Starting with those conversations so long ago with Aunt Sarah Jane, I have learned to understand the old structure of racism as a malevolent convention, the malevolence of which is hard to locate in the conscious intentions of most people. It was a circumstance that was mostly taken for granted. It was inexcusable, yet we had the formidable excuse of being used to it. It was an injustice both accommodated and varyingly obscured not only by daily custom, but also by the exigencies and preoccupations of daily life. We left the issue alone, not exactly by ignoring it, but by observing an elaborate etiquette that permitted us to ignore it. White people who wished to think well of themselves did not use the language of racial insult in front of black people. But the the problem for us white people, as we had finally to understand, was that we could not be selectively complicit. To be complicit at all, even thoughtlessly by custom, was to be complicit in the whole extent and reach of the injustice. It is hard for a customary indifference to unstick itself from the abominations to which it tacitly consents. But we were used to it. What is the hardest to get used to maybe, once you are aware, is the range of things humans are able to get used to. I was more used to this once than I am now. Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. ( Emeryville, CA: Counterpoint, 2006) 75-76.
Increasingly over the last maybe forty years, the thought has come to me that the old world in which our people lived by the work of their hands, close to weather and earth, plants and animals, was the true world; and that the new world of cheap energy and ever cheaper money, honored greed, and dreams of liberation from every restraint, is mostly theater. This new world seems a jumble of scenery and props never quite believable, an economy of fantasies and moods, in which it is hard to remember either the timely world of nature or the eternal world of the prophets and poets. And I fear, I believe I know, that the doom of the older world I knew as a boy will finally afflict the new one that replaced it.
The world I knew as a boy was flawed, surely, but it was substantial and authentic. The households of my grandparents seemed to breathe forth a sense of the real cost and worth of things. Whatever came, came by somebody’s work.
Berry, Wendell. Andy Catlett: Early Travels. (Emeryville, CA: Counterpoint, 2006), 93.