After POTUS opened Black History Month with a stunning resurrection of Frederick Douglass—after the Black Panthers came to town, but before Sen. McConnell told Sen. Elizabeth Warren to hush up and not read Coretta Scott King’s 1986 letter about new Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ racism—a friend and I shared lunch at a local coffee shop.
“Do you think he’ll be appointed to the cabinet?” she asked.
“Wha?” I said, half-listening.
“Now that he’s risen from the dead and ready to make even more contributions in this regime. Do you think POTUS means to give him a cabinet post?”
“Wha?” I said again. She shook her head and answered her own question.
“Probably not a cabinet post. He hasn’t had much luck getting his unqualified nominees through the Senate. Right?”
“Wha?” I said.
“You are hopelessly half-here!” she said. “Jesus!”
“Wha? Jesus? He rose from the dead on the third day. Secretary of Resurrection now,” I said.
“Hopeless,” she said and went back to her salad.
Along with many people, I’ve been more distracted lately. That day I struggled to listen to my friend while I wondered what well-thought-out presidential policy would be tweeted while we ate. Would we be blessed with an insight about where to shop? Urged to buy his daughter’s brands? Blessed with a critical review of “not funny” “Saturday Night Live”? Told about the bad hombres in Mexico? Or called losers for criticizing a “winning” military operation? Or reminded the press spews fake news, and the whole media is the opposition party?
Whatever happened to Teddy Roosevelt? “Tweet softly and carry a big stick?” Or the Jeffersonian ideal: “The government that governs best tweets least?” I suppose this POTUS tweeting is a net positive. As long as his finger is on the tweeter, it ain’t on the trigger.
That day my attention also was pulled to the compelling conversation of two young African American men sharing lunch at the next table. They spoke of justice, commitment and art. They are both local filmmakers and activists. These young men are helping make documentaries. One man helped film a documentary with NC’s Forward Together human rights activist Rev. Dr. William Barber. He wondered if they couldn’t make more of a difference someplace other than Wilmington. The other said, “We’re in the right place. The nation should keep its eyes on North Carolina—especially Wilmington. This is where things go down.”
They began to speak of 1971 and the Wilmington 10. He shook his head when he failed to recall the name of the national civil rights figure part of that horrible situation, “He was with Dr. King. It’s a part of history.”
The other said, “It’s not history. It’s now. That’s why we’re doing what we’re doing. It’s still now.”
I’d heard enough. I leaned over and interrupted. They politely allowed me to enter their workspace and add an observation. “When I moved to Wilmington in 1996, there were one or two psychologists of color in the area. I haven’t gone through the entire listing, but a colleague just told me that’s still the case.”
The young men thanked me for paying attention, but they also inspired me to pay attention. They helped me find some understanding of why people my generation and younger may believe we are in a post-racial world, where the only human rights issues left in America are how to keep Muslim terrorists out so we can all be great again. Those of us in our 50s and younger came of age after the Civil Rights, Voting Rights and Fair Housing Acts were signed into law, and pretty much after Roe vs. Wade. Maybe part of the present backlash against immigrants, acknowledgment of race, gender, and class discrimination in education and employment opportunities is because we’ve been taught the playing field is already level under the law, and the struggle for equal opportunity is a part of history.
As the documentarians pointed out, the struggle for justice is not dead history. It’s now. Come to think of it, maybe it’s not such a bad idea to bring Frederick Douglass back from the dead and appoint him Secretary of Resurrection.