Aurora Borealis

A short story to break my writing block. Started this a while ago, and decided to finish it today. Now I’m working on some more substantial writing. I hope to set goals and be more active on my blog again too.

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“Daddy, tell me about the aurora borealis,” Hetty said.

I sighed, settled down on to her bed, tucked the blanket under her chin, and began the story for the hundredth time in my daughter’s short life.

When I wasn’t much more than a boy I trekked up to Alaska to do some fishing. In those days you could hitchhike just about anywhere. I didn’t have a lick of money, but some kind strangers gave me a ride. Nobody worried about murdering and all that. I stayed up there to fish King Salmon. Worked for a guy named Kallik. Name meant lightning, he told me. And boy was he lightning. He’d get so drunk that the guy on his bad side could never see his fist coming.

We lived in a log cabin. Free board, and made a little bit of money. Not much mind you. A bunch of drifter guys just trying to make a living someway somehow. I didn’t have what you have, a family who loved me. I just had myself. I wasn’t more than eighteen. Just a boy really, and a drifter.

One day, Kallik invited me to hike with him. I showed up and he told me I looked just like a typical white guy—unprepared for the situation at hand. He drapped a fur coat over my shoulders and said I would need it. We would climb the mountain, he said, and meet some of his friends and family to watch the aurora borealis. We would camp at the top of the mountain, eat meat off the spicket, some shit like that. I couldn’t even imagine—not like I’d been in Scouts as a kid.

We hiked for what seemed like days. Kallik gave me jerky to sustain me. He had energy like a battery—just kept on going. Not me. I felt out of place that day. As we went up in the mountain, the snow came. I was glad I’d bought a good pair of boots with my first paycheck. I was grateful for Kallik’s fur around my shoulder. We walked for four hours—must’ve been, and then I saw smoke rising on the horizon, as the sun had started to drift down behind the mountain.

“That’s camp,” Kallik said, when we arrived at the top.

People sat around the camp site by the fire, in tents, playing music, talking, cooking food. I felt like I wandered back into time. I felt like I was intruding on some private ritual where I didn’t belong.

“When the lights come out, my people say it’s the spirits coming out to play, Kallik told me as he sat down on a log and held his hands in front of the fire.”

“I sat down next to him. A woman with a long black braid came out of the tent. I couldn’t help staring at her. Her eyes shone with a light I’d never seen before as if she could see the past, present, and future all at once.

“Why’d you bring the white guy?” she immediately asked Kallik, as she took a seat next to me.

“Dan, this is Meri, Meri, Dan,” Kallik said.

We ate and sat in silence for a while. The lights came out to play, and we stared in awe. A silence fell upon camp like the quietness of falling snow enfolding the world.

“It looks supernatural,” I said. “I can see why people flock to see this phenomenon.”

“Just science. Magnetic poles and such,” Meri said, sounding bored but giving me a cockeyed smile and a wink.

Kallik wrapped furs around our shoulders to keep us warm in the bitter cold night, and we sat staring up at the sky unable to look away from the beauty of existence.

“Mary doesn’t sound like an Inuit name,” I said, turning to look at the woman next to me.

Meri wrapped her arms around me and leaned her head on my shoulders causing my heart to beat rapidly and something otherworldly arose in me like the green lights dancing across the sky drawing us together.

“It’s M-e-r-i. Short for Meriwa,” she said, as I wrapped my arms around her and leaned in.

“Yeah, know what it means?” Kallik asked.

I shook my head.

“Thorn,” he said, with a little laugh.

“And your mom has been a thorn in my side ever since,” I said, wrapping my arms around my daughter, brushing her long black hair out of her face, and kissing her goodnight.

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Introspection

I haven’t been writing at all. Truth is, my life is good and work is good and all things seem to be falling in place…except the writing. I always have this guilty feeling about not putting words on paper. I start to write a story, then I give up.

I have a teenage son, and it drives me nuts when he gives up or is not motivated. But, yet, here I am. Failing to write for the umpteenth time in my life. Living the life of the tortured aspiring writer. Can I call myself a writer if I’m not writing?

It’s Christmas time, and we have done everything Christmasy. We have made gingerbread cookies (today), seen Santa, wrapped presents, bought presents, gone to Christmas parties. We’ve given to others (money-wise, present-wise, service-wise, and through my job). Life is good.

