Emmet

Emmett--Mamie-1954We were born in the same school district, Argo, Illinois, under the sickly sweet stench of the Argo corn starch factory.  He moved away when he was nine.   He was sadistically slaughtered on my third birthday, August 28, 1955.  He was fourteen. 

I didn’t know that he was from Argo till a few years ago. The first Black people I ever knew were in the junior high school there. But I hardly knew any of them. They weren’t speaking to us. At the time it seemed like Jim Crow obsequiousness, but now I understand it. They were mad about Emmet. We were being shunned. I got first row privileges, having to sit for two years behind the only boy in school with better grades than me, who never once spoke to me. That’s how I spent my puberty.

argo-corn-starchMy life’s been heavily influenced by silences – like my grandmother’s silence about who we were and what we were going through. The only part of the story that came through loud and clear was the overwhelming sense of worthlessness. That’s how you feel when you’re surrendering to genocide. Worthless. It’s pretty much all her son, my father, was talking about. You know, those trifling rants that every little thing you do is stupid. You’re a stupid, worthless person. All those generations of brainwashing that we’d been subjected to had sunk in totally.

The rest of the experience, all the violence, one in four of every person grandma grew up with had been sadistically butchered, is just too much. You can’t talk about it. You can’t feel it. It’s way over the top. You just become frozen. You aren’t feeling anything, except guilt at still being alive. But you aren’t really alive. It’s just an imitation of it. That’s what it’s like.

Three-quarters of a million Emmets are too much. Too heavy. There’s no feeling it. It’s not on a human scale. But one you can feel. That’s why stories like his were like gravity to me. You know, something that connects you to the planet. After three generations we were finally touching ground. Our ground zero.

I mentioned him in my last post. I described what we went through in the Forties as “Emmett Till times 750,000 in two years time.” I did that knowing that any number of Black people are going to look at that post and that’s as far as they’ll get.

It’s enormously frustrating and painful to me that when I try to share with Black people information about the racism my Krajina Serb people have experienced (still are experiencing) it’s very common that I hit a brick wall. What’s the brick wall? They assume I’m like every other White person they’ve ever tried to share their experience with who’s responded, “So what? It’s happened to us too. Get over it.” That kind of mess. They think I’m saying it to dismiss them.  Then they’ll push that Dismissal Button on me, and that’s as far as they’ll get.   But there’s no other way to describe what’s been happening to us. I just have to say what it is.

emmet-babyAnd then I’m REALLY in trouble because there’s no way to talk about what’s happened to us without exceeding the scope of the racism that Black people have as yet experienced. We went through the centuries as chattel thing, then progressed into the vermin thing and now we’re on the brink of extinction. All kinds of bells and whistles are going off. I’m committing The Heresy. I’m defying the dearly-held dictum, “White people can never understand what we go through. They’re privileged and can’t ever know what it’s like to live without it.” There’s a lady ranting about it online I can link to.

You just have to google my name, Linda Keres Carter, and there it is. Like that’s all my epitaph will be. The link to that site where that woman is ranting about how I can never know what my own people are going through. That’s what she’s describing. All the things my family is going through. Except she’s talking about what her family is going through. But it’s entirely impossible in her world view that both our families could be going through the same thing, so she’s slandering me to the world and accusing me of Highly Sophisticated Racism. Her logic is extremely convoluted so don’t attempt to follow it without a full night’s sleep behind you.

The Untold Story of Emmett Louis TillI saw a show about Mamie Till, his mom, recently. She said the thing that hurt her the most when she saw his body was that all his teeth had been knocked out. She said he had the most beautiful, translucent teeth.  You could see the light through them. They were the most beautiful thing she’d ever seen. That’s what I’m talking about. The human details that let you connect and cry and feel what you need to feel. She was brilliant as she was bold, utilizing that human scale fully. She wanted everyone to feel it. In detail.

I can still feel Black people’s stories more than I can feel my own. It’s more immediate, more elemental. I’ll hear some of the things they did to us and I’ll feel angry. It’s like those stages they talk about in grieving. I’m still at a more distant level. But all my life, all the stories about Black people that felt like they were happening to me, I felt directly. It wasn’t only their humanity I was feeling.

It was my own.

Our own lost humanity.  After three generations we could finally start seeing/ feeling about ourselves with some kind of clarity.

It’s so insane to think I’m dismissing them. I love them. If it wasn’t for them I wouldn’t have had any kind of life at all. They’re my heroes.

That’s my ground zero. Dismiss that, and you’ve dismissed me altogether and we have nothing to say to each other. You’re just exploiting the opportunity to vent on me. Venting on me won’t heal you, it will only hurt me, and turn you into what you hate. And I just want to know, haven’t we all been through enough?

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