Archive for June, 2007

(part 4our) the ethics of living jim crow

June 30, 2007

The Ethics of Living Jim Crow is an essay from the book Uncle Tom’s Children by Richard Wright.

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THE ETHICS OF LIVING JIM CROW
An Autobiographical Sketch
Richard Wright

5
My next job was as hall-boy in a hotel. Here my Jim Crow education broadened and deepened. When the bell-boys were busy, I was often called to assist them. As many of the rooms in the hotel were occupied by prostitutes, I was constantly called to carry them liquor and cigarettes. These women were nude most of the time. They did not bother about clothing even for bell-boys. When you went into their rooms, you were supposed to take their nakedness for granted, as though it startled you no more than a blue vase or a red rug. Your presence awoke in them no sense of shame, for you were not regarded as human. If they were alone, you could steal sidelong glimpses at them. But if they were receiving men, not a flicker of your eyelids must show. I remember one incident vividly. A new woman, a huge, snowy-skinned blonde, took a room on my floor. I was sent to wait upon her. She was in bed with a thick-set man; both were nude and uncovered. She said she wanted some liquor, and slid out of bed and waddled across the floor to get her money from a dresser drawer. I watched her.

“Nigger, what in hell you looking at?” the white man asked me, raising himself upon his elbows.

“Nothing,” I answered, looking miles deep into the blank wall of the room.

“Keep your eyes where they belong, if you want to be healthy!”

“Yes, sir,” I said.

6
One of the bell-boys I knew in this hotel was keeping steady company with one of the Negro maids. Out of a clear sky the police descended upon his home and arrested him, accusing him of bastardy. The poor boy swore he had had no intimate relations with the girl. Nevertheless, they forced him to marry her. When the child arrived, it was found to be much lighter in complexion than either of the two supposedly legal parents. The white men around the hotel made a great joke of it. They spread the rumor that some white cow must have scared the poor girl while she was carrying the baby. If you were in their presence when this explanation was offered, you were supposed to laugh.

7
One of the bell-boys was caught in bed with a white prostitute. He was castrated, and run out of town. Immediately after this all the bell-boys and hall-boys were called together and warned. We were given to understand that the boy who had been castrated was a “mighty, mighty lucky bastard.” We were impressed with the fact that next time the management of the hotel would not be responsible for the lives of “trouble-makin’ niggers.”

8
One night, just as I was about to go home, I met one of the Negro maids. She lived in my direction, and we fell in to walk part of the way home together. As we passed the white nightwatchman, he slapped the maid on her buttock. I turned around, amazed. The watchman looked at me with a long, hard, fixedunder stare. Suddenly he pulled his gun, and asked:

“Nigger, don’t yuh like it?”

I hesitated.

“I asked yuh don’t yuh like it?” he asked again, stepping forward.

“Yes, sir,” I mumbled.

“Talk like it, then!”

“Oh, yes, sir!” I said with as much heartiness as I could muster.

Outside, I walked ahead of the girl, ashamed to face her. She caught up with me and said:

“Don’t be a fool; yuh couldn’t help it!”

This watchman boasted of having killed two Negroes in self-defense.

Yet, in spite of all this, the life of the hotel ran with an amazing smoothness. It would have been impossible for a stranger to detect anything. The maids, the hall-boys, and the bell-boys were all smiles. They had to be.

–to be continued–

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St John of San Francisco

June 30, 2007

Today we commemorate the much loved Saint of God, St. John of San Francisco.

Although some Churches will commemorate him on June 19 (July 2 on the civil calendar), the date of his repose, the Russian Church Outside of Russia commemorates St. John on the Saturday nearest the day of his commemoration.

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O BELOVED HIERARCH JOHN while living amongst us thou didst see the future as if present, distant things as if near, the hearts and minds of men as if they were thine own. We know that in this thou wast illumined by God, with Whom thou wast ever in the mystical communion of prayer, and with Whom thou now abidest eternally. As thou once didst hear the mental petitions of thy far-scattered flock even before they could speak to thee, so now hear our prayers and bring them before the Lord. Thou hast gone over unto the life unaging, unto the other world, yet thou art in truth not far from us, for heaven is closer to us than our own souls. Show us who feel frightened and alone the same compassion that thou didst once show to the trembling fatherless ones. Give to us who have fallen into sin, confusion and despair the same stern yet loving instruction that thou didst once give to thy chosen flock. In thee we see the living likeness of our Maker, the living spirit of the Gospel, and the foundation of our Faith.