Why is it when life is good the words are hard to flow? Today, I felt a little limerence or nostalgia for the past. I went into the garage, and I opened up a cabinet looking for the cookie tins. I thought I’d look in the boxes of my writing, letters from people-from-the-past, all the things from college. But then I thought, when I do that it usually makes me sad. Or maybe sad is not the right word, wistful, maybe? Who knows what word I’m looking for.

I’m a keeper of things, much to my mom and my husband’s chagrin. I have my journals from childhood. They read like this: It’s Wednesday. I played with Meredith. Tonight for dinner we are having grilled chicken, mashed potatoes, and green beans. Oh, and they are all addressed to Jon, because I named my journal after NKOTB Jon. To be 12 again.

Then my high school journals are all about my first boyfriend J and my second boyfriend, also a J. And how I don’t know what to do. And how I’m failing geometry, but too afraid to tell my parents. And about feeling lonely despite being surrounded by people. The life of a teenager.

And in college, there’s this sense of not knowing what to do next. Of being swept up by the moment, and so idealistic, and thinking I can do anything, but HOW? And again, the obsession with a boy, P. I stopped journaling after I met Hubby. Put down the pen and paper and delved into my life. I stopped writing in full for awhile, until my 30s, after kids were born, and I had a mini-breakdown, and things started to get to normal again. Then I realized writing is an outlet. Writing is a source of release of all the stresses, all the anxiety, all the sadness, all the happiness, and all the success rolled from one day into the other and out the ink of the pen (or the keys of the keyboard, as it were).

I look back on my journals and think about how young and naive I was. I think about all the time I wasted being obsessed over people who were no longer interested in me. Such wasted moments when I could have been living in the moment. And why? Who knows. I look at my past, and I know I felt a deep sense to belong. A lot of my life I felt out of place, not in sync with the people around me. Wanting too little or wanting too much. Being in the wrong political group. Being too loud. Or being too silent. Feeling like people around me didn’t have the same big questions I had about life, philosophy, religion. And I know everyone feels this way sometimes. I know as human beings we have this deep need to feel a part of a group, and to be part of something bigger, and I know that’s okay. And finally, at this stage of my life, I’m starting to feel comfortable with me again. Comfortable in my own skin.

And thanks to some friends in a baby group I’ve been part of for 15 years, maybe I now feel like it’s time to start journaling again. Sometimes seeking the deeper inner parts of yourself can be refreshing and not debilitating.

It’s time to pick up the pen again.

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A Pilgrimage to The Legacy Museum and The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Definition of a pilgrimage (according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary)

  1. a journey of a pilgrim especially: one to a shrine or a sacred place
  2. the course of life on earth
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The National Memorial for Peace and Justice

Yesterday, I went on my first official pilgrimage with my interim rector Father Tom Momberg and six other parishioners from The Episcopal Church of the Ascension in Montgomery, Alabama. We went to the Legacy Museum together, and later, on my own, I went to the National Memorial for Peace and Justice.

The morning started in the chapel where Father Momberg handed out a leaflet aptly named In Search of a Church that Heals. Last week, was the celebration of the Feast of St. Luke. The feast day was on October 18th, but feast days are transferable to other days. St. Luke was a physician and a great healer.

Father Momberg did a short service, and delivered the gospel Luke 4:14-21 (from The Message). Here is an excerpt:

“God’s Spirit is on me;

he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor, 

Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and

recovery of sight to the blind,

To set the burdened and battered free,

to announce, ‘This is God’s year to act!'”

What more powerful words to prepare for our journey.

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We caravanned to the museum. The Legacy Museum located on 115 Coosa Street, about 6 minutes away from our church. We did not walk as pilgrims usually do. Coosa Street is in the heart of old downtown Montgomery. The Legacy Museum exist in the location of a warehouse that once housed slaves before they were to be sold at what is now Court Square).

There are no photographs allowed in the Legacy Museum, which is why all my photographs are from the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. When you enter the museum, you immediately go to the left. There you learn about the slave trade and how Montgomery became the hub going from 40,000 slaves to over 450,000 slaves in only a matter of years.

