~black and white wednesday~ i can’t keep quiet

when i read the text of the speech delivered by the president upon the occasion of black history month, i was so taken aback by the dimensionless name drops of token black americans, and in particular, the use of the incorrect verb tense when stating that frederick douglass “has done an amazing job,” that i was inspired to read a bit about the life and legacy of frederick douglass. i learned a lot, and have much more to say about him, but for today i wanted to share that he made conscious use of photography as a form of activism. i decided that for black history month, i will make conscious use of my black and white wednesday posts to say some things i feel compelled to say.

today i’m borrowing some photos from history (all of which i believe are in the public domain).

frederick douglass was the most photographed american of the 19th century. he used the tool of the selfie to demolish the caricature of the “happy slave” and confront racism head on with a fiercely serious look. he had something to say, and he combined his eloquent speaking with his use of photos to bring about social change. i feel like i have found a kindred in frederick douglass, though i am not nearly as eloquent and my photos are rarely of myself.

here is one of the things he had to say. “This struggle may be a moral one, or it may be a physical one, and it may be both moral and physical, but it must be a struggle. Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will. Find out just what any people will quietly submit to and you have found out the exact measure of injustice and wrong which will be imposed upon them, and these will continue till they are resisted with either words or blows, or with both. The limits of tyrants are prescribed by the endurance of those whom they oppress.”

you simply cannot sum up his life by saying that he “has done an amazing job.” this man was separated from his mom at an age so young he could only remember the sense of her lying down to help him fall asleep, and the sense of her being gone when he awoke. he overcame extreme adversity, was beaten and nearly broken by his master before making his escape on the underground railroad. he taught himself, sought out teachers, and taught others how to read, and became an eloquent public speaker.

he didn’t only speak up for the abolition of slavery, he was also vocal about women’s rights, free public education, abolishing capital punishment, suffrage, and several other major societal issues. he was a man of integrity who would “unite with anybody to do right and with nobody to do wrong.”

in light of an administration who acknowledged black history month without mentioning the word “slavery,” and acknowledged holocaust remembrance day without a word spared for the six million jews (not a single mention of one single jew) murdered by nazis, i am feeling compelled to unite with those who care about doing right. i will not quietly submit in order to find out the exact measure of injustice that would be imposed, i have seen how that movie ends on the small scale of my little life, and i’m starting to see a glimmer of how that played out in history, and i can’t keep quiet.

speaking of jews…

“they are committing the greatest indignity human beings can inflict on one another: telling people who have suffered excruciating pain and loss that their pain and loss were illusions.” elie wiesel spoke out against holocaust denial, and he would know, having lived through his imprisonment at the concentration camp at buchenward, bearing the tattoo of a-7713, not one of the six million who was murdered, but instead one of the roughly three million survivors of the holocaust who would have to find a way to move on with life after his release.

within days of release, elie wiesel can be seen in this photograph, on the second row from the bottom, seventh from left next to the post. the atrocities that are represented by this image must not be allowed to repeat themselves. “We cannot indefinitely avoid depressing subject matter, particularly if it is true, and in the subsequent quarter century the world has had to hear a story it would have preferred not to hear – the story of how a cultured people turned to genocide, and how the rest of the world, also composed of cultured people, remained silent in the face of genocide.”

i will not remain silent.

the slow erosion of our humanity, the creep of one new normal into the next new normal, is the way fascism takes hold of an otherwise cultured people, and turns them to committing atrocious acts, up to and including genocide. it is the everyday citizen, charged with upholding a baseless and unconstitutional ban on immigration, who finds himself detaining an elderly woman for over 33 hours and denying her the use of a wheelchair. on the average day, the airport security person does not commit inhumane acts, but last week, he handcuffed a 5 year old child and separated him from his mother for hours. i’m sure he was just following orders.

