Friday, September 30, 2016

Deciding Where to Care: racial justice poem 3 (TRUTH)

See my first poem for the history behind why I started writing "poetry." The theme for the September open mic in Medfield was truth. Below is what came to me. 

At the open mic, I started by asking if folks in the room would be willing to do a non-violent action and stand if they agree that black lives matter, and/or to join me in the chant at the end. (maybe 50 there?) It looked like everyone stood. I welcomed them to sit down during the reading of the poem if needed. No one did. The poem lasted around 5 minutes. 

I was appreciative and felt supported with that effort on their part. I also felt they might have been "in the game" at least a bit more that way...listening and feeling a part...not separate from me? It is my third time reading a racial justice poem there. That action helped me know who else was in the room...not just the visual awareness of lots of whiteness there. 

Deciding Where to Care

I am a white woman and 51.
          I am embarrassed to say that only after half a century
I finally woke up to the pains and struggles that other folks
          a less privileged group of folks
                    Black folks
          have gone through for hundreds of years.

Though old for them, it seems new to me
          immediate.
Not moved so much before
          when I learned of the history of slavery
now I feel empathy
          when I hear about
another black person shot to death
          by a cop
                    innocent or not
                    not given equal justice
or read about the whipping machine
          forced labor
          forced marching to a new owner
          families pulled apart.

What took me so long to see
          the struggles of these others are worthwhile for me
                    to know and care about?

I could have learned much earlier
          from others around me.
I wasn’t living in a white suburban bubble
          all of my life.

When I was a little girl
          my father worked with his friends
                    Black Panthers
          supporting them in their work
          bringing food to hungry school children.
When the home of 30 Black Panthers
          was bombed with plastics only available to cops
Dad joined a line with other pastors
          between his friends
          and the police
                    who were not trusted.
I was not hungry for food myself
                    nor
                    it seems
          hungry to learn what Dad was doing.

In Chicago’s West Side for my first years of school
          I was a scared white girl
          a minority in my classroom
                    and playground.
          I learned double-dutch
                    but not how my black friends
                    were at home
          or if they struggled to survive.

While in the North Side of Chicago
          as a junior high school student
I learned to type and sew and such.
I knew about the Gaylords and
          other gangs in my school and neighborhood.
My mostly white group of kids
          living together in a cult
          were seen as another gang so we were left alone.
Not there by choice
          I felt abandoned by my parents.
I didn’t care then
          to learn why they chose their gang.
Looking back
          I complain that I had to eat expired food
but I had enough
          I didn’t go hungry.
          Did they?

One of my younger sisters
          has been working for racial justice
          for more than 5 years.
Did I never pay attention to what she
          must of been
                    sharing with me?

Was I blind and deaf to all of this going on around me?
          I was asleep for sure.

I didn’t personally see a reason to care until
this little sister that I love
          did a dangerous
          unpopular
          and misunderstood protest.
She used her body with others.
          They blocked traffic on a major Boston highway.
Why would this wise woman
          risk being run over
          risk painful tear gas
          risk being locked up?
I had to question her.
          I had to ask
                    Why?
She answered
          in a fashion
          and gave me things to read.
I woke up while reading
          and while writing a letter to her DA
                    asking for a reduced sentence
          to match the crime
                    with less or no time.

Now I have my eyes
          my mind
          my heart
                    open.

Other white folks need to join us who are woke
for racial justice to be available
          for all.

I understand not getting emotionally caught up in
          the deaths and misfortunes of all others.
I can’t open my heart to care deeply about
          innocents in each and every
                    terrorist attack
                    war overseas
                    bombing of buildings and
                              racers of a Marathon
          each and every
                    truck crashing through crowds
                    shooting in nightclubs
          or all death and destruction from natural events.

I have to decide
          how to feel for others
          who I don’t personally know
                    and love.

I have decided to open my heart
to a group of folks who in our history were
          sold
          traded
          wrenched away from family members
          raped
          whipped
          lynched
          made to live and learn
          drink and sit
                    in broken buildings and schools
                    from dirty fountains
                    on backs of buses
                    on the most dangerous front rail cars.

Their forced labor in cotton fields
          made this country rich and powerful.

That was the past
          you might say.
But the problems for Black folks are not only
          in the past.
There is now
          mass incarceration
          a school to prison pathway
          prejudice
          racial profiling
          killing of innocent folks
          ongoing stress syndrome
          neighborhood gentrification
                    forcing folks to move
          daily fear
                    even in “safe” suburban towns.

Will we wait
          until one of these modern injustices
          touches us
                    us white folks
          before we feel deeply enough to act?

I read as much as I can
          and meet with others
                    to support
                    to learn more
                    to learn how to best
                              act.

Black lives matter.

Black lives want
a live affirming future too.

I march
and wear my heart
          on my bracelets:
                    Black Lives Matter!
                    Black Lives Matter!
                    Black Lives Matter!

© Deb G., September, 2016 
Read at a Medfield Open Mic Coffee House

I was challenged last time, by a black author who usually goes to the open mics there, to stay in a place of power and not cry during the reading...that it make folks feel sorry for me...I practiced and tried really hard not to cry. I did not succeed. During practicing, I was breaking up during the last part, but last night at the event, that isn't where I choked up, it is was earlier about risks my sister took.





1 comment:

  1. Inspired by this call to action, especially in your lines:

    "Will we wait
    until one of these modern injustices
    touches us
    us white folks
    before we feel deeply enough to act?"

    Your consciousness and allyship is refreshing and inspires hope in me -- setting an example of using your platform and reach as a white woman to make this consciousness contagious. Love it and loved hearing this poem today!

    Thank you for your voice,
    Béla

    ReplyDelete

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