(part 3) the ethics of living jim crow

June 29, 2007

Why am I sharing this essay? I invite you to read my introduction from 6/27.

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THE ETHICS OF LIVING JIM CROW
An Autobiographical Sketch
Richard Wright, published 1938

4
Negroes who have lived South know the dread of being caught alone upon the streets in white neighborhoods after the sun has set. In such a simple situation as this the plight of the Negro in America is graphically symbolized. While white strangers may be in these neighborhoods trying to get home, they can pass unmolested. But the color of a Negro’s skin makes him easily recognizable, makes him suspect, converts him into a defenseless target.

Late one Saturday night I made some deliveries in a white neighborhood. I was pedaling my bicycle back to the store as fast as I could, when a police car, swerving toward me, jammed me into the curbing.

“Get down and put up your hands!” the policemen ordered.

I did. They climbed out of the car, guns drawn, faces set, and advanced slowly.

“Keep still!” they ordered.

I reached my hands higher. They searched my pockets and packages. They seemed dissatisfied when they could find nothing incriminating. Finally, one of them said:

“Boy, tell your boss not to send you out in white neighborhoods this time of night.”

As usual, I said:

“Yes, sir.”

–to be continued–

(part 2wo) the ethics of living jim crow

June 28, 2007

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THE ETHICS OF LIVING JIM CROW
An Autobiographical Sketch
by Richard Wright, published 1938

2
My Jim Crow education continued on my next job, which was portering in a clothing store. One morning, while polishing brass out front, the boss and his twenty-year-old son got out of their car and half dragged and half kicked a Negro woman into the store. A policeman standing at the corner looked on, twirling his nightstick. I watched out of the corner of my eye, never slackening the strokes of my chamois upon the brass. After a few minutes, I heard shrill screams coming from the rear of the store. Later the woman stumbled out, bleeding, crying, and holding her stomach. When she reached the end of the block, the policeman grabbed her and accused her of being drunk. Silently I watched him throw her into a patrol wagon.

When I went to the rear of the store, the boss and his son were washing their hands at the sink. They were chuckling. The floor was bloody, and strewn with wisps of hair and clothing. No doubt I must have appeared pretty shocked, for the boss slapped me reassuringly on the back.

“Boy, that’s what we do to niggers when they don’t want to pay their bills,” he said, laughing.

His son looked at me and grinned.

“Here, hava cigarette,” he said.

Not knowing what to do, I took it. He lit his and held the match for me. This was a gesture of kindness, indicating that even if they had beaten the poor old woman, they would not beat rif I knew enough to keep my mouth shut.

“Yes, sir,” I said, and asked no questions.

After they had gone, I sat on the edge of a packing box and stared at the bloody floor till the cigarette went out.

That day at noon, while eating in a hamburger joint, I told my fellow Negro porters what had happened. No one seemed surprised. One fellow, after swallowing a huge bite, turned to me and asked

“Huh. Is tha’ all they did t’ her?”

“Yeah. Wasn’t tha’ enough?” I asked.

“Shucks! Man, she’s a lucky bitch!” he said, burying his lips deep into a juicy hamburger. “Hell, it’s a wonder they didn’t lay her when they got through.”

3
I was learning fast, but not quite fast enough. One day, while I was delivering packages in the suburbs, my bicycle tire was punctured. I walked along the hot, dusty road, sweating and leading my bicycle by the handle-bars.

A car slowed at my side.

“What’s the matter, boy?” a white man called.

I told him my bicycle was broken and I was walking back to town.

“That’s too bad,” he said. “Hop on the running board.”

He stopped the car. I clutched hard at my bicycle with one hand and clung to the side of the car with the other.

“All set?”

“Yes, sir,” I answered. The car started.

It was full of young white men. They were drinking. I watched the flask pass from mouth to mouth.

“Wanna drink, boy?” one asked.

I laughed, the wind whipping my face. Instinctively obeying the freshly planted precepts of my mother, I said:

“Oh, no!”

The words were hardly out of my mouth before I felt something hard and cold smash me between the eyes. It was an empty whisky bottle. I saw stars, and fell backwards from the speeding car into the dust of the road, my feet becoming entangled in the steel spokes of my bicycle. The white men piled out, and stood over me.

“Nigger, ain’ yuh learned no better sense’n tha’ yet?” asked the man who hit me. “Ain’ yuh learned t’ say sir t’ a white man yet?”