this interview reminds us of the importance of watchfulness for the signs of fascism in our society, because of this slow, imperceptible creep that can overtake humanity. “At the Holocaust Museum in Washington…there is a placard that says “Early warning signs of fascism,” and it has a list that includes powerful and continuing nationalism, disdain for human rights, identification of enemies as a unifying cause, supremacy of the military, rampant sexism, controlled mass media, obsession with national security, corporate power protected, labor power suppressed, disdain for intellectuals and the arts, obsession with crime and punishment. ” (italics mine.)

the executive order that places a ban on immigration and refugees falls under several of those headings, and the cost is in human lives. lest we diminish the gravity of the consequences of turning away refugees at our border, we must bear in mind that our nation also placed limits on immigration of jews during the holocaust, such as the 937 jewish refugees aboard the s.s. st. louis who were turned away from miami in 1939, 254 of whom ended up dying in concentration and extermination camps upon their return to germany. these were humans fleeing violence, not numbers. Wiesel also said, “We must not see any person as an abstraction. Instead, we must see in every person a universe with its own secrets, with its own treasures, with its own sources of anguish, and with some measure of triumph.”

once again, photos drive the point home:

“My name is Joachim Hirsch. The US turned me away at the border in 1939. I was murdered in Auschwitz.”

joachim hirsch was a universe with its own secrets. so were each of the six million. so were each of the 254 holocaust victims refused entry at our border in 1939 on the s.s. st. louis manifest and subsequently murdered. seeing the faces and hearing the stories of these individuals is powerful and sobering, and if i could assign one piece of reading to everyone, it would be the link in this paragraph.

i can’t keep quiet. another elie wiesel quote has stuck with me this week: “I write to understand as much as to be understood.” i’m starting to think my memory problems are inversely proportional to how much writing i’m doing, that writing helps me empty out and organize my brain, making neurons available for the daily chores. as i was washing my hands in the second bathroom i came to, walking to my office after finishing some lab work, it dawned on me that i had already washed them in the first bathroom i had passed. so it is time for me to get this jumble of thoughts out of my system, more for myself than to try and impress upon anyone else the importance of how we handle this juncture in our history.

and yet there is an urgency. i still do not wish to smuggle in any hate, or appear to attack or put on the defensive anyone who may chance to read this post. still, i find that the more history i read, the more i feel compelled to read. the more urgent my questions become when i learn that the concentration camp buchenward, in which elie wiesel was imprisoned, was liberated on april 11, 1945, by the u.s. third army. this fact collides with the one soundbyte i can recall of my poppy’s army service during world war ii, that he served under general george patton in the u.s. third army. hold up! was he still serving at that time? was he there at buchenward? are those some of the experiences that haunted his dreams? i cannot ask him, and there are fewer and fewer world war ii veterans and holocaust survivors remaining in the world today to ask. elie wiesel passed away in 2016, and my poppy, peter donnelly, passed away in 1993.  this story must not die with the dwindling (estimated 100,000) holocaust survivors who are left of the (also estimated) three million who lived through the holocaust. it is up to us to not keep quiet about our history, and apply it to our present. i will save that for another post.

9 comments to ~black and white wednesday~ i can’t keep quiet

  • Camp boss

    Sending back Jewish Holocaust refugees was wrong shame on the US!! But the temporary immigration ban is hardly the same thing. And really the Obama administration did bang up job of pushing a communist \socialist agenda on the country for the last 8 years. Fredrick Douglas spoke and wrote about his support for the pre-born, the value of human life and dignity of EVERY person.But I’m not defensive

  • can you explain to me how these are “hardly the same thing?” people fleeing violence in their home countries trying to find refuge in ours seems like apples and apples to me.

    your second sentence i will skip over because while you’re entitled to your opinion, i would really like to have dialogue on this stuff based in fact, and i find that asking people to back up such statements (obama=communist) with fact usually ends in crickets.

    frederick douglass certainly spoke on the value of human life, and i’m sure he meant unborn as well, but i have not found anywhere that he specifically addressed the issue of abortion. doesn’t mean he didn’t, but i am simply reading his words that i can find. i have come across random pastors borrowing his words for their own agenda. (see i can attribute agendas to people, too.)

