STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK YOUR BONES, BUT THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE

11 Apr

Sticks and Stones May Break Your Bones, But The Truth Shall Set You Free

Louise Annarino

April 11, 2012

At 5 I was allowed to ride my new Huffy bicycle on the sidewalk in front of our house, back and forth between the alley and the corner; and walk down the alley with my wagon.

At 6 I was allowed to play on the sidewalk in front of our house, crossing the alley, from one corner to the other corner.

At 7 I was allowed to go around the nearest corner, to the farther alley beyond Van’s market, and back to the house.

At 8 I was allowed to go around the corner and across the street to the Hartzler Public School playground, and push my 3 year old brother Michael on the swings. Or so I thought.

On a hot summer day, I took Michael to the playground for a swing. I noticed 6 or 7 slightly older children near the merry-go-round as I picked him up and set him in the swing. They were just hanging out, as kids do. I recognized most of them.

A girl who lived down the block yelled to me, “Get outta here. you don’t go to this school.”  Her comment broke the boredom of a summer day for the other kids.

One of the boys asked,”Where does she go?” as the group headed our way.

Another answered, “She’s one of those Annarinos”.

“Oh, a dirty WOP,” laughed another boy as the entire group of boys guffawed and  punched one another in the arm. The girls giggled. I moved to the front of the swing to block Michael, and gently slowed my pushes while soothing him with soft words.

One freckle-faced girl in pig-tails stopped beside me, her feet spread with her hands on hips, and taunted, “ We don’l let Eyetalians on our playground”; then, spit at my feet.

The group closed in.Their aggressive laughter, taunts and physically intimidating stance had frightened Michael who began to cry. As I turned to lift him from the swing and into my arms, the first volley of rocks hit the back of my head, shoulders, and legs. I tried to block the rocks with my body as I carried Michael away, but we both were being stoned mercilessly. In those days, kids were tougher and played on rocky playgrounds, not on mulch-surfaced play areas. With plenty of ammunition available, they chased us and pelted us to the curb. They screamed at us, “Go away. No fish eaters allowed. If we ever see you again, we’ll kill you! You’re nothing but dirt, you and your WOP brother.”

I did not know what a WOP was. I did not know what a fish-eater was. But I knew the word “dirty”. It was usually followed by “Dago” or “N…..”.  I sensed this was the same kind of biased hate. The words and the rocks hurt. But, they also made me angry because they made my baby brother cry, and I could not protect him.

The group did not follow us across the street. I carried Michael home to my mother, Angela. I explained what had happened as I placed Michael in her arms. She examined our scratches, and the lump growing over my eye from a particularly large rock. Cleaning up, icing bruises and lumps, and bandaging cuts meant nothing. My anger meant everything. How could these children be so mean to Michael, who was so helpless? I knew kids could be mean, but to a baby?  Why did they care that we were using the public school playground? What did the words WOP and fish-eater mean? How did such words make it okay for them to attack us? How could I have protected Michael? By the time Dad got to the playground after Mom called him home from his restaurant, it was empty.

I listened to Mom’s explanation of Wop and fish-eater, and the accepted dislike for Italians and other racial or ethnic groups. “That’s the way the American people are,” she explained. “That’s the way the American people are” was a constant explanation for incomprehensible behavior as I was growing up. I found white Americans very confusing, until Mom explained their thought processes, biases, prejudices and racism to me. Every discussion ended with “That’s the way the American people are.” This time she added, “Always remember this: Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never harm me. Never listen to the names people call you. You are the only one who can hurt you.” I stopped listening after shouting at my own wise mother, “Words do hurt! They do harm!” It took many more years to understand the message she intended to impart with her words.

The front doorway into our elementary school was massive; the double-wide doors encased in blocks of limestone. Messages had been carved in each side of the limestone lintel overhead. On the left side were the words “Knowledge Is Power”; and on the right, “Ye Shall Know The Truth and The Truth Shall Set You Free.” Our class lined up two-by-two behind the convent every morning and again after lunch, then Sister led us into the school. Each day, during the pause while two of the boys opened the doors wide so our class could enter, I read those comments carved in stone. They became my motivation to understand what my mother and father, and the nuns and priests tried to teach me. I wanted to understand what words really meant,how knowing words would set me free and give me the power to change “the way the American people are.”

