Nov 26, 2014

Thanksgiving in Ferguson

Photo by Daniel Hallorann taken
today outside our home
It's the day before Thanksgiving in my little apartment in Pennsylvania, and fat snowflakes are falling outside my windows. Daniel is in the kitchen making pumpkin pie for tomorrow. I love the holidays, and even though Thanksgiving is not my favorite, it's always enjoyable.

Let me amend that. It's been enjoyable ever since I left home. As much as I loved my mother, as sweet a person as she was, and as much as she loved cooking holiday meals, she always followed a big holiday dinner by getting roaring drunk. And getting drunk always seemed to segue into talking about what a terrible teenager I was. I always dreaded it.

Since I've spent much of my adult life moving around the United States because of my job, Thanksgiving these days is usually just me and my son Daniel. We make our favorite holiday dishes, play cards and board games, watch movies, and start decorating for Christmas. Maybe not the Saturday Evening Post sort of Thanksgiving that you'd expect, but I wouldn't trade it for anything.

This morning, as I watched the snow fall and tried to concentrate on my current painting in progress, I couldn't stop thinking about what just happened in Ferguson, Missouri. What sort of holiday are Michael Brown's parents and friends having? How are African American families across the country feeling today? I try to imagine what it must be like to be Black in the United States of America when things like this happen, and they seem to happen a lot. It always makes me feel ashamed of being an American, when I usually feel pride. It makes me wonder how the rest of the world sees us. From the outside, gun violence and racism must seem as American as baseball, apple pie and Thanksgiving.

Writing about it helps a little. I've read so much about it, too -- possibly too much. Of all of the articles about Ferguson that I've read, this short piece by Brittney Cooper touched me the most; she made me cry. She writes,
They are undone. We are undone. I am undone. This is what American democracy coming apart at the seams looks like. Our frayed, tattered edges are showing. The emperors are the only ones who can’t see it. Where can we begin so that we don’t end up here?

When faced with this sort of ugliness, with our lack of progress as a nation, I try to make myself feel better by telling myself that things really do eventually get better. Jim Crow did end, for the most part. We did get an African American president (one step forward with Obama not quite countering the twenty steps backward we took with George W. Bush). But when I see news reports of Republican governors, especially in Southern states, doing everything they can to suppress the Black vote and not even having the grace to feel ashamed of doing it, I just feel sick inside.

It's all of a piece, this anger and hatred, gun violence and voter suppression, the deaths of Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown. I wish I understood why this keeps happening in the supposedly greatest country on earth.


sunbunny said...

I've been so upset. Not just with Darren Wilson but also with the prosecutor who threw the case and ensured that the Brown family will never see justice for their son. I made the mistake of clicking on a Twitter trend last night (notably it was OFFICER Wilson, not Darren Wilson) and found some really, really horrible things being said. Including by one guy who seemed to be a member of the KKK. I'm just so disappointed in so many people. I wish we were better than this.

ChrisB said...

I had to sit at work today and listen to a bunch of my colleagues (I'm ashamed to say) go on and on about how justice was done, it was about time the black community realized that they can't get away with lying about good white cops... you get the idea. I was so frustrated and disgusted.

I am a firm believer in the idea that everyone has a right to his or her own opinion, but when that opinion is so obviously colored by prejudice and hate, it is very difficult for me to keep quiet. The fact that these attitudes still persist? I find that astonishing.

Great piece, Billie. Happy Thanksgiving to you and Dan. Enjoy that pumpkin pie!

drnanamom said...

It is just heartbreaking to hear about these stories. I remember my friend talking about how scared her teenage sons were of the police because they were African-Canadian and how many times they had been stopped and checked. These were middle class boys from a good home in what is considered a 'good' neighbourhood - one was an Olympic athlete and lost his life in the Canadian armed services in Afganistan, another the sweetest young man I have ever met - not that this should matter when it comes to gunning people down, it just belies the argument that somehow these are 'bad' kids.