The Door of No Return

July 17, 2009 Leave a comment

On Wednesday’s edition of the Tom Joyner Morning Show, the Rev. Al Sharpton made a poignant observation about President Obama’s recent trip to the slave castles in Ghana. While noting the psycho-spiritual-historical significance of the First Family’s visit to the infamous “Door of No Return”  his statement was that, contrary to the intent of the enslavers, indeed we (descendants of the enslaved) have returned — as President of the United States, the most important and powerful leader of the most powerful country on Earth.

Journalist Anderson Cooper will air a 1-hr special this weekend on CNN (8p, 11p on Saturday and Sunday) of his exclusive interview with the President during the First Family’s historic tour of these monuments to evil. In this clip, Cooper narrates a tour of the dungeons where captured Africans were held until they would be shoved through the Door of No Return to face their fate of either death during the terror-filled Middle Passage or a life of enslavement in the Americas.

While such observations evoke sobering, grievous as well as prideful thoughts, when coupled with my reaction to the Senate Judiciary Committee’s confirmation hearings of the brilliant, exceptionally qualified, impeccably credentialed, and yes, wise, Latina Judge Sonia Sotomayor — I am further vexed about the state of race relations in this country.
An excerpt from the opinion page of what is the first video-centric news website,, exposes the racist and race-fixated behaviour of U.S. Senators:

These senators seem not only to believe that Sotomayor’s race necessarily shapes her perspective but seem unable or unwilling to admit that their own race shapes their’s. In fact, the continual implication is that race is something that only people of color like Sotomayor have; that white people do not, in fact, have a racial identity which impacts their life and affects the lens through which they perceive society. Apparently, white men are the harbinger of neutrality, objectivity, impartiality and fairness. They apparently have the default position from which to determine others’ biases.

To be frank, this really ticks me off.  An outstanding  jurist is being subjected to discriminatory treatment at the hands of our own government representatives, live, on television, in plain view and with impunity. This flagrant display is the opposite of the “hidden racism” that is supposed be characteristic of the post-Civil Rights Era.  Thankfully, a few journalists with national audience are exposing this sanctioned race baiting for the outrageous ridiculousness that it is. Where is the outrage? Where are people of color groups and women’s rights groups calling this out?

Sorry folks. We so do not live in a post racial U.S. I wonder if, on the issue of race, our nation has itself walked through an incorrigible Door of No Return, where despite some steps ahead, we cannot recover from our past and very much present entrenched racism. Anybody else peeping this? Anybody else connecting the dots in current events that bespeak the true reality of  race and racism in our so-called post-racial U.S.? My proposal: Let’s just retire that word as the NAACP retired another useless word two summers ago.

If you hadn’t noticed, I’m channeling Marvin in his lament that it “makes me wanna holler… throw up both my hands“.   You?

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  • Curtis says:

    I couldn’t agree more that these white men (and they are mostly men, aren’t they?) are putting themselves forward as if they were race-less impartial judges. And I also could not agree more that we do not live in a post-racial America. I’ve always understood that as wishful thinking. And I am also going to own up to my complicity as a white man who, up until now, has not expressed my anger. That’s all part of my privilege. Silence is a statement too, right? Time to speak up.

  • Michael, Raleigh NC says:


    you are so right. The lens of white male dominance allows them privileges few others enjoy. Having enjoyed this position isn’t something they or anyone with similar trapings would willingly sacrifice. Think about it. If everywhere you went people perceive you as innocent, pure and capable of administering justice to all, it literally gives you the license to properly adminster all authority.

    This authority, according to Shelby Steele, is embedded in a innocent-perspective”these men enjoy. It is one they will protect because it is the basis of their authority. As you so noted it fuels the quiet biases that allow bigotry to grows. It lays the foundation for judgement of all others because only the innocent can judge the guilty.

    The point of perceived-innocence is a powerful tansendent position. It is above guilt. Above accusations and provides the framework for why fewer whites are convicted in court — as compared to blacks.

    Nonetheless the wisdom of God still prevails. This privilege is not eternal. Time in this role is determined by God, and God alone. It is a gift he allows, but the time of the gift is limited.

    Indeed, their time may have laped already. The growing statistics show the rise of the minority to majority numbers. Hence the outcome of this year’s election.

    Here in NC bigoted men/women simply counted on racial Bias to prevail — as it had don in the past. It didn’t.

    God has allowed this change to occur. The time for white bigotry has run its course. If we can trust in God and lead in faith, pehaps God will entrust us to lead powerfully from whatever station he allows. Then perhaps we will lead with justice and mercy for all.

