A Nameless Chasm: Making Sense of America’s Senseless Growing Pains

A+rally+of+supporters+of+President+Donald+Trump.+The+divisions+in+the+U.S.%2C+Reuben+Kadushin+writes%2C+over+race+and+other+factors+are+a+coming+of+age+for+America.

Photo by David Todd McCarty for Unsplash

A rally of supporters of President Donald Trump. The divisions in the U.S., Reuben Kadushin writes, over race and other factors are a coming of age for America.

By Reuben Kadushin, St. Benedict's Preparatory School

Walking through crowds of masks hanging like armor over black faces — under eyes glossed with a frantic panic, anxiety, or rage — the strings of my mask teasing my cheek bones, and the sun feeling close enough to fall out of the Bed-Stuy sky, I took the subway on a July afternoon to a dentist’s office in Manhattan that had been open for a month after its “pandemic closing”: A deserved break for somebody’s slaving employees wasted by nightmares of job insecurity, a hungry fridge, and, possibly, the existential questions that are usually raised when the number “100,000” is juxtaposed with the word “death” on the television.

According to everybody else (which, when we talk about race, is all who really matters, in the way one can be Nigerian or Jamaican or Brazilian, but just as black as the heritage-less descendants of American slaves, and in the same way those same descendants aren’t able, at least  with sanity, to just call themselves Americans — meaning one is, really, to a profound extent, black insofar as it affects how they can be treated by everybody else), I don’t look related to my father. He’s been told he’s white. And, similarly, I’ve been told I’m black. My father picks me up from a practice, or a class — or somewhere my friends dragged me into the deep puzzles of New York — and, at our joining debut, I wait for a stranger’s eyes to puff in surprise. Or brows to jump in amusement. Or, if they are feeling bold, shout, “Yo that’s your Dad?” as if they’re trying to put together some bad, racial joke, and we — my father and I — will separate, stop our act of familiarity, break into laughter,  confetti and balloons flying from the ceiling — and will respond: “Ha, we got you good, didn’t we!”

With the same skin as the men the world has just watched murder Black men with the impunity adjoined by a police badge — on their phone’s screens; with the same skin of the men the world watched for hundreds of years, indifferently, employ rape, misery, secularism, poverty, whips, bombs, slavery (the skin of men who employed a relentless, catastrophic suffocation of  the dignity of every man, woman, and child on the brown corners of the world) and made all of those words and images synonymous with democracy, capitalism, “westernism” and Christianity in their schools, and is continuing to do so, every second — my father met me at the dentist’s office in a suit. A white man in a suit: My father was dressed up like power. And I’ve hated to walk with him when he’s in a suit, in every place that we’ve lived, because when people who believe they are powerless think they see power, they have to suppress feelings of wanting to either kiss it, take it, kill themselves, or humiliate it: I’ve yet to find words to describe the boiling I’ve seen behind some people’s eyes at the sight of my father’s post-work nonchalance.

While the Black and Hispanic security guard’s eyes laughed at the mismatched father and son — who seemed to step in complete ignorance of the absurd, historical satire the two, adjacent, represented — the walls’ hues of blue colored our step from the hot street into the air-conditioned building. We walked up the stairs of the lobby, mumbling about my potential colleges, and — as he likes to phrase — “all this shit going on,” and trailed to the orthodontist’s  office. And as we made that hard right, and I still felt their eyes on my father’s and my backs, they unknowingly bleeding so much of that too familiar angst onto my neck, I knew that they understood, regardless of if they were at the top or the bottom of the building, in their black and white suits, which, because of our nation’s history, contrasted with their cinnamon and ash skin — mimicking exactly what they were gawking at — they were telling their own version of the joke my father and I were.

I was saying something, and I stopped talking because my father started running into the room we were walking towards. A sitting crowd of masked, black faces — anything but six feet apart — looked up, initially wearing a militant though fearful confusion, to my father screaming: “You said, ON THE PHONE, THERE WOULD BE SOCIAL DISTANCING! THIS IS EXACTLY HOW IT WAS BEFORE!” at the older, black woman at the desk.

