By Donna Britt
Throughout history ordinary humans have become extraordinary by reacting to danger with unimaginable courage. In every war average boys and unremarkable girls perform acts of profound riskiness that leave the rest of us gaspingand wondering: Could I be as brave?
Many of us suspect the answer is no.
Yet in the fifties and sixties, racisms hideousness moved thousands of Americansblack and white, poor and well-offto squander their everyday safety to participate in the bruising and bloody civil rights movement. In the Montgomery bus boycott, on the Freedom Rides, and along Selmas march, not-terribly-special citizens transcended themselves, leaving behind jobs, mortgages, black-and-white TVs, and worried families for a sacred calling. Some never returned.
Outsize injustice often inspires outsize courage.
Things change. For most Americans, these are merely uneasy times, an era whose prosperity, technological advances, lack of clear-cut villains, and sheer busyness distract and drain them. Standing up for ones rights is less likely to be a life-threatening proposition. Few of us confront situations like the one faced by Annie Lee Cooper, then 53, when Selmas segregationist sheriff clubbed her in 1965. Her crime: Telling the sheriff, Aint nobody scared around here.
If not for the courage of thousands of Coopers in that era, Im sure I wouldnt be a nationally syndicated columnist today. Thanks to them, the right that I work hardest to stand up for is simply telling the truth. My truth.
Some people think they know what a columnist whos black and female should feel. They see me as representative of them or my group. Sometimes its hard disillusioning them. It means telling black people who count on my unconditional support that they, too, can be irredeemably wrong. It requires reminding white people that the racism they feel has vanished remainsoften within them. It means pointing out to women how feminism has failed us. It means being openly optimistic and spiritual in times when the cruelest cynicism is admired. It means acknowledging the uncomfortable truths about the brutalizing effects of the TV shows, movies, and video games we support.
But thats what all those brave souls in the movement ultimately risked themselves forthe right of all Americans to fulfill their potential, to be fully who they are. They didnt suffer so we could continue to go along to get along, or unthinkingly align ourselves with those who are most like us. The worthiness of their cause challenges me to be worthyto be honest about who I am, even if it is unfashionable or offends those whom I love. Its a challenge I struggle to live up to.
Telling the truth, BEING my own truththats a right worth standing up for.
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