epilogue

The blogosphere begs the question:

Why? Why did you do this? Why risk the harm to yourself and others? Why, after all of the time passed, the injuries scarred over, the memories lost, did you revive such pain and humiliation?

I’ve asked those questions to myself as I have pushed and sometimes pulled this project along. I wrote a popular poem in my first blog called “Truth lies to me.” Basically the message of the poem is that Truth propels us to do a lot of things; sharing a piece of our mind, confessing to evils, setting the record straight, assuming that outing the truth will somehow make us feel better. But in fact the telling of truth often just opens up a can of poisonous snakes. Reactions, rejections, retaliations. Truth tells us to get things off of our chests… that we will feel better for doing it, but Truth lies to us. We don’t always feel better afterwards. Truth-telling is not for the feint-hearted.

Still, after weighing many of the possibilities, some of which included suffering or even great danger to myself, I considered it all worth it.

The pilot who took the telling photos over Cuba which precipitated the Cuban Missile Crisis was asked if he was scared when he flew into enemy territory, unarmed and in harms way. He said he did not think about it much, given the importance of what he was doing. It was worth the risk. It had to be done. It was his role in history. And this was a man who understood personal sacrifice. He was later shot down in Viet Nam and spent seven years in a POW camp. I’m sure knowing what he had done for his beloved Country made those hellish days bearable.

As I have written, I had a heart attack, a personal wake-up call, and had to put this story down before I died. When I asked the Lord what was it I SHOULD‘VE, COULD’VE, WOULD’VE DONE… THIS WAS IT. But still, the why of it was not so clear at first. After the process of unwittingly gathering this story over the past twenty or so years, and finally writing it down, I feel like I can answer that question better now. Perhaps this whole process was more for me than anybody.

Living in the South, I have had quite a few black friends over the years, and became painfully aware of what I called an unmistakable, persistent “persecution complex” within each of them. They just could not shake it. It surfaced in all kinds of ways. Self -pity, unqualified suspicions, quick excuses, fatalism, and sometimes just plain distrust and skepticism. No matter how well or how long I knew them, there was always this Thing, this invisible thing between us, where, according to them, I could never really understand their point of view… I was always willing, but they were never ready to share the Thing with me. I think they saw me as well intended, but na├»ve, protected, fragile, unable to handle the “Truth.”

I’ve had those kinds of heart to heart talks with many people vastly different from me, Muslims, polygamists, homosexuals, habitual criminals in prison, and often made significant breakthroughs, where trust and intimacy were established. But rarely with a black person. There was this Thing…

Whereas I or my ancestors or my race collectively had done nothing to overtly (or recently) offend those other groups, allowing for some kind of objectivity, I was forever strapped with an impasse with blacks, just because I was white. I’ll never forget discovering that it was possible to befriend a black person, the first time I met a fellow from Nigeria, during my first year of college. He had more in common with me culturally than the blacks here in the United States. And he could not understand or get along with them. It was strange trying to explain blacks to a non-American black. Isaac from Nigeria had several wives, and a wonderful education, but he did not have the “Thing.” So we got along instantly.

Somewhere in this manuscript are the bones of the Thing. And somewhere in your reading of it is the skin. Now you can see the thing, full blown, in all its horrible glory. You can imagine what depth of injustice could have caused the great racial divide in this country. Black or white, we all play a role in this tragedy, and have some kind of inheritance from it. After reading this, you now can understand why American blacks remain aloof and distrustful and skeptical of whites, after all these years. And maybe now you can understand why I thought this book was a good idea. Because I reasoned that the Thing was the lack of acknowledgement of past wrongs.

The lack of repentance. The lack of affirmation of deep hurts, perpetuated by the guilty first and then their descendants, who have always been very ready to forget about the whole thing. The bones of the thing have been the countless unspoken, unreported, undocumented crimes against humanity, wearing the skin of guiltlessness and ambivalence. It wasn't just prejudice. It was brutal, unmerciful, uncompromising oppression. It was killing, and threatening and raping and abusing, for a hundred years after freedom was won.  It was a ruthless war on black people, who never asked to be brought here in the first place. Blacks may have been freed, and after one hundred years enfranchised, but they were never allowed what even our enemies in a war get; an actual truce with an end to hostilities.


Seventy years after a full scale World War, Japan and Germany are our treasured allies with advantageous trade relationships. Their humanity and their cultures were affirmed and legitimized. Their dignity was repaired. Wars and conflicts have come and gone, and old national enemies and adversaries have been reinvented in our social consciousness, but when it comes to blacks, everybody shrugs and says, I didn’t do that, don’t look at me.

All of my life I reasoned that black Americans were just holding on to their hurts, refusing to accept the “new reality,” of opportunity and enfranchisement, and in spite of these things, just chose to be difficult. The wrongs of the past were not my fault, so why should I beg forgiveness from this group who somehow held me responsible? That is the why of this book. This story explains just how bad it was, and how much was covered up, and how much hurt was ignored, and how much we have failed as a nation to simply recognize the injustice, and make it our business to make it right. And the story tells where blues, the mother of most American music, came from. But it also brings tight our failure to reconcile ourselves to our

Sure the government took a crack at it, but this is a man to man, person to person kind of truce I am suggesting. But a truce, a rebuilding, a happy ending is only possible when wrongs are recognized. And even though most white Americans deny any guilt or complicity… they are still trying to work it out some other way…

Strangely, blues songs were a popular salve and temporary catharsis for blacks, and then they moved on. It was just the beginning of a black music explosion that rocked the world. And most of them do not want to go there anymore. Today mostly white people cling to and enjoy blues music. They still need it. For them the era will never be over. And that is because of unresolved guilt, even if it is by association. Many whites still listen to blues and ponder their ancestors, the slavery and civil rights movement, the pain and the overcoming, the human struggle for survival, dignity and joy. For some, blues are a kind of purgatory, where souls work out their issues. For others, they just like the haunting, gutsy sounds pioneered by poor, uneducated artists, who knew how to bare their souls. Born in a vastly different, decadently baroque culture, they find the directness and simplicity refreshing. But for most American blacks it is burned toast.

Blues have always been a healing thing, a way to work out those “blue devils” and cope with the stress and hardship of life. That was their purpose, and like the evils of slavery and their legacy, whites will be the ones to live in their own special purgatory with them… as long as they have never faced what is behind the music. Why white people still relate to blues, almost exclusively, while blacks do not is very telling. Now the story behind the music is front and center. It is just one story of one town, in one such place where wrongs were never reckoned with. But the phenomenon is pandemic. In fact as blacks have invented or dominated R&B, Soul, Motown, disco and a bunch of other things… a select group of whites have dug deeper and deeper into a growingly obscure genre centered on suffering. Since few of them are suffering, what could be the attraction?

I cannot say for sure, but it has something to do with all the unspoken, unforgiven, unresolved issues lingering in their conscious and unconscious minds. They stare at it, ponder it, memorize it, can never get enough of it.

So the why of this book is wrapped up in something long overdue, something that will probably never happen, a Thing blacks cannot release and whites cannot grasp. And they never will, until they face the music.

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