“Oh, I see, so the white man give you a couple a stripes, and suddenly you start hollerin’ and orderin’ everybody around, like you the massa himself! Nigger, you ain’t nothin’ but the white man’s dog!”
“And what are you? So full of hate you want to go out and fight everybody! Because you’ve been whipped and chased by hounds. Well that might not be living, but it sure as hell ain’t dying. And dying’s been what these white boys have been doing for going on three years now! Dying by the thousands! Dying for you, fool! I know, ’cause I dug the graves. And all this time I keep askin’ myself, when, O Lord, when it’s gonna be our time? Gonna come a time when we all gonna hafta ante up. Ante up and kick in like men. LIKE MEN! You watch who you call a nigger! If there’s any niggers around here, it’s YOU. Just a smart-mouthed, stupid-ass, swamp-runnin’ nigger! And if you not careful, that’s all you ever gonna be!”
– Private Trip and Sergeant Major John Rawlins, Glory
Oh, how I love a proper kick in the teeth of all things racist and prejudicial.
Glory is a depiction of the historical, all-black 54th Regiment of Massachusetts during the American Civil War. It was the first time that black men were permitted to serve in the Union’s military, and their courage and sacrifice enabled many others to do so both during and after the war. This was accomplished when many of them, including their white commander, were killed in action as they attempted to storm a Confederate fort. That rather put a damper on anyone’s outrage (and there was outrage) that black men were permitted to serve alongside white. And when the bodies were buried a mass grave, the Confederates intended it to be an insult when they buried the white commander alongside his black soldiers, but it was probably the greatest honor they ever unintentionally paid to an enemy.
This particular exchange occurs between two of the black soldiers in question, as they’re in training. Trip and Rawlins are both volunteers, but Trip is full of hate and anger towards all white men, due to how he has suffered at white hands. But Rawlins has been a grave digger, and he’s buried many, many white men who gave their lives trying to right those very same wrongs. Does Trip have a right to be angry over what was done to him? Yes. But he’s let that anger cloud his mind and poison his soul. Rawlins has gone the other way, choosing to be his best self, and praying for a chance not to strike at the white man, but to stand alongside him.
That speaks to me on a deep level. I see many people today who were never slaves and never suffered under Jim Crow and never lost a loved one to a KKK lynching… no, instead, they’ve been given welfare from the cradle and they’re given scholarships for the color of their skin… yet they are filled with hate towards people who never did them any wrong. And I see many white people who never owned a slave, never hanged a black man, and never refused a black man anything, and yet they are being taught to hate themselves for the color of their skin. Both of these people forget.
White people marched alongside black people during the Civil Rights Movement. White people hung alongside black people when they refused to kowtow to the KKK. White people fought and died alongside black people during the Civil War. White people risked and sometimes lost their lives alongside the black people they helped in the Underground Railroad.
Did the white man commit terrible, unspeakable atrocities against the black man in decades and centuries past? Yes. That cannot be denied and must not be forgotten. But that is not all the white man did.
But the black child is taught to be angry, as the white child is taught to be ashamed. Carefully, carefully taught, as it says in a certain famous musical which I may quote more entirely at another time. These become angry black adults and self-hating white adults. And once you let that much anger faster for so long, it can be all but impossible to cleanse one’s soul of it. Spread that anger far and wide enough, and everything cracks at the seams as people strike out in blind, mindless hatred, more like vicious animals than like human beings, causing immense suffering, and especially inflicting agony on the innocent.
This movie came out in 1989. Two decades after Rawlins’ prophetic warning, look where we are.
Somehow… somehow we have to stop it. We have to remember all of our history, both the good and the bad. We have to rise above the wrongs that have been done, both way back then and those which are done today. We have to forget our hatred and stop teaching our children that same hatred. We have to choose to be humans, always, and never animals. We have to remember those who came before have already fought and died and been buried together. We have to remember that we are all the same. We have to choose to be better, not worse. We have to raise ourselves and each other above the pain, and anger, and hate.