Dazed, I pulled to my feet. My elbows and legs were bleeding. Fists doubled, the white man advanced, kicking my bicycle out of the way.

“Aw, leave the bastard alone. He’s got enough,” said one.

They stood looking at me. I rubbed my shins, trying to stop the flow of blood. No doubt they felt a sort of contemptuous pity, for one asked:

“Yuh wanna ride t’ town now, nigger? Yuh reckon yuh know enough t’ ride now?”

“I wanna walk,” I said, simply.

Maybe it sounded funny. They laughed.

“Well, walk, yuh black son-of-a-bitch!”

When they left they comforted me with:

“Nigger, yuh sho better be damn glad it wuz us yuh talked t’ tha’ way. Yuh’re a lucky bastard, ’cause if yuh’d said tha’ t’ somebody else, yuh might’ve been a dead nigger now.”

–to be continued–

a sad reality

June 28, 2007

“1 out of every 32 children in Washington State has an incarcerated parent.”

the ethics of living jim crow

June 27, 2007

Today I read Richard Wright’s essay: ‘The Ethics of Living Jim Crow.’ This essay was in his book Uncle Tom’s Children published in 1938.

Uncle Tom’s Children was Richard Wrights first book, released when he was 30 years old.

One of the powerful things about literature is that you are able, for a short time, to be someone who you are not… and by doing so you can gain an understanding or insight that you had not previously had. As a white male, born in 1963 who grew up in Southern California, I was able to experience life as an African American youth/young man in the United States South. A life before Martin Luther King, Jr or Malcom X… life before I was ever born.

The sad thing is that this mentality still exists today, and it does not just follow racial lines.

Over the next couple of days I am going to share this essay by Richard Wright.

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THE ETHICS OF LIVING JIM CROW
An Autobiographical Sketch
Richard Wright, Chicago

1
My first lesson in how to live as a Negro came when I was quite small. We were living in Arkansas. Our house stood behind the railroad tracks. Its skimpy yard was paved with black cinders. Nothing green ever grew in that yard. The only touch of green we could see was far away, beyond the tracks, over where the white folks lived. But cinders were good enough for me, and I never missed the green growing things. And anyhow, cinders were fine weapons. You could always have a nice hot war with huge black cinders. All you had to do was crouch behind the brick pillars of a house with your hands full of gritty ammunition. And the first woolly black head you saw pop out from behind another row of pillars was your target. You tried your very best to knock it off. It was great fun.

I never fully realized the appalling disadvantages of a cinder environment till one day the gang to which I belonged found itself engaged in a war with the white boys who lived beyond the tracks. As usual we laid down our cinder barrage, thinking that this would wipe the white boys out. But they replied with a steady bombardment of broken bottles. We doubled our cinder barrage, but they hid behind trees, hedges, and the sloping embankments of their lawns. Having no such fortifications, we retreated to the brick pillars of our homes. During the retreat a broken milk bottle caught me behind the ear, opening a deep gash which bled profusely. The sight of blood pouring over my face completely demoralized our ranks. My fellow-combatants left me standing paralyzed in the center of the yard, and scurried for their homes. A kind neighbor saw me and rushed me to a doctor, who took three stitches in my neck.

I sat brooding on my front steps, nursing my wound and waiting for my mother to come from work. I felt that a grave injustice had been done me. It was all right to throw cinders. The greatest harm a cinder could do was leave a bruise. But broken bottles were dangerous; they left you cut, bleeding, and helpless.

When night fell, my mother came from the white folks’ kitchen. I raced down the street to meet her. I could just feel in my bones that she would understand. I knew she would tell me exactly what to do next time. I grabbed her hand and babbled out the whole story. She examined my wound, then slapped me.

“How come yuh didn’t hide?” she asked me. “How come yuh awways fightin’?”

I was outraged, and bawled. Between sobs I told her that I didn’t have any trees or hedges to hide behind. There wasn’t a thing I could have used as a trench. And you couldn’t throw very far when you were hiding behind the brick pillars of a house. She grabbed a barrel stave, dragged me home, stripped me naked, and beat me till I had a fever of one hundred and two. She would smack my rump with the stave, and, while the skin was still smarting, impart to me gems of Jim Crow wisdom. I was never to throw cinders any more. I was never to fight any more wars. I was never, never, under any conditions, to fight white folks again. And they were absolutely right in clouting me with the broken milk bottle. Didn’t I know she was working hard every day in the hot kitchens of the white folks to make money to take care of me? When was I ever going to learn to be a good boy? She couldn’t be bothered with my fights. She finished by telling me that I ought to be thankful to God as long as I lived that they didn’t kill me.