Whatever was in the air transmuted to a silent laughter — the crowd looking into itself. My father kept yelling at the woman, who was — despite what the crowd assumed — responsible, his tie sailing as his hands pointed to the densely packed brown faces, his face red like he was choking on everybody staring at him, saying: you’re literally killing these people by permitting this; this is one of the only offices that takes Medicaid. She responded, first quietly, but then raising her hostility to the level of my father’s, that she only worked here, he was yelling at the wrong person, she was a working woman, life is stressful, my father had the option to leave. With the safety and wretchedness only a mob can provide and facilitate, a young man peeled his mask off to say: “I’m fine.” Like dominoes falling, another man, his Yankee hat tilted into nearfall: “Aye man, I’m fine; I don’t need no social distancing.” I think everybody clapped; if they didn’t, they did it without their hands. When another man lifted his phone to record my father screaming at the woman, I saw the man’s logic coalesce under the mirth behind his mask: “A white person screaming at a black woman dressed as a nurse. If I record this grotesque, symbolic interaction, maybe I can go viral.” A woman sitting in the front row went to console my father through his uncalled-for frustration, telling him something. He responded, electrically, this is not fair; they’re killing people. She, like everybody else, didn’t give a damn about what was coming out of my father’s mouth. The crowd saw: she — black, soft, wise, hardworking with her own nurse suit — met my father — entitled, ignorant, privileged, effeminate, powerful, wrong, money, evil, white — with a cool voice, saying something. Like the crowd, if she said his concerns were “not worth the yells,” or “leave her alone,” she was identifying with the woman at the desk — like everybody else — and dancing around the words: “Sir: we don’t care if we die; the disease isn’t real because you are the one advocating for us; you wouldn’t understand this, but we’re used to crumbs; and I can’t trust you because you look like the landlord, the police, the president, the governor, the Senate, the men on the dollar bill, everything that doesn’t care whether we live or die, everything that’s tried to kill us, and our parents, and their parents; everyone that owns everything we don’t, a body of history and literature we can’t claim because its lessons and philosophies have been shown they are only utilized as weapons against us — and consolation for you — and, so, I can’t trust you. Because of what you and your suit represent, no matter what you say, I can’t trust you. Disappear. Social distance ya ass out of this room, how about that?”

Hell didn’t freeze when a crowd of African Americans protested someone advocating in their best interests, because of some visceral, inarticulate, justified distrust of who was talking. It wasn’t until later, upon reflection, that I sided with my father over the crowd. And after unpacking the layers of that moment, the crowd —  its infatuation with its own ferocity, power, illogic, its voice — I thought of Trump’s followers irrationally supporting their country’s, and their own, demise. I thought of us, and, consequently, whether that word might mean anything.

It must be said: The divide we are witnessing in  our country has nothing to do with policy. As one side recites with pamphlets of evidence written in the blood of our lost that reek of the gunpowder, hemp, and tears that were forced under their skins — and that man, on the other side of the table, in that very same house, with the very same mother and father, watches that party scream, cry, flail, and plead with the indifferent, deaf smile of guilt wrapped around his white face, the forces in his heart driving him to watch his own family (who is suffering in such a familiar way!) grieve and, then, politicize and dehistoricize murder have nothing to do with unions, or contracts, or the environment, or socialism, or healthcare, or police, or democracy, or violence, or capital, or guns, or rights, or education, or freedom; those forces only have to do with the fact that he is fighting for his life. 

I know this because life is the only thing one would, knowingly, blind oneself to keep.

The men and women in the crowd of the rally — armed — don’t care what comes out of his mouth, as long as they believe the man on the podium sees them, because, otherwise, they can’t live. And the men and women exploiting most of the world for its blood and resources, and employing their rights to do so, know that if they let go of their arbitrary greed, they, too, will cease to live.

