Starting to Believe, Again
But this is still America
BY MARK HARRIS
I thought of America like an ex-lover.
Someone I once fell head over heels for, had it bad, and that was good, and it was good.
I believed in her and loved her, and I thought she loved me back. But like the African-American centenarian Delaney sisters once observed: "I love America, but America doesn't love me back."
Once I went to Disneyland, where a white man put out his lit cigarette in my hoody. On the way there, CORE was picketing in Torrance, Calif., with signs that said "Jim Crow Must Go." Who was this guy Jim Crow, and why don't they like him, I asked my parents? They told me about Jim Crow and Emmitt Till, but still I believed in America.
I was in Cub Scouts. I dreamed of enlisting in the military (submarines, the astronaut corps). I believed that any boy could grow up and become president, the way that I once believed in Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. I said the Pledge of Allegiance with real pride. I sang "The Star Spangled Banner" in tune.
Then she cheated on me, betrayed me, lied to me, dumped me, picked me up again. My innocence was a little tarnished when JFK was killed.
Then Martin got killed. My eighth grade first period history teacher, a member of the John Birch Society, the NRA (if not the Klan), said he was glad. That Martin was a troublemaker and that he had it coming. My second period home-room teacher agreed with him. In protest, my entire table refused to say the flag salute, because we believed then, if Martin Luther King Jr. deserved to die, then "Liberty and Justice For All" was a lie. One that we would no longer participate in.
From then on, I and my friends worked for the 18-year-old vote, protested the Vietnam War, supported and emulated the Panthers' 10 Point Program, cheered the occupation of Alcatraz, drove food and medical supplies to Wounded Knee and blithely committed the thought crime of the destruction of the racist corrupt U.S. government — which claimed it supported democracy but sent ethnic-specific bioweapon research to apartheid South Africa to use against Nelson Mandela and leaders of the black majority.
America made me believe she needed me even through my fear of betrayal. But she played me and dumped me again, and I walked away from her, I thought for good.
Over the years she kept trying to get me back to believing in her. Playing with me, messin' with my mind, trying to draw me back to her bosom. Like Lucy holding the ball for Charlie Brown, sayin', "I won't pull it away, you can trust me again," then she pulls it away, and I fall on my back, hit my head on the ground. All through the pain, why did I believe? Why did I believe? She did it again, singing, "Oops, I did it again," like she's the all-American girl Britney Spears. That's how I thought of America: Britney Spears.
Her game was a little thin, makeup a little too thick, voice a little shrill with the buy-more-stuff-or-the-terrorists win thing. I'd pretty much abandoned her but there was always this sense of this torch I carried for America.
While I believed and loved the land occupied by the U.S., and would fight and die to defend an invasion of the continental U.S., Hawaii or Puerto Rico, I would not fight or willingly send a son or daughter to fight against a people of color anywhere in the world, for racist America. White Christian terrorists, unprosecuted and unpunished, have killed more black and native people on this continent alone than any Muslim. We never launched wars against the Klan; actually, we elected them to office.
Barack Obama made me begin to believe in America again. After the speech on race and seeing him at Mac Court, I began to believe. Caught up in the emotion, I even gave a dollar to some Cub Scouts at Fred Meyer. Whoa, man, chill yo'self out! You still need to watch your back. This is still America. The same America that put a COINTELPRO contract on any African-American messiah, and what do you think Obama resembles?
So of course, I fear for him. I fear for my country. But along with the fear is the fact that America produced a Barack Obama, in spite of herself. I can believe that whether he's elected or not.
Mark Harris is freelance writer and an instructor in ethnic studies and substance abuse prevention at LCC.