Dear America, We Need to Talk…
By Chris M. Barkley: Hey America, rough weekend?
Yeah, I was watching and listening. Now, we need to talk. About what happened in Charlottesville.
And other things.
I am an African-American man. I was not born of privilege. Each day, I know that I am a marked man.
Marked as a threat by white people. Marked as a security risk by store owners. Marked to be maimed or murdered by fascists, racists and white supremacists. Marked for scrutiny (or worse) by various agents of law enforcement.
All because my skin tone is darker than their own.
But each day I awake, rise and step out my door, America. I do so with the full knowledge that I may never return to the embrace of my loving partner, my family and friends. I may fear all the things that may happen to me in the course of a day, but that is leavened by what I know:
- That my parents, loved me enough to bring me into this troubled world.
- That they provided me with a comfortable home, the love, guidance, education and love to be a kind and thoughtful person.
- And that these things were given to me, my life, beliefs, associations and citizenship, are protected by the Constitution of the United States of America.
I was born a child of the administration of Dwight D. Eisenhower; smack dap in the middle of the past century. My father, Erbil Augustine Barkley and my grandmother, who hailed from Birmingham, Alabama, came north to Cincinnati as part of the black diaspora of the 1930’s. My mother, Alice Elder and her four orphaned sisters came to Ohio to attend school. When they met, in a corner drugstore in the neighborhood I grew up in as a child, it was love at first sight. The best and worst of American history lay ahead of me.
I grew up in the age of science and science fiction. Vaccines. Lasers. Computers. Jonny Quest, Fireball XL-5 and Star Trek! Actual men flying actual space capsules, solo, in pairs and then, more. Neil Freaking Armstrong and Buzz Freaking Aldrin walking on the freaking MOON in the summer of ‘69, America! And all of this was balanced out by my constant fear of being vaporized in a nuclear war, the ongoing communist menace, the Vietnam War on the evening news everyday and the constant threats from the nuns at school and in the bullies on the neighborhood streets.
I mostly kept to myself, riding my bike, walking, watching old movies on television and reading. I read throughout the Silver Age of DC, Marvel, Gold Key and Charlton comic books. I read the adventures Danny Dunn and Alvin Fernald. I also dabbled in young adult books by Madeleine L’Engle and Isaac Asimov and Eleanor Cameron. These pursuits were not as frivolous as my parents made them out to be; they were essential tools that led to my being who I am today.
In 1976, I had the good fortune to fall in with sf fandom, which changed my life forever. Author David Gerrold recently described sf (and fandom, too, I think) as, “our private little secret, sniffed at by those who ‘knew better.’” Fandom has been my second family for over forty years and I have never regretted my association with these wonderful people who greeted me with wide and open arms.
But lately America, the stresses and strains of these modern times have tested even the strongest bonds of the best of families.
Nowadays, with social media and modern communication systems, a misunderstanding, a rumor, faked news or blatant lie can circle the globe a million times before the truth finishes rubbing the sleep from her eyes.
I am the direct descendent of people enslaved here. I don’t want revenge. I don’t want reparations for the actions of people I have never met or seen.
You know what I really want, America? I want all of us dwelling here to have a lengthy conversation about slavery, Native American genocide, immigration, the treatment of the veterans of our armed services and the basic right to just be FREE.
Free to explore places I’ve never been. Free to love my partner and friends. Free to hate the New York Yankees (in a benign way, of course), free to assemble peacefully, free to protest, free to make mistakes, free to watch, comment, read and speak. These freedoms should be extended to everyone without reserve; to those I agree with but ESPECIALLY to those of whom I disagree with.
As I wise person I encountered once said, The First Amendment and the freedom to speak isn’t a private dance party limited to the elites, best buds or your social clique. Everyone dances and no one should be excluded.
I know that these freedoms come with a price and that while I am free to speak and express myself, I am not free from the consequences of any of my decisions.
And if the fascists, racists, opportunists, fear and hate merchants have their way and change to Constitution, to place legal limits on the freedoms we hold so dear, I am afraid that I and many of my family and friends may come to a parting of ways with you. This is a shame, because while 241 years is quite a run for a freedom loving people, I expected you to last far past my lifetime and far into the future.
I never met the late Heather Heyer, but I consider her to be my sister. According to her friends and family, she was an advocate of the poor and disadvantaged in her city.
I mourn her death because she did not have to be downtown in Charlottesville on a beautiful Saturday protesting the presence of fascists, nazis, and other merchants of hate and fear. She WANTED to be there because she wanted to show them that she was not afraid of them and to show them what the true face of democracy looks like.
Her martyrdom and the injuries to the wounded were sudden, brutal and so unnecessary.
What have we become, America? Can we honestly look in the mirror and call ourselves “that shining city on the hill” anymore?
We are no longer the envy of the civilized world. We are no longer considered the gold standard of liberty.
The slow erosion of American manners and civility, in the course of our everyday lives, in our business and trade practices and especially with our politics, makes us out to be a country to be loathed and feared. The current occupant of the White House and his minions are reinforcing this heinous message with each passing day.
We are on the verge of a new Civil War. But what will be different about this new war is that won’t be fighting about borders or slavery, we’ll be in conflict between the haves and have-nots, the disenfranchised verses the uninformed, the rich and bigoted against the poor and minorities of all races and beliefs.
And so America, the battle is on. The battle for your heart and your soul. Who will prevail?
And despite the pessimism and grief I have expressed in this letter to you, I believe in my heart that there are more Americans who want to maintain our shores as a beacon of freedom and prosperity than there are those who would seek to tear it all down.
For the sake of my families, my friends and fellow freedom fighters, I hope it’s us.
See you in the streets. Best Wishes,