I’m stuck! I just learned that both my favorite nephew and my beloved grandson, who live in different states, have inadvertently scheduled their weddings on the same day! What to do?
The fact is I have no idea: one is the son of my son, the other the son of my brother! How can I possibly make a choice?
I’ll figure it out because I have to, but I am dismayed that the family was not consulted in the first place! Didn’t we count?
It reminds me of how people of color must feel as the laws of the land and the mindset of the white majority assumes its own privilege, and tends to not consider them. It is not only unjust, it’s also stupid because the people who call the shots – the dominant culture – are unaware of how much fun they’re missing!
During the time I was singing Gospel in an African-American church, one year we had a choir retreat at a little cabin on the Delta away from city lights. By that time, I was accepted by the congregation as part of the church family, could hold my own playing ‘the dozens’ with the best of them and laugh at myself almost as freely as they could. To sing with that choir was more of a privilege than I could ever describe to someone who has never had the experience of ‘getting down’ with people you belong to, the Spirit coming through you all as the choir gets lifted up in the glory of something beyond wonderful!
We knew ecstasy and love so deep it brought us to our knees. Such a privilege it was to celebrate that with these folks! There was one night at the retreat I will never forget, when we sang ourselves into the familiar ecstasy outside under the full moon, raising our voices up and up towards the heavens, no drugs necessary! We shared knowledge of the Ineffable in those moments and we knew how to get there by making this glorious music – together!
It’s what we all long for, I believe, whether we know it or not, this sense of belonging to one another and to the cosmos, although many of us mainstream-culture folks are not even aware it exists, much less that it’s been happening all these years around the corner from where most of us live!
“I wouldn’t be welcome,” my white friends would mumble, bashful with inherited guilt when I suggested they come by and join us some Sunday.
But I went, and my oldest son went – every Thursday night for choir practice and every Sunday to church. In that room, society’s preconceived judgments of dark-skinned people who had once been enslaved had no place, nor were Michael and I judged by the color of our skin. Everyone was welcome to celebrate, however we defined the Almighty for ourselves. The experience was available week after week to all comers – joyous, transcendent, welcoming, and we were part of it for eight years.
Geneticists point out that human DNA, across the spectrum of ethnicities and cultures, lifestyles and geography, is 95% identical. The last tiny percentage contains the differences of bone structure, eye-shape and skin color – just the finishing touches of what we look like. Like dimples, for example.
So what’s this big deal we’ve managed to create? As one geneticist put it,
“Skin color should be the last nail in the coffin for racism.”
How in hell do we heal this rift?
I went, this week, to see some dance films at the LINES Ballet Center where Alonzo King has been encouraging members of the general community to come and take dance classes – everyone! There are classes for the little ones and the pre-teens, for working mothers and fathers, for retired folks, for the young bloods. In the introductory film, I was captivated by one little girl in the children’s class, maybe five years old, with brown skin and bright, black eyes, who raised her arms rapturously to the music while her many-colored classmates swayed around her. In another scene young boys with lots of hair hip-hopped through their wild moves, their faces intense and shining, and in another a middle-aged white man spoke of finally getting to dance after a lifetime of wishing to.
I sat there crying. This is the world I wish to live in. How did we get so off track?
This social dilemma of ours is not only about righting a history of abuse, it is about all of us losing out on the privilege of knowing one another and the extraordinary riches each of us brings to the table.
I cannot imagine living my life without Shadi’s warm and exotic personality, not to mention the Persian dishes she shares with me. Have you ever sat still while a nine year-old Filipina drew a picture of you and it looked like you? What about listening to the stories of a Polish-Jewish-Chinese friend who has just spent half a year in Warsaw to find his roots? If you haven’t, then I suggest you make up for lost time because you have no idea what you’ve been missing.
I watch the young ones coming of age now, falling in love with one another across every line of color and culture, creating the most gorgeous babies imaginable. These are our new grown-ups, may they thrive! I met one lovely young woman recently who I couldn’t place racially, and asked about her background.
“Oh, my Mom’s from Colombia and my Dad’s Punjabi,” she replied. I tried to imagine what a man from the Punjab was doing in South America, or a Colombian woman doing in India?
“However did they meet?” I asked.
“At work,” she said, it being the most natural thing in the world, from her point of view.
I had to laugh. This was America at the turn of the 21st century, and even with all its burps and warts, why shouldn’t people who immigrated here from everywhere in the world meet at work? And fall in love, and create the new generation of bright and beautiful beings like this young woman, mixing up the gene pool in yet another ingenious way!
Not only was this possible, it was also probable.
It’s true, our country is in a big fat mess, but I’m not ready to give up on it. My hope is that if I just stick with it through its labor pains, it might stick with me through mine.
And labor, as we know, can hurt like the devil and rarely goes quickly, but I’ve never known a woman to change her mind in the middle…
No. Of course not.