The day after
the expanse of sometimes blue sky
is speckled with thick, sooty elephant-skin clouds
That bleed disdain on Lady Liberty
who holds vigil in the harbor
of the land of the free and the home of the brave.
shrieks, reeks inhumanity, holding us hostage
until we dare say it out loud:
Brothers and sisters, forgive us,
for we know exactly what we do.
© Rita H Kowats 1-12-18
Photo Credit: Getty
The year 2004 brought us an extraordinary film written and directed by Paul Haggis. Crash won three Academy Awards, Best Picture one of them. The film deals with every shade of the complex human experience of race in America. It is on my mind as I have watched the news out of Ferguson, a microcosm of our experience. The film calls me as a white person to see the truth straight on, ask the hard questions and work toward conversion. It calls every race to do that by holding a mirror to the consequences if we continue to ignore our inner work. I showed this film to seniors in a Social Justice Class and we had profound dialogue. It shook them to the core. Two scenes contain the seed of the whole film.
The first scene, “Pat Down by the Police” will ask you to be brave. It is not for the faint of heart, containing violent language and action. Officer John Ryan (Matt Dillon) stops a car taking Hollywood director Cameron Thayer (Terrence Howard) and his wife Christine (Thandie Newton) home after an awards event. Its truth is stark and powerful.
The second scene, “Car Fire,” turns the previous scene upside down and we are forced to examine the meaning of forgiveness in an unforgivable injustice.
I invite us to gather in living rooms as adults and older teens to view this film for the first time or again. Open a discussion of how it relates to Ferguson and how we each carry the seeds of Ferguson buried deep or edging to the surface. Spirituality is to be born in acts of justice. We must not hoard it for self-gazing.
When I lifted my pen from this endeavor I realized that I had just found a place to put my grief over the cultural genocide that is racism in the USA.
We peer through ego-screens
at distorted images
of our own creation
waiting until it is safe to surface.
Shapes of perceived miscreants and heroes
Semblances of foreign countries and cultures
All hit the screen, running in rivulets
alongside the flattened essence of our own being:
You have feasted on the photographic work of Lynn Schooler previously on this blog ( https://www.facebook.com/lynn.schooler). I seek to honor Lynn’s work with this poem, and to call all of us to a universal seeing and acceptance.
Chief Albert Luthuli
Hundreds of others…
On March 21, 1960 in the township of Sharpeville five to seven thousand Africans gathered in front of the police headquarters to protest the carrying of mandatory pass books. Their intention was to leave their passbooks at home and fill the jails until there was no more room, thus costing the government financially, and depriving white employers of workers. Police threw tear gas into the crowd without warning and some protesters reacted by throwing rocks at them. A police officer opened fire with live ammunition, and a reported 70 people were killed, among them eight women and ten children. One Hundred Eighty were injured. The BBC reported on this day that, ” Police Commander D H Pienaar said: “It started when hordes of natives surrounded the police station….He said that, “If they do these things, they must learn their lessons the hard way.”
“Hordes,” “Natives,” “Lessons,” Africans with rocks, police with loaded guns. Unbelievable, I say. I, the one whose country brutally colonized American Indians and enslaved Africans, while perpetrating deplorable crimes against them. I who am still financially complicit in their inequality, and unconsciously complicit in my ignorance. We all are called to look within on the anniversary of this terrible massacre.
Helen Suzman, Ruth First, and Joe Slovo were South African Jews. They knew that Shoah can happen again if we stop remembering. It happened again in South Africa in Sowetto Township on June 16 1976. More than 176 and up to 700 people were killed by police who fired into a gathering of school children simply demanding to study in their own language rather than in mandatory Afrikaans. The BBC on that terrible day quoted South African Prime Minister Vorster as saying, “We are dealing here not with a spontaneous outburst but with a deliberate attempt to bring about polarisation between whites and blacks. “This government will not be intimidated and instructions have been given to maintain law and order at all costs.” [emphasis mine].” Denial purports to cover a multitude of sins.
As spiritual persons we are called to remember. It makes us human. Today let us hold our own truth and reconciliation hearings in our own hearts, to one another, and to the world beyond.