It has crossed my mind observing the 2008 Presidential Campaign between Democrat Barak Obama and Republican John McCain, and McCain and Palin's racialized attacks in the last month that we could be in for a big bachi.
When I was a young and would trip or stub a toe causing me to yelp with pain, my Obachan would not spoil me, but would say "bachi ga atatta." It wasn't mean. She didn't gloat. It was just part of life. She explained to me once that bachi kind of meant that negative begets negative -- although "bachi" was something which was more accidental and universal than a direct consequence or punishment.
Sometimes, evesdropping, I'd hear her say "Ii-bachi" about something -- and that was like "Good one!"; probably she wouldn't approve of my sharing with anyone this most normal of human responses she would allow herself to enjoy from time to time. So I apologize to Obachan.
This country was built on two evil policies. One was the colonization of 1000 sovereign nations of this continent, the land stolen through wars, treachery and violence, all illegal according to any international human rights code, and the second was slavery specifically of African people. The American form of slavery is quite unique in the history of the world. It was based on color -- not on enmity. Slavery was a life sentence and beyond; in other words, babies were born into slavery. Who enslaves babies? Slavery, generally, was through war or enmity and enslaved people could even marry into the enemy's family or would eventually become free. But American slavery was quite different. In this country, enslavement was purely for economic reasons. It was not about enmity; it was all about cold cash.
American slavery was distinct in that it treated people like chattel, work animals. The human beings were auctioned, brutally beaten, branded, "bred," separated from their families, forbidden to anything that human beings do -- learn, pray, speak their own tongue, marry, have families. The babies were kept naked, fed from a trough. In spite of being born in all this evil from generation to generation, African people had the incredible strength to keep their humanity, create tradition and keep family structure of some kind. In spite of generations and generations born into slavery, African people and their descendents have always been the first ones to stand up for freedom. That is awe inspiring to me. That's why I told my students, I would never refer to people with such a strong commitment to the ideal of freedom as "slaves." I don't know what I would have done, as a "sansei" enslaved for three generations. Would I have believed the slaver that I was just chattel? Would I be broken? Would I have even understood what freedom meant without tasting its sweetness?
This deeply evil form of slavery cannot be ended simply with the stroke of a President's pen. Its legacy twists all hunan beings. It twists up the slaver too, the quivering fearful so called "masters" in the big house who have to surround themselves with thugs armed with chains, dogs, whips, guns to keep people down. It twists up the bankers the slave ship builders, the captain and crew, the banker and lender, the slave auction, the lawyers and legislatures, judges , the ministers and teachers, every person who kept this evil system in place. The whole US economic systen was built on the cash brought in by slavery and aggression against sovereign indigenous nations. I asked my students -- so who is the slave? The person in chains whose hearts are set on freedom? or those who fetter themselves to a rotten system despite what huge compromises it requires of the country's ideals.
I remember we had a simulation in my class once, my attempt to make studying the Constitution less deadly for eighth graders. I still remember Sari Gomez, delegate from Rhode Island, and her passionate speech against slavery. The other delegates gave her a standing ovation and rewarded her by voting slavery down unanimously. They agreed slavery had absolutely no place in the new union based on democratic rule by the people. I was the only one surprised by the vote. My instructions had been to use the text as a guide to their speeches and their participation. Their resounding no to slavery moved my heart so much that I had to stand up and walk to the front of the room as their teacher, interrupting their simulation. I told them that because of their historical vote, the US will avoid the bloodiest of wars, the Civil War, there would be no segregation, and there would be no racist divide in the nation. I told them I was very proud of them. I cannot describe how these young eighth graders glowed. They felt their strength. They had inspired their teacher, made her tear up and they had changed history that day, in their classroom. They felt proud for what they had done for the country.
I know it was a simulation, but that is the power of the tool. As a teacher, who would I have been to say, "No! You can't! History says that the delegates must compromise on slavery. Your vote is incorrect! " Big red check mark by the teacher. What kind of future would that have prepared them for? It was more important they FELT what they could do if the power to choose were in their hands. As for historical factoids, they can read about the sorry history of bad compromises, official mistakes and policies based on greed in the textbook because, after all, that's all history is -- a chronicle of actions, not an instruction book. This day, it was important to let them know, as Maya Angelou says in her poem for Clinton's inaugaral, "Good Morning!"
Lift up your eyes upon this day breaking for you
Give birth again to the dream.
Women, Children, Men
Take it into the palms of your hand.
Mold it into the shape of your most private need.
Sculpt it into the image of your most public self.
Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.
This brings us to the Presidential election of 2008, after eight years of the disasterous Bush administration which leaves his country embroiled in an illegal war, his people's Constitutional rights diminished, on the brink of a recession even a global depression, high unemployment, huge budget deficit of trillions which our heirs are going to have to pay. The Presidential candidates for 2008 are like characters in a parable. One, intelligent, coolheaded, one could say dignified, speaking about a change from eight years of disaster, the other, a part of the failed Bush team, waging a campaign on personality, openly and clumsily racist, and somewhat confused. One African from Mother Africa, the other white, rich and a soldier of the Vietnam war who hates Gooks and always will (his words).
Whom will America elect to be their President after the devastation of the Bush years -- a devastation so broad it is apparent even to the party faithfuls? Will they choose Barak Obama, African American, intelligent, cool headed, whose presidential run is clearly a response to America's yearning or will they choose John McCain, who supported the Bush administration’s failed policies 95 % of the time, who has waged a campaign of personality rather than answer questions which weigh heavy on each American’s mind. Whom will America choose?
My two cents is this. If John McCain and Sarah Palin win the presidency, we are in for a hard time. Four more years of the Bush Cheney program can mean the demise of this empire we call home. A McCain victory during a time of such pessimism toward his party and its president means only one thing for me. A "more of the same McCain" victory over the Obama phenomena points to racialized thinking, a legacy of 300 years of slavery and segregation. Four more years with McCain and its disasterous results will be our big bachi for slavery. Or maybe the youth will make a difference. I have witnessed it. And their influence was so strong it remains with me today.
We will reap what has been sown unless we think as my eighth grade students did -- unfettered by a history text book -- and taking action in response to the dire needs (moral needs) of the present for sake of our future. I pray we have the will to lift our heads up and mold and sculpt our own piece of history. As Maya Angelou, elder and poet says, Lift up your hearts.
Each new hour holds new chances for new beginnings.
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