Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Race in the Modern Age

The issue of race is a thread that continues to raise strong emotions, expose deep hurts and has become a token issue that threads across many realms. Race has very different perspectives based on the color of your skin. Race divides, collects and infuses on many aspects of an American life.

The truth of race is something that the American public has gotten away from. There is a portion of American history that one race was subjugated by another race solely based on the color of one’s skin. There is no argument about that. The argument lies in how we react to this portion of history.

What I saw last night was a lack of shame. Shame that human rights were so discounted. Shame that the mindsets were so strong of the inferiority of another color that it still echoes in present day.

Let me backtrack…
we attended an auction in our little town we had moved to. Still acclimating to this environment, we found a little slice of heaven when we came across “Rusted Gold” (Thanks American Pickers!) Most every Monday there is an auction and we happily jaunted to see what treasures our second auction would uncover.

Sitting two rows from the front table, we had almost prime seats for the action. Between the auction guys holding up the latest treasure (or trash) to bid on, we saw on the table some curious articles. Two books had the title, “Negroes…Animals or Humans?” Next to that was a framed picture…come to find out it was the Women of the Ku Klux Klan taken in Roanoke sometime in the 1930’s. There were two long sheets of printed paper that had a picture of a black man kissing a white woman and in bold letters, “The Kiss of Death”. As the auctioneer held up this paper, he read what it said in a jovial voice and made some comment about the kiss of death.
While this lot was being auctioned off, I watched Darryl – the auctioneer’s assistant. We had met Darryl, a man of color, the first time we ventured into the auction house one cold Saturday morning. He was so helpful to us as we moved through the piles of junk waiting for rusted gold to pop out at us. He even found things in the storage section that we might be interested in. With a kind heart and gentle soul, he aided us on our first treasure seeking venture.

When we arrived at our first auction, he greeted us like old friends. The second auction he stopped us to clue us in on a curio cabinet he’s got up there in case we wanted first dibs.
As the “historical curiousities” were being auctioned off, I saw him divert to other sections of the auction. As he traveled through the warehouse bringing more things to the front, another man thrust one of these materials into his hand to be held up for the latest bid. Usually Darryl camps it up for the audience with the latest product, but I now saw a man put in a horrible position of holding items from a violated past.

With quiet strength he was able to pass that on to someone else to hold and moved towards the back to appear to be working as he removed himself from being put back in that position.
I sat in shock that these pieces were displayed without remorse or reaction. In fact, there were quite a few bids on these pieces, each one being auctioned off. I thought about the audience members, the ones bidding on these pieces. I thought about the spattering of people of color in the majority white audience. I started thinking about the idea of shame.

When global atrocities occur, there seems to be a sense of shame from the governing party, usually brought upon by citizen protest. Governing parties, sensing the needs of their people, tend to address and apologize for the human rights violations that have occurred. Of course there are plenty of governing parties that still refuse to address and if they do, refuse to apologize.

With the Civil Rights issue in the United States, there still seems to be an air of disregard from the governing parties. The white ruling class is still in power, even in the age of a man of color being President. There have been grounds gained in changing the ruling white mindset but there is the overall attitude of white majority dominance. This trickles down to the citizens of the country so any progressive thought will still take at least 30 years to trickle down to majority thought. The only other change from the political mindset is the celebrity obsessed influence of this country. Other than colored celebrities slowly winning accolades, such as Halle Berry being the first woman of color to win an Oscar, the issue of race is not one valiantly being fought on the forefront.

The furor of the Civil Rights movement seems to be relegated to the volatile environment of the 60’s and 70’s. The 80’s was a band aid to the seemingly exhausting environment of the previous decades. Has the fight gone out with history? Are the seemingly passive, quiet battles being slowly won the new form of human rights activism?

Change takes place slowly so it’s realistic to know one will come across pockets of blatant discriminative attitudes, especially in rural settings. What can be done when these pockets rise up in these settings, especially when there still resides the predominate ideals that white is superior and color is not? There seems to be a quiet acceptance that there are certain freedoms of all people regardless of color but that idea hasn’t soaked into the core beings of the majority public. There is still the thread of superior whiteness that is maintained, just more subtly.
When it comes to historical pieces and iconic items that reflect specific eras, there is no price to pay for history continuing to be told. yet do these pieces of subjugation priceless? Interestingly, the iconic pieces that tell the tale of how a race of people were completely and utterly terrorized raises more money in auction than white pieces of history. In our consumer driven society, doesn’t that reflect where our attitudes lie?

Should there be a consumer market for items that represented violations of specific people? Doesn’t that reflect a complete lack of shame for what happened? Is the attitude that it was a part of history make it okay? What about the people who live today knowing that it wasn’t too far in the past that they could have been subject to the same lack of human rights at their ancestors?

Interestingly, there was also a 1935 copy of the Emancipation Proclamation up for bid. It garnered no sales and no interest.

Doesn’t that just put the underline in the subject?

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