You listen to the stories of the slaves, read their narratives on the wall, and you learn that the stories you learned in 6th grade or 7th grade about benevolent, kind, compassionate plantation owners were false narrative, a way to help guilty white people come to terms to their past, perhaps, or to keep perpetuating racism. After you read these stories, you go down a long black hallway and turn to your right. There are holograms in cages. They, too, tell you their story. Children separated from their parents, people beaten, anguish, pain.

As you enter the main room, you read a timeline with pictures. The timeline shows you how the United States went from slavery, to Jim Crow, to Mass Incarceration of black people while continuing to perpetuate the myth that black (wo)men were intelligently inferior to white people and that black people are dangerous.

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There is a block with Supreme Court cases showing the cases in which racist policies were either struck down or held up by our Supreme Court from the 1800s until 2013.

Did you know that integration has yet to have been ratified in Alabama?

There is a section on mass incarceration where you hear Anthony Ray Hinton, a man who was falsely accused of murder and put on death row for 30 years, tell his story. You listen to him over the phone as if you are visiting him in jail. Thirty years taken away from this man, because of our flawed justice system. Let that sink in.

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Drowning with their hands up. (Police Brutality)

Yesterday, as I walked through this museum on my pilgrimage, surrounded by other pilgrims and tourists, I felt so alone. I read and absorbed with new eyes. I had been to the museum in the summer with my sister, but this experience was different. I thought about the Gospel according to Luke and the phrase, “set your burdened and battered free.” I thought about how my family was complicit in these acts. I felt guilt from my ancestors and pain and anguish, and like I’m not doing enough to help change the way things are and the way things SHOULD be.

By the time I made it over to the jars I felt raw and weary. The jars contain soil from the sites of lynching victims. They are labeled with their names or read Unknown. I stood reading, on a scrolling screen, about the people who had been lynched for “sins” such as talking to a white woman or looking at a white person the wrong way. There’s the story of Mary Turner, eight months pregnant, who was lynched for protesting her husband, Hayes Turner’s, lynching. She was eight months pregnant, and her unborn child was also brutally murdered. Then the lynchers went on a killing rampage murdering 11 people in a brutal mob. As I watched the names scroll, two African American women stood at another screen, pushing a button that says WARNING: Graphic Content, this screen will blur in 10 seconds. The screen shows pictures of the lynchings, people being burned alive, hung from trees, mutilated as they died, with hundreds or thousands of white onlookers. Postcards of the lynchings printed and sold afterwards. And you wonder how someone could be so cruel?

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Names of lynching victims

I completely broke down. I walked to the bathroom sobbing, crying for our past, and trying to reconcile how to fix it or how to move forward. On the way a woman stopped me, touched my shoulder, and said, “It’s going to be alright. Things will get better.” Hope. 

After I broke down, I went back into the museum and watched the movies about incarceration, about the need for prison reform, about the slave trade, and about the lynchings. I thought about the questions on the back of the leaflet Father Tom Momberg gave us and the one that read:

Have you received a message of Good News?

I felt confused by this question, but then realized that The Legacy Museum is bringing us together. It’s a step in the right direction. With awareness, change can occur. As the stranger in the bathroom said to me, “things will get better,” but I’d like to add the words: if we make them better. If we fight for change, we can begin the long arduous process of healing the wounds, of claiming our racist past and making amends for it. We can tell people we are sorry for what our ancestors did to them, and we can start making the necessary changes in the prisons, in the schools, in the churches, and in society to help our brothers and sisters. We are all brothers and sisters, and we should treat each other as such.

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Looking Forward

I didn’t expect to have such a visceral reaction yesterday, but sometimes I think when we are experiencing a moment like that we need to embrace the feeling. At that moment, I felt so overwhelmed by the past, but afterwards I felt relief and a sense of peace.

When I arrived at the National Memorial for Peace and Justice after lunch and communion, I felt calm spread over me. I touched the names etched into the columns. I spoke to a man who had traveled from Georgia, and I told him I was sorry for what my ancestors had done, and he said, “We all have a place here.” Wisdom. Forgiveness. Grace.

The second meaning of pilgrimage is “the course of life on earth.” What will you do with yours?

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In the words of Toni Morrison, “Love your heart,” and use that heart to make change. 

