Strange Fruit – why that flag means hate to so many

This post was written after South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley had the Confederate flag removed from the state capitol following the Charleston AME Zion shooting that killed nine African-Americans, who had invited their killer in to worship with them. It remains pertinent today with the police and vigilante killings of young African-Americans. We cannot go back to this time of horrible racial injustice.

I applaud the state of South Carolina for making a long overdue, but nonetheless courageous decision to take down the Confederate battle flag. What many fail to realize its heritage has two meanings, neither good. It was the initial symbol of rebellion that wanted to keep the right to slavery and not be dictated by people in Washington. Do not let people try to rewrite history using the terms we southerners liked to call it “the War of Northern Aggression” or a war over “states’ rights.” That was propaganda then to get poor whites to fight for white landowners so the latter could keep the slaves they owned. And, it remains propaganda today.

Yet, it also carries the meaning of Jim Crow, a period which allowed the reinforced condemnation and control of Blacks in the south, in spite of their rights on paper. This condemnation included the purposeful killing, often by hanging, of Blacks who were deemed guilty of contrived crimes or because they tried to exercise their paper rights in practice. I would ask you to watch “To Kill a Mockingbird” or “Mississippi Burning” to get a sense of what Jim Crow was all about.

Or, we could heed the words of Billie Holiday, who sang the impactful song “Strange Fruit.”

Southern trees bear strange fruit
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees
Pastoral scene of the gallant south
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth
Scent of magnolias, sweet and fresh
Then the sudden smell of burning flesh
Here is fruit for the crows to pluck
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck
For the sun to rot, for the trees to drop
Here is a strange and bitter crop

Songwriters
WIGGINS, DWAYNE P./PEARL, MAURICE/ALLAN, LEWIS

If you want to listen to the words, please go to the attached link. http://www.metrolyrics.com/strange-fruit-lyrics-billie-holiday.html

Taking down the battle flag is a great, symbolic step, but it has to be more than that. We need to treat everyone like we want to be treated. Jesus made no caveats with his words as to who should not be so treated. Neither should we, especially with our history that includes “a strange and bitter crop” of people who did not come close to such treatment. This is also why we should not whitewash history, as we should never allow such treatment again on our soil.

The reason Black Lives Matter is such a huge rallying cry is because for so long and still today, we have to remind everyone, that All Lives must include Black Lives.

This must stop

I hope everyone enjoyed their weekend, yet we had another event which we cannot let define us. The tragedy in Sri Lanka sheds a spotlight on what must stop. The three recent Black church bombings in Louisiana do the same; this must stop. The many shootings at churches, synagogues, and mosques must stop.

The victims do not deserve this, no matter where they worship. The perpetrators have some warped view of extremism. They are terrorists irrespective of what religious master they serve. They are hate mongers and murderers. They will not build a stairway to some perverted view of righteousness. Their names should not be mentioned, as they do not deserve recognition.

These actions of hate must stop. The underlying hate must stop. If someone’s view of religion inspires them to hate or kill others, that is not God or Allah talking. That is a narrow-minded form of extremism. These folks are murderers,

We need these actions strongly condemned by all leaders. We need religious leaders to promote a message of inclusion. A ministry of exclusion is religion at its worst. One person’s exclusion becomes another person’s hate. And, to a small subset, the words inspire violence. This also holds true with political leaders,

What can we do? If your spiritual or political leader speaks of exclusion, ask them to stop. If they don’t stop, vote with your feet and leave. Our leaders need to be our better angels – if they are not, find another leader and call them on the carpet.

If you see some followers who are echoing or speaking of violent acts, tell the authorities or more even-tempered religious leaders. Zealotry can lead to violence. If you hear unproductive words, push back or tell someone. This is even more true if they come from leaders.

But, most importantly, we must be civil to one another. We must demand civility from our leaders. Fear sells, but is an unsustainable governing approach. We deserve better from our leaders. We must also demand peace. We need more diplomats, not fewer. We need to value the mavens and dot connectors. Relationships are to be courted and nurtured.

This has to stop. Stop the words of exclusion. Stop the words of hate. And, let’s do what we can to stop the violence.

