And, then, the old man preached about the daily indignities of the old south insulting stereotypes and caricatures that portrayed us as buffoons, butlers, and beasts; lies about our morality and worth, some told by preachers who said we had no souls, that we wore the Curse of Ham; backbreaking toil, often forced by law, the fruit of our labor on another man’s plate; poverty that warped, crippled, and everywhere premature death; our voices silenced by poll taxes and literacy tests; schooling in raggedy shacks with tattered books because education would spoil us for work in the fields; cuffed, chained, and caged, for crimes both real and imagined; our soldiers killed in their uniforms, their medals stripped; our businesses, churches, schools, and homes burned to the ground when we progressed too much; our women and children raped; everywhere the barbarism of color discrimination followed us, enveloped us, and when all else failed, there were sadistic cowards with ropes and pyres to kill us, kill our bodies, to try and end us. But, we did not end.
Go to any city in the United States and you will find people living in dump like environments. These are real people, not an abstract, intellectual category. They are people with hopes and fears. And, quite frankly, many of them are not interested in discussions about economic determinism. They are interested in having a home, obtaining a job that does not pay starvation wages, getting their children educated, affording health care, enjoying some of the social goodies. Helping a poor family will not change societal patterns of inequality, but it will change the pattern of that family's life. And, when we get done helping that family we can pick up a book, voting ballot, or protest sign.
Funneling anger is risky business. Anger is a powerful fuel, and one could argue that much social change has resulted in no small part because of angry voices. In my half century of living, however, I have seen too many activists become frustrated and worn out made callous by failed attempts to make change, with their idealistic passion devolving into seething anger, or worse, thick hatred.