Summer’s End

(This summer seems to have passed without ever making its presence felt. Here is a story about a past one.)

It was so hot,
Venus thought she’d better not
venture outside her door.
She piled ice into her biggest pot
and put it on the floor
in front of the fan.
“Got to keep cool, if I can.”

Venus sat still in her chair,
waiting for cooler air,
running wrinkled fingers
through gray hair.
Beads of sweat lingered
at her brow.
“Got to keep cool, somehow.”

Ten were dead already.
The killer heat had held steady
at one hundred, one degrees.
Venus had begun to feel heady
and weak in the knees.
She hadn’t felt good all that day.
“Got to keep cool, someway.”

Venus soon dozed,
nodding gently, eyes closed,
not thinking of the melting ice
or the threat it posed,
thinking only of how nice
it is in the coolness of dreams,
of how cool everything seems.

Venus dreams of long-past days,
of sunbaths and gentle waves
from late morn to early noon
on the shore of Chesapeake Bay.
She dreams of picnics in late June,
and of having to decide whether to go
with either this or that beau.

Venus sees her husband’s face,
laughing in some unfamiliar place.
He had been gone for more than a year,
taking a love full of grace
that lacked all fear.
He turns to her with an outstretched hand,
and she begins to understand.

The blades of the fan continued to spin.
Tepid water sat where ice had been.

c. 1982 g. r. adams


I recently watched a television program in which a black character had her pronunciation of a word corrected by a white character. The word was “ask”, mispronounced as “ax”. The setting was the 1950s, and the characters were an upper middle-class housewife and her household help. As the employer explained, her concern was for her newborn. The young actress portraying the servant conveyed a barely discernible displeasure and quiet humiliation. My sympathy lay with the mom.

I don’t remember the first time I heard about teaching English as a second language, but I remember it was long before I ever heard the term “Ebonics”. It was like a light turning on. Why, I wondered, had a similar approach not been taken for some black students? That “light”, I’m ashamed to say, never grew brighter than a recurring thought, brought to mind this time by the convergence of that television show and a news story about some young black men blowing job interviews because of poor grammar.

If I seem to have overcome the dilemma that is the English language, I assure you I have not. It is a constant struggle. I have a bit of an easier time writing than I have speaking, but neither one is without effort and my efforts are not always successful. Four hundred years after African slaves were brought here from their native-speaking lands, too many of their descendants still have trouble mastering standard English. Yes, there’s a story behind that. Learning was prohibited during slavery, and for a hundred years after slavery those descendants were given much more to worry about in their lives than things like syntax. There was little evidence any benefits would accrue to precise elocution. At times, in fact, the opposite was true. Being “articulate” could be dangerous in the presence of whites who could neither define nor spell that word. Still, some blacks became English teachers while others remained Ebonics speakers. Fortunately, deficiencies in diction and grammar are not necessarily an impediment to effective communication – as many a rapper will attest.

It’s questionable how much any of this matters. Languages change over time. The English of Beowulf is not the English of The Canterbury Tales, both of which seem to have been written in foreign languages when compared to the English of Othello. William Shakespeare’s English doesn’t read the same as Mark Twain’s, and Twain’s wonderful writing has begun to seem archaic to some modern minds. Change in a language is not something that only happens over long periods of time, but from moment to moment as well.

At present, we seem to have unknowingly yet collectively decided a few picayune points – none of which have anything to do with slang. I don’t know when or why it began, but for some time now I’ve been plagued by noticing things I’d prefer not to notice. Increasingly, I hear fictional characters and real newscasters, talk-show hosts, pundits and others say things they ought to know better than to say. I put some of the blame on their writers. If, for example, your job is to put words in the mouth of Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham on Downton Abbey, it shouldn’t be grammar no English aristocrat would be caught dead using. At least, that should be the case, but even Julian Fellowes, the creator/writer of Downton (and, himself, a Baron and member of the House of Lords) occasionally forgets. It is either that, or he enjoys the idea of having an old man yell at the television.

So, for the sake of sanity, I’m asking everyone to rethink just a few, small things. First, I want people to lie down again. No one lies anymore. Everyone lays all the time. People are more than welcome to continue to lay anything they want, but I want them to lie when appropriate. Also, I want this request to remain between you and me, not between you and I (no matter what you and I may think). Finally, keep this in mind: others may complain about the state of the language less often than I, but that does not mean they have “less” complaints; it suggests they have fewer.

