Daryl Grigsby: Which side are you on?
There has been much conversation during our racial divide where we hear the term, “both sides.“ Often those who use that term see themselves as separate from either side.
Unfortunately, the seriousness of our challenges do not allow for bystanders. In 1931 labor activist Florence Reece wrote the song, ”Which Side Are You On?“ for the mine workers of Harlan County, Kentucky.
Her question resonates today as we confront a difficult past and troubled present. History is not past — it is prelude to our present — and we must address our nation’s legacy of white supremacy as expressed through violence.
In the 246 years of slavery, there is no count of the Blacks worked, whipped, beaten, drowned or shot to death by masters, overseers and patrollers.
After the Civil War, the South rose again through an orgy of violence and terror. “The Day Freedom Died: The Colfax Massacre, the Supreme Court and the Betrayal of Reconstruction,” by Charles Lane, recounts how 60 Black men were massacred on Easter Sunday in 1873 as whites subverted the recent election. This was repeated countless times in the South.
David Zucchino’s “Wilmington’s Lie: The Murderous Coup of 1898 and The Rise of White Supremacy” describes the destruction of the Black community and rampant murders of dozens of Black citizens.
“On The Laps of Gods,” by Robert Whitaker, recounts the 1919 murders of hundreds of Black Arkansas sharecroppers in Helena, Arkansas, by white mobs. They were backed by U.S. soldiers who fired machine guns on Blacks as they tried to escape through the woods. All because Black sharecroppers organized for fair wages.
Scott Ellsworth’s “Death in the Promised Land: The Tulsa Race Riot of 1921” recounts how up to 300 Blacks were murdered by rampaging white mobs. Thirty-five blocks were burned as whites dropped bombs from private airplanes. This was the first time Americans were attacked by aircraft on their own soil, predating Pearl Harbor and 9-11.
The Smithsonian notes that 6,500 Blacks were lynched in America between 1865 and 1950. These lynchings included mutilation, hanging, shooting, burning and severing charred remains as souvenirs of savagery.
This is our history, and its legacy lingers. The New York Times recently reported how U.S. police departments for at least 25 years claimed “death by sickle cell” of Blacks who died after being beaten in police custody. Derek Chauvin would be on patrol today were it not for the video of teenager Darnella Frazier, for the official police report said, “man dies of medical complications after police interaction.“
Truth is truth. It’s not “woke.” It’s not ”cancel culture.“ It’s not relegated to critical race theory. There is a truth, and we must choose to stand alongside it. That our first president had a temper tantrum when the British refused to return Blacks to slavery is not ”woke“ — it’s reality.
Criticisms of “woke” and “cancel culture” and critical race theory are but ways to disguise truth and discredit those who seek a better future.
Violence is but the cutting edge of injustice and white supremacy. Lingering inequality threatens lives every day. White family wealth is eight times that of Black families. More Black men reside in prison than university, many incarcerated for crimes whites commit with no arrest. Disparities in health care, housing, education and employment lead to unfulfilled lives and early deaths.
In this context, terms like “woke” and “cancel culture” are but smokescreens to obscure the truth. There are historical facts and current realities — and we must face them directly.
For raising the above issues I am often called unpatriotic. An incredible turnabout indeed. If you suffer from and seek to change your nation’s flaws, you are unpatriotic.
I maintain if you love your country, as I do, fully acknowledging its virtues and its defects, your love is richer than a “love” that admits no wrong. I love my extended family knowing full well our shortcomings. I love my Catholic Church despite my acquaintance with its failures. I love myself, though no one is more aware of my faults than I.
There are no “both sides.” There is truth, there is right, and there is wrong. As Florence Reece asked us 90 years ago, “Which Side Are You On?“
Daryl Grigsby lives in Nevada City.
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Parents are becoming aware of the use of critical race theory in their children’s instruction, particularly as distance learning has given them a window into their classrooms.