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Daryl Grigsby: American life is tainted with white supremacy

Other Voices
Daryl Grigsby

My parents were the grandchildren and great grandchildren of slaves. Their grandparents and great grandparents were the children — not of slave marriages — but of masters or masters’ sons raping their property. My complexion reflects that history.

My last name is from the Col. Grigsby plantation in Culpeper, Virginia. I don’t know the names of my enslaved great-great grandmothers. So I don’t take trips to find my family tree in Italy, England, or Ireland. My foremothers were Africans most likely from what is now Benin, Ghana, or Sierra Leone. Their names, villages and language lost forever.

As consequence, because of my light skin, growing up I was called, “red-bone,” “yellow,” “high-yellow,” “mulatto,” “half-breed,” “white boy” and “n—–.”

When I was one year old and my parents moved into the mostly-white neighborhood in northeast Washington D.C., their front windows were shot out by enraged neighbors.

Clearly what we have done in the past did not work; and to the young it is obvious.

Despite inequality and racism — I had the great fortune of growing up in Washington D.C. in the ’60s, where my all-black schools gave me profound sense of history, identity, culture and responsibility.

I’ve had the great fortune also — of living on the south side of Chicago and attending black churches exemplifying the best in black activist theology. In San Diego, I was engaged in progressive and literary organizations whose commitment to justice, solidarity with the poor, and analysis of the forces of oppression, was a source of energy and hope. In Seattle and Pomona I was part of organizations tutoring back children. I have had the great fortune of working with brilliant and dedicated activists.

I, like many others, have attended countless rallies, written letters, articles and books, given speeches, donated to causes, and now — am watching the nation’s young flood the streets in unprecedented numbers and force. It is humbling, energizing and inspiring.

Clearly what we have done in the past did not work; and to the young it is obvious. Where the government, the schools, the courts, the universities, the church; have failed — young people have seen enough and are saying, “NO MORE!”

Author bell hooks once said America is racist, patriarchal, violent and materialistic. Further, she says that each of us is either a perpetuator, a beneficiary, or a victim of that system. She notes, however, that our status is irrelevant. Everyone has the opportunity to change their status from perpetuator, beneficiary or victim — into a powerful force for transformation and the common good.

But we must know the extent of our struggle. A review of American history is necessary for understanding our challenge. Read about the bloodbath and massacres when the South overturned Reconstruction. Or how black soldiers returning from World War I and World War II were lynched while still in uniform. Read “The New Jim Crow” for the cruelty and injustice of mass incarceration. And ponder how Fannie Lou Hamer was beaten up for wanting to vote, how Emmit Till was brutally murdered, or how Fred Hampton was killed in his sleep, or why George Zimmerman was acquitted.

Think of the recent videos. The images confound the mind — we’ve seen black people running unarmed and shot in the back, lying on the ground getting kicked, lying in the street telling the world they couldn’t breathe, hands up, hands down, hands handcuffed; Black Americans have died in every imaginable scenario.

The brutality of police violence against black citizens is but the tip of the spear. Don’t forget the spear has a long shaft — and that shaft includes housing, education, criminal justice, health care, wealth and assets, culture, employment. In short — every single element of American life is tainted with white supremacy.

When Rev. Jeremiah Wright talked of the sins of America, and Colin Kaepernick took a non-violent knee — both were condemned and vilified. They were the problem, not the injustice they exposed.

I am hopeful, for what we saw on the video in Minneapolis goes on, and has gone on, since the first Africans arrived in 1619. And — lest we forget — the brutality of individual police killings is exceeded by the daily accumulating injustices that destroy lives and families through housing, employment, health care, criminal justice, and education. All that must change; and the how, the when and the where — is up to us.

Police killings and abuse must stop. At the same time, we must work to change every phase of life in this nation — to identify and extricate every vestige of inequality lurking within institutions and organizations and policies.

Daryl Grigsby lives in Nevada City.


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