    and yes you are too defensive, but i love you. 🙂

    i think if one values all of life, one should value all of life. including unborn, babies, toddlers, kids, women, men, all races religions abilities genders sexualities immigration statuses yes even death row inmates (they were once fetuses!). specifically on the unborn, we have talked about how we both wish for abortion to become a thing of the past. the way to get there is what we disagree about. making it illegal increases its occurrence and makes it less safe (you know, for those other human beings deserving of life and dignity, women). whereas choice has allowed us to arrive at the lowest abortion rate since roe v wade. along with choice, access to health care, contraception, counseling, education, reduction of violence against women, have all been influential. the more restrictive laws in certain states correspond to higher/increasing abortion rates. abstinence isn’t a viable solution for achieving the zero abortion goal that we agree we want.

    darn it you made me write my next post in the comments section! love you sister.

  • camp boss

    I thought you would have shared some of this when we talked on Monday. I didn’t know that Rov v Wade was going to be overturned?? I do value life that is why I choose not to kill people who have different beliefs then me 🙂 I can value life without agreeing with the way individuals choose to live. I DON’T support the killing of ANY, including LGBT folks, muslim, mormons or morons!
    the immigration ban is temporary, and Obama did the same thing during his administration. Are there boats full of middle eastern people who are actively being hunted down, singled out and murdered simply because they are muslim, waiting offshore to seek asylum? Is there a massive genocide of Muslims they are trying to escape? it doesn’t look quite like apples and apples..maybe I’m clouded by hate for all other religions..nah that’s not it!;) and really I don’t agree with the ban for the long term but a 90 day halt to get things in order isn’t the end of civilization as we know it. Oh and my Church has actually spoken out against it.
    Obama might not be a communist but his government run healthcare mandate, his appointment of self proclaimed communist supporters to government positions,and the push for more government control and spending sure do look like socialism. I would like to see actual fact and proof that Pres. Trump is a fascist, not opinion but facts. Or would that be crickets….
    and it’s ok you can still post about it!! not everyone reads the comments!! 🙂
    It is nice to live in a country where we can agree to disagree and talk about it openly.

  • hm. i feel like i am losing the thread here. i don’t believe i said roe v wade would be overturned, nor that you want to kill anyone. but i do think people facing violence in their homeland (especially if it is because of their religion) are similar to people facing violence in europe decades ago, when it comes to us turning them away. (if you need me to prove to you that people in syria, and other places around the world, are facing violence, i can… it’s true, some violence is not genocide, does it make it more okay for people to die trying to flee their country if what they’re fleeing isn’t on as massive a scale?) i know for sure that i did not say your religion clouds you with hate, or that your church said anything one way or another (your pope, though! i love that guy! that’s definitely a whole nuther post, though. that guy is inspiring.) i’m glad you admit that obama is not communist, but i think the “bad word” socialist is one that is, for many americans, is clouded with hate, not supported by fact. i guess i’m socialist, because i believe in public health and public education, and that we all need to chip in to make it happen, including the wealthy people who can just buy their own health care and schooling. i believe if we supported people who need support as a society, we’d achieve that whole zero abortion goal in no time. i believe it’s what jesus would have us do, if we’re gonna go there, i think he’d be all in on socialism. i think he’d approve of how they do it up in canada, or over in denmark and sweden. i also will point out that i at no time mentioned any name in the administration nor called a single person a fascist. i am strict about the namecalling thing, i don’t want anyone calling me names, and the golden rule dictates i don’t do it to anyone else. i said, it is important to be watchful for signs of fascism, in quoting the holocaust museum list of warning signs, and said that i see such warning signs in what is going on. maybe you don’t see them, but i don’t want to be taken out of context and have it suggested i’m calling anyone names. and if you go back and check, the only mention of our president directly was at the very beginning when i mentioned that he spoke in an uninformed (benefit of doubt?) manner about frederick douglass. when i said the ban on immigration is unconstitutional, i was referring to how our judicial system (checks and balances, those things put in place to help us not descend as a nation into things like fascism) deemed it so. the immigration limits that were set in place by obama were not the same thing, the fact is, his applied to a much narrower slice of the world, not to valid green card holders, only to one country, only for a defined time and that was because of the fact that it was a country involved in an actual terror threat right around that window of time. not perceived threat boogie men, not seven countries across the board including people who have taken the appropriate legal steps to receive green cards and visas, from seven countries, zero of which has been responsible for terrorist attacks on our soil. (also saving for another post: the domestic terrorists who do carry out violence on our soil, aka white supremacy groups, who the administration would like to divert counter-terrorism attention away from.) by the way, i’m not saying i loved when obama did his immigration ban, but i will defend the facts here, that here we really are talking about apples and oranges.