  • Melinda says:

    Brothers- now THATS what I’m talking about! Thank you for chiming in and registering your .02. Please know how particulalry heartening and powerfully encouraging it is, particulalry as you own and speak to, your privileged social location. It is the most strategic antedote to yes, C, the all white male Senate Judiciary Committee.
    Thank you, C, for joining your righteous anger with mine. As MLK and so many others have reminded us, there’s something pernicious about the silence of goid people, so if it’s anger that makes you roar on this, I say “Grrrrrrr!!!!” right there with you!
    Michael, thanks especially for lifting this unconscious belief we may have on only the “innocent” being able to judge the “guilty”. Striking theological and pub policy implications that I’m provoke to chew on and unpack. Thank you, brothers. You’ve made my day. Let’s get busy for justice!

  • Mitsi says:

    “Apparently, white men are the harbinger of neutrality, objectivity, impartiality and fairness. They apparently have the default position from which to determine others’ biases.” This might be the implicit assumption of the questioners, but I’m not sure those watching or listening will be duped. I thought Sotomayor’s deliberate and judicious responses showed very clearly that some of her questioners had a narrow set of worries based on their own interests. To me, these questioners sounded insecure…and worried. What’s more, they’re likely not to prevail. And I think that’s how it’s fought: person by person, case by case, with power shifting, and then shifting again.

  • Melinda says:

    I appreciate your observations, Mitsi. Reminds me of Frederick Douglass’ words about power: “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has. And it never will”. There is a desperation in the struggle towards equality. Desperation on both (all?) sides of the equation.

  • Melinda says:

    This just in: one of my Twends (Twitter Friends) blogged her analysis of the racist “microagressions” replete in the Sotomayor hearings. Check out Jessica Faye Carter’s piece, Sotomayor vs. Condescending Senators –

  • Curtis says:

    This conversation raises questions for me about our emphasis on “the love that does justice” here at IISC. I think it demands a much more nuanced expression about what we mean by love. I’m all in favor of loving our neighbors, and an occasional shove (let me rephrase that . . . ” push back”) seems in order. Let’s just make sure that we have a good historical understanding of what has made for change in the past and is likely to do in the future . . .

  • Linda says:

    Great post Melinda!!! My Dad and I watched the whole hearings last week and were amazed by her and appalled. And to think they have endorsement of their power (through elections) and this was seen as a legitimate use of power. There’s no post-racial (or post-gendered) society here! We’ve got our work to do! And especially those of us who are white. And to Curtis’ point, finding the way to do this with love… Well there’s a challenge and a half!!!

  • Jessica Faye Carter says:

    Excellent work, Melinda. It’s interesting how you linked the President’s visit to the slave quarters with what’s happening to Judge Sotomayor. There is still so much to be done in terms of race relations. Today, a NYT columnist had the gall to suggest that we wouldn’t need societal mechanisms to deal with discrimination in, say, 20 years.


    And of course now we can add another link to the chain with the incident that happened to Dr. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. earlier today.

  • Melinda Weekes says:

    Yes indeed, people. And now, right down the street from our offices…with Dr. Henry Louis Gates having been racially profiled by Cambridge police… his own home! Rev. Al said he’s heard of “driving while black”, now its reached new levels with “being at home while black”. (Gotta love Rev.Al!)

    As I write, CNN is airig Dr. Sunjay Gupta’s report on health care and race in America: “How hospitals treat black and white patients…differently”. Yep. Our so-called post-racial America. Be sure to check out Soledad O’Brien’s “Black in America II” airing his Wednesday night on CNN for more fodder for our collective conversation and organizing around this issue. Thanks for all of the energy and fire in this conversation. It’s so timely!

  • Andria Winther says:

    Very appreciative of your post M and subsequent comments. “The Door of No Return” haunts us indeed, and it is all too evident that we are not of a post racial era. The Gates incident reminds me of a class we were holding at City Year on the 5th floor of our building only to be disrupted by loud, what seemed like brutal and inappropriate roughness on that part of police toward a citizen of color. We all rushed to the window to see what was up. The students in the class (all of color from immigrant families)took one look out the window and then went right back to their chairs. I was outraged at the behavior in the street and couldn’t understand why the class seemed dismissive. They looked at me and said, “Andria, we see this every day, this is no big deal.” It is only a big deal when it happens to someone like Dr. Gates? Man do we, and I’m implicated in the we, have a long way to go………

  • Melinda says:

    I hear you, sister Andria. And no (as I know you know), its not only a big deal when it happens to Gates…but unfortunately we are guilty (the media, each of us, etc) oftimes tire and roll our eyes at folks who, in the words of Frederick Douglass, “agitate! agitate! agitate!” on these issues of institutionalized, systemic, racism every day (e.g., Rev. Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and many others…). Sure, we need new voices and agitants, but I submit that indeed, WE are the ones….speak up, act up, perk up, stand up, lift up, break it up…..!!

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