See? It’s just a short list, perhaps a pointless one if we already have reached the tipping point. If that’s the case, we’re well on our way to a new English. I have no idea what it will be like, so don’t ax.

Body Slamming

A few days ago, the DC Poetry Project sponsored an open-mike reading at an eatery where I happened to be helping the owner. I liked some of the poetry, but it is what I heard afterward that fascinated me: stories of mothers and their recalcitrant daughters.

The tales of fathers and sons are ones we usually hear. Even the stories of single mothers and their sons are not news to our ears. There is no shortage of literature describing the relationships between mothers and daughters, but I had not previously been privy to much of what I heard the other day.

After the poetry reading ended, a few of the participants sat around engaging in conversation, one subject easily flowing into another. This one included a few young women talking about what happened to them when, as teenagers, they had the temerity to attempt to buck their mothers. These were all dynamic, successful, professional women who seemed to bear no enduring damage from their experiences. Instead of rancor, their stories were told with great hilarity.

One young woman talked about mouthing off at her mother one moment and, in the next, being pinned against a wall, her throat gripped in the tightening grasp of a woman she no longer recognized, thinking “Oh, God, I’m going to die!” Everyone listening to the tale could not help but laugh along with her as she told it.

Her sister recalled being out past curfew with friends and determined to rejoin them once she went into the house to retrieve something she wanted. As her friends waited for her outside, her mother greeted her calmly at the door and made it clear to her that she would not be going out again that night. She tried to make it clear to her mother that she would, indeed, be going with her friends. What came next, she never saw coming. With what appeared to be no change in her tranquil demeanor, her mother picked her up and body slammed her on the living room floor. Stunned, the young women said she was just grateful her mother was kind enough to have not done so in front of her friends, who wondered why she never emerged again that night.

All of this reminded another young women of what happened to her whenever her “attitude” triggered her mother’s default mode: a hand to the throat that lifted her from the ground.

None of these women found any fault in what their mothers had done; the fault was their own. They weren’t mothers themselves, and did not speak about how they would respond under similar circumstances. Is the past always prologue?

My only familiarity with such stories came from my wife, who adored her mother. Even so, she describes herself as an occasional pill, drama queen and thorn in her mother’s side. She says her mother usually had the hide of a rhinoceros, but even she would, at times, succumb to the urge to put a mouthy daughter in her place: a slap to the face, a blow to the ear.

I don’t remember any of my women friends relating similar tales (not to say they didn’t have them to tell). When queried, one told me about the moment in her life when that sort of punishment came to an end. She believes every woman remembers that moment in their lives. Hers happened while standing at the kitchen sink washing dishes as her mother beat her with a belt. She acted as if her mother weren’t even there. This was eerily similar to a childhood friend whose “moment” came while sitting at her vanity brushing her hair. She never missed a stroke, ignoring the strokes of her mother’s belt. My wife remembers grabbing her mother’s hand to stop her.

Since the poetry reading, I’ve taken an informal poll of young women coming into the eatery, asking them about their experiences with their mothers. Most of their relationships seemed to coincide with the pattern followed by my mother and sisters.

I had no memory of my mother going through any of this with my sisters. As a little girl, one was full of an energy that sometimes exhibited itself as a contrariness requiring the occasional spanking; when she began holding her breath until she passed out, there were no more spankings.

Their adolescence seemed drama-free, so, to test my memory (and theirs), I telephoned a sister as well as my mother and asked them to recall those teenage years. Apparently, my memory was correct. My sister said none of them ever gave my mother a reason to jump on them. My mother said she was blessed in never having to go through any adolescent tumult with any of her daughters. The one time she had to object to anything involved my youngest sister, who was a young married woman at the time. Separated from her husband for a brief period and staying with my parents, she thought it would be okay for a male friend to come to the house and pick her up. My mother said she and my father told her that as long as she was a married woman living in their home, that sort of thing was not okay. Boring, right? Thank God for boredom.

I’m also thankful for those more eventful stories. Some of the poetry that day was good, but I had to point out to the young women that the passion with which they told their tales means there is great poetry to be found in their stories of warrior moms.

A Lesson from Ms. Angelou

Early in the career of The Boondocks cartoonist Aaron McGruder, I happened to catch part of a television interview in which he was holding forth on the subject of racism against blacks in America. When he made mention of how it was not the same in Europe, my thought was “Ah, the innocence of youth.” I realized it was the ignorance of inexperience that allowed him to believe such a fallacy, and that someone as smart as he would one day learn otherwise. In my youth, I had learned otherwise, and my teacher on the subject had been Maya Angelou.

