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The Port Chicago incident occurred in 1944 when Black Navy ammunition handlers were killed in a violent explosion at the California base.

The End of Black Patience

POSTED: September 18, 2017, 2:00 pm

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NBC News coverage screenshot

I remember the moment well on that fateful night of April 4, 1968. The memory sticks in my mind of when the scene played out on television news that evening. Senator Robert F. Kennedy, in Indianapolis for a stop during his presidential campaign, standing on the back of a truck, relays the news of the assassination of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to an unknowing and shocked crowd of black residents. The brother of slain President John F. Kennedy tells the crowd, above the wails and screams of anguish, “For those of you who are black and are tempted to be filled with hatred and distrust at the injustice of such an act, against all white people, I can only say that I feel in my own heart the same kind of feeling. I had a member of my family killed, but he was killed by a white man. But we have to make an effort in the United States, we have to make an effort to understand, to go beyond these rather difficult times.” Just two month later, the junior senator from New York, would be cut down by an assassin’s bullet in Los Angeles moments after declaring victory in the California Democratic primary.

We have heard that call for calm and patience, and resistance to anger time and again as Black life is discarded like yesterday’s trash. We have heard that appeal in our civic spaces when our fathers, and sons, and mothers, and daughters, have been killed by the very people our tax dollars pay to uphold the law but betray it unencumbered by the weight of responsibility or undeterred in the absence of accountability. We have witnessed it in the workforce when denied promotions earned, have trained less experienced white colleagues who then become our superiors, are paid wages less than white peers, and fired when raising objections to such mistreatment. As bulldozers bore through our neighborhoods to build highways to carry white expatriates to racially exclusive suburbs, and our homes were devalued by government policies designed to clear the land so others might profit, we were expected to be quiet and accept relocation. We are told to temper our rage when our children are treated unfairly in the school building; punished disproportionate to their white peers or denied opportunities and services to which they are legally entitled.

At the funeral services of our dead children we hear the calls for justice immediately followed by the calls for peace and calm. We are constantly reminded that anger will not achieve anything, and that our only hope is to be patient in our demands, realistic in our expectations. Then we lower the body into the ground….until the next one.

Patience hasn’t been a virtue for Black people in America. Its been a weight around our necks, as deadly as the twine used to lynch us. Every time we heed the call for patience, that rope just tightens a little more around our necks. This hasn’t been a slow death for Blacks in America. It’s been a painfully long one, played out for the entertainment of others and agonizingly slow for the enjoyment of those tightening the rope.

There comes a time though, when the conscious soul emerges from the inner-self of the oppressed, and the divinely embedded human will to survive overwhelms the fear one has of the oppressor. We are rapidly approaching that moment for Blacks in America; the point at which fear will be cast aside and the raw emotions, anger and frustrations over our treatment will be unleashed upon this nation. The end of Black patience is truly near and once we turn that corner this country will have to decide once and for all if it is willing to risk its existence over the maintenance of racism.

“There comes a time though, when the conscious soul emerges from the inner-self of the oppressed, and the divinely embedded human will to survive overwhelms the fear one has of the oppressor.”

And, this won’t be a race war as white extremists’ desire. It will be a battle waged by the conscious against systems of white supremacy in America. We are witnessing this at this very moment in St. Louis after the acquittal of yet another police officer in the killing of a Black person. Those protesting this latest injustice are not just brown-skinned people; we see a rainbow of faces in the streets; having lost patience with the institutional racism that undermines civil society in America. There is an emerging alliance with whites in America who are no longer willing to be quiet or defend the indefensible. This new consciousness was on display in Charlottesville and is playing out in St. Louis. These voices are not confined to the inner city either. Suburban spaces, once viewed as insulated from demands for social justice, are now being righteously set upon. There can be no quiet corners in a society framed by injustices.

Black patience has been exhausted in America. Quite honestly, Black folks have been gracious in our relative quietism in the face of daily indignities we suffer in this country. America will either reconcile its history, acknowledge systemic barriers that perpetuate white supremacy, and disown and disavow individual agents of racism or suffer the consequences of the rage of the dispossessed and witness the end of this nation.

Walter Fields is Executive Editor of

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