noI have never been to Charlottesville and without cheating and making a quick reference to a map, I can’t tell you what part of the State of Virginia the city is situated. Recognizing the city’s name, sitting in a chair, pushing back, readjusting my position, stunned – watching, watching, watching – going silent, moving inward; each passing minute, hour, day. Witnessing from afar, separated by distance, and time, drawn close by technology. Seeing the persistent struggle play out; commentary about the south, the Birth of a Nation, statues of horror/of honor, marching/sitting, mouths agape/spewing hate, dogs, guns, jail, confinement, the fraught reality of slavery; love and death. Wondering what the future may bring, seeing the chasm grow wider; the by-product, the root, southern birth-rights playing out in living color. Stopping, closing my eyes, wondering to myself – complaining to friends – whether anyone realizes there were actually events which went right in Charlottesville. Adjust your thought process, wipe your eyes, appreciate for a moment the last statement is somewhat inconsistent with my ingrained minority paranoia. Please bear with me.
Merriam Webster defines paranoia two ways: “mental illness characterized by systematized delusions of persecution or grandeur usually without hallucinations” or “a tendency on the part of an individual or group toward excessive or irrational suspiciousness and distrustfulness of others.” The word, minority, or the term, being in the minority needs no definition when stated in a racial, national origin, religious context – both are self-explanatory. Merriam Webster contains no definition for minority paranoia. With that said, viewing the use of the term, minority paranoia, in a negative context shouldn’t be done, contrary to both definitions of paranoia.
Turning off Almeda-Genoa, proceeding eastward initially, turning slightly northward on Telephone Road – at a time before the strange voices occupied our phones, became secreted into our dashboards, telling us which direction to proceed – all to reconnect with Almeda-Genoa. My memory said it was a Sunday night, nearing one in the morning. Houston was sleeping. Crossing the landscape making my way back to the freeway, travelling home, fighting sleep, watching, listening to music – as if the music helped me stay attuned – it didn’t, it didn’t. Seeing lights enter the cab, flashing, bouncing, an invasion of light; lighting up the surrounding area, enveloping my path, causing sleep to flee, the same effect of being invaded by millions and millions of lighting bugs.
Not knowing what I had done, checking the time, checking my vehicle’s speed, looking ahead, for a place to pull over; changing the radio station – to a gospel station, not for prayer, not that I knew the musical preference of the Houston Police officer instructing me to pull over – none of this, none of that. Correcting my posture, locking both hands in place, sitting, awaiting – for the officer to arrive to the driver’s side of the vehicle; actions developed of time, now a habit, a routine, designed to survive the interaction. Having travelled the same road over the years, seeing I was near where I was determined years before, also in the early morning hours; stopped by the same Department, detained for two hours. Cursed and threatened then; words designed to push both societal and racial buttons; an invitation to react, hoping I would react – until the officers determined I was a lawyer. Apologizing, hiding their badges, some refusing to give me their badge numbers, calling their supervisors. An ah-ha moment, a moment Allen Funt would have loved (Smile you are on Candid Camera), an event best expressed in the idioms of a southern Negro (“Oh Lord, Oh Lord”); burdened by history, race, humor, I am, only none of unfolding events were funny at the time.
A thousand thoughts flooded in and out, with each step, with every movement of the officer. How to survive a simple traffic stop? Don’t accept the bait, ignore the bait, don’t turn the music down until the he reaches the window. Oh happy days. When Jesus Washed … Hands up – breathe, breathe, breathe – remain calm. Give him your license when asked, respond only to the questions asked.
This was the third time I was stopped by Houston Police on this stretch of isolated roadway within a three year period. Adapting, changing radio stations, sitting erect, remaining erect (statue like), turning the music down – receiving a warning, thanking the officer, vowing not to travel down the same road again, particularly in the early morning hours. A vow I have kept, forever seeing the spots where I have been stopped, the faces, ingrained images, time.
