I woke up sometime in 2018. And all I saw around me, amid the smiling family photos and quirky humor, nestled beneath the well-manicured lawns and the messy normalcy of children’s playthings huddled by front doors, permeating the bliss of little boys and girls being taught and cared for by earnest, hardworking adults, was racial terror.
I saw creamy peanut butter and grape jelly from a squeeze tube spread evenly on two bright, fluffy slices of wheat bread. Beside the sandwich, a tall glass of ice cold 2% reduced fat milk. And eating the sandwich, a ruddy faced teenage boy just home from a lynch mob. His sinewy arms tired from tearing a young dark-skinned boy from his mother’s arms and delivering him to evil.
I saw a little girl in the woods. She had been crying, but now she slept beneath an old tree. Her legs had been badly scraped from running through the thicket. She woke up to the sounds of an approaching party. A group of young men wandering together in pursuit of some game. The girl crouched quietly, peering out at the boys. They spoke a foreign language though she understood it clearly. They said, when we catch her, we will destroy her, then we will silence her for good.
She ran. She ran so hard her lungs hurt. However, the girl was no match for the boys. For the boys were everywhere, looking for some game. And, where ever she went, she was it. So, in time, she was found.
I came upon a town square. People milling and perusing and chatting everywhere. Bright smiley faces. Lots of teeth. The Mayor was hosting a parade that afternoon replete with a marching band and fireworks display. Patriotic bunting draped most buildings. The town buzzed as the drums beat past and the children rushed to grab various candies tossed their way by well-meaning adults who had painted their faces and adorned themselves in ill-fitting suits. After the parade climaxed, the Mayor gave a small speech on a tiny stage just in front of the gazebo adjacent the clock tower at the town’s center. He told his people, we must find them and burn them all. He smiled quietly. His people responded, we will. And they did.
In a modest bedroom in a modest home in the heart of a modest maze of identical houses, I sat with three pock-marked, greasy teenage boys as they took turns playing a game and swigging soda pop. One chubby boy repeatedly shoved his hand into a bowl of neon orange triangular chips and belched loudly. The boys swore mercilessly. At each other. At themselves. At other players they never met through cheap plastic headsets they wore while they played. They swore like swearing itself was the only freedom they had ever stole for themselves, holding fast to a bizarre principle that a person is only free if he does something he should not.
Bored by the ordinary travails of verbal pugilism, the boys proposed a new game. They chose a wordless assault of an adopted brother. That adopted brother, with his stammering English and olive skin, was trouble, as the boys saw it. So, they waited for him in his bedroom one night. When he entered to put himself to sleep, they tackled him to the ground and began to bite him all over. Blood and screams poured out into the night, but no one answered them as to answer this terror was to acknowledge it.
I saw a group of men sitting around a campfire. Their faces pulsating in various guffaws of obscene hysteria. The tall man in the center, with his chiseled jawline dotted with dark stubble, had been spilling words from his pursed lips about how, they just don’t belong, and, they should’ve known. The men laughed harder, wiping tears from their eyes as the black girl spun on the spit above their fire.
A crime is a crime because someone says it is; but, an injustice is only and always terror denied. And because I was there and though I saw it then, I only accept it now, I was part of the machinery of injustice. As I always was. Though, perhaps, no more.
Finally, I came upon the courthouse in the capital city. I entered the austere building bearing the phrase, “Justice, the Guardian of Liberty,” in part. Inside, a white man with bright blue eyes was droning on about how the leader’s power to act cannot, technically, be limited by the leader’s hatred of the migrants that were docked along the country’s shores. “He can, of course, enter a decree of extermination, as is within his broad powers, despite his seemingly troubling statements.” No one talked about how the leader had demanded vials of the migrants’ blood to use in a dressing for his mid-day salad.