Friday, June 19, 2015

On Standing By

I go through a weird depressing manic cycle. Maybe you are familiar with it too.

A horrible shit thing happens. You see it or read about it on the news. Five sleeping and sometimes not sleeping girls are molested multiple times by their brother. A teenager at a pool party is grabbed by her hair and thrown to the ground. Nine people are killed at a bible study.

I feel horror and outrage and disgust. I torture myself by reading the idiotic and vapid responses, the inevitable framing of the horrible shit thing along party lines.

I feel sad and helpless and powerless that shit things like this happen in my country and at the same time I feel incredibly blessed and lucky and privileged that shit things like this are not happening to me or my family members.

I go back to my writing or digging holes in my garden or reading books or watching silly movies and TV shows until the next shit thing happens.

And the cycle begins again.

Recently, for a research project, I came across a horrifying picture online. It's an old picture, something tucked safely into the past, but still terrible to stumble upon. It's a black man hanging from a tree and crowd of white people standing around him. I feel a visceral revulsion when I see a picture like this. I am sick at the sight of the person who has been murdered. But I am also sick at the sight of the onlookers.

I used to pat myself on the back when I saw pictures like this. First, because I would tell myself those kinds of things don't happen anymore. This particular picture was taken in 1935. Some of the people there turned the picture into a postcard. This would never happen today, I tell myself.

If I lived in 1935-- if I lived in the town where that lynching took place-- (Fort Lauderdale, Florida) I can tell you without a shadow of doubt, that I would not have been one of the people in the crowd. I would not have been in the mob that tracked the man down (his name was Reuben Stacy and he was 37 years old and he was accused of assaulting a white woman but he didn't live near where she did and he had an alibi, but no matter.) I would not have been smiling in the crowd or clamoring for postcards.

I know what I would have done if I lived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida on July 19, 1935. I would have been sitting in my house. Maybe I would've been listening to the radio or reading a book or cooking a meal or cleaning up dishes. I wouldn't have known what was going on. Or maybe I would've known and felt disgust and horror and outrage, but it was happening somewhere else in my town and so, did not involve me or anyone I knew in any way.

Maybe I would've read about Reuben Stacy's murder in the paper the next day or heard about it from someone else. I would've felt sad and helpless and powerless.

And then I would've gone back to listening to the radio or reading a book or digging a hole in my garden.

No comments:

Post a Comment