From 1965 Selma to Right Now

Readers might assume this a movie review. It is not. Readers might want to get on with it, forget about our recent past, stop drumming up old shit. I cannot.

Readers might assume this a movie review.

It is not.

Readers might want to get on with it, forget about our recent past, stop drumming up old shit.

I cannot.

For to be black in America at this particular point in time means reliving brutalities that have come back to stomp us like they did at the height of the Civil Rights Movement. The stomps are raining and reigning down on us again with such regularity and ease it is as though no laws were ever changed or rewritten.

Black Americanness means living concurrently with the past and daytime nightmares that the past will never really be the past.

For real.

No movie review this; rather, it’s how movies stare back through the darkness at our collective ugliness, reflecting, in the case of Ava Duvernay’s masterfully aching Selma, a time in history so close it is Now happening Then and then again Now.

Selma, the movie and the place in history, represents unresolved and seemingly unattainable justice haunting every modern news story of unrestrained police violence against blacks occurring in this nation since 1965 up through just yesterday.

Before I walk into movie theaters to see movies like Selma — I’ve felt this particular kind of racial anxiety before seeing Fruitvale and 12 Years a Slave, when the atoms in my body literally shift and I am left limping somewhere between anxious, sad and hyper-mesmerized (and, indeed the physiological change is occurring now even as I type this, trying to decipher this feeling) — I am secretly telling myself there is something to be learned here and, my favorite, all white people aren’t inherently evil.

True and true.

Then, I play a little Kathy Game: I make stupid jokes with strangers; a ploy to buttress my own soft feelings against the atrocities I’m about to see.

I’m trying not to be alone. I’m trying to relate to someone else in the world who, too, might be overly sensitive and who might also recoil during historical movies of racial atrocities like they’re the horror flicks they are.

My long-running Kathy Game, when shit in America gets so blue/black deep that all I want to do is hide under the covers, is to say that some racial offense, some white cop’s excessive force against somebody’s unarmed black son ending as it always does in riots and acquittals, is “just like 1958 Selma.”

That is, barbaric, terroristic, deadly and downright unfair.

So, Sunday afternoon while the young black ticket seller at Cinemark processed our tickets, I told him to watch out for me after the movie.

“I’m gonna be indiscriminately kicking white people in the shins when this movie is over,” I told him, smiling widely. “I’m gonna be so angry.”

Unaccustomed as he must be to actually having conversations with customers while waiting for the machine, all he could muster was a feeble grin and a blank stare.

So I went in again.

“Kickin’ white people in the shins,” I said.

Sounded like Chris Rock.

“I heard it was a good movie,” he said, handing me tickets and a receipt.

Maybe it was me, but I could swear I heard pity in his voice.

The long and violent road to American civil rights reform was blood-blotted with lynchings, church bombings, intra-racial bickering, misogyny, homophobia and, finally, saved by whites’ participation, empathy and social and religious consciousness.

This all sounds eerily familiar.

After years of national distractions over the sexually elicit and self-loving years reigned by Clinton that passed for prosperity buttressed by two divisive Bushes, the sun/son rising over Barack Obama’s Hope-filled horizon felt like the son rising over Allied troops liberating us from the axes of evil.

And no wonder.

And we never could have done it — overwhelmingly elect a black-identified man to the White House in this, the same nation breast-fed on the white-hot rage of Selma — without white folks en masse.

All this theoretical progress has gotten us what?

The whitest, most densely male, Christian and conservative Congress perhaps in modern history.

And if “the system” doesn’t more accurately represent a more disparate populous, then will the rights of the unrepresented be enforced and respected?

Or, is it simply see no Negro, represent no Negro?

This was Martin Luther King’s point during one of his many sessions spent haranguing President Johnson.

King deconstructed the DNA of disallowing blacks the vote.

Without voting rights, King told Johnson, blacks didn’t have a legal say in their destinies, thereby contorting justice.

And what is the present-day status of black justice?

Let’s cut live now to our correspondents standing by in Ferguson, Missouri, New York City, Philadelphia, Cleveland and any city that pops up after a Google search of “black boy shot.”

Are police departments and other institutions of governance guilty of mistreatment of blacks because blacks aren’t voting? If that’s so, are we non-voting blacks fraudulent because we stand apathetically on the backs and shoulders of dead black martyrs who took ass whuppings so we could vote?

Do we riot in response to all the Selma-like setbacks because we’re reactionary, or because it’s our bloodline? We are all of us, after all, directly related to the rank-and-file black activists who took to the streets 50 years before us.

That tired old rap about people who don’t know history are bound — or is it doomed? — to repeat it is true in the end.

I wonder if Dr. King knew this.

Hell no.

I don’t think he would’ve lusted for the infamy of dead martyr status so much if he suspected we’d blow it like we are.

Now that my pre-Selma blues have lifted, I can get on to other, more pressing matters. Like, will the ravenous, Obama-hating conservative Congress take my health insurance away, or will one of my nephews get pulled over by a jumpy, ill-trained white cop and will they both walk away? And will this black Ground Hog’s Day ever end?


CONTACT KATHY Y. WILSON: [email protected]


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