Notes from Home: Hidden Wounds

January 18, 2021, Martin Luther King Day, a national holiday to celebrate that leader’s birthday and what he taught this country. There will be no mail, no banks open, etc., so I have assumed there will also be no garbage pickup. But, awake to write in the predawn dark, I hear the garbage trucks, and run outside to move cans to the alley.

Walking back inside, I feel the disrespect, then hear myself say “What did you expect? This is Tulare County.” On President’s Day, when we celebrate the birthdays of George and Abe, will there be garbage pickup? I can’t remember. Martin Luther King could have been president, though most of us could not have imagined it while he was still able to walk this earth. It would take four more decades before we could imagine a Black man (only half-Black, at that) at the head of the country.

Mark Arax gave a resounding analysis of what happened on Jan. 6 at the Capitol in last week’s “Valley Edition” on KVPR 89.3 FM. He tied it to racism, impure and simple: what making America “great” again means to those people is making America white again. He tied our local officials’ role in it to the historic Confederate influence in this southern end of the San Joaquin Valley. He also told stories of the discrimination he faced in Fresno in the late 1950s as an Armenian-American child, connecting the two (the Jan. 15 episode of “Valley Edition” can be heard online at kvpr.org.).

Listening to his powerful, poetic words, I was turned in my mind to Wendell Berry’s early book, The Hidden Wound. Berry is also powerful and poetic, but I think he’s never been as profound as he was in this story, unraveling the racism he inherited from his family, former slave owners. The hidden wound he unveils, gently but also relentlessly, is the one Southern whites inflicted on themselves by hiding from the truth of their inhumanity. It is a wound passed down through the generations. It is one we all share from our national history of inhumanity, from Native American genocide and plantation slavery at home to dropping atomic bombs on “japs” and napalm on “gooks” in Asia—the labels we gave them to hide their humanity tell all. Words matter.

Following the presidency of Barack Obama, what Donald Trump really wanted was to make America not-so-great again. In that, he has succeeded. Retrograde, I would call it, from recalling restrictions on the financial markets (the ones who put us in our last recession) and destroying environmental protections that barely compensate for the holocaust our economy has wreaked on Mother Earth, to confounding the very meaning of American democracy. And he has done it by putting his finger right into that hidden wound and twisting its perpetrators into unthinkable rage.

So what do we call them, these people we live amongst, our neighbors who’ve fallen prey to our worst side? Lots of words have occurred to me in the last two weeks, but all of them are intended to diminish their humanity, not comprehend it. I want to punish them, even to eliminate them for destroying my inaccurate sense of peace and order. But I have to tell you that “neighbors” is the best word I’ve found so far.

The writer Alice Walker could imagine Martin Luther King as president. She says so in a poem called “These Days” from one of her first books, Horses Make a Landscape Look More Beautiful. But there’s a line in another poem called “Each One, Pull One” that caused me to pull the book from the shelf.

In the poem she is talking about Black heroes tarnished by being human, including King, and thus being demoted or discounted by their followers. Stop it, she says. Each one must pull one. Each one, pull one back into the sun.

Here I am talking instead about recovering followers, not leaders, but a similar loss of faith. If we are not to descend into another civil war, we have got to see and treat each other as people, to not hide from our inhumanity, but overcome it. Our hidden wounds have been exacerbated by Donald Trump, opened and re-infected. We must tend to them, and each one, pull one back into the sun.

Trudy Wischemann is a native Republican who moved. You can send her your scarred stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.

This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.

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