Righteous Rage In The Sky

Stormy sky righteous rage

On April 4, 1968, my father was returning home from a speaking engagement in Grand Junction, Colorado – connecting with a flight from Denver to Philadelphia. His regular flight had been cancelled and he’d been forced to hop a twin-engine puddle-jumper.

A volatile storm system had parked itself over the continental divide, a two-mile high Rocky Mountain Ridge bisecting the state on a North/South axis. The pilots were disinclined to make the trip, especially since my father was the only passenger in their 8-seater. Dad, a former British Army Major and paratrooper, was not easily denied. The three of them ascended.

It wasn’t long before the pilot and co-pilot regretted their decision. With only mountains below them, and no available place to land, they pressed on into an increasingly violent, turbulent storm – swimming in rain-whipped blackness, tossed about by sudden shifts of wind and terrified as lightning strikes grew closer and closer, scarring the dark like heavenly spears.

The pilot and copilot were hanging on every word crackling from the radio. My father, anxious to make certain they did their very best, was in the cockpit with them. Then, an urgent voice broke into the control tower feed with the astonishing announcement that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. had been assassinated. For an instant the three men, precariously suspended above mountaintops, went silent. At last the pilot broke the silence with these words, “Finally! They finally took care of that fucking uppity nigger!”

At that moment my father did not think, he acted. Hand out he grabbed the pilot’s collar and pulled him forward. Then, fueled with the irresistible intoxicant we call righteous rage; he punched the pilot full force in the face, knocking him across the cabin. He reached out and repeated the procedure until finally the man, screaming in fear and disbelief, placed both hands on his face to stop the stream of blood pouring from his nose. With authority and conviction that were normal for him my father told the co-pilot to make do without his partner and walked to the back of the small, trembling plane.

There is something wonderfully insane about someone who would mercilessly beat a man whose well-being was instrumental to continued life, based only on moral outrage. There is also something wildly ironic about defending the memory of a pacifist icon with brute violence. I confess, like Dr. King, I believe passionately in non-violence. And yet, dear reader, there are moments when I ache to be that person, the brute my father was, raining down divine retribution upon sinners with terrible, swift justice.

Even today I miss Dr. King. Not just for what he did, but especially how he did it. It is the how of it that holds the greatest nobility.

Admire Doctor King’s Dream? Then Wake Up!

Lena Horne  Lena Horne                 Kate Smith  Kate Smith

Lenny Bruce practiced a confrontational, political form of comedy that relied heavily on shock. He had a famous bit on the subject of racism he directed towards all white males in attendance. It went like this.

Imagine you are shipwrecked on a desert island with no hope of rescue. The island has everything you need to survive so it is reasonable to believe you will live out your days in comfort.

Now, imagine you are offered female companionship but must choose between Lena Horne and Kate Smith. (Stage pause.) If you choose Kate Smith, you’re a racist.

If you find this offensive; congratulations. It’s sexist and chubbyist. (If Lena Horne and Kate Smith are unfamiliar names, I will tell you that they were both singers. Lena Horne was light-skinned and could have passed for white but chose not to.)

There are actually only two kinds of racists; those who admit they are racists and those who don’t. Xenophobia is ancient and primal; our knuckle-dragging predecessors were ruled by fear and regarded the unknown with suspicion. But this explains, it does not excuse.

The essential goal is to admit, understand, and continually beat back our racism on a daily, case-by-case basis. Thus begins the dream.

Ultimately the Mississippi redneck attempting to justify racism is indistinguishable from the Vermont college professor boldly declaring he does not see color. By lying to themselves they both lie to us.

Everybody loves Doctor King’s dream, but few of us acknowledge that racism begins at home.