“America is false to the past, false to the present, and solemnly binds herself to be false to the future.”
— Frederick Douglass
George Floyd, face on the street, the cop’s knee on his neck, he was dying.
But did he know?
Laying there in the middle of the day. Laying out there in the afternoon. Trying to live, I guess. Who wouldn’t? Who wouldn’t try to live at a time like that. Trying to live, man, when everything has collapsed in on itself/ as the greasy dumpster alleys and the swift smart pigeons and the passing people with their lit cigarettes and their stop-n-stare/ iPhones out/ iPhones up/ and their hearts beating faster than they have ever beat before/ all of them watching you trying to live.
Or trying something.
When the whole world is softly melting down beneath your body all things must be hard to believe. Hard to recognize the truth. Hard to understand the unfolding moment. Wrapping your head around so much, we have to do that all the time, but it’s probably different when it’s like this. Or like that. It’s got to be different when it’s raw as fuck and you were up in the bodega or the convenience store or whatever you call it and you were doing your thing/ maybe trying some shit/ maybe not hurting anybody/ maybe messing around with the bad idea/ but now/ you know/ what is happening here?
Get the fuck on the ground, motherfucker!
Don’t fight back!
Do what I say!
DO WHAT THE FUCK I AM TELLING YOU TO DO!
I don’t know everything the cop says in the video. Or what he said in George’s ear. I don’t know what he was saying to himself either, but the inner dialogue- at that point- is where the a lot of the story lies. In the man with the badge and the gun’s mind/ his own familiar conscience/ his old familiar heart/ his brain/ his blood throttling through his veins like street dope. What was he telling himself? What was he wanting to happen?
In George Floyd’s space, in his head: an entirely different galaxy. The fear of being hurt. The frantic horror of realizing that you are in a very, very dangerous situation. And then, I guess, that you are not getting away. That you are in a real bad way. And then, maybe, that you are done for. That this is it. A regular ass day has turned into the unthinkable.
George Floyd: the echoey reverberations of his own grunts and screams pinging off the aluminum walls of his throat being crushed.
What the hell is that like?
What does it sound like when the lights begin to fade? When the people screaming at the cops to let up, to have some fucking mercy, when their voices back away down the tunnel/ Doppler Effecting/ and their words slip away/ and their meanings slip away/ and everything that ever was and ever will be, man, it just slips and slips away.
What do you hear then?
Do you hear the rattling of the street signs in the delicate summer breeze?
Do your own words sound desperate inside of you/ tinged with the urgency of trying to live/ of fighting to remain/ to stay/ to continue to be? Is it animalistic at some point, even if just for a moment?
Is there grace somewhere in there?
Do you talk to God? What if you don’t believe in God? I don’t. But I guess it could’t hurt at that point to ask for help from anyone or anything that might be tuned in to your signal somewhere out there.
Or does your mind try to help you? Does it, in the end, just start lying outright to you in that old familiar friend way?
That same old voice, telling you it’s gonna be alright/ to get on with things/ telling you to head up the block right about now/ telling you to wink at that sexy woman in the mini market because she is fine as fuck/ telling you to have a smoke/ to go see your little cousin/ to holler at your buddy across the street/ to grab some chips or a slice/ to climb those old hot stairs and to bust into your room in this long afternoon and just lay your tired ass down in front of the box fan and let the sweat slide down your skin/ down the crook of your back and down into the crack of your butt and down the side of your brow and you can feel the salty sting of drops rolling in your eyes and your mind is talking calmly to you that it’s alright, it’s alright, it’s alright.
You can just ease up out of this madness for a little while.
What is that like to have your own voice on the outside trying to convince the world to stop being the world and to lift you up out of all this and set you back down somewhere else. Somewhere safe. Some place where a man can just stand on his own again, try to process what’s going down.
And then, what is it like to drive your knee down into another man’s windpipe?
What is that feeling? Not on the outside so much, but I want to know what it’s like on the inside. Behind that face. Behind those eyes. Back up in there where there is also a voice and it must be familiar but it might be excited too. Or more excited than usual. And it might be harsh but it might be calm/ I just can’t say for sure. You can’t either. No one can. But there must be something dropping, some kind of narration, some voiceover shit happening in real time saying something, if not profound, at least telling.
Don’t get up.
I feel alive.
I feel alive now, son, with your goddamn face pinned to the road.
What happens when you trap a man like that? And what happens when you die inside of all that? And what happens when the people all see it and they all react in different ways?
Black mothers crying in the living room. Young kids staring at the computer screen. White mothers crying in the living room. White mothers raging at the motherfucker for resisting the police. Old black men on the corner, talking mad, talking sad. Asian people watching on the evening TV. Indian people watching on the morning TV. School teachers wiping tears from their eyes. Other school teachers struggling with their own thoughts/ he deserved it/ he must have deserved it.
