The Negro Speaks of Rivers

"I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset." -- "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," Langston Hughes I h

"I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln went down to New Orleans, and I seen its muddy bosom turn all golden in the sunset."

— "The Negro Speaks of Rivers," Langston Hughes

I hate America right now.

Though we are closer today to reckoning, reconciliation and reparations than we've ever been in our history, look what we've caused, endured and witnessed just to get all sentimental and philanthropic.

I am not angry or disappointed that nearly all of the $1 billion pledged and raised in hurricane relief comes from white pockets even though the hardest hit — the floating dead, the most sexually assaulted in the Superdome, the most stranded, abandoned and burned alive — are predominantly poor blacks. Deep strides in class and race strife in America will never be stitched up until the folks with the most entitlement and status do some of the hardest and dirtiest work.

The most difficult thing to say besides I hate America right now is that we're long overdue for white America en masse to be jolted from its skin privilege worsened by two terms of the same.

And we've been led to these muddy shores by natural and social disasters of Biblical proportions, sister storms that should be re-christened Hurricane Bush and Hurricane Halliburton and a prophesying black rapper named Kanye West who's rumored to have lost his Pepsi endorsement for telling the truth the media couldn't even name until he spoke it unscripted on national TV. To paraphrase West, even though you pushin' a Benz, you're still a nigga in a coupe.

For once, there's no damage control in the world that can stave the tides of indecision, classism, party politics, finger pointing and inundated levees. But they do try.

I was not persuaded or appeased by President Bush's tardy tour of post-hurricane Louisiana and Mississippi. Photographs of him clutching a teary black woman and her daughter don't move me. I'm not impressed by his speedy response to damage in his home state.

Reports that Southern-born Secretary of State Rice shopped in New York City while cries in the Gulf states for slow-moving federal relief rose to histrionic pitches dissolved the scant respect (held only by the unraveling rope of race and gender) I ever had for her in the first place.

I was unnerved but not surprised by the Associated Press photographs depicting blacks, chest-high in polluted water, carrying bags of food accompanied by descriptors like "looting" while similar photos of whites describe them as luckily "finding" food or of valiantly "surviving."

When a 78-year-old poor black woman in New Orleans was finally rescued from her home after wading and waiting in rising flood waters, she was dropped off on the side of the interstate, where her husband of 53 years died, convulsing as cars passed them. Days later his dead body was still there in the sun, covered by a sheet as she sat at his feet.

This is all a replay of Africans in America. It's like an epic of PBS proportions broadcast over five nights during Black History Month, only we don't have to order the DVD at the end because this depiction of the absence of black advocacy and the plight of the powerless gets a nightly news replay.

Look backward a little to find a history lesson.

The closest Thomas Jefferson came to black advocacy was writing about us in theory and with great intellectual posturing. But he didn't have the courage to free and not fuck his own slaves.

Abraham Lincoln freed us but couldn't fully protect us from our former owners or the grandsons and daughters of our former terrorists. Decades after the Emancipation we hung in poplar trees like strange fruit, lynched on principle and photographed for sport like prize-winning fish. Sometimes we get dragged behind pickup trucks.

Bush and the America he (mis)leads downright don't deal with the powerless.

Sitting on a Sunday morning roundtable, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd hit it dead on when she said the Bushes and people like them don't understand people living without the benefit of their daddies' connections. We — the working poor living one payday from catastrophe — do not register.

But the way the federal government has ignored and mainstream media have until now misreported the devastation and despair of the South's poor blacks living in places like the Ninth Ward in New Orleans have their origins in Africa. Remember how the U.S. government botched Liberia, ignored AIDS swelling in raped African girls and all but ignored the slaughter of nearly 1 million Tutsis by Hutu extremists in Rwanda?

I'm beginning to think it's just us, that America's got something against us.

It's hard not to walk around with a chip on our collective shoulder. At least now that section of privileged and unscathed America learned something of black and poor anger, at least America sees how she belches up her forgotten.

Hopefully America has grown deep like the rivers.

contact Kathy y. wilson: kwilson(at)