In 1938 Abel Meerpol, who was white and Jewish, wrote a poem
entitled "Strange Fruit". He added music
in 1939. When Billie Holiday sang it at Cafe Society in Greenwich Village,
which was the first integrated club in New York, it became a passionate and
disturbing anthem for the Civil Rights movement.
The “Strange Fruit” referred to the lynchings of black men
in the South. Bodies were left to rot
from tree limbs, thus “strange fruit”. The song is so powerful that Holiday, and others, feared reprisal from
the white population when it was performed.
Today, 77 years
later, the mistrust, fear and war between races cntinues in full force. Look at the events that have transpired in
the early part of July, 2016. White
police officers killing harmless black men and a black man, with premeditation
and intent, killing 5 white officers and wounding seven other individuals.
When President Obama was elected in 2008 there was hope that this was a sign that,
as a nation, we had matured in terms of racial views. The reality is that 38% see progress; 28%
believe that Obama tried and failed; 25% claim his presidency has made things
worse; and, 8% are of the opinion that he has not tried.
What has endured is institutional racism. This is when
bigotry causes blindness to discrimination in governmental and other
organizations. Basic rights to housing, medical care, education and law are
denied to individuals because they have black (or cream, or tan, or red or so-called yellow- tan) skin.
This bigotry may be
due to fear of the unfamiliar or the desire by some in the so-called Caucasian community to declare and establish themselves as superior in a superior
race. Racism is about power and those
who have the power do not want to relinquish their prize.
Human beings internalize trauma. The trauma caused by slavery laid the
groundwork for a relentless polarization between the races. While the black community mistrusts so-called
white solutions, the white community, consciously or unconsciously, fears a
retaliation for past events and attitudes.
It has been noted that the U.S. Constitution was founded by
white men and on the belief that it was necessary for white men to gain and
retain control. The rights of Native
Americans who lived here and African slaves, who were brought here by force,
were ignored. It was a policy of “us” vs “the strangers” that continues to
haunt some 250 years later.
In some areas it has
been “common knowledge” that whoever is not Caucasian is, essentially an
outsider — someone to be feared. As the
South ignored the perverted sight of multiple decomposing black bodies dangling
from trees, so have many members of the
those in power managed, through cognitive dissonance, to not see or rectify
discriminatory practices that do not penetrate their sensibilities. The “other” has become “strange fruit”.
Prejudice continues in spite of the efforts of individuals like Martin Luther
King, Julian Bond, Cesar Chavez, and Elie Wiesel. Those who have the power will make every
effort to keep the power.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South
The bulgin' eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burnin' flesh
Mistrust of law enforcement has led to the development of 3
essential rules within the African American community:
1. Avoid eye contact
2. Make no sudden movements
3. Speak in submissive tones
These same “rules” would apply to encounters with vicious
predators in the animal kingdom. It is
strange indeed. Law enforcement = savage
behaviour. As yet, xenophobic principles
dominate racial interaction in a vast number of communities.
Values like mutual respect and fair-mindedness are discussed
and heralded. It appears that
actualizing these principles, except during times of national disaster, is
One of the obstacles to a viable discussion about racism is
the fact that, historically, few Caucasians have experienced serious challenges
to their ingrained racial prejudice. When pushed, whites often feel that their identity is being
The unfortunate belief that an individual is either totally
racist or not at all racist prevails. This ignores the reality there are shades
of racialism, i.e. it is not a “black or white” issue. A problem that is not
acknowledged cannot be fixed.
All individuals are a part of the human race. That recognition may lead to a path of
genuine empathy and a desire to live in a world in which there is, at least, a
desire for an equitable distribution of advantages.
DiAngelo, R., Dr. (2015, April 9). White Fragility: Why It's
So Hard to Talk to White People About Racism. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from
Jomha, M. (n.d.). What Skin Color do Asians Actually Have?
Retrieved July 11, 2016, from quota.com
Olorrunipa, T. (2015, August 25). For Many Black Families,
Distrust of Police Has Decades of History. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from
Smith, S. K., Rev. (2015, December 29). Whites and the Fears Caused by White Supremacy. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from huffingtonpost.com
Stapler, R. (2016, June 27). 5 Key Takeaways About Views of Race and Inequality in America. Retrieved July 11, 2016, from pew research.org
Strange Fruit. (n.d.). Retrieved July 11, 2016, from wikipedia.org
Woo, D. (2005, September 28). Institutional Racism.
Retrieved July 11, 2016, from urbandictionary.com
Zelizer, J. (2016, July 8). Is America Repeating the
Mistakes of 1968? Retrieved July 11, 2016, from theatlantic.com