“Dude, what y’all doing down in North Carolina?” Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, asked during a recent phone call.
It’s the first thing people ask when they call to catch up on my life since I left Missouri. I’m fed up and disgusted due to a torrent of queries regarding the General Assembly. It all reminds me of the embarrassment I felt while witnessing the dismay on my girlfriend’s face when my drunken uncle approached her at the family reunion.
It took a lot of energy to convince her I was nothing like my uncle and the other rowdy members of the family. Seceding from the family seemed the logical solution after experiencing the rolling eyes.
Rather than exerting energy pleading for understanding, it seemed easier to divorce Uncle Rufus and the other nitwits who made it difficult to get past the first date.
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“In Durham, we’re not like those people,” I responded to Gould’s question.
Those people. Those people as in, you know, those people. They’re not like us. They’re like a bunch of deplorables.
Ouch. You can’t say that.
Sadly, my characterization limits the humanity of “those people.” Calling people “those people” compels me to consider the implications related to placing “those people” into a bucket with like-minded deplorables – I mean fine, outstanding citizens.
“Use your nice words,” the voice of my fourth-grade teacher rung in my head as I blurted a bunch of bad words to express my rage. How else do you talk about what happened last month? It’s demanding finding nice words to describe the actions of Republicans in the state legislature. Words like “God bless them” and “Pray for them” no longer fit the sentiment when you find yourself sick and two miles past tired.
Playing nice is hard to do when “those people” use their power to limit the influence of citizens. Using nice words is grueling after Republican legislators used their supermajority to slash the authority of the incoming governor. It’s difficult mustering the strength to maintain peaceful protest when “those people” impose their will to reconfigure the state’s court system and strip the governor of the power to appoint members to the state and county boards of election.
Miss Turner, my fourth-grade teacher, would tell me to try to understand why “those people” work so hard to keep people down. Turner, a black teacher in a recently integrated school, understood the agony of coming back, over and over again, with a smile and a bunch of nice words. She detected the rage that made it difficult for me to focus on math and spelling.
We were taught to believe in the system. We were told to pray while “those people” used their power to maintain control. We were encouraged to be nice while proving we had a right to sit at the table.
People like Miss Turner believed in that strategy. People like me learned to smile in the heat of disappointment and to silently fight back.
Use your nice words and stay in your assigned seat.
“People in Durham are different,” I said again to underline my point. Durham isn’t like other parts of North Carolina.
Can a city to secede from the state?
It helped me contend with the antics of Uncle Rufus.
“He’s not really my uncle,” I told one of my former girlfriends. “He’s the brother of Uncle Buck’s wife, but they have a different daddy, so he’s not a part of the family.”
Could we get away with that? Durham is a diverse community, so we’re a part of the state, but the people in the General Assembly have a different daddy. We were raised with a different set of values and we don’t invite them to the family reunion.
“Those people” may be the best way to label some of the folks in the General Assembly. It’s a statement that addresses the estrangement between Republicans and Democrats. It reveals the resentment and brokenness that swaps compromise for dominance. It trades democracy for party rule while forfeiting the integrity of the separation of powers.
So, is it possible to secede from the state?
If not, things are different in Durham.
Carl Kenney, co-executive producer of “God of the Oppressed,” an upcoming documentary that explores black liberation theology, lives in Durham. You can reach him at Revcwkii@hotmail.com