“I Remember, That’s Why I Believe”
by george white jr.
One of my favorite singing groups is Sweet Honey in the Rock. I love their layered acapella sound and their origin story. It’s hard for me to choose a favorite song of theirs so I usually just listen to what appeals to me at a particular moment. Having watched the January 6th assault on the nation’s Capital Building by neo-Confederates, neo-Nazis, and right-wing conspiracy theorists, I was moved to cue up “I Remember, I Believe.” The song is a tribute to generations of Black resilience, courage, and faith. Listening to it now is like hearing the ancestors calling me to work. Please bear with me while I tell you what I remember…and what I believe.
I remember that when I was in first grade in the recently-integrated Chilhowee Elementary School, a White boy in my class turned out to live next door to us. He seemed nice but his father would not let us play together. I remember trips to my Grandparents’ house in Fairfield, Alabama and the dust of red clay that would cover the bottoms of our pants or our socks, if we were wearing shorts. I remember tough love and glorious box fans in the Summer. I remember meeting my Great-grandmother once. I remember being a little scared because she was the daughter of slaves and smelled of death. Because I remember these things, I believe that newly-elected Congressional Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO) is correct and that White Supremacy was/is the great motivating force for Trump, his friends, and his mob.
I remember hearing stories in our house about exasperated conservative politicians telling Human Rights activists that “you can’t legislate morality.” I remember my mother wearing a pink shirt with the letters “E.R.A.” emblazoned on the front. I remember idealistic support for Shirley Chisholm, not because she had a chance to win but because she had to try. I remember that the prep school I attended as a teenager was founded in 1955, probably as a means of evading the ruling of Brown v. Board of Education. I remember some Black elders being loyal Republicans until Reagan. I remember my friends and I having the police called on us because we were talking loudly in a fast-food restaurant. I remember White teenagers and adults cavorting and drunkenly staggering through and around the same restaurant on “football Saturdays,” completely unmolested by law enforcement of any kind. Because I remember these things, I believe that the complicity and collaboration with the Trump mob runs deep; that the delay in response was neither accident or unpreparedness.
I remember as a teen that “Jesus Freaks” wanted to end war, feed the homeless, and care for the sick. I remember countless efforts by millions of White folks and their representatives to avoid sharing public space, public power, and public facilities with people who looked like me. I remember friends being “lightly threatened,” accosted, or attacked for not being White, not being Straight, not speaking only English, not being born in America. All of this before Bush II was selected by the Supreme Court to hide true voter fraud in 2000. Because I remember these things, I believe (upon seeing a Trump mob member shout at a reporter “what else are we supposed to do?”) that White Supremacy thrives on illusion and cannot see reality.
I remember my parents telling me, in so many words and so many ways, that racist whispers can turn into dog whistles, and then into shouts; and that wicked alchemy could happen in the blink of an eye. I remember reading about White mobs or vigilantes killing the Pequot and the Wampanoag in Massachusetts in the 1600s and the Pomo and the Yokuts in California over 200 years later. I remember the photos of lynch mobs celebrating the harvest of their “strange fruit” and reading about their mirror images in the hidden slaughter of Mexican Americans in the early 20th century.
Because I remember these things, I believe Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) when she says that someone removed the panic button in her office just before the Trump mob assaulted the Capital. I believe that the mob who built gallows on the Capital grounds and entered the building with zip ties and weapons meant to quench their thirst with blood.
I remember being told that I was being extreme for complaining about Reagan’s benign racism and homophobia. I remember being told that I was being hysterical when I expressed my concern that a War on Terrorism might never end and one of the domestic costs would be terror meted out to our Muslim sisters and brothers. I remember being told that Trump had learned his lesson after last January’s impeachment. Because I remember these things, I believe my friends who say that “a Second Civil War was already underway” are correct. I believe that we won’t win it unless we charge every member of the Trump mob with felony murder and terrorism, at the least. I believe that I can’t wait to shout about Ella Baker, preach about Rev. James Cone, and sing about Childish Gambino who warned us a few years ago, “This is America.”
george white jr., is the author of Holding the Line: Race, Racism, and American Foreign Policy Toward Africa, 1953-1961. In addition to his Ph.D., Dr. White also has a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He currently serves as the Dean of Arts and Sciences at York College-CUNY.