How Cora Thomas Keeps Me Grounded for My Week Ahead

I start my Sundays with Ms. Cora Thomas‘ gospel show on WAER 88.3. It is my ritual to wait for her weekly closing before putting my feet on the floor. Every week, Cora offers, “If  you put everything in the Lord’s hands, eventually you will see the Lord’s hands in everything.” Then she plays the great Hezekiah Walker’s “I Need You to Survive” and I listen, often singing along:

       I need you
          You need me
          We’re all a part of God’s body
          Stand with me
          Agree with me
          We’re all a part of God’s body
          It is his will that every need be supplied
          You are important to me
          I need you to survive

          I pray for you
          You pray for me
          I love you
          I need you to survive
          I won’t harm you
          With words from my mouth
          I love you
          I need you to survive

          It is his will that every need be supplied
          You are important to me
          I need you to survive

Now, some of my friends will be concerned that I have become fundamentalist, others will stop reading just because I said “God” and “pray” publicly. But I have been concerned about the discourses of late, in the media, on Facebook, the general tone of attack, of snarkiness, as if that is an admirable quality. The fact is, fear pervades everything.

Over the holidays, Ernesto Mercer, wonderful poet and conscious being living in DC, posted a stunning and simple reminder of the grave issues none of us who has the privilege to pull out their smartphones and check notifications and like each other’s statuses has to face any given day. Yes, I used the hot button word “privilege.” There is a lot of vitriol being spilled over the notion of privilege.

I listened to the news once Cora’s show ended, “…I need you to survive…” still my echo. Then I listened to NPR Sunday Edition. There are bombings all over the Mideast. There was an interview with a man who has willingly gone deep into the atrocity of the war in the Congo to make the rest of the world possibly pay attention

I thought of the Sudanese children who I teach on Thursdays as I heard an update on the painful atrocities occurring right now in South Sudan. I thought of my Jordanian poet, now an 8th grader and member of the Young Authors Academy, who traveled home in early summer to visit family and spent the week cooking for Syrian refugees alongside her cousins, aunts, and other family members. 

I have been tracking Fukujima and the flow of radiation throughout our global water and air, and we haven’t seen the worst of it. I have been considering that human trafficking is still a daily experience worldwide, that slavery is still alive in so many parts of the world. The polarity of the earth is shifting as the ice cap melts. There are monster storms and record-breaking sub-zero blasts over the top half of the nation. There are wildfires. There are rapes and murders. There is so much to be concerned about.

And I reflect on all of this from the relative safety of the beautiful home in which I live. I struggle to pay the mortgage but I am warm this moment and I will find a way to make everything work. I am living in relative comfort and faced with opportunity, even when I most fear that all is lost.

I am privileged…and not necessarily because the level of melanin in my skin is so low. That does mean that there are elements of advantage that I enjoy, yes. But from my underemployed, under-educated, 60-year old woman’s perspective, having been self-supporting since I was 17, with no health care since I was laid off 5 years ago, and of a certain age that is not necessarily attractive to employers, etc., that privilege may be a tad bit limited. Here, I am opening myself to vitriol by saying any of this but we have to remember that women in America still do not have equal rights by law, so inherently our privilege is restrained. Seniors are not respected, in general. I am a woman at the door of “senior” and standing on very shaky ground. And Lord knows I don’t have tenure.

I have been posting quotes from Nelson Mandela because I have been listening to the conversations around Ani DiFranco’s extremely unfortunate, unthinking error. But I have to say that, although I do understand the need for us, all of us, to be hyper-vigilant in addressing injustice and racism, at what point are we going to agree to meet in the middle and heal the deep wounds? The scars of the Middle Passage and slavery in America will always be there. But do we need to keep standing still in the effort of developing trust enough to move forward in peace? We need each other to survive. As long as we maintain a stance of distrust, fear, veiled hatred and suspicion, we will not survive.
As a white woman, I am aware that I am always held suspect as probably clueless, a likely racist, maybe well-intentioned but can’t possibly understand, at best. When am I going to “turn white?” At the Split This Rock poetry conference a couple of years ago, during a panel on white writers writing on race, there was a clarion call regarding the panelists’ fear of “not getting it right.” One of the writers was overtly challenged when she released a book based on a famous lynching, told that she did not have the right to write about that because she was white. Ironically, there was also a white man hanged in that event. 

Why would it be that we, as humans, cannot examine atrocity and racism if we do not have the “right” skin tone? Don’t we need to share the truth? Is it not possible to have compassion and empathy, if not direct knowledge, of the wounding? And don’t we move toward the goals of the great Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King, Jr., if we are able to put our fears on hold and presume, for just a moment, that maybe there are similarities, or at least opportunities to educate and understand, together? Do we remember the Freedom Riders?

The myth of a post-racial America is just that. We are mired ever deeper in the dangers that fear and racism create. We are falling further and further into both. I see tweets and FB posts that are disparaging of others, often couched as humor. This has gotten some media folks in some deep shit, because snarky overstepped both propriety and respect. And Ani, not withstanding her obvious lack of consciousness in allowing her producer to confirm a booking for her retreat at a plantation site, has been deemed “a racist oppressor.” The feminist icon has fallen from her perch in one seriously flawed business move because she failed to be hyper-vigilant in recognizing how deep the wound is. It seems a no-brainer to me that the venue was not a viable consideration but does she need to be publicly stoned? Perhaps she had fallen victim to believing the post-racial America myth herself. I wonder how Sekou Sundiata would respond, were he still walking among us? Would he yank his work from Righteous Babe? Would he say, “Oh Ani, you know you messed up, right?…” Would he accept her apology?

There are many other incidents and comments around this general theme that I have been mulling over for a long time, way beyond this week, but I have probably gotten myself into enough trouble just for saying this much. So I close with a few more thoughts:

If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner.” Nelson Mandela (From Long Walk to Freedom, 1995)
“Great anger and violence can never build a nation. We are striving to proceed in a manner and towards a result, which will ensure that all our people, both black and white, emerge as victors.” Nelson Mandela (Speech to European Parliament, 1990)
And: “I won’t harm you with words from my mouth…I love you…I need you to survive.”  Thank you, Ms. Cora, for another Sunday start.       
Thanks again for following my blog. I appreciate your consideration of my words and thoughts.

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