Heartsick. That’s how I feel on the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, where Martin Luther King, Jr., proclaimed, “I have a dream.”
My dreams are less inspiring. Last night I dreamed that my husband, his parents, and I were hiking in the remote countryside. Amid the beauty, we chanced upon secret military preparations for an airstrike against Syria, planes and boats amassed for war. Even though we had not come to this pastoral setting as intruders or to make trouble, we realized that we were likely to get arrested. My husband and his parents were unafraid, wanting to make a stand against armed conflict. I just wanted to get away.
My bedtime reading before falling into the sleep that produced this dream consisted of two fine articles: Rhea St. Julien’s, a writing acquaintance whose work I admire, and Patricia Williams’, a legal scholar and Nation contributor. St. Julien writes about what it is like to field constant compliments about her young bi-racial daughter’s mocha skin and gold-flecked afro, the bright happy-talk obscuring penetrating issues about race that nobody wants to address. Williams writes about how Trayvon Martin, the unarmed teenager shot to death by George Zimmerman, somehow became the one on trial in a courtroom saturated by tropes about gallant white men guarding against presumed-to-be-dangerous black men.
George Zimmerman sought trouble, and got away with murder. Trayvon Martin stood his ground, and paid with his life. In my dream, we also stumble into trouble not of our making, and are seen as intruders who must be gotten rid of. Standing our ground, or fleeing—which is the wiser course? I’m lucky that I can escape, in my white skin, facing down the menace that dreams are made of simply by waking up.
As I write this, President Obama, the man who embodies my highest aspirations and hopes and who now looks to be leading us into another foolhardy Middle East conflict, is speaking on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to commemorate King’s speech.
I want to stand with the President, but can’t, because of Syria and the whole mess of dashed dreams. I want to stand against his foreign policy, but won’t. I do not wish to abet those who have not literally castrated and strung up this black man, but who have conducted a political lynching by delegitimizing him, hamstringing his vision and policies, rendering him impotent through sheer vitriol and obstruction. Just as an unarmed black teenager was somehow transmogrified into someone who deserved to die, our mild-mannered, thoughtful, centrist president has been contorted into the dangerous, dark other who must be thwarted.
My parents were lifelong civil-rights activists who moved away from the South before my older brothers became infected by overt racism. They worked tirelessly in the North to end housing discrimination that was every bit as hateful as the commonplace usage of the N-word they’d fled.
My parents also staunchly opposed the Vietnam War. They knew what it was like to revere their President for his domestic vision, and to break with him on foreign policy. I wish they were here now, not only to see a man they would have loved become President, but also to teach me how to carry on when faith flags.
I suppose it is something—quite a lot, really—that an African-American man has been elected twice as President of these riven United States. Just as it is something that many people at least delight in rather than revile a little girl with brown skin and golden curls. But there is so much more that lurks beneath the surface—war in the bucolic landscape of my dream; disillusionment in my reverence for my President; deep undercurrents of white-hot hatred despite real progress on race.
I would like to march, to take a stand, but I do not. I would like to embrace the progress we’ve made, and work hard to fulfill promises not yet met. Instead I lament, I mourn, I turn away from the world in crisis to the bright, happy-talk world of hair care and inconsequential blogging. In doing so, I turn away from despair, but also from hope, from determination.
I need a rally, a March on My Dispirited Soul.