Police watching it on the TV in the cop bar.
Drunk people watching it in their own taproom. In their own gin mill.
Husky white dudes in their late 30s, early 40s: with the beards: with the college: with the start-up business: with the middle of he roadness: watching it on the TV and talking to the man on the ground, telling him:
Yo, buddy, stop resisting, or else you’re going to have a problem!
I don’t want you to die like you die (I already have heard that you die), but you are making trouble for yourself and so you need to quit that shit and just give up so you can live!
Give up so you can live you dumbass motherfucker!
Give up so you can live, son!
Somewhere down inside each of us, beyond the color scale and the gender thing and the bank accounts and all your stupid shit you collect and haul around and act like you own it, somewhere drilling down with the pure clean hard driving drill of truth, there are revelations lurking huddled in the musky dark.
Down inside you: what you’re made of/ what you’re really made of.
And only you can ever hear it.
Rage and blues and so much more. It ain’t fair. And it isn’t fucking right.
So I was listening to a podcast the other day and they were interviewing Ty Seidule, a retired U.S. Army brigadier general and history professor emeritus at West Point. The reason he was being interviewed (and has been interviewed quite a bit over the past few years) is because he wrote a compelling memoir titled Robert E. Lee and Me. It’s a book I had read about a year ago. The whole premise had intrigued me: this Southern-born American white fellow grows up imbibing a hardcore Confederate air in Northern Virginia in the 1960s. By the time he is a young man, Seidule has designs on being a ‘Southern gentleman’ like his idol, the Confederate legend and fellow Virginian, Robert E. Lee.
What ultimately transpires across the roughly 250 pages is this one southern man’s arcing tale of moral transformation as he moves, over time, from a die-hard Confederate true believer to an absolute staunch supporter of the notion that R.E. Lee was a traitor, and that the whole secession thing was a crime against… well…. just about everyone and everything.
Especially black people.
The book is clear and spirited and I liked it a lot. It took balls to write it and it takes balls to stand by it. Especially in this day and age of violent political theater starring uneducated soulless dip shits. It becomes evident early on in the first chapters that the writer is feeling electric about this changing of the trails in his life. He beats himself up a bit for not understanding what he now adamantly deems the true cause of the American Civil War: slavery. But he also provides a very readable set of examples that back up what he is feeling, and what he is trying to say.
From the streets named after famous Confederates in his childhood neighborhood in Alexandria, to the so called ‘black’ school named (quite purposefully) Robert E. Lee Elementary during the very height of the Civil Rights movement, we are introduced, example by example, of how American southerners (and many, many American Northerners as well) have been exposed to a deep and solid glorification of the pro-slavery Confederacy since almost the very moments that the Civil War ended. On paper, at least.
It has always struck me- as I’ve listened to General Seidule speak on the various podcasts and YouTube vids I have checked him out on- that he is quite direct and confident of his points whenever he speaks. He talks, well, like a longtime military man. But he’s also pretty damn eloquent when he is making his points, too. And that comes across in the writing just as well as it does when he’s talking out loud.
Slavery is the root cause and the main cause of the Civil War, he says. Shocker, huh? Then he lists a lot of reasons why that is and, quite frankly, he hits moonshot home runs with each one. Of course, all of his facts and points are certainly debatable if you just so happen to be someone who truly NEEDS to feel proud of the Confederacy for some reason .
General Seidule, in my humble opinion, must be sincerely committed to these beliefs about the Civil War, the Confederacy, the South, and Lee – all of which only occurred to him much later in life than he even cares to admit- as he is taking a hell of a social beating from a lot of the exact kind of people who go out of their way in Walmart to thank a soldier in uniform for his service as they’re are wandering around looking for Frosted Flakes or something.
A lot of big time conservative right wing military lovers say HE is the traitor.
For calling Confederates traitors.
For labeling United States soldiers who had sworn oaths to serve their country and then broke that oath in order to join a new army so that they could kill the very United States that they had once promised to die for.
They accuse him of hopping on the recent bandwagon, of writing a memoir about dispelling the Lee/Confederate mythology in the name of advocating for a truth in which slavery and slaves are exposed for the mega tragic hunting knife scar across the very face of our entire American existence.
To read the rest of this essay and more from Serge Bielanko, subscribe to his Substack feed HERE.
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Serge Bielanko lives in small-town Pennsylvania with an amazing wife who’s out of his league and a passel of exceptional kids who still love him even when he’s a lot. Every week, he shares his thoughts on life, relationships, parenting, baseball, music, mental health, the Civil War and whatever else is rattlling around his noggin. Once in a blue Muskie Moon, he backs away from the computer, straps on a guitar and plays some rock ’n’ roll with his brother Dave and their bandmates in Marah.