My lesson began one evening in Rome. I had traveled there from Vienna by train. Earlier that day, while waiting to change trains in the northeastern Italian seaport city of Trieste, I made the fateful mistake of drinking from a water fountain. By the time I arrived at the station in Rome, I felt so weak I had to sit on the floor while waiting in line to exchange currency. My first evening in that city was spent entirely in bed. Fortuitously, I had traveled abroad with a copy of the third volume of Ms. Angelou’s autobiography, Singin’ and Swingin’ and Gettin’ Merry like Christmas, which – coincidentally – included an account of her first trip to Europe. It was both medicine for the sick, and an eye-opener.

While touring as a member of the cast of Porgy and Bess, she experienced first-hand what Mr. McGruder thought he was explaining to a TV host and audience: how “wonderful” blacks were treated in Europe in contrast to in America. Ms. Angelou, who had been treated quite well, believed this to be the case also – until she learned differently. She had been invited to a party in the home of a Parisian doyenne. She was greeted warmly upon her arrival, but when her hostess learned that the two men accompanying her were not black Americans but were French West-Africans, the atmosphere cooled considerably. It was at this point Ms. Angelou learned the French held people like she in high regard, but did not extend such regard to blacks from the French-held colonies.

All of this happened before the Information Age in which we now live. I’m sure that, had she been privy to documents later made available to the world, Ms. Angelou would have had no reason to invest in the myth of an egalitarian Europe welcoming to blacks. During World War II, which had been over barely a decade before Ms. Angelou’s trip, the Germans already had given the lie to such notions, as evidenced by how black Germans were treated under the Third Reich. Also, while German soldiers had no reason to be welcoming toward enemy soldiers of any color, blacks often were singled out for special treatment. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum reports “Black prisoners of war faced illegal incarceration and mistreatment at the hands of the Nazis, who did not uphold the regulations imposed by the Geneva Convention (international agreement on the conduct of war and the treatment of wounded and captured soldiers). Lieutenant Darwin Nichols, an African American pilot, was incarcerated in a Gestapo prison in Butzbach. Black soldiers of the American, French, and British armies were worked to death on construction projects or died as a result of mistreatment in concentration or prisoner-of-war camps. Others were never even incarcerated, but were instead immediately killed by the SS or Gestapo.” (This last point is reminiscent of what Confederate soldiers did to captured black Union soldiers during our Civil War).

I had read and heard stories of how great things were for black Americans in Europe. I suppose it was no different for the young Mr. McGruder, who is now forty. For many black American writers, painters, dancers, singers, musicians, and intellectuals (as well as the odd traveler), it was all true. It was the work of a great writer who taught me how much more there was to the story, and the importance of looking for the “more” to be found in any tale. Ms. Angelou has been dead for four days as I write, and still she rises.

Going, going, …

I admit to holding prejudiced thoughts , and to the fact that they are difficult to discard. I attribute it to all those years of Sunday school (which – I’ll have you know – I attended voluntarily right through high school). I attribute it also to legendary movie maker Cecil B. DeMille and his The Ten Commandments, but – most of all – to novelist Leon Uris, who captured me at the age of 13 or 14 and wouldn’t let me go.

One evening, while my aunt browsed the clothing in a small, cramped second-hand shop, Uris’ Exodus caught my eye among the used books. I suppose it was the title, but the cover made it plain it was not going to be like the Bible book of the same name. It absorbed me completely. More to the point, I absorbed it.

So, as time passed and I became less of a self-involved adolescent and began to pay a bit more attention to what else was happening in the world, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict presented a dichotomy with which I had to contend. Even with a fuller understanding of the history and the legitimate grievances of the Palestinians, I still felt a reflexive, visceral need to defend the right of Israel to exist. Even with example after example of Israeli intransigence and transgression, my allegiance remained with them. I know writing this will cause some readers to shake their heads. I understand what is felt in the gut will defy those seeking logic.

I don’t think the Israel-right-or-wrong crowd understands the importance of keeping such supporters. I suspect America, Israel’s greatest ally, has many among its citizenry who feel as I do, but we are a different sort from others here who claim to love that country. For them, Israel has to exist in order to be destroyed, thereby fulfilling Christian prophecy and paving the way for the so-called Second Coming. If that is love, it is love couched in the most callous terms. The rest of us, who would like to see Israel succeed in perpetuity, can envision that success only if we are able to see concrete and equitable measures being taken. It has been much too long since we’ve seen anything like the Camp David Accords.