In high school, swastikas and “fish-eaters” routinely graced the outside walls of our high-school gymnasium. I learned about water hoses, Jim-Crow words like “colored fountain”,  …and much worse. I read the DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and learned about yellow stars of David, words like “crystallnacht” …and much worse. Anne Frank taught me that every word had two meanings, the inner meaning and the outer meaning.

In college I learned how this duality of meaning could be used to obfuscate and confuse. MAO’S RED BOOK and 1984 taught me how words’ many meanings are used to create propaganda. It is not only mean and nasty words that damage and destroy; even kind and gentle words can if their outer meaning is code for the inner meaning of how to harm. And a lie becomes truth simply by repeating the words over and over.

I have listened to propaganda and hate speech all my life it seems. I have seen the confusion, misunderstanding, and harm and such words cause. They even cause death:

Irresponsible mortgage holders or responsible homeowners?

Union thugs or organized laborers?

Welfare Queens or struggling single Moms?

Radical revolutionaries or progressive thinkers?

Propaganda or “spin”?

Truth or talking points?

Residents of the prison or inmates?

War Between the States or a Civil War?

Contented slaves or people suffering human bondage?

Wealthy job creators or greedy pirates of industry?

Save social security or privatize and underfund it to an early demise?

Bail out banks and auto-industry or save the world from a severe Depression?

Attack business or reasonably regulate business to avoid another world-wide economic collapse?

Attack religion or enact “The Sermon On The Mount”?

Reverse racism or affirmative action?

Black thug in a hoodie or typical teenager?

Dr. Frank Hale Jr. was a wonderful man, my friend, a distinguished scholar and civil rights leader. Hale Cultural Center at OSU is named in his honor. This past week, someone scrawled “hate speech” on the wall of this center for African-American cultural appreciation and racial understanding when they painted on the words “Long Live George Zimmerman”. George Zimmerman had been using a photograph of this wall on his legal-fund support web-site. It was removed just hours ago. Let me use words clearly: The white man who shot and killed an un-armed African-American teenager used this image, of words whose inner meaning  appealed to racists (making a hero of a white man who killed a Black child) to raise funds for his legal defense fund. Ironically, after many weeks he remains free, possibly armed with the murder weapon, and has not been charged with a crime. This scenario speaks volumes.

This scenario has resurrected the pain over Dr. Hale’s death; as if George Zimmerman had not only desecrated Trayvon Martin’s life, but also the life and honor of Dr. Hale. The pain of words can hurt with the pain of a bullet. Words kill the soul while taking a life. For, what Mom was trying to tell me that day is that George Zimmerman’s words kills his soul as he uses words to justify taking a life. Words cannot harm my soul, nor that of Dr. Hale or Trayvon Martin, though the sticks and stones of the speakers may break our bones. However, they will harm the soul of those who use words to hold others in bondage rather than to set each of us free. They will harm those who lie to enrich and empower themselves rather than seek truth to enrich and empower us all.

We have heard many lies during past political campaigns. But, this is worse. Propaganda is now a spectator sport thanks to 24/7 cable news. And too few children are being taught to  appreciate words such as those I read at my school door. Instead we are teaching them to appreciate the best “spin”, the sexiest image, a talking point that “sticks”. We admire pundits who can “hit” the other side “hard”. Despite the many hours we devote to political discussion, very few truth seekers can hold  our short attention spans, entice advertisers, or keep their jobs. So, our political commentators settle for less than true, kind of true, half-truths, and interesting lies…and call it today’s news. And our politicians tell us our freedom is threatened by President Obama’s Black Panther associations, Muslim faith, fake birth certificate, socialist economic plan, secret agenda, apologist foreign policy etc. No, it is threatened by those politicians unwillingness to “seek the truth”, speak the truth, and accept the power of an African-American president. It is not our president who threatens freedom, but those who unfairly attack him with words that fail the truth test.

I want Dr. Hale to be remembered for his grace; not the dis-graceful words visited upon the Hale cultural Center. Dr. Hale’s truth is stronger than hate and lies. Dr. Frank Hale, Jr. was inducted into the Ohio Civil Rights Hall Of Fame. I wrote the following poem in his honor  to celebrate that occasion. My  Reflection of Dr. Hale at his funeral service follows the poem.

 Dr. Frank Hale

Ball Player Extraordinaire

Louise Annarino

Barefoot

you stepped up to the plate

eager to test your strength;

your aim,

your best effort

to simply hit the ball

and get to first base.