Let me close with one of the greatest examples of faith I have witnessed. After the Charleston AME Zion church shooting, the surviving family members forgave the shooter. That is powerful. Let’s be like them. But, let’s stop it from happening the next time.

 

Year-end Kudos

As we near the end of 2015, let me look back and offer kudos to select folks for their efforts. This is not meant to be a complete list, so please do share your kudos for those I may not have mentioned.

Angela Merkel deserves kudos for being the most effective global leader who sees the key role her country and Europe play in helping the many refugees in need or to share her concerns with Vladimir Putin for his transgressions in the Ukraine.

Pope Francis deserves kudos for taking his wonderful message of outreach to those in need to North and South America and Africa. He also deserves kudos for writing about the very real concerns of climate change and the need to act. He is the most respected leader on the planet.

Francois Hollande deserves huge credit for his handing of the terrorist attack in Paris and keeping France’s ideals and openness alive. He has shown how important it is to continue to live and exercise your freedoms, a lesson lost on too many here in the US.

Justin Trudeau deserves similar credit along these same lines by openly welcoming Syrian refugees into Canada. Seeing families reunited is a joy to see and he emphasized its importance by being there in person.

Barack Obama deserves credit for his continued stewardship of the US economy as evidenced by 70 consecutive months of job growth and decline in unemployment to 5%. Given where other global economies are at this point, he should be commended for providing the necessary tail winds over the past few years. He also deserves kudos for moving the ball forward in the US on addressing climate change.

John Boehner and Paul Ryan deserve kudos for navigating an unwieldy ship in the Republican led Congress to get some key agreements done. Boehner greased the skids for Ryan by getting the framework for the budget and debt ceiling increase passed and Ryan has been able to push through a long overdue transportation bill and education bill. It was good to see some bipartisan success and work accomplished.

Delegates to the Paris Climate Change Conference deserve kudos for accomplishing an agreement that was lacking from the last conference in Copenhagen. While no agreement is perfect, this one seems to have more in its favor than not and will help move the ball forward. The move down the path of renewable energy has passed the tipping point and this agreement with business leader backing will help us address our climate change challenge, but also help speak to our number one problem, a global water crisis.

Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates and Jeff Bezos for the formulation of The Breakthrough Energy Coalition, which may be the biggest news out of Paris. This coalition will match government funding to accomplish better technologies and renewable energy solutions to combat climate change. The government funding is supported by the US, France and 18 other countries through a joint effort called Mission Innovation.

Conservatives for Clean Energy is a group that shows the movement to renewable energy is not just a progressive movement. Their efforts show that the need to move more quickly is universal and renewable energy is a viable industry for future jobs. Their existence supports the ClearPath survey results that 75% of conservative voters believe we need to move further down the path of renewable energy.

Connecticut Governor Dan Malloy deserves kudos for doing what the US Senate failed to do and what terrorism consultants said could help to some degree. He performed an executive order to ban the sale of guns to people on the government no fly watch lists. This common sense change was voted down in the US Senate by party affiliation, including three presidential candidates, who have openly chastised the president for not doing more to combat terror. So, to his credit Malloy made it happen.

South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley, Charleston Mayor Joe Riley and the Families of the Emanuel AME Church of Charleston for the courage, forgiveness, leadership and love in showing how a community can galvanize around a tragedy. Seeing these people of faith forgive the man who killed their nine loved ones was as great a testimony as I have ever witnessed. Haley and Riley deserve kudos for the huge role in bringing the community together and for Haley to deftly use the opportunity to finally bring down the sign of hate represented in the Confederate flag.

Former President Jimmy Carter deserves kudos to showing us all how to handle the news of his mortality with grace and the conviction of faith. Between Carter and the church members of the Emanuel Church in Charleston, we saw two beautiful acts of faith that are lessons for us all, regardless of religion. It should be noted that Carter recently received great news that his cancer is gone after some unique treatments. With his humanitarian efforts, maybe God still has a purpose here for him.

Again, please feel free to share your thoughts on who I may have missed or if you find fault with my choices. Happy Holidays.