No doubt, this probably is similar to what Secretary of State John Kerry was trying to convey a few days ago when, speaking in private, he said “A two-state solution will be clearly underscored as the only real alternative. Because a unitary state winds up either being an apartheid state with second-class citizens — or it ends up being a state that destroys the capacity of Israel to be a Jewish state.” Who, in their right mind, would dispute this? Not the current Israeli Justice Minister, not even the former prime minister. To a certain crowd in this country, however, the word “apartheid” went off like a bomb. To some in that crowd (read “politicians”), it was faux outrage, an attempt to cause political damage or score political points. To others, such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, it seemed to be an affront. Despite the State Department’s spokeswoman reminding everyone that Secretary Kerry “certainly didn’t say ‘is’”, AIPAC’s reaction was to say “Any suggestion that Israel is, or is at risk of becoming, an apartheid state is offensive and inappropriate.” That was mild-mannered compared to some of the vitriol spewed following Kerry’s use of that dreaded word.

There is some irony to be found in this. Before it was decided that Palestine had to be the place for a Jewish homeland, the early Zionists considered (among other places on Earth) the borderlands between Uganda and Kenya as a possibility. It is not that much of a stretch of the imagination to believe that might not have worked out well. Would a form of apartheid have arisen there as a matter of course? South Africa, the country which created that pernicious system in word and deed, was home to some of the first Jewish settlers in Palestine, and its apartheid government was the first to recognize the new state of Israel. Former editor of The New Republic Andrew Sullivan, a man who has said he believes “in the dream of a free and Jewish state in the ancestral homeland,” recently had the temerity to point out that the current situation in Israel “has now lasted a year longer than the apartheid regime in South Africa – and, unlike that regime, looks set to continue indefinitely.” For this, he was taken to task yesterday by writer David Harsanyi in The Federalist, who felt the need to point out that Mr. Sullivan “was famously accused of anti-Semitism a few years back.” Such is the nature of the discourse.

My continued support is based on my hope that Israel will do the right thing, that it realizes it is not in a game of chicken to see who blinks first, that it understands it has to be the bigger “person”. Without that hope, my reflexes lag. I doubt I am alone among supporters in feeling this way. Writers like Uris carried millions of readers to the Promised Land, but Israel has to do its part to stanch our exodus.

Prison Time?

(Note: a new poem follows this post)

Today was primary day in the District of Columbia. As some of you know already, the winner of the Democratic primary for mayor always has gone on to win in the general election. This time, that might have been an iffy proposition. “Iffy” seems the best way to describe the situation in which we might have found ourselves this coming fall if our current mayor, Vincent Gray, had emerged as the winner, given that his attorney believes he will be indicted for political corruption. His victory would have presented quite a lot for a general electorate to forgive, perhaps too much.

Of course, we do live in a town where – with enough love and loyalty – you can become mayor, go to prison for smoking crack, and be re-elected mayor. Why, then, should the threat of a mere indictment slow a politician down? Well, first, any politician (other than former mayor and current DC Council member Marion Barry) should ask him or herself if he or she engenders that sort of support. I’m thinking the answer should be “no”, but what do I know? Mayor Gray obviously believed otherwise, hence his failed try for another term.

The thing that concerns me is not the race for mayor, it is the wording of the charging documents should Mayor Gray be indicted. It will be the same wording of any indictment of any resident of DC. If you are charged with a crime in this town, it is not you vs. the District of Columbia, it is you vs. the United States of America. What concerns me is what happens when people are sent to prison from here. If found guilty, you will not be sent to DC’s prison, as there is none. You will be sent away to one – or a few – of many federal prisons. The irony is you may have been convicted of breaking a federal law you had no part in passing, not even through your delegate to Congress, as your delegate does not have the right to vote for or against anything.

Yes, I know this suddenly has begun to seem like the same drum I beat last month, but between then and today I was given a stark example of how disenfranchisement can be deadly. I was contacted by and met with two investigators from the Capital Habeas Unit of the Federal Defender Office, in town from Philadelphia to seek assistance in their quest to save the life of a DC resident on death row in Texas.