 

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Dog Parks, Writing, and Kavanaugh

I met a dog named Dog today. I took Son Number Two to the dog park. Dog was a sweet old dog. His owner said she’d gotten to the age where she just names her dogs “Dog” and her cats “Cat.” I liked it. It reminded me of Because of Winn Dixie for some reason.

Son Number Two always gets hurt when we go to Shakespeare. Shakespeare is a park that has a Fine Arts Museum and the Alabama Shakespeare Festival, a outdoor amphitheater, a dog park, and lots of green space.

But for Son Number Two the following things have happened at Shakespeare:

  • Fell and broke his wrist
  • Fell and his head hit a hard stone, causing a small bullet-sized wound on his head. The wound went all the way to his skull
  • And today–got bitten by a dog at the dog park. I didn’t lose my shit. My dog, Jazz, has nipped a kid before. She can be a bad dog. This dog had just bit another kid though, and then went after Son Number Two. And he did the grab and started to try to shake. I don’t know what set him off. Son Number Two and I were on the way out of the park.

He is okay. He is currently at movies with his dad and brother. They’re seeing something I don’t want to see so I’m having alone time.

My writing is non-existent. My sister wants me to write about my alopecia for The Moth. I also need to be writing and submitting, but I’ve been so busy. Plus, I have thank you letters for work to write, and PTA minutes to write. So much to do.

I wanted to comment on the Kavanaugh proceedings when they were going on, but didn’t have the heart to, especially with the way things went. I am worried for women. I am worried for America. I am watching The Handmaid’s Tale and it suddenly doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibilities that women’s rights could be erased. I believe women when they say they’ve been assaulted. False accusations are rare. But in the U.S. we still have this blame the victim mentality. And then Kavanaugh played the victim. I don’t want to get political, BUT I don’t think respecting women and listening to them is a political issues. I think we need to learn how to teach our young boys to be gentlemen and that sexual assault is bad. We need to change the narrative.

Signing out–hope to write more. I plan on posting some stories soon, you know, once I start writing them again.

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Comfortably Numb

Yesterday, I had an opportunity to meet with our interim rector. We had coffee at Prevail Union in downtown Montgomery. If you live in Montgomery, go there now. Best coffee house around!

I met with him to discuss Valiant Cross Academy, church, and also to plan. He shared with me some of his life. I shared my life with him. I told him how I moved from banking (where I comfortably sat for 15 years) to a development job at a non-profit school that serves young men, providing the necessary skills for them to become leaders through love and structure.

We talked about callings. We talked about being called away from one vocation and called to another vocation. Tom’s words spoke to me, because this happened recently in my life, and I think MOST people thought I was crazy or having a mid-life crisis. I know when I wake up and go to work every day I feel fulfilled and like I’m making a difference. I didn’t feel that way in the banking world (despite all the people I met, developed relationships with, and continue to love).

We also talked about social justice and racism.

Tom shared with me an article he wrote after he visited the Legacy Museum and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice. If you haven’t been there, then go. It’s more important than coffee. In Tom’s article, he referenced the song Comfortably Numb by Pink Floyd. I hadn’t listened to that song in years. Here it is for those of you who haven’t heard it.

Reflecting on Tom’s words, I thought about how I had walked through life for years comfortably numb. I lived in my middle class world, surrounded by more middle class people, and I closed my eyes to the social injustices going on. About a year ago, I started reading about social injustice, about the education to prison pipeline, and about systemic racism which continues to plague the United States. And I believe reading about these issues was the catalyst for my job change.

We all need to ask ourselves what we can do to make the world a better place for ourselves and our children. And we need to stop being comfortably numb.

What’s your catalyst? How are you going to change the world?

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I Held Your Heart Once

Here’s a short story (748 words) I wrote for Chuck Wendig’s weekly Flash Fiction Challenge. Let me know what you think about it in the comments below:

I Held Your Heart Once

“I told you this was a bad idea!” he shouted.

Yeah, as if the entire idea had been mine. We sat in the house on the gray floor, my fingers almost completely numb. I wanted to shove a knife under his ribs. I plastered a faux smile on my face.

“You start the fire then.”

“Fine,” he said, grabbing the stick and the stone from me.

