So, I am walking through a small Southern town on my way somewhere, in no particular hurry, but still moving along purposefully as people are wont to do if for no other reason than force of habit. Now, in this town there had recently been completed a mural painting covering a small city block of buildings. The art work depicted scenes of the town’s history, focusing on the contributions of the African-American community. I gave it an admiring glance from a distance as I passed by, but didn’t really break my pace.
As I reached the end of the block I encountered a small old black man sitting on his porch step. He was well dressed in a black suit and tie and was giving me a knowing smile as I approached. “That’s really somethin’, ain’t it?” he asked, gesturing towards the mural. Somewhat startled, I paused and glanced back across the street and replied “it certainly is”. He proceeded to share some of the details about how the mural came to be and I politely nodded as he spoke. After a while, he paused while we both admired the painting. And then I said “this sure is some fine weather we’re having, isn’t it?”
The old man laughed and said “that’s some attention span you got there son. Before you lies the tale of how this town came to be, the drama and suffering, the joy and sorrow, and you stand there and want to talk about the weather?” I half smiled in shame and said, “yeah, you’re right. Sometimes we just don’t appreciate the past even when it’s staring right back at us.” He grinned and said, “okay then, whaddaya say me and you go take a closer look?” Really having nothing better to do and wanting to make some amends for my insensitivity on the subject I agreed to join him.
And you know what, close up it was all the more impressive. I was astonished by the intricate details that are missed with a mere casual glance and was impressed by the artistic talent required to capture the human emotions from a long and tragic past. I told the old man that I had viewed paintings by the Dutch Masters in Amsterdam, but I thought this paint on bricks was every bit as good. He gave me a satisfied smile and then introduced me to several members of his family who were standing about. One of them brought out a big pitcher of sweet iced tea and we all set curbside and I listened while they told stories about the triumphs and sorrows in the history of their extended family.
After awhile the old man said “son, why don’t you take a ride with me out to the old homestead for a look around. It ain’t far and I think you’ll enjoy seeing what you never get the opportunity to see”. Well, why not I decided and we were soon off in his big old 1970s vintage luxury vehicle from Detroit.
The old man was unusually quiet on the drive and I sensed in his demeanor that his mood had changed. We were deep into unfamiliar countryside when he finally spoke to me in a low cold voice “I should just pull over and drop you off right here”. I was startled by the stark hatred in his words but managed to ask him why he would want to do such a thing. He responded “because that’s exactly the kind of thing that’s been happening to my people here for hundreds of years”. I couldn’t believe how this friendly old man had so quickly become so very furious. “But what has that got to do with me?” I asked plaintively.
“Everything” was all he said and he continued to drive deeper into the backwoods. After what seemed like a long silence he said in a calm but menacing way “So, I don’t suppose you feel like you have any responsibility for the past?”. I responded that I was sorry things happened the way they did, but it wasn’t my doing. I told him I had always tried to live a life where I judged people on character, not color. And I had never done anything to harm anyone.
“So, you don’t believe in reparations, huh? Not surprised, none of you do. It’s always someone else’s responsibility with you people. Well, I don’t see it that way”.
He pulled the car off the road and parked behind an old abandoned homestead. Before I could make a move for the door, he had a pistol pressed firmly against my belly. I could feel the cold of the steel barrel through my shirt. I screamed, “what the fuck! Are you going to kill me?”
In an almost sad voice he said matter-of-factly “that’s exactly what I’m going to do”.
A million thoughts raced through my mind at that point, the primary one being that I didn’t want to die this way. I wanted to beg, plead, and try to reason with the crazy old man, but words wouldn’t come. The he took the barrel of the pistol and pointed it directly at my crotch. I yelled “NOOOO!”
And then I woke up.
Pretty fuckin’ weird, huh?