Frank, you did it all.

You can stand tall

and stretch

to see how far

that first ball

flew

when it met your bat.

Every day

ball after ball

you pushed your luck

and learned all you should

about what could

push the ball

off the would into space.

You are a man of grace.

It is written all over

your face,

and in the mind

and heart

of each of us to whom

you gave a start.

You taught us how to play

the game,

then let us rest and foment

while we struggled

to face the next inning.

Pushing and shoving

ball against wind.

All the time hoping

and praying

and trusting the umps

to be fair;

too often, not.

Yet, we kept on playing

off all that you taught.

It was a hard game to play;

though your skills won the day.

We soon understood it

must be won anew every day,

pushing wood against air to get a single hit.

Doubles, triples and home runs

all too rare.

You have been our captain,our coach,

and our spiritual guide

sliding your pride into stolen bases

for all races.

It is only right that your name will remain

in the Ohio Civil Rights

Hall of Fame.

 

REFLECTIONS OF DR. FRANK HALE, JR.

by Louise Annarino

August 7, 2011

It is not Frank Hale, Jr.’s death which brings us together today, but his life. Frank was quite simply…a good man. To many of us Frank was also a hero…a role model…a mentor…and  a kindred spirit.

How did such a kind and gentle man inspire and elevate us to be more and do more than we thought possible?

-By CHALLENGING the status quo

-By CALLING OUT racist ideologues.

-By NAMING racism in its most minute practices, and in its grandest schemes.

-By REDEFINING and RESTRUCTURING racist practices and procedures of institutions of higher education, and within other corporate settings.

-By STANDING FIRM against injustice and oppression of African Americans, and all who suffer oppression.

-By REFUSING TO BEND moral and ethical codes of civil conduct to simply satisfy base emotions.

We each have stories to tell about Frank. But I challenge us to do more than reflect ON the life of Dr. Frank Hale, Jr. I challenge us each to BE his reflection in each of our communities.

Whenever WE challenge authority which enforces institutional racism in our schools, our workplaces, our boardrooms, our banks and investment houses, even in our own homes and  houses of worship –  we are a reflection of Frank.

Whenever WE refuse to laugh at a racist or bigoted joke, and instead use it as a teachable moment  to stop bigotry -we are a reflection of Frank.

Whenever WE refuse to become uncivil despite racist provocation, and instead respectfully command the respect of others to listen to truth and become more just – we are a reflection of Frank.

Whenever WE hold tight to the courage to tell uncomfortable truths at the risk of losing social acceptance amid the mighty and monied – we are a reflection of Frank.

Whenever WE focus our “eyes on the prize” instead of on material gain – we are a reflection of Frank.

Whenever WE lift our voices in an oratory against injustice – we are a reflection of Frank.

Today, I challenge each of us to BE a reflection of Dr. Frank Hale, Jr. We could do no better to honor Frank. Frank’s spirit will always be within us; and, through us, Frank’s spirit will continue to make this a better world.

Thank you, dearest Mignon, for asking me to reflect today upon my loving friend, Dr. Frank Hale, Jr.

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2 Responses to “STICKS AND STONES MAY BREAK YOUR BONES, BUT THE TRUTH SHALL SET YOU FREE”

  1. lannarino2012 April 11, 2012 at 2:46 pm #

    The political messages which disturb me most are those whose speaker insists we should be fearful,even terrified, of President Obama because he is taking away our freedom. Thus, he is destroying America. My second most disliked political messages are those which tell me to be afraid before suggesting a course of action.

    I have been trying to discover why some insist President Obama threatens America’s freedom. I think I now understand. If knowing the truth sets us free, then believing the lies ties us in chains.

    Political lies serves two purposes:

    1. Create a chosen reality over a factual reality to manipulate others.
    2. Create the false reality our freedoms have been lost.

    Why would people not react in fear when they live a lie? Why would they not feel in bondage to another? A lie is a form of bondage. Rousseau tells us that “Man is born free, but he is everywhere in chains”. The chains are of our own making. The chains are the lies we prefer to wear over our eyes rather than face hard truths.Lies enslave us;not politicians. And certainly not President Barack Obama.
    – Louise

  2. Albert A. Gabel April 11, 2012 at 5:54 pm #

    Louise,
    Keep up the good work.
    Iam proud to be your friend.
    Al Gabel 614 889 8282

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