    i’m not sure i would have wanted to spend our brief time on monday discussing politics. especially since we’re still apparently agreeing to disagree, which isn’t what i want. i will keep saying it: i want dialogue. i think there is a lot we agree on. it doesn’t sound like you think so. maybe i’m misinterpreting your tone. maybe we have to agree to disagree on that too, but i think it’s sad if it comes to that. i think we can move forward if we can focus on those common goals, not if we get caught up in perceiving attacks on ourselves by our friends. i feel like i spent a whole comment just now going line by line saying, “that’s not what i said. nope that’s not what i said either.” i do want to be heard and understood. if that all ends us back at agree to disagree, i have very little else to say about it all.

  • i really enjoyed this post. out of all the new posts it’s my favorite (maybe second to the v day post) :). i am looking forward to more of these black and white wednesdays.

  • camp boss

    some of the reply was meant to be playful, of course you know I wouldn’t kill anyone and I know you know that.
    you said making abortion illegal would cause all kind of problems and danger to women and I was replying that I was unaware of any action by our government to actually make it illegal.
    yes there is violence!sadly there will always be violence. but the systematic elimination of the jewish people by the millions was horrific and not quite the same. And I agree that should never happen again, we should all remember that ugliness and suffering that took place.
    When white supremacist start flying planes into key buildings in government and finance, killing aid workers while giving aid in foreign countries, kidnapping and torturing civilians and military personnel, I will agree they are a dangerous a threat. I do see domestic terrorism in the killing of almost 1 million helpless American children in the last year.
    You are right you didn’t actually call him a fascist. im sorry.
    It read more as an implied thought because I know you don’t like him, and since you used terms like administration and executive order when speaking about the warning signs of fascism. I do view socialism as a dangerous theory. We should and can help those in need in our society, giving them support. BUT not because the government says we Have too. that is a slippery slope in scary direction.Socialism is working out very well in South America, especially Venezuela.
    Jesus Christ was about loving people and being generous but he ALSO called people sinners, including condemning homosexual behavior. He also expected his followers to work. If we want to base our government and healthcare after his teachings, I fully support that. I don’t think Jesus would approve of Canada, Denmark,etc. But that is just my opinion.

    I did hear you. I do understand you (for the most part) I think. I was not trying to use words to attack you. Did you really hear me??
    we do have things in common but we also have things we whole heartedly on a fundamental level disagree on, and will never see the same way. Working towards common goals is great but there is and will be overlapping of un common goals and ignoring them is not a helpful solution. I am ok if we disagree. I agree dialogue is good, we can cuss and discuss and still believe differently. And that is ok, it doesn’t make anyone more or less “right”
    I LOVE you, I care about you, and would take a bullet to protect or save you. Nothing will change that, no political party, difference of opinion, or heated debate. I like to think you are the sister I got to choose, but I don’t really believe that. God gave us each other! Not because we always agree, or believe the same things. But because we LOVE. I hope its safe to assume we both agree on that.
    “That’s all I have to say…. about that” —Forrest Gump

  • couple things… i think you mean paul, not jesus, when you talk about condemning homosexuality. pretty positive there aren’t any red words in the book that say anything about it. also, did he call people sinners, or did he call sinners? hm…. theology is fun. i don’t see him as much of a name caller either, but i haven’t researched that, it’s just my sense of what i remember reading in the gospels. i’d like to think he would find a better way than calling people names.

