Not literally rising from the red clay in which they were interred, but speaking in the mouths of politicians, pundits, and everyday 2020 citizens acting like it’s the bad old days. Walking – yes, Dead Racists Walking – alongside protests, screaming “All Lives Matter” or “Blue Lives Matter,” or some such bullshit. Suiting up, killing unarmed people of color, assaulting peaceful demonstrators, acting aggrieved, voting for fellow white supremacists, all with insatiable zombie-like appetite.
It’s all hauntingly, and depressingly, familiar to me, as I was raised in what I thought were the waning days of Jim Crow. My Deep-South youth – in Atlanta, Georgia, to be precise – immediately followed the Civil Rights Act of 1964. My single mom, who’d been raised racist (because one cannot be born racist), had not only renounced her upbringing, she was stone counterculture, fist raised in the streets, helping put my home town on the path to becoming what George Clinton referred to as a “chocolate city,” which rapper/activist Killer Mike recently called “the closest thing to [fictional African techno-utopia] Wakanda.”
“The niggers are takin’ over,” crusty old white folks would moan in my youth. [I hate the word, it hurts so much, but that’s what they said.] They were terrified. Their president had resigned in disgrace, and the country had elected an affable former peanut farmer (and war hero) Democrat from Plains, Georgia to the nation’s highest office! He put solar panels on the White House, and admitted to seeing a UFO! What was the world coming to?
Who could blame me for thinking it was all going to work out great? I attended integrated schools, was surrounded by black culture, made music with black folks, convinced Jim Crow days were forever in the rearview. My grandparents’ time and my mother’s first 25 years cast a long shadow, but damn if it didn’t seem to be receding, even as the monuments still stood tall. That should’ve been a tipoff.
Of course 1980 was the wake-up call. Reagan. Thatcher. Crack. War on brown people. But I was a teenager. In my extreme naivete, it seemed a mere setback rather than a harbinger. My Atlanta was a gorgeous, often funky mosaic. I’d acquired the skills to infuse my life with color, skills I retain.
Those circumstances may have blinded me then, but now, in memory, they give me strength and hope. Because I’ve been to the mountaintop.
My Seventies and early Eighties Atlanta youth is now a reservoir from which I draw, as an ally, to fuel the fury needed to ultimately beat back these re-animated death demons of whiteness. I was there when their time ran out last time, and I will be there when we send them back to the shadows again.