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Barbara Lewis

Barbara Lewis

Barbara Lewis, Ph.D., heads the Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture at UMass Boston, and is tenured in the Department of English. As a cultural historian, she has published on lynching in drama, the minstrel stage, and the black arts movement. For over fifteen years, she wrote theater, film, and performance reviews and covered the arts scene in New York. Dr. Lewis has taught at City College, Lehman, New York University, and chaired the Department of Theatre at the University of Kentucky.
Barbara Lewis

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W hen did I realize a change was coming, an internal war percolating, like coffee on the fire?

I smelled it first.

“It’s not over yet,” I said in the back seat of an Uber pool. “How can you say that?” my riding companion asked.  He was Asian, tall and thin, a recent college graduate with a photography degree.

“It’s in the air,” I said. “We’re still fighting the Civil War. The South is still waging its lost cause, and the saga continues.” The words came out of my mouth with so much emotion, I startled myself. That was before Charlottesville and Phoenix, before New Orleans, and just after Charleston.

The day before, I was waiting to borrow a library book in Boston’s Codman Square, down the street from what was once the town hall, where back in the day white male citizens, property owners all, met and crafted their future.  Directly across the corner stood a white church, the paint peeling and cracked; its steeple unbowed. At an earlier moment, Daniel Webster worshipped there in the summers, and John Quincy Adams came for the preaching. Walking distance away, an Irish mayor named Fitzgerald fathered a daughter, Rose, who later birthed a son that grew up to be a legendary president.

As I stood on line, hearing the distraught woman reciting her complaints, it dawned on me that the old days were still alive. Everyone was fighting to hold turf, to secure stronger voice, to project their name and blood into the future; but the skins and accents were different now, darker, thicker; the area more mired in disrepair.  And new neighbors, forecasting deep change, were pushing food carts through narrow aisles, full of fufu flour, black-eyed peas, Asian eggplant, linguica sausage, red beans and rice.

Our days are numbered in the cities now, the woman in front of me continued.  We were sent here for the dirty work. Now that we have survived everything set in our path to weaken and hold us back, we are being dispossessed.  They did it to the Indians; now they are playing that game with us.

So many of these fresh, scrubbed faces carry frowns under their smiles and their eyes are full of disdain. You hear them whispering about our children, how the boys are thuggish and the girls too free with their lips and bodies. What can you expect, they ask, the boys can’t keep their pants up and the girls show every curve and crevice. What result do you get but generations of baby makers?

So who cares if we lose a family or leave a male corpse on a street or in a park? Not checking their birth and letting them live is too dangerous; they must be weeded out like overgrowth. For that, we pay our police and health wardens well.  It says that here, the weeds part, in an article about Sanger, the American eugenics woman, who preached curbing reproduction, which needed regular monitoring.

If we don’t prune their numbers, the fight will soon be more uneven.  Even now, they can vote their way into change; but we can’t let that happen. We can’t let the educated ones have their say or they will unbalance the country. So let them all scuffle and fight; let the streets swallow those we miss.

But if they don’t do it fast enough, in enough numbers, we can raise a millennial army to get them off our land, out of our cities. We will root them out and stab them with our flag poles. We have done it before and we can do it again. And if one or two of our women, some of whom are suckers for chocolate, die in the process, we say Good Riddance. This is our country, and we are the power here.

We had it like we wanted for centuries, for years.  We used slavery, which we now call work although we never paid wages; segregation, which let us avoid them except when we brought them in to cook our food or clean our bathrooms or keep our children or give us a little fun and music when we wanted amusement; incarceration which gave us good, regular jobs and the chance to work out our frustrations by beating or scalding their bodies or getting a little backdoor fun. Now, they are threatening to take all that away from us, to deny us our greatness, and we won’t have it. We are sworn to have it good, even great, again. That is our mantra and our slogan: bringing back the greatness.

No more good educations for them.  They have the audacity to have politicians, judges, lawyers, teachers and accountants, executives and professors, even a president. We will cut off their chances and other parts of their anatomy, like we did in the great old days when Judge Lynch was justice and jury.

We will build a tall wall so only our favored crew, only the ones who look like us and sing our songs, raise our flags, worship at our altars, praise and pledge allegiance to our old-time symbols and icons will thrive; the days of engineered success are here again. Everyone else, pack fast and get all your things. There is no coming back. We are done with you, and your kind, all you immigrant hordes, black, brown, yellow, Muslim, Jewish, and the over-reaching hybrids, all of you are history. You watch and see.

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Barbara Lewis
Barbara Lewis, Ph.D., heads the Trotter Institute for the Study of Black History and Culture at UMass Boston, and is tenured in the Department of English. As a cultural historian, she has published on lynching in drama, the minstrel stage, and the black arts movement. For over fifteen years, she wrote theater, film, and performance reviews and covered the arts scene in New York. Dr. Lewis has taught at City College, Lehman, New York University, and chaired the Department of Theatre at the University of Kentucky.

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