Saturday, January 14, 2017

American Chimera

America rescued my family. I do not know the specifics of what happened to my grandparents in Europe. They never would talk about it. But it was clearly dreadful. Dreadful enough to motivate people who had lived in small villages, who survived by hiding, to risk stepping out of the shadows and dashing for the boat to America.

In America, they lived in tenements which had no hot water, where bathrooms, if there were indoor bathrooms were shared and where they worked in sweat shops all day long, six days a week.

But they survived, and their children, the "first generation" born in America went to college, got white collar jobs, and their children's children, in good immigrant fashion, took the next step up and became professionals. 

America was a good choice for my family. Can't say "America was good to my family."  There was some hate and prejudice to be overcome, but there were enough white Americans, Christian Americans, wealthier Americans who if they were not welcoming, were at least not overtly hostile, and could be friendly, even.

Then, one November 4, 2008, I watched in stunned exhilaration as Barack Obama walked onto that stage in Grant Park and opened with the words to one of the happiest, sunniest, most resounding speeches ever uttered on American soil.

"If there is anyone out there who still doubts that America is a place where all things are possible; who still wonders if the dream of our founders is alive in our time; who still questions the power of our democracy, tonight is your answer."
Barack Obama, November 4, 2008

But now, we have to recognize, while that is part of the American experience, there is the other part of this creature we call the United States, that horrific, snarling, venomous part which is captured in the article in the January 16 New Yorker about Albert Woodfox, a Black American who was kept in what can only be described as inhuman conditions by successions of colluding degraded wardens and prison guards who can barely qualify for the description as "human beings."  Nothing I'm familiar with, with the possible exception of those German concentration camp functionaries, approaches the cruelty of this American prison in Louisiana.  For sheer sustained malevolence, no people match these officers in the American "criminal justice" system.
Albert Woodfox

It is not an easy article to read, but it is a necessary exercise.  

Yes, America is all those wonderful things Mr. Obama spoke of in 2008, but it is also that other thing. We must always remember that. And starting January 20, I imagine we'll be seeing more of that side of the beast. 

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