All that night I was delirious and could not sleep. Each time I closed my eyes I saw monstrous white faces suspended from the ceiling, leering at me.

From that time on, the charm of my cinder yard was gone. The green trees, the trimmed hedges, the cropped lawns grew very meaningful, became a symbol. Even today when I think of white folks, the hard, sharp outlines of white houses surrounded by trees, lawns, and hedges are present somewhere in the background of my mind. Through the years they grew into an overreaching sym- bol of fear.

It was a long time before I came in close contact with white folks again. We moved from Arkansas to Mississippi. Here we had the good fortune not to live behind the railroad tracks, or close to white neighborhoods. We lived in the very heart of the local Black Belt. There were black churches and black preachers; there were black schools and black teachers; black groceries and black clerics. In fact, everything was so solidly black that for a long time I did not even think of white folks, save in remote and vague terms. But this could not last forever. As one grows older one eats more. One’s clothing costs more. When I finished grammar school I had to go to work. My mother could no longer feed and clothe me on her cooking job.

There is but one place where a black boy who knows no trade can get a job. And that’s where the houses and faces are white, where the trees, lawns, and hedges are green. My first job was with an optical company in Jackson, Mississippi. The morning I applied I stood straight and neat before the boss, answering all his questions with sharp yessirs and nosirs. I was very careful to pronounce my sirs distinctly, in order that he might know that I was polite, that I knew where I was, and that I knew he was a white man. I wanted that job badly.

He looked me over as though he were examining a prize poodle. He questioned me closely about my schooling, being particularly insistent about how much mathematics I had had. He seemed very pleased when I told him I had had two years of algebra.

“Boy, how would you like to try to learn something around here?” he asked me.

“I’d like it fine, sir,” I said, happy. I had visions of “working my way up.” Even Negroes have those visions.

“All right,” he said. “Come on.”

I followed him to the small factory.

“Pease,” he said to a white man of about thirty-five, “this is Richard. He’s going to work for us.”

Pease looked at me and nodded.

I was then taken to a white boy of about seventeen.

“Morrie, this is Richard, who’s going to work for us.”

“Whut yuh sayin’ there, boy!” Morrie boomed at me.

“Fine!” I answered.

The boss instructed these two to help me, teach me, give me jobs to do, and let me learn what I could in my spare time.

My wages were five dollars a week.

I worked hard, trying to please. For the first month I got along O.K. Both Pease and Morrie seemed to like me. But one thing was missing. And I kept thinking about it. I was not learning anything, and nobody was volunteering to help me. Thinking they had forgotten that I was to learn something about the mechanics of grinding lenses, I asked Morrie one day to tell me about the work. He grew red.

“Whut yuh tryin’ t’ do, nigger, git smart?” he asked.

“Naw; I ain’ tryin’ t’ -it smart,” I said.

“Well, don’t, if yuh know whut’s good for yuh!”

I was puzzled. Maybe he just doesn’t want to help me, I thought. I went to Pease.

“Say, are you crazy, you black bastard?” Pease asked me, his gray eyes growing hard.

I spoke out, reminding him that the boss had said I was to be given a chance to learn something.

“Nigger, you think you’re white, don’t you?”

“Naw, sir!”

“Well, you’re acting mighty like it!”

“But, Mr. Pease, the boss said . . .”

Pease shook his fist in my face.

“This is a white man’s work around here, and you better watch yourself!”

From then on they changed toward me. They said good-morning no more. When I was just a bit slow in performing some duty, I was called a lazy black son-of-a-bitch.

Once I thought of reporting all this to the boss. But the mere idea of what would happen to me if Pease and Morrie should learn that I had “snitched” stopped me. And after all, the boss was a white man, too. What was the use?

The climax came at noon one summer day. Pease called me to his work-bench. To get to him I had to go between two narrow benches and stand with my back against a wall.

“Yes, sir,” I said.

“Richard, I want to ask you something,” Pease began pleasantly, not looking up from his work.

“Yes, sir,” I said again.

Morrie came over, blocking the narrow passage between the benches. He folded his arms, staring at me solemnly.

I looked from one to the other, sensing that something was coming.

“Yes, sir,” I said for the third time.

Pease looked up and spoke very slowly.

“Richard, Mr. Morrie here tells me you called me Pease.”

I stiffened. A void seemed to open up in me. I knew this was the show-down.