Is there a correlation in the stops? – I don’t know. Was my race a factor? – Maybe – possibly. What I am clear about? These events are part of the term I used earlier on – minority paranoia. Minority paranoia established over time, observing ones environment – someone akin to assure life (read the use of life literally, as in remaining alive), liberty (read this as avoiding jail) and the pursuit of happiness (no explanation needed). Driving away, extending a self-congratulatory pat, remembering the last stop, hearing the officers threaten arrest, calling me stupid. “What do you think about being so stupid? His calling other officers over, had to be at least six officers in and out of the back seat, while I remained cuffed, for two hours. Awaiting a response, obtaining a response, “I guess I’m stupid.”
Driving farther down the road, seeing the other incident, on the same road; stopping to help another driver after a wreck – helping her, not helping him. He – a stranger to me – was upset because of he felt she was at fault. She too was a stranger.
Walking near, seeing the terror in her eyes, sensing fear. He – this stranger – hovering over her window, screaming, yelling; reaching inside of the passenger compartment.
“It was your fault! It was your fault! Look what you did to my car!” He said, bellowing his words while she screamed.
“Hey man, it was a wreck, calm down.”
She leaned back and away, restrained by the seat belt, screaming, dazed – these facts didn’t matter – continuing his rant, “Look what you have done!”
“Hey man, move away from her car!”
Touching her, hearing the screams grow louder, grabbing the stranger by his shirt, obtaining a firm grip, licking my free hand with spit, aiming at the nape of the neck, continuing the attempt to get his attention.
“Hey man! Come on fool!”
Words accompanied by a popping sound, hand against neck, skin against skin, causing a distinctive sound, indicating I was successful in making contact. I learned quickly, I was successful in getting his attention. Spinning in place, much like a bull – he did. Seeing blood on his forehead, and in his eyes; sweat poured liberally down his face. He was none too happy.
“I’m going to kill you!”
“No, you’re not” – reaching, extending – striking again for good measure. Moving away, wondering why I was in the middle of the street boxing a total stranger.
“I am going to kill, your ass” – lunging forward, grasping at air, crying in anger, complaining to himself about “my car.”
“Man it’s a damn car. You’re alive. She is alive. Stop before you get hurt!”
“Nigger, bastard” …
Unwelcome words causing a reaction – for every reaction there is a reaction – extending an obligatory strike, to the festering wound on the left side of his forehead. Ole!
“You need to calm down!” – moving away, circling, making the stranger chase, only striking thereafter when he got too close.
The police ultimately did arrive. When I tried to tell the officers what happened, they ignored me. When I attempted to repeat the story, I was stopped.
“She is in shock. She is not going to let her window down. Ma’am it is okay, you can let your window down.”
The white man – stranger one – stood to the side no longer than ten feet away, playing victim. The white woman – stranger two – sat stunned, ultimately lowering her window, stepping out after persistent persuasion, intruding, trying to explain to the other officer why she was frozen in place. The lone black soul, my meddling-self, my not-minding-my- business-self, stood in the middle of the roadway listening to the officer’s firm instruction – “Leave before we arrest you!” – No address given to him; no telephone number; no name allowed. A black Casper the Friendly Ghost I was, invisible, irrelevant; obeying the officer’s instruction, entering my car, wondering why I even bothered to stop.
With the above digression, my definition of minority paranoia seems appropriate at this point: Minority paranoia is a sense of paranoia, real and imagined, clinical and non-clinical. A paranoia which is ingrained in the souls of a minority group member, when existing in a hostile environment causing the group member to constantly assess and reassess events, based upon past events, and stimuli. Minority paranoia oft-times causes the minority group member to view the world differently, seeming irrational, when not irrational – somewhat akin to speaking a foreign tongue to the majority group member; akin to asking the majority group member to accept the impossible, even though the non-acceptance of the minority members view of the world is no different than the majority member’s perception (Elvis is still alive, but Michael Jackson can’t be alive).
I give this detailed definition to explain how minority paranoia affects my view of the events in Charlottesville. A paranoia invoked when shocking societal events occurs; causing worry and anxiety to return; ghosting, shadowing my every step. We are the ones who are told to leave. We are the ones who are arrested. We are the ones whose rights are affected when we silence our enemies. This time however something else occurred.
