Archive for April, 2014

banner-12-years-a-slaveI have made a couple of mistakes in recent months, mistakes which have caused me to lose desperately needed sleep, as it is difficult to settle my thoughts and I have obsessive tendencies anyway.

The first mistake actually happened several months ago when I allowed my eight year old daughter to see the movie, Twelve Years a Slave by director Steve McQueen. In my defense, she is very interested in history, particularly the history of slavery in America.  She poured over almost every biography she could get her hands on, of various African-American figures in history.  We decided it would be risky but we gave in to the pleas to see the film while it was in theaters. I didn’t get to go unfortunately, so she went with her dad and stepsister, who is college-aged.

Even though the African-American woman who saw John leave the theater with both of his arms wrapped around the stunned and tear-stained faces of his daughters, told him they needed to see the movie and they would be okay, I knew this past weekend it was just too much for her to handle at her current age.

I didn’t win any parenting awards for that decision. Needless to say, she had nightmares for a couple of weeks after the film.  But I didn’t recognize the magnitude of my mistake until I was finally able to watch it this past weekend.  

I was haunted.  

I multiplied the horror story of Solomon Northrup and his fellow prisoners in slavery by 100,000, for every slave had their own tale of atrocities to recount if they could articulate it to someone at some point.  My partner told me that history states that approximately 700,000 people were taken from Africa and sold into slavery. From those 700,000 grew generations well into the millions in this country, each with their own horrific tale that was never told.

The second mistake was watching the movie while living in North Carolina, with its subtle wavelength of racism that permeates the air like a dense patch of fog, like the smell of burning leaves in someone’s backyard that lingers over several blocks.

It’s like the White children who so politely open the door for us in the kiss and go car drop off line at my daughter’s elementary school. As they open the door, they peer inside carefully, and I wonder whether they’re expecting to see a deluge of blackness seep out of the vehicle and stain their clothing, like an enormously eager ink blot. They look at us as we say our loving goodbyes, as if surprised that people as brown as we are can actually perform such Leave It to Beaver displays of normalcy.

Maybe if I had not seen the movie Twelve Years a Slave, I wouldn’t have rented Long Walk to Freedom about Nelson Mandela’s lifelong fight to eradicate apartheid.  Yes, I am obsessive… And perhaps this story wouldn’t have kept me up last night, with a mixture of anger and sorrow quickening my veins.

At a lovely UNC doctor’s office in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, the kind of offices that are scattered just as frequently as McDonald’s in any given city (except Chapel Hill), a White heavyset woman went in to have her blood drawn at the lab.  To her anger, an African-American woman would be the unlucky person who had to draw her blood.

Here’s what the coarse and monstrous White woman told the lab technician as she prepared her materials: “If you dare to even touch me with your black skin, I will slap your face!”

What would Jesus have done?

What would you have done?

I know what I would have done, but I’m torn.  Should we rise above this deep-rooted racism and maintain composure and dignity?

Or do we give in to our absolute exhaustion of living with the ignorance of the South, STILL, in 2014 and let our baser instincts fly free?

My over-working brain played with wicked joy all the probable scenarios I would have done to that woman, including licking her, cursing her, or cutting her down with an assault of words sharper than any scalpel at UNC.

The lab technician was shaken and in tears after the ordeal, offended and demoralized, which leads me to the question I have asked my mate oftentimes over the years since I have relocated to this dismal region: Why didn’t every Black person in the South leave and go far away from this evil, racist-infested land?

 Why set up roots for generations after freedom had been granted? Why continue to work for the White man?

Was it ignorance and fear? Lack of education? A lifetime of browbeating and soul-crushing that robbed them of their dignity and integral fortitude?

As I observe the community around me I have many questions, and no answers.