    but i get why you referred to overturning roe v wade so thanks for explaining. i do think the way to tackle our zero abortion goal is not the legal route. not a “make abortion less available” or “outlaw abortion” or “shame/arrest all women who’ve had abortions” approach. i think an approach that dismantles the patriarchy and empowers women is really what we need!!! yup that’s what i think!

    i think empowered women make more informed and proactive choices about their bodies, lives, resources, time, etc. and i believe women in general (this is my experience, having spoken with many who have not had, and some who have had them, never heard any of them say they loved it and want to do it again) would all prefer to not go through the heartbreaking process of having an abortion, so i think we need to hone in on that, and maximize the potential for women to have all their needs met (for health, income, education, freedom from violence, etc.) and i think we’d zero in on zero.

    and actually, i do think roe v wade is in danger of overturn given the status of the supreme court, i hadn’t said it, but now that we’re talking about it, yes i believe that would pose a problem and would increase dangerous choices being made for women and wouldn’t help unborn babies. i am basing this on research and graphs and data, which i can provide if you want.

    i don’t think jesus had conditions on what people did, in order to love them. but the comment about expecting people to work is another “show me facts” in the form of, i don’t accept that because someone works, he or she automatically doesn’t need assistance. explain to me how women are supposed to work when employers discriminate against pregnant women (been there!!!) explain to me how they are supposed to work with an infant and find safe child care, and then afford it, on what they can expect to be paid for entry level work? we are talking about young women who haven’t finished their education. my sense is “they” are not unwilling to work, and in many cases, are working, but there is still a wide gap between what they need and what they have. (ok i read back over this paragraph and i’m talking about the abortion problem still, in case that’s not clear, and why i think that assistance and empowerment are necessary to help reduce abortion in case that’s not clear from what i am saying, and feel that the “expect them to work” assumptions such as “work=needs met” stands in opposition to the zero abortion goal.)

    i hope you never have to take a bullet for me, sis, but i’d do the same for you. and yes i agree with you about providence!

  • Holly.

    Ok. Now I want to chime in, especially on the abortion issue (Amy, you can take on the Paul vs. Jesus quote). I almost totally agree with MB on the women problem and the “need” for abortion, except for the need for abortion. There is much to be done for women, especially poor women. It’s so sad that over 50% of African American babies are aborted. It’s poverty that’s the problem. Economic poverty and stable family poverty. Problems that are not the baby’s fault, because a person is a person no matter how small. I also agree that women should never be punished for their abortions. It’s culturally accepted and seemingly (to me) promoted, so these women are not to blame for doing what is accepted and even expected…and sometimes forced. I hated when Trump was pinned into saying women should be punished for breaking a hypothetical law. I don’t think he’d say that now. In fact, he did retract that a bit (I think). That being said, there is hope that Roe vs. Wade will be overturned and then, like it ought to have been in the first place, states can decide to legalize it or not. I’m sure Oregon will. This is a relief to people like me because then I have a choice to live in state that does not support taking the life of the pre-born. That, however, does not mean I will stop giving to places like Birthright who are there to help those women falling through the cracks. It also wouldn’t take away my desire to help women in crisis pregnancies in whatever way I can. I listen and read a lot of pro-life stuff and please believe me when I say they have the whole picture. It really is a lie to think that “anti-abortion” people only care about the baby. There is so, so much common ground. It all comes down to that bundle of cells, like a seed to a great tree, has potential to be a great human, no matter the circumstances born in to. No baby is a mistake or unwanted.

    Initially I was going to write a quote I just read about praying for a reverence for those who we disagree with in order to truly hear them. Once a person feels heard, that person is more likely to hear (I’m praying for this in my marriage). I got on today and read what you both wrote and it seems you are hearing each other now. I think this dialogue is so important. Our current climate in America is not to hear, but to shout over.

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