Wednesday, August 23, 2017

A Name to Remember

I speak the name James A. Fields often. In prayer, in thought, in worry, in conviction, in determination. James A. Fields is the name I need to remember, not Heather Heyer. Who she was matters a great deal, but I know plenty of people like her. They are willing to march, to give money. They shop at businesses owned by people of color. They are people who recognize their privilege and work to be an ally. They don't always get it right; they're willing to hear they got it wrong and try better next time.

I know how we create the Heather Heyers of the world. There are many ways I strive for the same goals. But we create the James A. Fields of the world, too. In some cases, we create with the same intentionality as the people seeking justice; in others, it's the byproduct of our entrenched racism, our entrenched white privilege turned to supremacy.

Here is my truth: I know White Supremacists. Maybe I should say confession, I don't know. It's this haunting truth inside me though: I know White Supremacist. I grew up with them. Maybe they didn't call themselves that publicly--good Lord, I am shocked that we've made it safe for White Supremacists to come out of their closets and into public spaces unashamed--but they were White Supremacists all the same.

They were there, lurking in the teenager who called Martin Luther King Day by "Nigger Day" instead. (I thought about using n***** instead, but niceties go out the window in confession.) Does he remember that? We're friends on Facebook and he, his wife, and two kids are living a nice suburban life. Yet, somewhere, he learned that word, that phrase, and had no problem using it in front of his friends. I saw so many faces like his in the photos of the marchers at Charlottesville.

The White Supremacists were there, in those same places. Confederate flags were everywhere, but there were those who had swastika patches on their backpacks or sewn onto their jackets. They'd sometimes be made to remove the emblem or turn their coats inside out while at school, but the rule was enforced sporadically at best. Was there a rule against swastikas? To tell you the truth, I don't remember. I am certain the Confederate flag was just fine. Heritage, not hate, after all. These were the people I sat on a school bus with, an hour at a time.

I wonder, were the White Supremacists gathering in that abandoned house on the other side of the hill? Sometimes, at night, a light would be on. It was the kind of light you use in a garage, a bulb on the end of a cord. The room it illuminated was covered in flags: US, Confederate, Nazi. I don't remember people gathered there, just flags, but the image that remains is vivid and terrifying.

Never, ever, have the KKK or Neo-Nazis been merely an idea for me. Maybe because it was the South, or maybe because it was a rural area, but they were always there somewhere. They were in the newspaper when they got arrested. They were whispered about by teenagers interested in joining. (Yes, interested, I remember that much, too.)

Moving away means I don't know if I know White Supremacists now--other than there this lurking feeling that I must here in this deep red, SB1070 passing state.

And so I remember James A. Fields because he is the person I might have sat with on a school bus, or watched a teacher make change clothes, or wondered how he found the people meeting in back rooms and back alleys. He is the person I might stand in line with at Starbucks, or cut off on the freeway, or run into at a city meeting. He is the person I must remember is here, at least until we, until I, make it clear he's not welcome.

After all, he is the person who persevered, persisted, held on to the demons we've never exorcised.

I confess: I do not know how to exorcise these demons.
I confess: I know I helped create them. I know I help sustain them.
I confess: James A. Fields. Because so much is wrapped up in that name.

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