“One Nation, Indivisible” features excerpts from The Sun’s archives that speak to the current political moment.
There are two different types of racists. First there are the overt racists: the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists. Then there are the ones we might consider “passive” racists. In a society like ours, where racism is so prevalent, the vast majority of us — maybe all of us — silently collaborate with systemic racism. We don’t consciously believe in racial superiority or inferiority, but we’ve become so used to the existing policies, practices, and procedures that we don’t question them. To the extent that we don’t challenge this system of racism, we are collaborating with it.
I think the second type of racist is actually more dangerous. The first type we can easily recognize, and it doesn’t take much courage to condemn them. The second type is like an invisible gas: you don’t know it’s there until you’ve been lulled unconscious by it.
“By the Color of Their Skin,” Tim Wise, interviewed by David Cook, July 2009
Carl Anthony: The fact that you think that purity is positive troubles me.
The Sun: Well, the word is usually used that way. If something is pure, you think—
Anthony: —that it’s 100 percent pure. Like pure granulated sugar, pure white bread. Meaning unsoiled, unsullied, undamaged, unconnected with dirt. So white people are pure and clean. And black people are dirt. If you want to get into the psychoanalysis of this, I think there is a very rich and interesting set of connections here dealing with anality and excrement. These associations echo in a frightening way in our cities. Some parts of cities are considered attractive, and other parts are waste. It’s a bodily metaphor: you eat one part and you shit the other part. It’s no accident, for example, that the environmental-justice movement is focused on the relationship between toxic waste and race. If you throw people away and you throw material away, it is no coincidence that you throw them away together. When I talk about purity, what I’m really talking about is white people’s obsession with not getting soiled.
“Environmentalism and the Mystique of Whiteness,” Carl Anthony, interviewed by Theodore Roszak, August 1995
The Sun: What are the real issues behind racism? What keeps people apart? What can we do?
Odetta: Maybe I should go back to my perceptions of it. In the South there were signs for “colored” and “white.” However, within the South, there was a great common ground; it was an agrarian culture and everybody had to depend on Mother Nature. A more humanistic viewpoint was possible, at times. Up North, we have factories, and factory owners playing one person against another. Let’s say we have a town of orange people and two families of purple people that live there. No problem. Now maybe the purple people are not invited over to the orange people’s houses, but they’re not being harassed. Then, for some reason, there’s an influx into the orange town of purple people; they’re looking for jobs. They go to the factory, apply, and they’re told the job pays $1.50 an hour. And the purple people are very happy to have a job at $1.50 an hour. The orange people resent the purple people; they want to be paid $3.00 an hour. And rather than turn on the bosses or the union, they turn against the purple people. I think this is one of the basic parts of racism. We have the phrase, “At least I’m free, white, and over twenty-one.” And that comes from people thinking, “I may not have a pot to piss in but at least this society isn’t stomping on me, as it does on the purple people.” People who are insecure need to find somebody to look down on, standing on top of their bodies in order to feel tall.
“The Magic and the Power,” Odetta, interviewed by Howard Jay Rubin, December 1984
I never hated myself for being black, even though I grew up in the rough part of the Bronx and thus came to adore the pristine television version of whiteness. Those weekly sitcoms I made a religion of watching showed parents that adored one another and their children: tears and hugs and I love you’s were dished out at the end of every episode. Suburban living rooms and kitchens and streets were clean — and stayed that way. Refrigerators were packed with food — and stayed that way. One never had to add water to powder in order to make milk. One never had to hear the cries of his mother after she’d been struck in the face or the hissing sound of smoke being sucked through a crack pipe. Knowing that I would never wake up in that reality, I couldn’t help but love what I thought was whiteness.