He meant that I had failed to call him Mr. Pease. I looked at Morrie. He was gripping a steel bar in his hands. I opened my mouth to speak, to protest, to assure Pease that I had never called him simply Pease, and that I had never had any intentions of doing so, when Morrie grabbed me by the collar, ramming my head against the wall.

“Now, be careful, nigger!” snarled Morrie, baring his teeth. “1 heard yuh call ‘im Pease! ‘N’ if yuh say yuh didn’t, yuh’re callin’ me a lie, see?” He waved the steel bar threateningly.

If I had said: No, sir, Mr. Pease, I never called you Pease, I would have been automatically calling Morrie a liar. And if I had said: Yes, sir, Mr. Pease, I called you Pease, I would have been pleading guilty to having uttered the worst insult that a Negro can utter to a southern white man. I stood hesitating, trying to frame a neutral reply.

“Richard, I asked you a question!” said Pease. Anger was creeping into his voice.

“I don’t remember calling you Pease, Mr. Pease,” I said cautiously. “And if I did, I sure didn’t mean . . .”

“You black son-of-a-bitch! You called me Pease, then!” he spat, slapping me till I bent sideways over a bench. Morrie was on top of me, demanding:

“Didn’t yuh call ‘im Pease? If yuh say yuh didn’t, I’ll rip yo’ gut string loose with this f–kin’ bar, yuh black granny dodger! Yuh can’t call a white man a lie ‘n’ git erway with it, you black son-of-a-bitch!”

I wilted. I begged them not to bother me. I knew what they wanted. They wanted me to leave.

“I’ll leave,” I promised. “I’ll leave right now.”

They gave me a minute to get out of the factory. I was warned not to show up again, or tell the boss.

I went.

When I told the folks at home what had happened, they called me a fool. They told me that I must never again attempt to exceed my boundaries. When you are working for white folks, they said, you got to “stay in your place” if you want to keep working.

(to be continued tomorrow)

re: Christianity

June 27, 2007

“Christianity is more than a theory about the universe, more than teachings written down on paper; it is a path along which we journey –in the deepest and richest sense, the way of life.”
–Bishop Kallistos Ware

my own wild kingdom

June 25, 2007

A place of refuge and retreat… that is how I would describe the corner of the garden that I choose to sit in. If one is at our house, and they cannot find me –may I suggest checking the garden area.

I have a chair set-up on the edge of the garden, looking away from the world and facing in to the pumpkin garden. I enjoy the view of the many pumpkin plants begining their journey across the dirt; slowly turning a plot of land into a jungle. Surrounding this area are many sunflower plants. And from this vantage I can hear my kids playing and talking.

In past years this same area of space has been the gathering ground for many dragon and damsel flys. Since we have no water source on our yard it interests me that they chose this area to play.

This year we have taken this enjoyment to a new level. We have learned a little about the ways of the dragon fly and have sticks poking up out of the dirt for them to land on. I will watch as they will land on the stick, sitting still, and then take off to eat a bug in midflight.

It is pretty cool to see their manuvers. It is something to see a bug, and then see the dragon fly take off and get it; landing back on the stick to await it’s next victim.

And all the while the garden just grows, ignoring the spectacle overhead.

So I sit in my chair, on the edge of my little oasis; often with a book, while I soak in the sun and watch the garden grow.

Ahhhh Summer.

zombies

June 22, 2007

A topic discussed during a recent meal at our home was regarding ‘zombies.’

The question was asked, “Why do zombies walk with their arms out?”

Our 11 year old daughter offered an answer: “It is so they can grab people by the throats.”

Perhaps (on a lower level) it is to avoid conversation topics such as this, that explain why Monasteries do spiritual reading during mealtimes.

i fall down, i get back up again

June 21, 2007

The other evening I made a run to a local store. As I parked I noticed an elderly woman making her way across the parking lot with her cart.

It was obvious that any help that would be offered to her would be a benefit.

But help was not offered by me. I did not want to be bothered.

Fortunately, not everyone felt this way.
As I made my way, walking across the parking lot to the entrance I saw another woman walk over to her. She offered the older woman help in putting her purchases into her car. This woman was an example to me.

I am ashamed to share this event, I did not do the right thing.
I did not offer help to another that would have only taken a minute or two. I was selfish.

I am not proud of my lack of action, but I share it as a reminder to myself. I share it in hope that it might stir your heart to help another person who could use just a minute of your time.

The words I think about at this moment are: ‘Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.’

Lord, forgive me.