by Bert Rock
“There’s nothing wrong with a little agitation for what’s right or what’s fair.”
I dedicate this post to the distinguished Congressman John Lewis, may he rest in peace.
In 1967, the late U.S. Representative, John Lewis had his skull fractured because he was marching for the right to vote. He endured much more violence as one of the original Freedom Riders, being beaten at times with baseball bats, lead pipes, and chains — all for the right to be treated equally. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, was arrested/jailed or beaten 29 times before he was assassinated because he was asking for black Americans to be treated with the same respect as white Americans. How many people have died to satisfy the frail egos of white men?
These are just two prominent examples. These are two of the greatest of American men. They did more for this country than I could ever do. I would need several lifetimes to scratch the surface of their contribution to this democracy.
So many people have sacrificed their lives, their livelihoods, and their bodies to attain that famed American dream, and to make it possible for others. To make life easier for those after you, or those around you, is the most beautiful thing.
Right now, that dream is a nightmare for the men, women, and children locked up in cages at the U.S. Border. All they wanted was a chance at the dream-to live your life on your own accord. This is really all anyone wants.
How many people have had to march, petition, protest or demand equal treatment to white men? Racism is not dead, it’s paved in our roads, and sidewalks of our streets. It requires constant vigilance by those who would truly make this country great, men like John Lewis and Dr. King, women like Maya Angelou and Angela Davis to name a few among so many others.
American history in the last century and a half has seen a lot of change. So many freedoms that were hard fought and won by soldiers who fought in the name of democracy. We have cemeteries full of men who died on actual battlefields to serve this country, but I am not going to talk about them right now. This is about the other soldiers.
The other soldiers I am talking about have also died for the freedoms of their fellow Americans. They did not carry guns, though they’ve been shot at. They did not storm beaches, hills, or bunkers, but they fought hard to gain ground. They are the men and women who have taken to our streets to march for what’s right. They are the ones who have conquered the American hearts, defeated unjust laws, and helped to move our country closer to that dream for which it was intended. They are still fighting today.
We should honor these warriors who stood up and who stand up when they see something wrong. Where would we be now if they did not say or do something about it? They have fought the good fight with their words, their arts, their movements, and this land is better for it. The fight is not over.
We should have a parade for these soldiers of justice, like Harvey Milk, the first openly gay elected official in United States history. He was assassinated. Then there’s soldiers like Matthew Shepherd, a 21 year old who was savagely beaten and tied to a barbed wire fence and left to die with a fractured skull — because he was gay. Rebecca Wight, a lesbian shot to death on the Appalachian trail, then there’s Brandon Teena, a transgender man raped and murdered in Nebraska, or Amanda Milan, a 25 year old transgender woman stabbed in the neck in New York City. These are only a tiny fraction of the names of people who have been murdered for having the courage to live their lives in the face of so much adversity.
I have never had to worry about living my life by anyone else’s leave. I have never had to apologize for being me. Those who have had to fight stigma day in and day out for who they are attracted to, who they love, the color of their skin or who they pray to are far braver than me. I salute you.
I take no pride in the color of my skin. Being white is not an achievement. I did not study hard, or put in the hours working and making sacrifices in my life to get to the goal of having a lighter pigment. Nothing in our lives as white men came harder because of the way our society views white men. Too often, we allow the oppression, or are dismissive of it. White noise is the white silence in the background, the sound of our indifference.
Now, I am not ashamed of being white, because I can’t be ashamed of something I had nothing to do with creating. I had no more choice in being white than I did in being born on earth. But the skin I was born in has benefits, and those benefits have come at the cost of others’ rights. I acknowledge this fact.
You don’t need to hide behind robes and ridiculous pointy hoods to be a white supremacist. You can wear a uniform with a badge. You can wear business suits, ties too long, and an orange vanity mask. You can wear the title of congressman, senator, businessman, or president.
White supremacy isn’t just about keeping people of color down, it’s also about keeping down, or away, those who don’t fit into the very narrow mold set by those who hold the power. As if America were a theme park and the Democracy Mountain ride had a sign that said: “You must be this tall, this white, and this heterosexual to ride.”
Most corporations, businesses, and establishments in America are white owned, white operated and white managed. Of the 500 corporations that make up the Fortune 500, there are only four black CEOs.
If I were black, yes, I would be proud. What black people have had to endure in this country is an unimaginable burden to bear. If I were gay, I would be proud, for anyone in the LGBTQ community has had to endure a vastly tougher road than I have. If I was Native American, or Jewish, or Asian American or any other person historically marginalized, I would be proud.
People are dying all over America from COVID 19, and we have people who would rather fight for the flags and statues of dead traitors who thought it was their right to own other people. Honoring the confederacy is just the racist’s wet dream to keep alive the hate it stood for. I say tear them all down.
Let’s make new statues to those other soldiers who fought and those who continue to fight today to make this country truly great. Honor those who still march. Protesting, or as the late John Lewis might say, making “good trouble,” is what America is all about. Standing up when you see something wrong, and saying something about it. It’s about letting your voice be heard, no matter what your voice sounds like or where it comes from.
I hope that one day we won’t need these other soldiers. I hope the time comes when we don’t need to have marches for rights, because they will already be had by all. America is only great because of the people in it, and it’s up to us to make sure that is true for everyone.