I studied El’s face as the light in the windows began to recede and the bitter wind howled. His cheeks were gaunt. When we’d left they’d been full of meat. Now, we both looked like shadow people; skinnier than we ever should have been. The lines of dirt on his cheekbones would have made him look like a football player if he were bigger. But now they accentuated the emaciated look of his face.

I tried to blow the blue out of my fingers.

El shouted at the stick as if it had ears.

I went to the door.

“What the fuck are you going to do, Mare?”

“Going somewhere else. I mean we’ll freeze to death in here.”

“It’s safe and it’s warm.”

“It’s not warm.”

“It’s warmer than out there.”

I looked out the window. The ferocious snow fell barricading us into this desolate place. We were stuck, and it was my bad idea that had brought us up here. I thought there’d be food, maybe canned goods. But when we opened the door a vacuous wasteland of dust greeted us. The back window had a crack letting in a constant stream of cold air and snow. No wood, except for wet, snow-bound logs sitting on the crumbling front porch. I could feel El’s hostility aimed at me like an arrow.

“I mean who the fuck goes up the mountain. We should have been going down.”

My heart felt like a worn stone in my chest. I stood by the door, not opening it, with my back to him. He struck the rock against the stick. Heat remained aloof. There was friction in the air but not enough to start a fire.

“My hands are numb,” I said. I turned toward him.

He put the rock and stick down and looked at me. I could see his old face hidden in his new one. The old face I’d fallen in love with. His eyes which had looked cold softened and his face crinkled into a smile. His smile warmed me up, and I felt the once familiar spark. The one that had been missing for awhile now, the one that reminded me that I’d held his heart once.

“Come here.”

I stood still.

He stood up and walked toward me, measured steps through the dust of the room. He pulled my shirt off before I could say no. His hands on my breast warmed me up. Body heat, the natural generator. He took off his shirt and grabbed my hands. He warmed them with his, rubbing them together like the stick and the stone. He placed my hands on his chest.

He slid down my pants then pulled down his. I shivered, and he wrapped his arms around me. We were like two unlit pieces of coal trying to catch an elusive spark. I felt him enter me and shivered again. We had not made love in ages.

“I don’t have a condom.”

“It’s okay.” It wasn’t.

Our bodies moved together filling the cabin with warmth. I imagined soft lights. I imagined a rope bed with a soft mattress, blankets covering us. I imagined the smell of chicken cooking in the oven. I imagined our children.

When I blinked, I felt his hip bone against my inner thigh. I’d never felt his hip bone before. The barrenness of the cabin stole my fantasy. He moaned and I squeezed my arms around him trying to find the heat in what should have been passion. I didn’t want the fantasy of what we once had to end. But he pushed hard, climaxed, and rolled off of me. The frigid air pierced my sweat-smothered skin. El sat with his back to me and took up the stone and stick again.

I had been wrong to come here. He’d held my heart once but it has since shattered like an icicle.

A sudden spark rose from the stick. El lit the wood then turned to look at me with fire in his eyes.

The smoke was blue and grey and smelled like a promise.

Snow Mountain

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Rejection

 

I received my rejection from the Master’s Review yesterday. SIGH. 

Curses, rejected again!

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Here it is in all its glory:

Dear Lauren, 

Thank you for sending us “I Held Your Heart Once” for consideration in our Flash Fiction Contest. We really enjoyed reading your writing, and are flattered you chose to submit to us. This is one of our most popular contests, and we thank you for your patience while we read through all of the submissions. 

I am sorry to say that your submission was not selected for publication. It is clear that you are a very talented writer, and your piece stood out from the pack. Unfortunately, we had to decline some excellent stories, but we are grateful for the chance to read such high quality work. 

We wish you the best of luck with your writing and look forward to bringing you more wonderful stories. Part of our aim is to support great work from new writers and we consider every story we read an effort toward that goal. We couldn’t do this without you. We hope to read more of your fiction in the future. 

Thank you again, 
The Masters Review Team


In case you’re interested in reading my rejected piece, I’ve republished to this blog: https://laurengreenewrites.com/2018/09/06/i-held-your-heart-once/

What a nice rejection. I mean, honestly. I’m a very talented writer. I know this. I just can’t seem to get actually published. The thing about writing is that there’s constant rejection. A rejection letter can send you for a loop. I knew that story was good. It just wasn’t what the Master’s Review was looking for. That’s their loss.

