Editor’s Note: This post is the second in Jewschool’s series of reflections on Judaism, Jewish identity, race and the events in Ferguson.
Dr. Carolivia Herron is an author and educator living in Washington, DC. Her works include “Nappy Hair,” “Asenath,” and the opera libretto, “Let Freedom Sing: The Story of Marian Anderson.” She has held professorial appointments at Harvard University and the College of William and Mary.
I have nothing to say.
I know you want me to say that the things I know about Ferguson have nothing to do with this specific case of Big Mike and the policeman and can’t be admitted by law so I should just shut up about them or else I’ll be just inciting folks to riot or protest and I shouldn’t even mention that you don’t know the difference between protesting and rioting. I don’t have anything to say because 45 years ago, when I was a black teenager, before I was Jewish right out loud I was a summer missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention there near Ferguson in St. Louis County. I almost got my head shot off by the Klan because I was walking with three other summer missionaries two black, two white, evenly divided by gender and I, like a fool, when the four of us were walking on the wrong side of town (that’s the white side), ran up to the car that was slowly driving beside us, me thinking that the guy wanted directions or something so I just ran up to the car window and there was the Klan man with the sawed off shot gun pointed at my head. Every time I try to say about Ferguson, obey the law, accept the findings of the hearing, my voice chokes because I remember that gun and because the Klan man and I lived in different worlds I ran toward the man with the gun. I had no better sense than that. And why should I say something just because it pops up in my head. That shot gun at my head happened in the late 1960s, what’s that got to do with today? And back then it was the Klan. It’s not the Klan today, so I’m not saying anything.
And I’m not saying anything about Ferguson because even if the policeman is telling the absolute truth the situation is terrifying. Why did the policeman go after Big Mike when he was walking away? Why did he say he had to do it? Haven’t we heard that line before? “I had to do it? That’s what I do?” Fugitive Slave law. “Send them back.” Ships escaping the Holocaust. “Send them back.” Haven’t we heard this? “We can’t prove that you’ve been threatened or misused or whipped or murdered until after you’re dead. And maybe not even then. But we promise we’ll give you justice. But for stuff that happens before that we’re just following the law. What? You expect us to think on our own all by ourselves? What kind of law and order, we the people, constitution following is that???” That’s what I’ve heard before. So I’m not saying anything.
And I’m not saying anything about Ferguson because my hope longs to say that the US Government and the state government of Missouri and all the state governments of the United States of America cannot possibly want to be unfair and wrong and evil. But in spite of my hope, my heart does not trust you. I’m embarrassed and ashamed to say I don’t trust that you see clearly. And for some of you, I don’t trust that you even want to see clearly. So I’m not saying anything.
And I’m not saying anything about Ferguson because my soul aches when you use your support of Big Mike of Ferguson as a way to hate Israel. I don’t understand why you use your love of my people to hate my people. I love my people African American, Ferguson, US American – keep trying to get it right, and I love my people Israel – keep trying to get it right. And while I’m at it, since it’s near Thanksgiving, I’m also a member of the Wampanoag nation. My Wampanoag ancestors met the Mayflower. I am not ashamed that my ancestors treated those immigrants as human beings and helped them out. I love my people Wampanoag.
And I’m not saying anything because it isn’t fair. None of this is fair. I’m all into aesthetics and art and literature and music and you keep asking me about sociology. Sociology gets on my nerves. I’m trying to escape from Sociology. I want you to read novels and listen to opera and hip hop and Shorty Long singing “Function at the Junction” and go to look at Hopper’s “White River” painting at the Smithsonian National Museum of American Art. But instead you got me sociologing about Ferguson when my heart is broken and I can barely write this because I see the slave holding pens off Goree Island, in Senegal and think of my precious Phillis Wheatley crossing the middle passage to bring African American literature to me, to us. And I see Sarah Shulamit bat Asher my Sephardic Jewish ancestor with other Jews and with Muslims expelled from Spain, Portugal, during the inquisition. In fourteen hundred and ninety-two – noted not for Columbus but for castaways. And when will we ever get tired of not being able to enter and appreciate the world views of others? Why is it so hard to see and hear and listen to each other? It just isn’t fair.
So I’m not going to say anything at all.