Shara Davis and Rick Ruffin, angels of mercy doing God’s work, somehow managed to track me down after being given my name by their client, who was a juvenile placed on a brief period of probation under my supervision twenty years ago. As an adult, he was convicted of a crime here in DC, then shipped to Texas where he was convicted of a murder in prison and sentenced to death. Try as I might, I can’t say I was of any help. The most I could offer beyond what they already knew was my memory of the community in which he grew up. A question Ms. Davis asked highlighted the consequences of “our” prison system. She asked if anyone had bothered to do what she and Mr. Ruffin were doing, had anyone from Texas contacted me. It was rhetorical and real at once. You know the answer, don’t you?

DC’s once-upon-a-time prison, the Lorton Reformatory, was ordered closed in 1997 by an act of Congress (of course), and housed its last inmates in 2001. Passage of the National Capital Revitalization and Self-Government Improvement Act (Orwellian enough for you?) required DC felons to become the responsibility of the Federal Bureau of Prisons. Since then, families with loved ones in prison, including my own, have to travel great distances to see them, or give up on keeping that kind of contact. If something goes horribly wrong inside some distant prison, who’s coming to DC to seek some clarity before life and death decisions are made? Will the next mayor find such a question to be real or rhetorical?

If all this makes you think I’m an advocate for DC having its own prison once again, I have to tell you I’m a conditional advocate. Lorton was a nightmare, and not just because it was a prison but because it was a nightmarish one. Those who spent time there, then headed off to the “feds”, will tell you they were thankful for the difference. DC is not unique in that regard. Those who have experienced the differences between state and federal prisons will tell you the same thing today. It might be impossible to overcome the inherent troubles which would be attendant to a local prison, but to assume that would be to assume the Washington of 1997 is the same as the Washington of 2014. We would have to admit we remain incapable of operating such a facility in a responsible manner, and stick with the status quo. If that’s the case, we should consider asking Congress to meddle in our affairs even further, and order the feds to operate a prison locally. After all, it is “us vs. them”, isn’t it?

(from the ancient Egyptian word for “beloved”)

He was revealed to be a leader of the people as a boy,
an activist before he knew what that was.

And, when he knew,
he was revealed to be a leader of the people as a young man,
an actor on their behalf, their voice, their champion,
a provider of fishes and loaves when needed,
but poles also, and a way to the water.

And as he moved among the people,
their pain became his, their troubles,

And in their turmoil he took a bullet,
and thrived,
and moved among the people,
and remained their champion.

And the people did not see his pain, his trouble,
his turmoil,
as if the leaders of people are free of human life,
as if no one had ever given us Agamemnon, or Lear.

And when the nexus of untamed desires and the unforgiving
brought him low,
he rose, and returned to the people, and remained
their champion,
an elder,
revealed to be a leader of the people.

c. 2014
g. r. adams

Note from Niggerton

(Three years ago this month, I was inspired to write a piece I shared with a few at the time. An edited version is posted here):


     I told my wife I was in love with another woman.

     “Who is she?” she asked, turning away from the show she was watching on television. As I skimmed the paper for my new love’s name, my wife said “She’d better be very special”, and laughed.

     “She is”, I said, showing her my new love’s letter. “Her name is Jeanne Talpers. She even uses the same word I use about the same thing”

     “Well said”, said my wife after reading the letter. “She’s worthy. What word is it?”

     “The word ‘obscene’”, I explained. And with that, my wife turned back to her show.

      Here is Ms. Talpers’ letter in its entirety, published in our little local newspaper (The Washington Post, Sunday, February 20, 2011) under the heading “A voting rights lesson from Cairo”:

      “If Cairo can do it, why can’t we?

       Watching the jubilation in Cairo, I wondered why we who are disenfranchised in our nation’s capital also cannot take our cause into        the streets. Where are our young people who know the mysteries of Facebook, Twitter and YouTube? What if these powerful tools could be the key to our liberation?

      There are more than a half-million people in the District, and we pay taxes and send men and women off to war to spread democracy. It is obscene that we do not have the right to have a representative who can vote in Congress.”

      You can understand my being smitten, can’t you? Well, maybe not if you’re into that whole disenfranchisement thing and all. If, however, you believe in truth, justice and the American way, then Ms. Talpers’ words must make your heart sing. It might break her heart to learn her chances of getting what she wants are slim to none as long as she lives here in Niggerton, DC.