So how do you deal with the rejection of not getting published? Maybe you take a drink. Or go for a run. Then you start writing again. Or you send out that piece that maybe didn’t work for the Master’s Review to someone else and wait for the next rejection letter to roll in…or if you’re really lucky, an acceptance.

I like to think about how J.K. Rowling was rejected a billion times before she became a published writer. I also like to think about how much I enjoy writing and sharing it with others. And about how sometimes my writing is just for me. That I need to write to be fulfilled, and if I’m never officially published then I’m never officially published.

Roll with it, baby.

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Hello Again

It’s been awhile. I have had a lot going on in my life. All good things, really.

Here’s an itemized list of my month of August

  • Kids started school. On August 6th. I mean, why? Super early. But, honestly, the routine has been good for them.
  • Hubby went out of town and came back on August 6th. Then he went out of town on August 15th for a week. This meant I had to go it all alone (with some help from my awesome mom and my awesome niece).
  • I started a new job on August 15th. Did you notice how that coincided with Hubby going out of town? Yeah, perfect timing! HA
  • My sister came into town to visit. I spent almost every night hanging out with her, except when she went to see Phish with my husband.
  • My sister and I drove up to see my other sister one weekend.
  • We went to the beach.
  • There were about 12,000 back-to-school nights, PTA meetings, and one conference.

I love my new job. I’m no longer in banking. I’m in education. And I’m working for a non-profit, which is seriously awesome and I feel more fulfilled in my life. That’s super important for me, I think. It took me a long time to make a leap out of the safety of my banking job, but I think I did it at the right time. I ultimately feel happier and more satisfied.

I promise to start writing a weekly blog. I will be continuing my race series, and adding some short stories. Maybe one of these days I’ll have time to work on my novel again.

But for now, I just wanted to say hi and that I’m around even though I’ve been quiet. August is just an insanely busy month.

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The Nixon Years Are Still Haunting U.S.

In June of 1971, Richard Nixon started a war on drugs. In July 1973, the DEA was formed.  Also, 1973, the New York governor instituted mandatory minimum sentences for being caught with small amounts of marijuana and cocaine of fifteen years to life, and almost immediately other states adopted the same policy.

The state and the federal prison population grew from 218,466 in 1974 to 1,508,636 in 2014 according to the Sentencing Project.  This is a 600% increase, and the US population has only grown 51% during that time. Out of that number, in 2013 about 58% was black even though black people only make up 30 percent of the total U.S. population.

The U.S. has the unfortunate distinction of having the highest number of its own citizens incarcerated, and having the most minorities imprisoned.

So why and how did this happen?

In the 1960s, the Civil Rights Movement occurred. Integration came. Black people started to have a more equitable existence in the United States. Conservatives were not happy about this. They needed a policy that would target black people so they could put them back in their place.

Nixon started the War on Drugs at a time when crime was unprecedentedly low. There is a conspiracy that the CIA even began planting drugs in Harlem, to then start cracking down on drug use in the black neighborhoods and imprison them.

War on Drugs–sounds great to the American people. Let’s teach our kids drugs are bad, and let’s sell to the public that drug users are perpetrators of violent crimes, and then let’s lock them all up. However, Nixon’s campaign wanted to target specific people: anti-war protestors and blacks. In a 1994 interview, John Ehrlichman, who served as Nixon’s chief domestic advisor, said the administration launched the war on drugs to go after the “antiwar left and black people.”

It’s been forty-seven years since the War on Drugs began. Perhaps, the War on Drugs real name should be The War on Black People. Nixon’s policy designed to make America more safe, helped set in to motion The New Jim Crow. Nixon’s anti-drug policy began a new way to incorporate a new system of racism in our country that most people have not been consciously aware.

With this system came the idea, again, of the Black man as a savage. According to statistics, more white men sell drugs, but more black men go to prison for selling drugs or being caught with drugs. The mass incarceration has caused huge issues in the achievement gap for black children. Black children are often looked at as “problems” before being given a chance in school, since the idea of the black criminal as been perpetuated in our culture. With so many black men being incarcerated, single mothers are having to raise boys (and girls) without fathers. This also means their ability to earn income is often reduced.

