It is two months before
my fifty-fourth birthday. Twenty-five years have passed since I
graduated from Harvard Law School. I have conferred with
presidents and more than once altered the course of American
"A boy jus
went in theah lookin fuh ya," one of the young men
says to the proprietor.
The "boy" to
whom the semiliterate corn farmer is referring is I. And I have
traveled a long way to nowhere.
My rage is complicated
by the balm of comparative material success. I tell myself that I
cannot be wounded by a red-faced hayseed. But I am. The child
lives on in the man until death.
My father died in 1974
at the age of sixty-eight, of what the family now believes to
have been Alzheimer's disease. Toward the end, and not lucid, he
slapped a nurse, telling her not to "put her white hands on
him." His illness had afforded him a final brief honesty. I
was perversely pleased when told the story.
From slavery, we have
sublimated our feelings about white people. We have fought for
our rights while hiding our feelings toward whites who
tenaciously denied us those fights. We have even, I suspect,
hidden those feelings from ourselves. It is how we have
have even been inculcated with the upper-stratum white distaste
for excessive emotionalism. Black folk of my time talk about
white people and their predilections at least once daily but
never talk about or with anger. It seems unnatural. Where have we
stored the pain and at what price?
The anger caroms
around in our psyches like jagged stones. Hidden deep anger. We
don't acknowledge it. We don't direct or aim it. But it is
Spin the cannon. When
it points threateningly outward, even white liberals dismiss us
to a perimeter of irrelevance or worse. When it points inward,
white conservatives find in our self-hate praiseworthiness.
Best we just stow the
cannon, hide the anger, and do the best we can. Without
contemplation, this is the deal most of us are constrained to
accept. A Nat Turner doesn't make it in America, but a Clarence
Thomas frequently does.