For anyone who cares, I need to make a statement. My name is Maxwell Rene Reddick. And I’m afraid of becoming a racist. But perhaps racist is not the correct word to describe how I feel; however, in the same instance, perhaps it’s the only word.
You see, I am gradually experiencing an erosion of trust, a waning of faith. Suddenly, I am beginning to see my fellow Americans in a new light.
It began sometime during the last presidential election. And I am not so naïve as to believe that racism and racial resentment did not exist before that time, but I guess that the ease and the unabashed manner with which they dragged out the ghosts of the past caught me by surprise.
But then I reasoned that they had just given in to the emotions of the moment. That when President Obama took office, all the racist rhetoric would die down. That the Republican leadership would come forward as a united body and denounce the campaign’s racism and allay the imagined fears of some Negro take over.
However, they did not. Instead, they increased the rhetoric. They upped the ante. They even rolled out their own Gestapo like force skilled in the use of racist rhetoric and general mayhem. They called them the “Tea Party.” But soon the “Tea Party,” drunk off their new found sense of power, spurred on by their success, spun out of their control, out of their grasp, and they found themselves, too, at its capricious whims.
So, Saturday I’m watching the whole lead-up to the historic vote on health care reform unfold. I am seeing the crowds gather in protest on the street. I am watching the talking heads get in their talking points on the cable news networks. Then I get a text message. Someone has been called a nigger. Someone has been called a faggot. Someone has been spit on. And almost coincidently the cable network news people confirm these reports.
And I feel my ire rise. I feel a level of indignance that I have not felt in quite some time. And there is something else there too that causes me to clench my fist and bite down on my lower lip. Is that hate or just anger? And then the devil pours me another drink as he laughs at my vulnerability.
But then later I’m in my yard, and a pick-up truck passes with a “NOBAMA” sticker and a “Is it 2012 yet” sticker displayed prominently in the back window of the cab. And then a late model Mercedes-Benz passes going in the other direction. The driver has affixed a sticker with the word “SOCIALISM” with a big red circle with a slash through it.
Then I mentally count the distance between my home and the next home containing a black family. I note my neighbor out working in his yard with his shirt off—he’s really too big to be outside with his shirt off—and I think to myself, “Is he one of them?”. He certainly looks like one of them or what I believe one of them would look like.
And when I am in the grocery, I am looking in white faces, thinking to myself, “Is he one of them? Is she one of them?”. The lady at the gas station smiles at me as she swipes my card. I do not smile back. Is she one of them?
And I tell myself that I cannot be racist. Haven’t I got a plethora of white friends. But that’s the first thing racists say, isn’t it? I remember that from my first year of grammar school until my last year of grad school, I have been surrounded by white people; usually I have been the only, or one of a very few, Blacks in the class. In the military, I lived with white people, slept with white people, ate with white people. I remind myself that my aunt, my mother’s brother’s wife, is white though I have never thought of her as being white before this moment.
But I don’t think that it’s racism; I think it is a lack of trust, a lack of faith in my fellow Americans and their motives. This is, perhaps, how my grandfather felt when he was a young man. Which of you are for me? Which of you are against me? Because I have no way of knowing until you are standing in front of me, spitting on me and calling me a nigger.
However, I refuse to give in to hate. To calm my nerves, to clear my mind, I pick up a book to read, and I come across a quote by James Baldwin: “The moment we cease to hold each other, the moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.”
And then I realize that I cannot hate. That it is perhaps not in my best interest, our best interests. That it is perhaps not even in me to hold grudges. But I must work on this whole trust thing; I must work to rebuild my faith. But trust and faith are hard found when all around you hate and acrimony seems to be the order of the day.