With such an increase in the number of people in prison, overcrowding has become a huge issue, and what’s the resolution? Conservatives say it’s to build private prisons. But I think we all know that’s just a way to continue the status quo of incarceration as we know it today as a way to perpetuate systemic racism.

Will change to this system take another fifty years to come down the line? We need to support policies that make the mass incarceration of black people a thing of the past. Every single person can make a difference in changing this New Jim Crow mentality if they vote, vow to make changes, and do the hard work to change the future for the better for all African Americans.

See my other posts on race in the United States:

No One Wants to Be On The Bottom

Stereotypes and Preconceived Notions About Race

Family Values and Principles

You’ve Got Class

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No One Wants To Be On The Bottom

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I am reading The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration In the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. As a white person, in the South, I feel it’s my duty to understand race relations and become an agent and ally for change. I’ve read: Waking Up White, Just Mercy, and The Hate U Give this year, in an effort to understand where and how I perpetuate racism as a system of control over African Americans. No one wants to think of themselves as racist. No one. But, in a system contrived to keep an entire race down, we are all complicit in perpetuating the cycle of racism that exist in the U.S. today.

In the New Jim Crow, Alexander explains the system of mass incarceration and how it became a system directly following slavery. I’m still within the first 50 pages of the book, and already I’ve learned that the systemic racism established in the South was methodical. Directly following the Civil War and the freedom of the slaves, during the Reconstruction period, a lot of strides were made in granting freedom and liberty to African Americans. In 1866, the Civil Rights Act gave African Americans full citizenship. The 14th Amendment prohibited states from denying citizens due process. The 15th Amendment state the right to vote could not be denied based on race. And the Ku Klux Klan Acts declared interfering with voting a federal offense and violent infringement of civil rights a crime (Alexander, page 29).

After this happened, there was a great increase in the number of African Americans who voted and who sought legislative offices. And this scared the white elite of the South, because they felt like they were losing their power, their livelihood.

So there was a backlash. And the Southerners found ways to keep African Americans in their place, an earlier precursor to the Jim Crow Laws. When incarcerated, African Americans were sent to farms and literally worked to death. Incarceration of African Americans soared (just like it is today), as a way to control African Americans. Eventually, work farms like Parchman Farm in Mississippi sprang up.

Around the turn of the century, a “Populist” group of poor whites joined together with poor African Americans to fight against the power of the White Elite. The Populist group, at first, strove for equality with African Americans touting liberalism as paternalism, which the African American population did not like. The Conservatives played off of this and even convinced some African American voters that the political and economic equality touted by the liberals could cause the blacks to lose everything they had gained since the end of slavery.

For a brief period of time, the Populists made strides in integration, and then Conservative lawmakers introduced segregation and the Jim Crow laws in order to drive a wedge between poor whites and African Americans. Populist leaders realigned themselves with conservatives, and the Jim Crow laws were put into effect (Alexander, 34). Conservatives had found a way to prove African Americans were different and played on the psychology of poor whites that somehow poor African Americans were holding them down. No one wants to be on the bottom.

All of this or most of this was economically driven. After the Civil War, white elites were put into a precarious position, because they no longer had free labor. When African Americans were given more rights, white elites saw this as an attack on their power, and they suppressed that power. Jim Crow ended mostly because of public (global) perception during World War II, and due to the Civil Rights Movement. But as it ended, new systems were being put into place to check the power (economic, intellectual, and otherwise) of African Americans.

I am only at the beginning of this book, and I can already see how the system collaborated to make it hard for African Americans to flourish. The U.S. perpetuated the idea that African Americans were somehow different from us (after all, at one point the U.S. Constitution considered them 3/5ths of a person). After the Civil War, the idea of the black savage was painted with a heavy coat. African Americans were disproportionately incarcerated and given long sentences. Some children were even incarcerated for minor infractions. If one thinks the black savage is an idea of yesterday, they need to think again.

In the U.S., today, there is a we vs. them mentality. African American males are locked up more than any other population. The U.S. is the only country in the world that has such a high majority of minorities incarcerated. African Americans are still denied counsel. African Americans receive disproportionately long prison sentences. African Americans are more often executed for the crimes they commit.  It’s time to change that.

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