First, those men and women of hate were granted their fundamental right to march. I know, they are our enemies; purveyors of hate, terrorists in our mist. I don’t disagree – I’m not stupid. I told you, didn’t I, that when the officer threatened me with my arrest in the middle of the roadway, I put my finger down, I stopped pointing, walked away, dropping my business card in stranger two’s hand (if she needed a witness later), and moved off the roadway. I’m not stupid … but I remain the consistent fool. The boys and girls of hate live under the protection of the First Amendment (United States Constitution) possess the same protections you and I possess – the right to peacefully assembly to protest, spew their odious messages in and about the public square.
The American Civil Liberties Union was right to remain consistent with its history; litigating the issue in federal court, citing the laws which protect the rest of our rights. The deprivation and silencing of those men and women of hate, silences you – me – denying us a free and open debate.
Call me a fool next. I’ll take the compliment. Thousands appeared to have entered the public square protesting the hate of those men and women of hate. Screaming, yelling, shouting; protecting their love ones when attacked; protesting the clergy who were there to pray; telling the world, “This is not us.”
Remaining forever angry, refusing to good back to the good-old days, recognizing the historical laden words said by those on the other side; words of hate, oppression, and death. Of course, one can argue that the deaths of Heather Heyer and the officers did not go exactly right. Not according to Heyer’s mother, embracing Heather’s courage, her cause. Not according to Heather’s friends (Marcus Martin), flying to the air like Super Man – hit once – twice – by the terrorist’s car, saving his fiancée (now what was the controversy about the possibility of a black man playing Superman?). Working against type-cast, visions of the old-Southern dissolving, reminding us, we have changed, even in light of being a society in constant flux.
Removing symbols of hate, taking lifeless stone and metal figures out of the public square, dismantling the supposed statues of honor from the landscape; statues erected during the changes, serving as a reminder of the greatest of the Old South – while we, the minority group members, saw something else.
Ordered to desegregate public schools – “We can’t.” Ordered to arrest those who attacked, terrorized, murdered in an attempt to ensure the constitution meant what it says – “We won’t.” The Court affirming the constitution wasn’t applied to us (“The negro had no rights the white man is bound to respect.”). Preventing minority group members from voting, rigging the voting systems, using judicial and extra-judicial acts, purging voting rolls, cheating, threatening, arresting – refusing to hear, refusing to see, denying there ever existed the speaking of evil.
“Niggers, Jews, Homo-sexuals, Mexican, A-rabs, and all different sorts of Chinks stink, and I hate ’em! … Go back to yer country! White power!”
Okay, I’ll admit, I have gone too far. The last of the quotations did not come from the events in Charlottesville, but is from Dave Chappelle’s show. I wanted to see whether you were paying attention. Matters not, I think you get my point.
If you didn’t notice the crowd howling against my boys and girls of hate was different, the majority of them were white. Welcome to the new south. Something has gone right. Sending their children to the streets, recognizing our long hard struggles and freedoms has freed them – that each of our freedoms is tied to others’ freedoms – even our enemies.
Sitting, watching, thinking; moving uncomfortably away from the monitor. Escaping to the kitchen, counting eggs, removing butter from the refrigerator, checking the flour, making a list; hearing the President’s voice, astonished by his justifying, unjustifiable conduct, bowing my head, seeing the worse and wondering how far back we are going to move. Watching, listening for the immediate reactions, seeing and hearing repulsion of the majority. Racism laid bare, sending the our President scurrying to the sidelines, his words and defense having the opposite effect, convincing some who would have never been convinced – the statues have to come down; we can’t go back.
We will never solve the color-line until we admit there is a color-line. We will retard the march to equality if we fail to admit there was much which went right in Charlottesville. Kneading, moving flour from one location to another, blending eggs, tasting – much like the motions of life – smiling, not because of the taste – no, no – because of what I saw, because of what I heard.