“For the vast majority of white Americans, the past decade [1950s-early60s] —the first phase—had been a struggle to treat the Negro with a degree of decency, not equality. White America was ready to demand that the Negro should be spared the lash of brutality and coarse degradation, but it had never been truly committed to helping him out of poverty, exploitation or all forms of discrimination. The outraged white citizen had been sincere when he snatched the whips from the Southern sheriffs…[But] White Americans left the Negro on the ground and in devastating numbers walked off with the aggressor. It appeared that the white segregationist and the ordinary white citizen had more in common with one another than either had with the Negro.”
– MLK, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community (NY: Harper and Row, 1967)
On the Bus, January 21 by Virginia Avniel Spatz
The awaited big day has arrived,
Our bus is crawling through streets
filled beyond function by the marching throngs.
I consider the value of joining the chorus
declaring support for immigrants,
religious freedom, and all gender expressions,
healthcare for all and control of one's own body,
resistance to misogyny and tyranny
But this is my city, and I fear
too many here to proclaim democracy in action
know nothing of our status and cares.
I wonder how many acknowledge, or even notice,
who is missing from the party.
At another point in life I might have
found comfort among the many
But today, mid-March on the #96
mine is the only pale European skin
on this usually somewhat integrated bus route
now stopped at an impromptu police blockade.
Seated with my black neighbors,
some anxiously noting supervisors' reactions,
while an enormous sea of mostly white visitors flows
unimpeded, I cannot shake
MLK's 50-year-old words:
“White Americans left
the Negro on the ground
and in devastating numbers
walked off with the aggressor.”
The peace of the thing
The joy of gathering in numbers
Cooperation and protection of police
without noting “restrictions may apply.”
Unity and solidarity
with so many still unseen and unheard.
One woman's peace and joy, another's pain
“unity” wielded as a club
Solidarity as badge not challenge
A whole nation without room for me?
This is my city, and I fear
Virginia Avniel Spatz
Virginia Avniel Spatz writes for local and national audiences, focusing on education, religion, justice, and community. As a freelance, Virginia has spent 20 years producing features, a monthly news column, and, most currently, a series on worship communities for the DC-based Capital Community News. She also writes radio and blog items for the Education Town Hall on We Act Radio. She published juvenile non-fiction in national Cobblestone periodicals (1993-94).