On the Monday, following the tweet storm that President Trump directed at U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland’s 7th Congressional District, I had a profound experience in the most unexpected of locations.
My mom and I like to “do antique shops.” We don’t often buy much, but we look, we make comments that range from “wow, isn’t this nice,” “can you remember we had one of these,” and “not in my house!”
We were in a favorite shop on James Island and were preparing to leave when something caught my eye. It was a reproduction of a slave auction announcement in Charleston.
I have seen these before. I know the history. But that day, it resonated deeply with me.
“Negro woman with four children for sale. Two of the children will accompany her to the owner’s home and the two youngest can be sold separately to another party.”
One was 11 months old.
The purchase terms (including a version of a modern payment plan) were spelled out in the opening paragraph.
There was, of course, more. These human beings were not people. They were like cattle or horses, but with a wider range of skills and uses.
I felt shame. I felt sad. I felt anger.
Elijah Cummings is one of my heroes. As I am a political junkie of sorts, many of my heroes are from the public arena. Some are white, some not. Some are men, some women. Some are Democrats, some Republicans.
I don’t know what is in Donald Trump’s heart, but I do know what I hear and see. And those are comments and behavior that scare me.
From day one of his candidacy, Mr. Trump has played to the racial divisions of our society. Not that it made it any more acceptable, but folks like George Wallace and David Duke usually spoke solely about the collective “them.” Not so Mr. Trump. He is personal about it.
Judges, private citizens, members of Congress, former beauty pageant winners, members of the media, leaders of nations who are our allies – it doesn’t matter.
Whether his blade is sheathed in race, physical image, ancestry, disability bias, age, sexual orientation, religion, or gender; it is used to slash and stab until he has picked his next target. But he has focused this past month or so on people of color.
Acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney defended the president’s comments about Mr. Cummings and his Baltimore-based congressional district. Mr. Mulvaney lamely suggested that perhaps Mr. Cummings should be less concerned about his responsibilities as the chair of the Oversight Committee so that he could do a better job of helping his district deal with its problems.
It’s true Maryland’s 7th Congressional District ranks in the lowest quintile (bottom 20 percent) in a 2018 (for 2012-16) Distressed Communities Index developed by the Economic Innovation Group (EIG) based on a composite of seven economic and demographic characteristics.
As number 43 from the bottom of the 435 congressional districts, it sits in the category the EIG labels “distressed.”
But you know what? During the same time period which includes Mr. Mulvaney’s service as the US representative from SC’s 5th Congressional District, his district ranked 165th in the very next quintile labeled as “at risk” by the EIG.
If I am not mistaken, Mr. Mulvaney played leadership roles within the Tea Party movement and the establishment of the House’s “Freedom Caucus.”
Does he think that if he had not been in those roles, his district would be in the next, higher “mid-tier” quintile? Probably not.
Smart people can do more than one thing at a time. And here’s the thing: Most of us live in SC’s 1st Congressional District which is in EIG’s top “prosperous” quintile. But that does not mean that none of us experience life circumstances that are much less than prosperous.
Furthermore, those circumstances do not discriminate based on race.
No small part of the shame, sadness, and anger that I felt in that antique shop was focused on the past, but I have realized that the largest portion of those feelings was present-centered.
As I read about that woman and her children not only being sold into slavery, but that two of her children (her youngest and most needy) would be torn from her, my mind went to our southern border and what our country is doing to people whose only “crimes” are that they are trying to escape from the dangers and circumstances into which they were born and that many of them are people of color.
And then, I realized another feeling I had in that antique shop: I am tired of this – and I am white. I cannot imagine how tired people of color are.
When can racism become something truly relegated to an antique store?