Saturday, April 26, 2008

Wish they were alive today

Today, we have shrill voices attached to folks who are not the righteous debaters they claim to be. Rather they appear to be opposite sides of the same crusty coin. Tails: The ones who churn the Reverend Wright and Barack Obama as a Muslim/a black nightmare/how dare he?/anti-patriot who can't get old Jews and white women to back him... a racist carnival hawking that the life of these United States would be extinguished if he took the oath of office...Heads: the ones who leap from the shadows to bleat like so many stirred goats over the acquittal of the cops who killed Sean Bell outside a neighborhood scumhole stripclub in NYC. Yes railing against cops who indeed ripped a father from his wife and child forever... and yet these bleaters don't seem to find as tall as soapbox or convenient a villian when so many other black fathers, wives, children are murdered in Philly, or Chicago( the latter two being the most outstandingly awful examples)--by other rampaging black folks. A while ago in the Washington Post , author Susan Jacoby opined on the death of intellectualism in politics, in culture, in the media. She also added a work on the death of rationalism, from the Bush White House to our homes, hearts, minds. We've lost the ability to reconcile two seemingly opposite, inapt notions and study them together, talk about them as if we had the decency our grandmothers taught us. Gone is the skill and the will to find commonality...even co-sanguinity. We now have a press, indeed a media universe, that feeds this ignorance and lack of rationalism by makng information a reality show, game show, or soap opera...all with vapid, passive target audiences. Of course, we have no one to blame but ourselves as those vapid fools, but hey--H.L. Mencken, Ida Tarbell, Ed Murrow never gave up on saving us from ourselves. I take heart in the following vignette, taped together from letters, telegrams...dreams...
Over a 100 years ago, on a park bench, high on a wooded hill not far from Cedar Hill across the Anacostia River in Washington DC, a 60-ish white man runs into a even older, grayed and gruff black man. The two have been admirers of each other yet told no one of that, as rationality was at premium back then yet shrouded in outward hatred; ironic because both men think technology and education will spread rationality's maxims. Funny thing: the white man is wearing his signature white linen; the black man, despite the DC mugginess, keeps on his dark coat.
They take to conversation, and the white man tells the black man of his impending bankruptcy if his new book, a slapdash effort called Pudd'nhead Wilson, doesn't sell.
The black man chuckles and says, "You think you got problems...I might not live out this coming year. And my people are up against it far less comically than in your novels, sir."
When they get to the meat of race and history the white man declares, cigar chomped firmly in his yellow choopers, "I've boiled and rendered the fat down to this: In the South, we as whites hate the Negro as a race, but we befriend and value individual Negroes. In the North, whites tolerate and even laud the Negro as a race, yet cannot even bring themselves to greet the same Negroes they see on the street or farm down the lane every day. "
The older black man shrugs, troubles the white man to blow his cigar smoke in another direction and then posits with wrinkles growing wrinkles, "Why is this nettlesome for you, sir? Seems I'm the one who's both 'tolerated' or reviled roundly, and that cannot hold."
The white man sighs. "Because despite all, you and I must share this park bench, for it's the only one with such a magnificent view of our swampy capital...swampy and dismal sight, narrow and uncomfortable bench...but it's ours together, and what else are we to do?"
"True," says the black man, not mentioning that so many benches are for blacks or whites only even in this federal city, "but you seem to want to take more of this bench than I with your feet up, so. And I'm an old man and can't push you off." The old man suddenly softens his chiseled face. He's grinning! He leans over to the what man, whispering, "Then again, I don't need much room."
"Sad," the white man whispers in reply. "But such'll be our secret, eh?"
They take in the rest of a hot but bright day and a hazy vista, and in an hour or so they stand up with creaks and grunts of age, smile, shake and bid each other well. Each knows they don't have all the answers. But they're trying.
When the older black man dies the white man is in Paris trying to drum up foreign booksales (the only people who seemed to like his stuff, he mumbles); he's struggling to come up with the pithy newspaper articles everyone seems to demand. They hate it when he's serious, analytical. He's in a bar when he receives a telegram of the black man's death; several Americans with him, including newspapermen, shrug and wonder aloud why this is such a loss. The white man chastises them. Surprised, they ask if this Negro was a friend. The white man says no, not at all. "But when I go back to that muddy Babylon, that pint-sized Rome called Washington City, there's a bench I shall have to keep clean and tidy--and mind not to put my feet up in his corner."
Just a parable, for perspective...and to chill out the shrill noises.

14 comments:

66MustangWrangler said...

But they are dead, and we're left with what we got--so what's your solution? I'm not being a dick. I think this story is what we need more of. But dialog and "big thinkers" like the kind we no longer have aren't going to solve the problem.

elle said...

wow, that parable about the old Black man and the old white man, was just, so true. I will always remember this.

Lisa said...

I shared this post to my mother --and boy you really stirred some folk up with your Sean Bell opinions--and she told asked me how come no one has ever linked Douglass and Twain together before? They were never friends, but did they have to be?

your brother from another mother said...

Reverend Al--America's other favorite Reverend--has vowed to shut New York down.

What's Barack to do? It's Tyenol time...with an Absolut chaser, bruh.

Interesting to see what Bloomberg does. Al hasn't come up against Mayor Mike yet, and the city ain't what it used to be, as the folk in D.C. have discovered.

Pebbles Flintstone said...

Literary and thought-provoking as usual, Mr., sorry Professor Chambers. Men like Frederick Douglass and Samuel Clemmens were giants of an age but we need them more.

Your sister said...

This insidious creature that has effectively destroyed our reason and intellect was hatched in 1968, nutured during the 1970's, unleashed into the world in 1980, and has continued to grow, unfettered. Sadly, it has not yet matured. What a terribly frightening prospect.

Anonymous said...

Interesting!

Ochyming said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ochyming said...

Good place for Right/Leftcentrics to put themselves in perspective. I mean common sense does not require those positions.


Are you aware of ChickenBones - A Journal
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- http://www.nathanielturner.com/index.html?

Boludo Tejano said...

Here from TH. Well worth the reading, and like other good literature, well worth reading multiple times, to ponder on.

Torrance Stephens bka All-Mi-T said...

well said but folks are afraid of free thinking intellectuals. I mean, they would prefer to read entertainment blogs than mine, like my recent piesec on Still U.S. ing and recent post on chna called Chinese Checkers

Anonymous said...

Nice to find a post using 'Anacostia' that leaves a person THINKING-instead of just reacting (or annoyed for the zillionth time that what ever it was about wasn't actually even in Anacostia!!!)
I hope those two wise old masters of the written and spoken word did have the pleasure of at least reading one another's words, and certainly each knew the joys of a good front porch to sit reading on.
Its a long time joy to me that one of those chosen porches was in Anacostia.
Thanks for the post.

Anonymous said...

SoCal 82Tiger Says -

How excellent a tale to tell us... Reminds me of the dinner I shared in DC with a friend and his lovely wife... As I said then and I think it's truer now more then ever – WE are screwed up when it comes to discussion of race, politics, economics and culture.

I think on a macro level WE all spend way too much worrying both how what we say might offend, AND looking for ways to claim that things said to us are offensive. That “Catch 22” ensures us that meaningful discussions rarely occur (at least not on the macro/national scale).

So, on the micro scale, I am resigned to cherish those elusively rare moments of personal connection that occurs amidst a one on one (or one on two?) discussion! Without the distractions of group, race, religion, or class a greater measure of trust seems to develop and real discussion seem possible. I value those moments (like dinner in DC) my friend because they are sorely missing on the much larger stage of the national dialogue...

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