializes at his back – an army formidable and unrelenting as a glacier, stretching back five hundred years and marching three hundred feet tall. Hooded goliaths march and rub elbows with European slave traders and smiling, waving politicians. Modern-day American police march in step with Confederate soldiers and colonial battalions, guns at the ready. Great dark slave ships creak and groan, black bilge oozing from their timbers. Beneath their feet, wheels and hulls a dark and semi-liquid mass, dark brown and red, faces, white eyes and teeth, partially resolved for discrete instants into blurred sketches of horror – crying out, screaming, pushing in and out of the gush and swirl. A plasma of suffering, early death and despair. The entire collected and cumulative might of white supremacy looms and wheezes, crushes and grinds – the injustice reservoir.
“Medgar Evers, Afroman…” Methuselah trails off, seeing the look of despair and frozen horror on the face of Cardoza, who is looking above and behind Barrow.
“But my roommates… The Stars and Bars…”
Methuselah’s sallow face softens. He steps next to our hero Cardoza and turns. They regard the reservoir together. Their faces wrinkle, age twenty years – the sheer might and weight of the assemblage – too much for any young and hopeful hearts to countenance. “God, It’s so… Immense. How do you live with it? How can we take it apart?”
“The white power elite scoff at reparations, and ignore any suggestion of apology. Perhaps one or both of these are needed. Otherwise, there will always be resentment and a desire for revenge…”
For something I didn’t do
But I don’t know who
You blame me for slavery
A hundred years before I was born
GUILTY OF BEING WHITE
I’m a convict
Of a racist crime
I’ve only served
19 years of my time
GUILTY OF BEING WHITE
-Minor Threat, Guilty of Being White.
Our hero bursts in through the door of the suite. He is in full blackface. He strums a banjo – badly out of tune – and does a soft-shoe dance on the aquamarine carpet. A straw hat wobbles precariously on his head. He purses his violently red lips as if puckering for a kiss. Two of the suitemates freeze and turn red at the naked minstrelsy. They squirm and try to hide in their chairs. The third begins to hoot and slap his knee, stomping in time, a joyous bucolic grin seizing his features.
Our hero bursts in through the door of the suite. He holding, against all physical laws, a stolid tree bough from which dangles a full-grown, partially-burned, lynched black man. He jabs it as his suitemates, as they scramble in terror. “Smell it! Smell the cooking! This is what you want, this is what you miss, right?”
Our hero bursts in through the door of the suite. He is dressed as “Doctor Obama”. He moves briskly in his white doctor’s coat, setting his clipboard down and testing reflexes, taking blood pressures and temperatures, fondling testicles and sticking syringes in a whirlwind of tests and treatment. “Sign up by December 23rd or be penalized! Remember, it’s the law!”
The suitemates are flustered, overwhelmed, then sullen, angry. Cardoza may be on to something. “Whatsa matter? You don’t like a black man forcing you to do things? Don’t like the feeeeeelings of helplessness? (‘honnnnnn-ky’, Francisco mouths silently)”.
“Man FUCK Obamacare and fuck that fuckin’ Kenyan Nig-”
“Ah ah ah, stress is bad for your health, and getting all riled up won’t change the law.” Cardoza singsongs. But then sensing risk, the motorcycle leaning out too far, he decides not to press his advantage further. “Excuse me.”
Francisco Cardoza bursts in to his suite. He serves his suitemates with hate crime charges as well as school disciplinary forms, silently. He is wearing a black shirt that says in bold white text “I Am A Man”. He has also just heard that Nelson Mandela has died. Will there be truth and reconciliation within the suite? Even if so, it will still abide, large as Jupiter – the Injustice Reservoir, with the blood red (and black) vino on tap.
And looking through his telescope, Cardoza sees a new reservoir forming, an orbiting moon. It is the accrued injustices of the Global War on Terror. He can see the airstrike at al Majala, Guantanamo Bay, The Gardez night raid, Abu Ghraib. Black sites pock the surface and drones circle the young celestial body. He beckons his suitemates over. Two look wonderingly, not thrilled at the implications, but the third-
“What’s that? Planet towelhead?” and indeed, as Cardoza quickly reclaims the eyepiece, he sees a forty-three light-minutes long conduit form and hang, between his suitemate’s hate-curled mouth and the throbbing moon.
“It’s a brave new world.” he mutters to himself, somewhat unhappily. “And yet, the more things change, the more they stay the same.”