      Here is my definition of the word “nigger”: anyone who consistently does nothing about consistently being denied a bedrock right. Used in this context, the word carries no racial connotation whatsoever. A “nigger” can be of any ethnic background. Red, brown, yellow, black and white might be precious in God’s sight, but we’re all niggers here in the town where Ms. Talpers and I live. That’s all it takes, just being a legal resident of the capital of the free world (which has been called the Last Colony and the Last Plantation), a city in a federal district, not in any state and, therefore, denied the rights of a state by the Constitution itself. Yet the very thing that was anathema to our Founders, the thing that drove them to make radical declarations and wage a war of revolution – taxation without representation – seems to matter little, if at all, to the citizens of Niggerton. Day after decade after century, we go about our lives, compliant and complicit in our mistreatment.

     To make matters worse, this town also must periodically endure assaults from foreign invaders: the Republicans who occasionally win a majority of seats in one or both houses of Congress. They seem to delight in coming here and reminding us that not only does the Constitution allow them to exclude us from the democratic process, it also gives them the right to tell us what to do – or not do – even when it comes to how we spend our own local taxes. In their budget-cutting frenzy, the 112th Congress decided the city doesn’t need as much support as it actually does. Our local government is required to perform the duties and offer the services of a state, yet is prohibited by law from doing those things the way states do, by taxing income and property. Oh, sure, income is taxed, but as Post columnist Colbert I. King pointed out, only a third of income is taxed, not the two-thirds earned by non-residents who stream into the city every day and who use city services. And property is taxed too, but only 43 percent, not the 57 percent of the city’s land occupied by the federal government, foreign embassies and a plethora of non-profit, tax-exempt organizations. The decent thing to do, as the federal government usually does, is to compensate the city with a federal payment. The Republican majority in the House had the indecency to say no. It is not surprising that the first recorded vote of that Congress was an open protest vote forced by our nonvoting delegate; it is unsurprising because of its futility.

     Maybe I cannot fairly say we have consistently done nothing. Over the years there have been efforts by some, including a constitutional amendment enacted by Congress and sent to the states for ratification, where it died. Not one effort has ever borne fruit, and not once has a significant portion of the citizenry given the slightest sign of caring.

     I understand how easy it might be to forget to stand on principle when living in a city where people can luxuriate in every freedom but one, or where too many people still struggle with being have-nots in the land of plenty. This one principle in particular, however, makes the act of forgetting a disgrace and makes the name given to those who commit this act appropriate.

     I’m sure one reason I was drawn to Ms. Talpers’ letter was my own history of quixotic letter-writing. More than twenty years ago, I wrote an open letter to this city’s then-mayor, city council members and nonvoting delegate to Congress. I reminded them – some of whom were veterans of the civil rights movement – that nothing of such magnitude had ever been accomplished through mere words alone. I suggested that, as our elected leaders, we citizens would follow them into the streets and on to Capitol Hill to demand an end to taxation without representation, if only they would lead us. I pointed out that it was not as if I were asking them to march into the halls of Congress shouldering rifles the way the Black Panthers had done when they marched into the California statehouse. I also tried to assure them there was no need to worry that others would think badly of them, noting that there even had been many black people who thought the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was nothing more than a rabble-rouser.

     The response? How is this for irony: in this largely black, big “D” Democratic town, the only replies I received were from two city council members, both white Republicans. Even though their letters amounted to no more than a polite pat on the head and a “there, there now” as one might do and say to a distraught child, I remember thinking at the time that at least their mothers had raised them properly.

     The current mayor, at his inauguration, said he wanted statehood for the city. This, of course, is like saying he wants a slice of sky pie, but I think he thinks he meant what he said. Since then, he and other city leaders have participated in publicized displays of civil disobedience leading to arrests in an effort to highlight the issue. That certainly amounts to being more than just the latest HNIC (Head Nigger In Charge) acquiescing to the status quo, but if he and our non-voting delegate want to do more, they can. They could suggest something be done to relieve us of taxation without representation until we get representation, in whatever form representation finally comes. They wouldn’t have to strain themselves looking for an alternative to our present condition, since alternatives already exist for others who find themselves in a situation similar to ours.

