Critical (E)race Theory

In my childhood, we took road trips to Powhatan, Virginia, Paternal Stomping Grounds.  

With Pops at the wheel, I recall three visceral phases of the road trip.

First: driving across the Woodrow Wilson Memorial Bridge into northern Virginia. I remember the memorial sculpture on the bridge that looked like a huge dime. I remember the picture of the red cardinal on the Virginia Welcomes You sign.

Second: eating a burger at What-A-Burger in Richmond and drinking a cold orange Tru Ade soda. From What-A-Burger, we drove directly to the first stop on our visit, Aunt Hallie’s house on Lee’s Landing Road.

Final memory of confirmation: daddy speeding up the car so that it felt like we were flying when we drove over the swells in the rolling country road! Moms rode shotgun and shouted: ‘heeeeeeeere we go,’ and I could feel the whole world accelerating to the sound of her voice matching the sound of the revving engine.  

My exhilaration is re-ignited, whenever I claim and re-claim these experiences.

It still feels early in my life, when I distill these experiences and feelings into pristine reminders to fully participate in my life until I’m out of here.

So I fully resist any interpersonal or systematic efforts to deny the lush, powerful, even painful and traumatic, experiences of my existence.

I fully resist any effort driven by what I call Critical (E)race Theory … the contemporary guiding force behind white nationalism’s onslaught against telling the whole truth of American history.

Mugs who use intimidating policies, book bannings [kissing cousin to book burnings], dark-money funded individuals who call for ‘fair and balanced’ study of indigenous removal, U.S. enslavement or Nazi genocide, are straight dipping into the fascist tool kit, the tyrant’s trick bag. They are foot soldiers for those who deal the cards of divide-and-conquer like they playing Rise & Fly Bid Whist.

I’ve recently been jolted with gratitude for the unflinching work of two visual artists – Cameron Rowland and John Sims – who take it to the bridge with their creative x-raying of the subsonics pulsing beneath the denialism, the voluntary asphyxiation, at the foundation of Critical (E)race Theory.

These and so many other artists and thinkers (none more so than my recently departed brother Greg Tate) help us see through the national treachery masquerading behind furniture, flags, monuments, contracts, among other objects. They run the numbers. Do the math. They reveal the architectures.

And their work reminds us to call out the fragilities and discomforts floated as rationales to avoid the grown folks’ work of democratic allocation of the commons our work has built and continues to generate even more today than yesterday.

It’s on me to document and defend my own beauty. To thread it throughout the land. To embody what I value.

Who do you value? What and who do you celebrate?

What equal and opposition force for good, resistance and life are we ready to generate in the face of Critical (E)race Theory?

BONUS EXCERPT from my book, Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,’ WINNER, 2015 AMERICAN BOOK AWARD: “….  I’m thinking of one particular guide from rural Virginia, from my childhood, from my young adulthood. Now an ancestor, she was a resident of a physical and psychic part of Virginia as far from Thomas Jefferson’s mountaintop as you can get. … I’m thinking of declarations now, on my pursuit of happiness. ‘I declare,’ Aunt Hallie would say from the porch, when she saw us climbing out of the car. She’d say, ‘I declare,’ but to my ear she said, “I clare.” I clare … so good to see y’all …. I clare … Little Pete you growing so fast .… I clare … let me fix you something to eat …. Each declaration in her high-pitched voice was excited evidence of generosity and curiosity and welcome…. Without fanfare, Aunt Hallie and my father’s other brothers and sister (my Moms was a foster child and her folks didn’t help raise me) ushered me into core, southern African American culture. They saturated me with example and endowment that helps rejuvenate me no matter what I’m facing. I clare…happiness is fuel for my locomotion. I clare … it is lonely on the walk sifting the difference between happiness and happy go lucky. I clare … my allegiance to Aunt Hallie and them, to the culture, to the history. I clare … my hunger for the All ‘n All, which is different from the song, sound and theology of Aunt Hallie’s beloved St. James Baptist Church, but still draws on their basic pattern of service. What is a happy Black man but an implosion of rearranged molecules? H2O on it…Harris to the second power. Two times like James Brown shouted at his band! A huge circle of oxygen, refreshing smell of water…. I clare … I want to give off the smell of water when I walk into a room. Inspire you to clare … about what makes you happy….

2 thoughts on “Critical (E)race Theory”

  1. Well, I clare; I do like some of these towns and park names on the map (e.g. Tobaccoville, Pocohantas State Park…)

    Such memories of excitement, family and southern hospitality are worth celebrating and remembering with joy! These are the matters that make you smile from the heart in the midst of current challenges. Yes, totally agree, we claim our joy!

    Who’d of thunk that as curious little ones we’d grow to be seniors smiling as we look back on these wonderful, rich experiences with our family? I can see both your parents smiling as you rode along the hills of Virginia. Massey’s Mill a little further due South produced similar “precious memories” of my family, tying the family connections. In the not too distant future, younger ones in our families (nieces, nephews, grands, cousins, …_ will be seniors remembering us with joy and deep smiles, I pray. Thank you for sharing these thoughts. They keep us balanced and grounded in positive, loving energy.

  2. Seeing that map, and realizing I’ve never been to your ancestral town. Makes me want to go. To remember. To always remember. Thank you for your memories and for always sharing them with us. Love you Pops


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