Meandering Metaphors as Rivers (#poem)

brown boat
Photo by Jennifer Hubacher on Pexels.com

The Mississippi River is a metaphor for life,
Mostly because Samuel Clemens made it so.
At least that’s what you would’ve learned
In your literature class—that a huge, meandering
River held the secrets of innocence, knowledge,

Guilt, and wisdom. So much is hidden under
The surface, see, and so much changes as you
Drift along. You may start your journey with
A piece of property and end it with a human being.
Not everyone learns to feel. Not everyone feels shame.

Mark Twain sort of got that, but some people pretty
Much think he dropped the ball at the end there,
And it is hard to see why Huck couldn’t have
Ended up being a slightly better person than
He ended up being. Everyone is disappointed

The novel ended the way it did, instead
Of some other way, but it’s what Clemens wanted.
It may be that ol’ Mark Twain ended up no more
Developed than his young creation, or maybe he just
Wanted us to take the next step ourselves.

 

On the Failed Attempt to Prevent Miscegenation in Polk County, Texas (#poem #NaPoWriMo)

love people romance engagement
Photo by Katie Salerno on Pexels.com

“I don’t want you to be mean to nobody, now.
When you go into town, you should wave
And smile and say, ‘How y’all doing?
Nice to see ya.’ Be nice and friendly
And respectful and then be on your way.
They have their lives to live, and you
Should just leave ‘em to it. You don’t
Need to be in their houses, and you
Damn sure don’t need to bring ‘em
Into mine. ‘Cause if you bring ‘em
Here again, you and me gotta problem,
You got that, boy? And you don’t wanna
Have a problem with me. If you wanna be
Welcome in my house, you better just
Let your new ‘friends’ go their own way.”

With that, he poured another coffee, lit
Another cigarette, and went out on the porch.

It didn’t involve the child listening from the next room.
Nothing in the world changed, except a boy’s heart.

Horton’s Taxonomy of Racial Prejudice

It seems we keep having people make racist remarks and then proclaim, defensively, that they are not racists. Some people are so hostile that their claims of innocence are both laughable and infuriating, but others seem genuinely bemused by the accusation that they are racist. It doesn’t seem possible that anyone could be so clueless, their critics think, that their attitudes would not be obvious to them. In other cases, people strive with everything they have against being racist, only to find to their dismay and horror that they have unconscious racial biases.

In order to sort things out, I think we need to recognize a few categories of racism:

1. Overt racial hostility. In this category we have white supremacists (or other kinds of supremacists, even, depending on your location and circumstances). People in this category believe other races are inferior and will not apologize for saying so. We can renounce them, but we aren’t likely to shame them, as they are quite self-righteous in their belief in their own superiority (leaving their latent fears and anxieties aside for the moment).

2. Racial Prejudice. Some people say they don’t hate anyone or want anyone harmed, but they just happen to believe it is a brute fact that people from different races are different and have different abilities and preferences. People in this category can be the most confounding, as they might say things that are outlandish to the rest of us and then become extremely offended that anyone could possibly accuse them of racism. “I don’t hate such and such people, but they sure hate hard work. God love ‘em.”

3. Racial insensitivity. Sometimes people genuinely don’t mean any harm at all but have no idea how their comments may hurt others. Assuming a person of a particular race enjoys a certain kind of music, dance, food, or whatever may seem completely reasonable to you while it reduces that person to a broad stereotype. Even if the person does happen to like that music or food, he or she may resent you making any assumptions about their taste based merely on race or ethnicity.

4. Racial privilege. A member of my family once said he couldn’t understand why certain groups were always complaining about police harassment. He mentioned that he had many experiences with the police and he had always been treated with respect and courtesy. It didn’t occur to him that his skin color, sexual orientation, and socioeconomic class had anything to do with his treatment. That certain groups are targeted for mistreatment seemed inconceivable to him because he never had to experience what others endure regularly. This is the nature of racial privilege. (Yes, many kinds of privilege exist, but they aren’t relevant to this discussion.)

5. Unconscious and undesired racial bias. Finally, we all have biases without realizing it. When people take psychological tests (you can take one here) to see what biases they have, they may be chagrined to find they are biased against others without wanting to, but some of us are even surprised to find we hold implicit biases against our own social groups. Even those who are aware of no bias whatsoever find that some biases are so deeply entrenched that they are difficult to detect. Ironically, those with the least ill feelings toward other races are, in my experience, more aware of implicit bias. Confront an obvious racist about overt racial attitudes, and he or she will often declare, loudly, that he or she is completely indifferent to race. In my experience, those who are most committed to ending racial prejudice are the ones who are also most willing to examine their own implicit biases. Such is life.