Last night President Biden screened Chinonye Chukwu’s 2022 film Till at the White House and delivered some remarks afterward.
Till of course portrays the 1955 murder of 14 year old black child from Chicago, Emmet Till, in rural Mississippi for the alleged slight of whistling at a white woman.
The photo I chose to open this article shows an anguished Mamie Till – Emmett’s mother, brilliantly portrayed by Danielle Deadwyler reacting to her son’s needless and brutal death, a scene which, unfortunately, plays out all to often still in today’s America.
After the screening President Biden had this to say about the film:
“History matters. It’s how we shine a light on the good, the bad, and the truth of who we are as a nation.
While darkness and denial can hide much, they erase nothing.
Only with truth comes healing, justice, and repair.“
When I first though of writing this it was my intention, after a particularly ugly evening scanning the headlines for something to share and being confronted with one ugly story after another on a particularly horrid day of headlines, to post some of the ugly responses on Twitter to the President’s not immensely profound but searingly true comments. Responses which in spirit were resentful and hateful… in keeping with the day.
More Americans than we like to think really want to live in Ron DeSantis’ world of make believe where the slights and especially the horrors suffered by black and native Americans can be swept out of the door of history by white politicians in their attempt to cast an American mythos more palatable to their petulant, terrified and resentful supporters.
But Ja’han Jones at Joy Reid’s The Reid Out Blog provided a better option, two paragraphs from Ralph Ellison’s 1970 essay “What America Would Be Like Without Blacks” that illustrate what is at stake in the cultural war between those of us who know that Black history is American history and cannot be separated from it and those attempting to do so:
“There is something so embarrassingly absurd about the notion of purging the nation of blacks that it seems hardly a product of thought at all. It is more like a primitive reflex, a throwback to the dim past of tribal experience, which we rationalize and try to make respectable by dressing it up in the gaudy and highly questionable trappings of what we call the “concept of race.” Yet, despite its absurdity, the fantasy of a blackless America continues to turn up. It is a fantasy born not merely of racism but of petulance, of exasperation, of moral fatigue. It is like a boil bursting forth from impurities in the bloodstream of democracy.
The problem here is that few Americans know who and what they really are. That is why few of these groups—or at least few of the children of these groups—have been able to resist the movies, television, baseball, jazz, football, drum-majoretting, rock, comic strips, radio commercials, soap operas, book clubs, slang, or any of a thousand other expressions and carriers of our pluralistic and easily available popular culture. And it is here precisely that ethnic resistance is least effective. On this level the melting pot did indeed melt, creating such deceptive metamorphoses and blending of identities, values and life-styles that most American whites are culturally part Negro American without even realizing it.“
Those who would seek to deny any part of our history and yet insist, profanely, they love what remains ultimately cause harm not to the ones they wish to conveniently edit out, but themselves.
Because without understanding the object of their professed affection they cannot truly love it… or themselves.