In Honor of Black History Month: the Wound and the Healing

I could be a reverse racist if I wanted to.

All I would need is a time machine. I’d get in my time machine and go back in time to before Europe colonized the world. I’d convince the leaders of Africa, Asia, the Middle East, and South America to invade and colonize Europe — just occupy them, steal their lands and resources, set up a trans-Asian slave trade, and export white people to work on giant rice plantations in China. Ruin Europe over the course of a couple of centuries, so all of their descendants would want to migrate out and live in the places where black and brown people come from.

Also, I’d make sure I set up systems that privileged black and brown people at every conceivable social, political, and economic opportunity. White people would never have any hope of real self-determination.

Every couple of decades, I’d encourage them to make up some fake war as an excuse to go and bomb them back to the stone age, and say it’s for their own good because their culture’s inferior. And then, just for kicks, I’d have them subject white people to colored peoples standards of beauty, so they’ll end up hating the color of their own skin, eyes, and hair.

If, after hundreds and hundreds of years of that, I got onstage at a comedy show and said, “Hey, what’s the deal with white people? Why can’t they dance?”

That would be reverse racism. — Aamer Rahman

I love that comedy routine because it lays out the reality of Institutional Racism without directly accusing anyone of being racist. But White Supremacy Culture isn’t funny. Chattel slavery was replaced by Jim Crow; black “migrants” to the North and West are more properly called refugees from white terrorism. Lynching still isn’t against the law, despite the US Senate passing a bill criminalizing the act — that died last year. Until the 1960s, the term, ‘race riots,’ referred to gangs of white people, often deputized by local law enforcement, destroying black communities that were getting ‘uppity’ because of their economic success.

A half century ago, the great African-American author, James Baldwin told us that, “Until Americans realize that African-American history IS American History, we will be helpless to solve the problems that plague us.”

In the words of a recent episode of NPR’s “On the Media,” Bob Garfield said that while Germany, at least West Germany, had a national healing after WWII, the US still has the equivalent of Himmler Avenue, Goebbels High School, or Speer Parkway. We still allow the celebration of the Confederacy — the flag, the officers and, to a lesser extent the policies that have led from Separate but Equal, to white flight to the suburbs and the defunding of urban schools, from the School to Prison Pipeline to the execution of black and brown boys by the police. Very few Portlanders know that a thriving African-American community was leveled in order to build Legacy Emmanuel Hospital, I-5, I-405, Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and the Lloyd Center. Annexed by Portland in 1891, Albina was the site of the heart of the now destroyed African-American community.

But, perhaps we have reached the moment for Truth & Reconciliation. African-Americans make up little more than 10% of the American population; so racial healing must be led by the white majority. But white anti-racists must learn how our black and brown brothers and sisters — not to mention our Asian, Indigenous, and other historically marginalized groups — feel about the issues that plague us, and must share that knowledge with their friends and family. As Dr. Martin Luther King said, “We need a RAINBOW COALITION.” And, as current events in Virginia remind us, the sooner the healing begins, the less often we will lose people who have made positive contributions yet have flagrant violations of the expectations of people of color lurking in their pasts. I am actively working to promote healing by means of Restorative Justice — Truth & Reconciliation being one such form.

As a teacher, I participate in the Portland Association of Teachers Racial Equity Task Force, and as a Precinct Committee Person of the Democratic party of Multnomah County, I am the Interim Co-chair of the MultDems Racial Inclusivity Work Group. You can read about our group here and apply for membership here.
 Our goal is to empanel a committee that is majority minority, and we are currently especially seeking Asians from a variety of backgrounds — Vietnamese, Cambodian, Thai, Indian, and Pilipino, as well as Chinese and Japanese. We would also like to welcome Latinx from a variety of countries and Indigenous people from across the Colonial European Empire.

Once we have healed our own divisions and created a safe space for ourselves, we want to undertake two missions in the service of diversifying Party leadership and those we elect: to bring in so many Democrats for whom English is a foreign language that we will need to employ interpreters for our meetings, and to lead as many white anti-racist allies in spreading the message regarding the nature of Institutional Racism.

It is my sincere hope to destroy any truth this statement holds: “I think that Portland has, in many ways, perfected neoliberal racism.” That is my favorite line from an article entitled, “The Racist History of Portland; the Whitest City in America.”

Remember Martin Luther King’s famous words: “In the End, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends.”

Are you ready to speak up in ways that disrupt racism, my friend?

Peace, Salaam, Shalom