I happen to be filling the few spare hours of this past week by re-watching my friend Ken Burns' Jazz documentary and was literally pulling my shoes on to head over to the hospital yesterday when it came to the story of the great Billie Holiday and the still-startling anti-lynching song "Strange Fruit."
Not long ago, my father, who abandoned baseball because his team traded his favorite players (Yankees; Steve Souchock, George Stirnweiss; 1948, 1950; yes, we carry grudges), mentioned to me that he'd seen Satchel Paige pitch at Yankee Stadium, for the New York Black Yankees. "It never occurred to me, it never occurred to anybody I knew, that he couldn't play for the other Yankees. We just assumed he didn't want to. That none of them wanted to."
Fatal racism, passive racism, self-rationalized racism. It all blended together for me yesterday, and it led me to think about the Tea Party group, who they are, who they aren't, and what they're afraid of.
I'm a little crushed for time against the show deadline tonight, but here is an excerpt.
There are a few moments of anger in here, but mostly it's a series of more even-toned questions for these people:
The whole of the "anger at government" movement is predicated on this.
Times are tough, the future is confusing, the threat from those who would dismantle our way of life is real (as if we weren't to some extent doing it for them). And the president is black. But you can't come out and say that's why you are scared. Say that, and in all but the lifeless fringes of our society, you are an outcast.
And so this is where the euphemisms come in. Your taxes haven't gone up, the budget deficit is from the last administration's adventurer's war, Grandma is much more likely to be death-paneled by your insurance company, and a socialist president would be one who tried to buy as many voters as possible with tax cuts.
But facts don't matter when you're looking for an excuse to say you hate this president (but not because he's black). Anything you can say out loud without your family and friends bursting into laughter at you, will do.
And I know, if I could listen only to Lincoln on this of all days -- about the better angels of our nature -- I'd know that what we're seeing at the Tea Parties is, at its base... people who are afraid.
Terribly, painfully, cripplingly, blindingly... afraid.
But let me ask all of you who attend these things:
How many black faces do you see at these events?
How many Hispanics? Asians? Gays?
Where are these people?
Surely there must be blacks who think they're being bled by taxation.
Surely there must be Hispanics who think the government should've let the auto industry fail.
Surely there must be people of all colors and creeds who believe in cultural literacy tests and speaking English.
Where are they?
Where are they?