“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have”. ~ James A. Baldwin.
I know most people love to say that preachers’ and teachers’ kids are the worst. In Jamaica we would say ‘parson pickni a di baddiss!’ But the reality of growing up in a home where the head of household is of a particular profession means that the children are held to a higher standard of behavior than their friends. Even the way you respond to a simple ‘how-di-do’ is expected to be clearly enunciated and with a pleasant expression. And of course in a formal setting like church, you are to set an example, no twitching, whispering or giggling. No wonder when we ‘bruk out’ (break out) we go all the way to the other extreme! When my brother arrived in Jamaica he was given organ duty, not to play, but to pump the hand operated arm that provided the air to the billows. For every hymn. No one was happier than he when the church raised the funds to purchase an electric organ!
Growing up as a ‘parson pickni’ and being white in a 99% non-white community meant that I was not only under scrutiny, I was also easily seen. When they say that it takes a village to raise a child, every Jamaican knows what that means. For the whole community is quick to call you out if you are doing wrong. Which meant that we either chose to be very well behaved conformists, or learnt how to cover our trails like a ninja!
I heard a snippet of a piece of historical information on public radio the other day. It was about the origin of vibrators (yes, those things). Apparently they were invented as a medical device to treat female hysteria. I only caught the end of the piece, so for those who are intrigued you will have to do your own research! But it made me think about the whole history of medicine, which is definitely not ‘herstory’. The word hysteria also has the root for the medical name for the uterus, as we know, if you undergo a removal of your uterus you will undergo a hysterectomy. Yes, ladies, the medical community considered that we women were subject to irrational behavior because we possess a uterus! And don’t get too comfortable, on another news item, it was reported that in Japan they have uncovered a practice of fraudulently lowering the scores of female applicants to medical school with the intention of keeping the number of female students to less than 30%. This practice began in 2011, when the number of female applicants increased to 40%. Who wants to invest in women training to be physicians when they may leave the profession to have kids, was apparently the motivating question.
But the unjust practices against women has an even more sinister history for women of color, especially in this country. Thanks to the work of investigative journalists (and Oprah) many more of us now know the name of the African-American woman Henrietta Lacks whose DNA was used as the basis for life saving cell research, without her or her family’s consent. But the treatment of black women at the hands of white men, is too painful to recount here. Suffice it to say that one renowned gynecologist whose name is synonymous with medical instruments and ways of positioning the body for procedures did much of his research on enslaved women, performing surgical repairs without the benefit of anesthesia, even though it was available at the time.
When Jamaicans say ‘jackass say di wurl no level’ they are expressing the commonly observed statement that for many folks the world is not a level playing field. When we fail to acknowledge (worldwide, but especially in this country at this time) the existence of white privilege, we are consciously or unconsciously contributing to the maintenance of such inequality. When we see children of color at the border treated in such an inhumane way, we know that there is no way this government would have sanctioned such policies if those seeking a better life were of Caucasian descent. When we hear so-called Christians able to justify such barbarism, we know that there must be great distress in heaven. I have an African friend who told me that in Africa they say ‘God must be getting old’ because in his young days, there would have been some cataclysmic natural disaster rained down on such transgression!
When the rules are not applied fairly to all members of society, you open the door to unforeseen consequences. Bob Marley sang ‘a hungry mob is an angry mob’. There are many more people with what is nicely called ‘food insecurity’ in this country than ever before. In 2016, according the USDA, approximately 1 in 8 Americans do not have a consistent supply of food to maintain an active, healthy life. We can only imagine what the current policies have done to that number. And that is food, one of the basic physiological needs of human beings (can I get a shout out to Mr. Maslow?).
This week we have seen many organizations putting together backpacks for school kids, for parents who would have no way of affording pencils and crayons and markers and composition books and index cards and post-its and tissues and hand sanitizer and sharpeners and erasers and dry erase markers and dry erase erasers and reams of paper and reams of wide ruled paper and folders and hand wipes and what else am I forgetting?
When a society does not care for the least of these my brethren, then faith and charity organizations have to step in. It is to our deep shame that we live in this society, that does not care about the health and well-being, the education, the basic needs of our most vulnerable. We are not operating by the same set of rules, we are not applying the laws equally, we are no longer a symbol of democracy, hope and opportunity. Although it makes us feel good to donate, to contribute, to participate in charitable events, we must not ease the pressure off the ones who have the ultimate responsibility – the government of the people, for the people and by the people. Remember to call your representatives, make sure those who know better do better!
On this hot and muggy Friday morning, I hope you will do whatever you can to make a difference, and remember the words of the anthropologist Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.”
Have a wonderful weekend, Family!