Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Falling Apart

I've been staring at this page and throwing ideas at it and nothing will stick. I couldn't get to sleep until after one thirty, woke up at six and my thoughts are a dark swirl.

I'm from Cleveland. Grew up there until we moved when I was thirteen. Raised in the beautiful old suburban area known as Cleveland Heights. At the time it was almost exclusively white. Through all my elementary years I can remember only two African American classmates.

In the fifth grade when we had to do our biggest project, a report on our ethnic background and how our ancestors might have come to the U.S., the teacher told the one African American student, a girl, that since she didn't have any immigration story, she could chose any nationality she wanted for her report. I wonder if he thought this was a creative solution to an awkward dilemma.

No story. No ethnic background. No country of origin. No nothing.

This was some years before "Roots". It was just assumed there were no records and therefore there was no story. Can you imagine? Can you imagine being a teacher and telling any student they had no story? It boggles my mind.

This year video footage has begun to hold up a mirror to the African American story in this country. It doesn't mean there was no story before. It means that a lot of folks lived by the "no records, no story" theory rather than face the awkward and enraging truth. Even now there are people who are somehow able to view videos of violence and murder and say there's no story here.

Even members of a Grand Jury.

Move along, nothing to see here. (Don't look! It'll only upset you.)

Oh I am upset. I am enraged. When a twelve year-old child playing with a toy gun in the park is slaughtered in seconds it is more than an awkward dilemma. When people can look at evidence and fail to see the truth before their eyes it can only mean one thing: in the United States the right to have a story, a history, a background, a truth is nothing but a privilege accorded to whites.

The lyrics "Who lives? Who dies? Who tells your story?" from Hamilton are echoing in my head this morning. We know who lives, don't we? And who dies.

What are are going to do about it? And who will get to tell the story?





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