The morning after the president of the United States spat out his contempt for people from “shithole countries,” photographer Dede Hatch posted this image, taken at Stewart Park on Cayuga Lake. Our weather, our morning, our land. She said, “I think I bury rage and despair in the same place. I need a good cry, but it doesn’t come out.”
Through the miracle of the empty hand her gift released the tears in me. Walls of defiance, outrage, and shock crumbled. I sat with a deep knowing that reached beyond the daily assaults on everything I value. Kindness itself has become a target. Any program, any protection that ensures the welfare of the people, will be dismantled, seemingly for that reason alone. It makes my heart hurt. I do not want to believe it. I do not want to believe what I know to be true.
I know it to be true that my country, my beautiful, extraordinary country, is built on racism. Its structure – political, moral, social, psychological – would not exist, at least as in its present form, without the belief that some peoples’ lives are worth less than other peoples’ lives. That belief, that haunting, has meant our country has done the most horrible things, committed the most horrendous acts, and then excused them, with stories that involved our inherent goodness.
It is not enough to lament that the supporters of the mean little man who occupies the White House will still support him. Of course they will. They have always been there, the dark, clamoring voices, the side of ourselves, our character, our souls as Americans, we wish were not there. But is.
That side has a defiant genealogy that reaches back to the attempted extermination of native people, the enslavement of stolen people, structured exclusion, institutional discrimination, and global entitlement to destroy what other people call home. Lyndon Johnson called Vietnam “a raggedy-ass third rate country.” How much does that differ from what we just heard? Lyndon Johnson had other qualities that seemed like mitigating circumstances – and were – except in the end they weren’t.
So now I hear the collective dark side of my country voiced by a man with no redeeming qualities to distract me. I look at that dark side, look right at it, know it, acknowledge it. I weep. The barren tree, the mist-filled air, my weather, my morning, my land, seen through the eyes of my friend and her camera.
A quiet voice within me says, “Not here. Not now. You will not prevail.”