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In times like this, white people are quick to throw their hands up and dissociate themselves from racism and the person accused of the racist act. But how many of them can say they have actively worked to challenge the racism in the people around them? How many folks have sat quietly as Uncle Jimbo tells the story of the time he put that one nigger in his place at work?       ~~ Jamilah Lemieux, Ebony Magazine

 

Within minutes of seeing it, I send a message to his mother, my cousin. Have you seen your son’s new tattoo?

There is a flag. There is a noose. There are the words Southern Justice scrolled across.

 I’ve seen it, she says. But he just turned 18. He’s an adult. What am I supposed to do? I want to scream, You are supposed to act like his fucking mother! and You’re supposed to tell him this is hateful and that you don’t approve and that he could get himself killed displaying a sign on his arm like that! but instead I wait a bit, gather myself up in southern politeness, pull up her son’s Facebook page again, stare at the large, shiny tattoo covering his shoulder.

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You realize what this symbol means, right?

Oh, he doesn’t mean anything by it, she says. He just likes the rebel flag, he just likes the Dukes of Hazard.

There is a flag. There is a noose. There are the words Southern Justice scrolled across.

I let it drop.

Letting it drop is not enough.

I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.

***

The man of the house tells a joke to the little kids. It goes something like this. Little Black Sambo is sitting on the toilet, sick with diarrhea, screaming, Mom! I’m melting!  The man of the house laughs. All of the little kids hoot and giggle.

I recall hearing Maya Angelou speak to a live audience. Used to be, she’d said in her low-timbered voice, when someone told a joke about blacks or Mexicans or Catholics at some dinner party, I would show my disapproval with my silence. Didn’t want to rock the boat. Didn’t want to make a scene. Didn’t want to call attention. But now!—her voice thundered with the now—now, I turn on my heel and take up my pocketbook and my wrap and out the door I go! Even if I’m the guest of honor! 

The man of the house tells his joke. I leave the room.

Leaving the room is not enough.

I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.

***

My family goes to mass at St. Augustine Catholic Church every Sunday morning. After church, Mom makes a big breakfast while her husband rants and rages for a good hour about how much he hates all of the neighbors he has just seen in church, how all politicians and niggers and spics should be lined up and shot down with machine guns, and how those cock-sucking fags with AIDS got what they deserved. Put ‘em on an island somewhere, he says, and set it on fire. That’ll teach the dumb bastards.

My mother and I remain silent. We exchange glances. We say a prayer.

Showing up in church every Sunday is not enough.

Prayer is not enough.

I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.

***

I am in Aunt Mary’s apartment. Aunt Mary is diabetic and has, within the last few years, survived breast cancer and a tumor on her heart. She has six grown children and several grandchildren, all of their pictures prominently displayed on many shelves.

Where are the pictures of Rae’s kids? I ask.

Aunt Mary leads me into her bedroom and opens the top drawer of her dresser where she pulls out and hands me a stack of baby photos and grade school photos and high school photos. Rae’s children. Rae’s mixed race children. When I raise a brow she says, Don’t look at me like that. These are my grandchildren and I love them just as much as the rest.

I raise my brow again. Aunt Mary sighs, You don’t know my neighbors. They’ll call me a nigger lover behind my back. They’ll make fun of me. I’m sick and I live alone and I need my neighbors to help take care of me.

I hand the stack of pictures back to her. She returns them to the drawer. Aunt Mary punches me in the arm.

Raising my brow is not enough.

I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.

***

I am reading an essay online by a prominent black writer, a writer I follow and admire. The essay is about discrimination against black women in the workplace, and I want to comment in the comment section but can’t figure out exactly what to say, can’t decide what would be an acceptable-enough response. Type-delete-type-delete-type-delete-type. Nothing I type is right enough, nothing I say says what I want to say because, I eventually realize, I don’t understand enough to know how to engage in any part of this particular conversation. I feel shut down.

Shutting down is not acceptable.

I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.

***

I am visiting my mother’s husband in a sterile room at St. Francis Medical Center. He has had open-heart surgery and developed an infection, so the doctors have removed the staples and re-opened his chest. I can see that his chest is, in fact, agape, split open and stuffed with thick mounds of white gauze. My mother is dead, but here he is. My charge. He is happy to see me but in a foul mood. A black nurse is working this shift and he swears she’s trying to kill him. That nigger bitch is got-damned worthless, he yells, not bothering to wait until she is out of earshot.

Hey! I say. Shit. Enough.

***

There is a flag. There is a noose. There are the words Southern Justice scrolled across.

He just likes the rebel flag, he just likes the Dukes of Hazard.

I read these words by Deray McKesson @deray: Racism is irrational. Sometimes we exhaust ourselves “trying to make sense” of it all. But it is irrational from the onset.

I have not actively worked. I have sat quietly.

I read these words by Ben White @morningmoneyben: Sometimes there are not two sides. The confederate flag is one of those times. There is right and there is wrong and that’s it.

There is a right and there is a wrong. I can do more than let it drop, leave the room, show up in church, pray, raise my brow, shut down.

I can say, Enough! I can fucking scream.

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