“Suburban Bitch Cruise,” Akhim Yuseff Cabey, July 2009
My good friends on the Left are afraid that the Republicans are going to steal the next election by computer — that the software is going to allow Karl Rove to change the vote. Well, most people who worry about that are white. Black people know they’ve stolen the vote the old-fashioned way for centuries. First they said blacks couldn’t vote. Now they just don’t register them to vote, and if you’re black and you do manage to register and find your polling place, they don’t count your vote. Yesterday I spent twelve hours using my forensic-economics background in statistics to figure out that 1.6 million black voters have been denied registration and flushed off the voting rolls illegally. The percentage of black people attempting to register is about 77 percent — the same as the percentage of white people. But whereas 75 percent of whites end up on the registries, only about 60 percent of blacks do. What happens to those missing registration forms?
“Forget What They Told You,” Greg Palast, interviewed by Arnie Cooper, May 2007
Being involved in the civil-rights movement for a long time, one of the things that you are aware could possibly happen is jail or imprisonment. You certainly don’t want that to happen, it’s something you don’t look forward to, but when it does happen, you sort of fall back on the realization that it was inevitable. If you are trying to seek social changes, real dents to the structure’s system, the history of this country has been the system resists change and will, in fact, eliminate anyone who is trying to promote change. One of the means of elimination is to put you in a prison so, you know, that’s why I say I did not know the time, day, or hour it would happen, but I understood fully why it did happen.
“We Are People,” Ben Chavis, September 1980
I can remember asking, before I was old enough to know better, why the woman who came to clean my grandmother’s house was called a colored woman, when we were colored too, just a different color. I don’t remember the answer.
I do remember watching American Bandstand on TV one winter afternoon in the 1950s. Some black teenagers were dancing in a group slightly apart from the white kids. My mother stopped in the doorway and said, “Look at those coons dance.” My sister and I, open-mouthed and silent, stared at her.
“I’m sorry,” she said. “I never should have said that.” She turned to leave the room. “You have to realize I was brought up in a different time and place.”
Although I told my friends about her remark often enough, within the family we never spoke about that day again.
“Victory,” Charlotte D. Staelin, April 1993
I was wallowing in angst over my “identity” in that intense, tiresome way people in their early twenties often do. . . . I wanted to know my people came from that village, on that obscure spit of West African land, spoke that Niger-Congo language, wove those patterns into their cloth. I wanted to go there, stand on the soil, learn the language, and weave those patterns myself. But, Alex Haley’s research for his novel Roots notwithstanding, there was no way for me to do this — or, at least, none that I could imagine undertaking as a work-study-funded, ramen-eating undergraduate. I was morose, even angry: at Smith, my archetypically anonymous surname; at the middle passage; at fate.
I lamented as much to my Swahili instructor, Professor Shariff. . . . Avuncular and generous, he responded, “All of Africa is yours.” (He himself was Mswahili, not just a speaker of the language but an actual member of that East African tribe.) And I remember thinking, as I smiled and nodded in agreement, The second-largest continent on earth, with more than 700 million inhabitants and some eight hundred languages, is mine? What the hell does that mean? Would you tell an amnesiac from Iceland that all Europe was hers: Manet, lederhosen, the Volga, the Sistine Chapel ceiling, fish and chips?
“Archipelagoes,” Rochelle Smith, July 2009
I ’ve been writing a book called Reconstructing the Gospel, about distinguishing between the Christianity of the slaveholder and the Christianity of Christ, which is a term abolitionist Frederick Douglass used in the mid-nineteenth century. The Christianity of the slaveholder has been the dominant public voice of Christianity — certainly of white Christianity — in the U.S. But at the same time there is resistance to it. You can hear the resistance in the spirituals that were passed down. You can hear it in the narratives that enslaved people began to tell once they could speak out. Many great preachers emerged during Reconstruction after the Civil War, and some of them found their way into political office. They picked up where the abolitionist movement had left off. Martin Luther King Jr. later brought their message onto the national stage. . . .
What Jesus was doing, as a brown-skinned Palestinian Jew under Roman occupation in first-century Palestine, was organizing a resistance movement.
“Love Thy Neighbor,” Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, interviewed by Amanda Abrams, September 2017