Filed under: Visions 2042 |

By Dale Johnson

Tooth. I had to find a word to start my thinking as regards race, and I started with tooth. I pause. I write in the stream and all and tooth- open your mouth. Let me look at your teeth. This terror is above all other terror. I can’t even imagine the deep and subdued but present terror of being black in America in the age of slavery. Or the struggle to define oneself as a person of color in America ever since.

My nation is built on the notion of inequality. Thomas Jefferson is a liar.

Extraordinaire. And I, in acquiescence, as do all present-day Americans, roll over the fact that slave labor built wealth that is to this day enjoyed by the direct descendants of slave holders, while the children, often direct descendants of those same former slave holders, settle into stiff recognition of the still-accepted fact that one will be regarded as black in America with one drop of African blood.

At dinner the other day I noticed a woman, very pretty, having dinner with her kids. There was a slight hint of a black ancestor somewhere in their past. The Emancipation

Proclamation (!) was issued in 1865, one hundred forty-five years ago. In a flash I was taken back, not so very long ago, to an era just before that, say the 1850’s… a few hundred miles away, in the deep South- and the woman stood crying on an auction block, her children destined to stand on the same block, their fate not to be longer entwined with that of their mother. In the same flash I saw the crowd of sweat-covered men that have allowed the “peculiar institution” to so cloud their vision that they have come to believe that the woman and her children hold no more a grip on their human-ness than does the horse or the cow, set to be auctioned later in the day across the street.

In my country, open eyes and an open heart can make even the most mundane human activity a brutal reminder of the facts of our nation’s founding. And when I drive by the farm just north of Cincinnati with the confederate flag painted on the barn roof, a large burned cross near the fence that separates the highway from the farm, I am again brutally reminded of my country’s present, in which equality of opportunity is a sham, and in which schools are anything but equal, and the resulting impoverishment of opportunity for so many of my fellow citizens spreads the disease of lost destinies through yet another generation; when I see with my own open eyes and open heart the shattering of hope and pride that so many words of hate and discouragement intend to foster in so many of our citizenry, I am discouraged also.

Discouraged that my skin is of the same tone as that worn shamefully by the ignorant judges of character not by content, but by skin color; discouraged that the children of people whose lives have been so shaped by the poisonous inequality demanded by the laws of my country are still faced with an overwhelming wall of self-righteous ignorance; and discouraged that although we have come as far as we have toward a nation of brothers, proud to call ourselves the land of the free, we stand miles away from any such precipice, still plodding with heavy, sodden feet toward the mountain from whose vista we might all share a common dream, the dream that someday we will raise our arms together as champions of each others’ freedom, together, a nation that grows unified toward the light of acceptance.

And then, armed with my reaction to this ever-present discouragement, I think of my own son, a beautiful man of internal diversity, whose parents both share Native American ancestry, whose mother is a black woman, and whose father is of European descent.

My son, working hard to establish himself as an independent and strong man in America, whose own self image I can never know, but whose presence is that of a man who spreads joy and confidence to those of us who love him, and I am sure, even to those who don’t. My own blood is mixed in with his in the eternal struggle of the powerless against the powerful.

History has proven time and again that the slow tectonic shift toward a world ruled not by money and power but by reason and love is happening all around us all the time.

I am given hope by so many small acts of acceptance by so many.

I am given hope by the love I feel when my son hugs me with his strong arms and I feel the lack of color in the love he holds for me.

I am given hope by the sounds I hear of struggle overcome as I listen to Ron, or Michael, or Colin, or Derek- in the sounds of the outpouring of resolve that is music.

I am given hope because I know I am not alone in my passionate demand that the future be held accountable to the struggle for justice and equality that is the passage of time in America.


Dale Johnson, born 1962, Vermillion, South Dakota, BFA California College of Art, 1987, Self employed as a stone carver and artist since 1991, Father of three, stepfather to two more.


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Author: Kirwan Institute (427 Articles)

Kirwan Institute

0 Responses to Tooth!

  1. Mr. Johnson, your poetry touches me. Thank you.

    Angela Stuesse

    Angela Stuesse
    May 26, 2010 at 3:31 pm

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