| Space shows were popular in the early days of television. Flash Gordon’s spaceship was a cardboard cut out suspended from a visible string and
we considered the image high-tech. Special fold-out space helmets were prizes in boxes of hot cereal. Wheatena if I remember correctly. The
helmets had space-age paper that allowed the young spaceperson to see out while the world outside could not look in. And this was long before the
popularity of silver-lensed, one-way sunglasses that were popular with some cops. Not the ones who patrolled my neighborhood back in the days
when it wasn’t too dangerous for cops to be there. They knew that their eyes were far scarier than any pair of sunglasses. Eyes that oozed contempt.
Eyes that looked for reasons to introduce the heads of kids to the instant sentencing authority of nightsticks or young bodies to hot lead exploding
from the barrels of .38 caliber, black steel revolvers, some with pearl handgrips to render the legal murders a bit more festive. And this frontier justice
was carried out by black cops and white cops and brown cops. Maybe the blue uniform created an illusion of belonging to the same club.
We watched movies like “The Mysterians” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” in those days and had our minds taken over by thoughts of some
alien force imposing its will on Earthlings. Yes. We were Earthlings during those brief, fictional encounters with creatures and technology from other
planets that lived in our television sets, behind movie theater screens and in our imaginations. We were not black Earthlings or white Earthlings. We
were not Earthlings of any particular color. We were not Earthlings that spoke one language with one accent. It was understood, somehow, that
Earthlingness had certain elements that superseded all the differences we preoccupied ourselves with most of the time. Differences that had mainly
to do with color because color was and is the most obvious way to separate people. Good guys wear white hats. Bad guys wear black hats. Black
sheep of the family. Little white lie. Red-headed stepchild. Black man goes to prison. White man gets probation. Chickens will gang up on and kill –
little by little- a chicken in the coup that is different in any way. They’ll peck it to death. I’ve seen it happen. For example, if a hen has a comb that
doesn’t stand up straight and flops to the right or left she will be killed by the other chickens. I would like to believe that humans are smarter, but I
guess we’re not; at least not when it comes to the way we handle or mishandle differences.
The nation subscribed to the notion that melanin was a bad thing. The less the better. The lighter the skin the better. School children sang or
were taunted with the words, “If you’re white you’re alright, if you’re brown stick around, if you’re black get in the back.” But that form of racial madness
seemed to evaporate in the face of invasion from inhabitants of the planet Zebulon. And the madness was kept on ice until the television show or
movie ended, then it was time to return to the usual enemies – to see who sat beside you or behind you in the darkness of the movie theater, or to run
into a fellow Earthling of the opposite color at the incinerator where you both arrived at the same time to throw your garbage down the fiery shaft on
the tenth floor of the same housing project building you shared because of necessity. You had each just finished watching the latest episode of Flash
Gordon in the solitude of your respective apartments and now you faced the enemy at the incinerator. And the enemy was not from Zebulon.
It was again time to break out the microscope to find things to justify the rightness of whiteness. But don’t look too closely because you’ll find that the
blood that runs through all our veins (the life-sustaining stuff that happens to be red no matter what the color of the body that houses the veins) isn’t
that much different. Unless, of course, you are from Zebulon. In fact, it has been said that there are more differences between the elements of blood
from people of the same race than there are between people of different races. Any way you look at it, the race is towards total mass hypnosis and we
have all succumbed in one way or another. We have all crossed the inglorious finish line.
But thanks to the Martians we were all pulled together into one fearful family during the time the televisions and movie screens of the world doped
us into believing that there was some alien force from another planet that would brainwash us all, wrap us in cocoons and store us in some macabre
place until it was our turn to be used as a source of food – the way spiders incapacitate their prey by ensnaring them in webs until it is time to suck
the blood out of them. The red blood. The common blood sucked from colorless cocoons. That’s what we feared the Martians would do to us. And
the concept of “Us” lasted for a few minutes after the lights went back on in the theater of our minds and the movie projector stopped clicking and the
television faded to black and black re-emerged as the enemy. Anything black. Anything and anybody black.
Speculation about what would happen in the event of an alien invasion was a pretty common topic of conversation once upon a time. The
general feeling seemed to be that the people of this country –if not the world- would unite and put all our resources together to fight the common
enemy. It might be interesting to note that war and violence and identifying new enemies are part of just about every so-called unification effort. The
War on Poverty. The War on Drugs. Even in the science fiction movies of the ‘50s ways were devised to kill the aliens before possibilities of co-
existing were even explored. As if a willingness to co-exist is somehow the same as weakness. The basic mentality seemed to be and continues to be
to kill first and ask questions later. Invade first, and then figure out who you invaded. Ready, fire, aim.
Much to my youthful disappointment and surprise I only had brief reprieves from being the enemy and it became clear that many of the kids and
parents of kids I grew up with and around would rather have had Martians for neighbors than me. Maybe that’s why they moved and didn’t leave
forwarding addresses. Maybe that’s why black people were “legally” discriminated against in housing, public accommodations and employment prior
to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. To prevent us from following our white former counterparts (so-called neighbors in the projects and tenements) to the
suburbs. To prevent us from being paid the same wage for the same job - if the job could be obtained in the first place – and the lower wage would
lessen the likelihood that we could afford a house in the suburbs even after the law proclaimed our right to live there. But equal rights in public
accommodations meant that we could “legally” watch the same Martian movie in the same theater and even sit in the same section. And as long as
the lights were out we could truly function as “We” and transmute our fear of Martians into hatred that was capable of blowing them off the face of the
“We” invest a preposterous amount of money and other kinds of energy to accentuate differences, play down similarities, and create Martians
against whom “we” can pool our resources to defeat. Sometimes the Martians are communists, sometimes they will have a particular disease, or
speak a certain language, or have an accent, or love somebody of a different color, or love somebody of the same sex, or walk with a limp, talk with a
lisp, talk to themselves or not talk at all. We ferret out difference as we harbor the secret knowledge that we are all different. We may not admit it
publicly or announce our personal proclivities in the employee lunch room, but we are all unique individuals and this mass individual uniqueness
renders us alike in fundamental ways. We have been conditioned to not think this way. Some may believe that it’s far easier to kill Martians. One
large problem from my perspective is that when the lights come back on, the Martian is me.