 To live? Fighting for life? You may ask whether I’m even talking about anything, or just making a literary romance of politics. When I say that people are fighting to live, I say that men have sat in corporate offices and, weighing the entire existence of the human race with their profits, ordered someone to create propaganda campaigns enforcing that climate change was a hoax; when I say that people are fighting to to live, I say that men have raised arms against their own country for the right to own other people; when I say people are fighting to live, I say that women, with children of their own, have ordered the lynchings of their lovers — knowing them to be their neighbor’s sons; when I say that people are fighting to live, I say that men have watched and ordered the lynchings of their own mulatto children; when I say people are fighting to live, I say that there were men and women, consciously, redlining members of their own states and boroughs into immutable poverty; when I say people are fighting to live, I say that a man once ordered to put 99 bullets into a man who was fighting to provide the children of America’s ghettos with lives that weren’t riddled with turmoil; when I say people are fighting to live, I say that these actions, and all that they represent, were for what? The economy? For socialism? For capitalism? For the president? For a policy? For something as vague as power? For something as imaginary as one’s race? For, maybe, peace? No. When I say people are fighting to live, I’m saying that there is something almost unnamable, visceral, irrational, but necessary, and, therefore, very human driving us to turn blind eyes on not just the grievances of our neighbors, but those of ourselves. And, consequently, when all of this is at rest — because it will be eventually — we, as a country, must be ready for some equally human solution to what Trump (to put a face to the force) has gifted us with unearthing from underneath ourselves — where everybody lives — to a surface — where all the world can see. And that solution is understanding our humanity: that we, as an irrational people, are not bound to the systems that we create, and, therefore, are at distance to everything we know about life, but death, love, suffering, and failure.

Whether the orange man wins or loses, for his presence in the conversation is telling enough, like a child at the precipice of adulthood — when one understands one is responsible for one’s own life — America is experiencing a coming of age: A crossroads. As disparity and distrust peak amongst her people, we are witnessing the currents of our systems crash under their own volume: hubris. As they age, she is seeing that her mother, capitalism, and her father, imperialism, are — under all their romantic vibrance and dignity — as fragile as she is, and, too, human. No longer can they protect her from the world they tried, as hard as they failed, to shelter her from. And, as anyone watching their parents age and ready to rot, part of her is in a childlike denial, and part of her knows too well what she must do. But that denial is rooted in trauma; the symptoms of her growth. Despite what it seems, however, the tracts of slavery, segregation, labor violence, colonialism, corporate corrutption, and tribalism are not where she bleeds; those will be the necessary phases of her growth — those moments are the calcium in the bones of her shins and her hands, as inseparable to her character as the genomes in her cells: Her awesome power she’ll use to grow and guide. Where the wounds are, are in the parts of her in denial of her experiences, who don’t want to learn the lessons of hardship. And the hard truth we have to understand is that she will never overcome her contradictions. She will try, but because she is composed of people, she, as an entity, is very human, and for humans, hurting and living are anything but exclusive. As with her parents, imperfection is what she so violently keeps from the world. But this is where we step — when we accept our history and the social forces that bend us, we see that we are no different from any other country. 

We are susceptible to fascism, violence, ignorance — as we are capable of equality, nobility, and enlightenment. We can fall. But we can build. And, understanding this duality, we can use these times of hurt, blood, noise, lies, and tears as time for reflection —  instead of a time of denial, exhaustion, war. When a man can be shot seven times in his back by a cop, and his brothers and sisters are devoid of surprise, and when a man can murder two of his brothers who were protesting the injustice that crippled that same victim, and be praised by the commander in chief  — we are doing anything but going backwards. What is important now: To see what looks like collapse, failure, ignorance, as evidence of our — coming — growth and inextricable humanity. And our despair, at least, is proof that we are fighting for and against something very important — to all of us. 

This story was originally published on The Benedict News on September 6, 2020.