     American Samoa, Guam, The Northern Mariana Islands, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, like Niggerton, all have nonvoting delegates in Congress. These U.S. territories also participate in the Food Stamp Program and Medicaid. They pay taxes as well, but here’s the thing: they don’t pay them to the federal government that’s denying them representation. In the Northern Mariana Islands, the income tax system is largely locally determined. Puerto Rico imposes an income tax in lieu of Federal income tax. American Samoa, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands use a mirror tax law under which taxpayers calculate their taxes based on the U.S. Tax Code but pay them to their governments. We here in Niggerton, DC pay more federal tax to the federal government than do several states. In the famous words of a famous native son of this city, it “makes me wanna holler, and throw up both my hands.”

     Taking my own advice regarding the need for more than words, I tried more. Like Cervantes’ dreamer, I resolved to raise a lance and joust with giants by imploring my fellow citizens to collectively do what we do best – nothing. The idea was to use the theme of playwright Douglas Turner Ward’s “Day of Absence” to our advantage. I thought it would be perfect for people too lazy or preoccupied or apathetic to march for their rights. They could do nothing for just one day, nothing – including not leaving the house to go to work or school or the corner grocer. Marching would be passé; sitting on your behind at home in protest would be the new radical chic.

     I cajoled a few relatives and friends into being my Sancho Panza. We formed a committee, set a date of absence, and mailed letters and pamphlets to as many local civic, social, political and religious organizations as we thought necessary. I even spent the last night before the big day leafleting windshields in neighborhoods of every quadrant of the city. From the questions I was asked in a telephone call from Washington Post reporter Steve Twomey, I surmised he didn’t appreciate my lack of concern for the impact on local businesses. He need not have worried. There was no impact on businesses or anything else. That day passed like every other, right up to this very day.

     Could anything like this happen in a place like – oh, say – Madison, Wisconsin? Few would argue that the protesters in Wisconsin were as desperate as those throughout the Middle East, yet they marched in Madison because they saw an intolerable injustice. Ms. Talpers didn’t give a shout-out to the involved citizens of that town, but that state’s frenetic, budget-cutting cum union-busting governor (though he ultimately prevailed) was provided a valuable lesson in how not to assume people will be niggers if you just step on them hard enough. Only niggers will be niggers.

     So, what will it take for the folks of Niggerton to really do something? Ms. Talpers wants to know the whereabouts of our counterparts to the fed-up, tech-savvy young revolutionaries we watched on the evening news. Well, if you’re living in town just long enough to get your degree, to clerk for a judge or to be an intern for a Hill staffer, maybe you don’t care about the rest of us. If you come into Niggerton every day, but return to the suburbs of Maryland and Virginia every evening over roads we – not you – have to pay for, does it matter to you that we are all Americans but not all equal?

     Maybe we should form a District of Columbia Liberation Front. You know, recruit some of the young folk whose anger is currently misdirected at other youngsters whose only crime is to live on a different block. We could redirect that energy where it can make a difference. After all, some of them already possess arms and have proven themselves skilled in the use of them. It would be right in line with all the bloviating about Second Amendment remedies. But that would be General George Washington’s way, wouldn’t it? In the streets of Cairo, with their Jasmine Revolution, the Egyptian people proved that ending the status quo can be accomplished in Dr. King’s way.

     It is with equal parts incredulity and amusement that I now look back at my inept, pathetic efforts. Maybe one day, in our own Cherry Blossom Revolution, Ms. Talpers and I will cross paths at some barricade while attempting to finally end this obscenity. I’ll have no idea who she is, and she won’t know me, but she’ll remember the former nigger wearing the biggest smile.


(In loving memory of Edward Calvern Adams, Sr., who was born in this city, on this date, in 1925.)

(A very special comment was made following this post. I think it only fitting that it be shown here.)

Lynn Talpers, Burlington , VT- Just a short note to let you know that Jeanne Talpers died December 14, 2012. – the same day as the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary. She was passionate about many causes- gun control, gay rights and representation for the District of Columbia. She lived in the DC area for 70 years and helped it change in many ways. She picketed to end segregation at Glen Echo, she took part in all the anti-Vietnam marches, she volunteered at the Whitman Walker Clinic, was a founding member of DC’s PFLAG chapter (Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays). Up until her last months of life she volunteered at Obama’s correspondence office and at DC’s Holocaust Museum, trying to ensure that the downtrodden, both living and dead were not forgotten. She achieved many things, unfortunately not representation for DC. She never gave up. At her funeral, her son-in-law and daughter-in-law , accompanied by many nephews, led those assembled in “We Shall Overcome.” She was a wonderful woman, worthy of your love. She was also my mother. Thank you for reminding me of her spirit.