LowerManhattanite: "Okay! It Happened! Get Over It! Uh . . . Not."
Somewhere In Hell, I Pray It’s Goin’ Down Like This
MAJOR THANKS to the incomparable LOWERMANHATTANITE for this kickass piece - THANKS LM!
“History is like herpes”, a professor once told me. “It just keeps coming back, reminding us of the initial contact and infuriating us every time it does. But son-of-a-bitch, it’s real. And if you don’t take care of it, and deal with it…well, you know the rest.”
In our relatively young country—by historical standards—we’ve come a long way, from trading pelts and trinkets for beaver overrun, Northeastern islands, to becoming the lone “mega-ultra-super-but-in-spite-of-all-that, f*cking-it-all-up” power in the world. And we’ve managed to compress a lot of history in our brief time millennially. We’ve squeezed in ten or so Goddamned wars, including one for independence—and excluding one involving a preciously described “peculiar institution” of ours. I exclude that “peculiar institution” driven one today, because that one, is our great national wound—and the maddeningly named “peculiar institution”—oh, f*ck it—Slavery Goddammit, is such a festering boil unto itself that it requires analysis beyond the war it fueled in large part.
The Rev. Al Sharpton has come to discover in recent days that in tracing his family’s lineage back a little, his antecedents may well have been—and it’s ugly even typing these words—chattel property of the slave-holding family of noted 20th century bigot, segregationist, and venerated Dixiecrat/GOP senator Strom Thurmond.
“And?”, say the usual punk-*ssed apologists and soft-core hate-mongers on the right. “Big whoop”, they whine. “It happened. Can you let it go? I mean, jeez! What dusky killjoys you people are! How are we supposed to move on and rag you n*ggers with “news-speak” language while slobbering over Beyoncé’s thighs if you keep harshing our myopic mellow with this bullsh*t?”
Well my little instaf*ckwits, cornerites and fellow travelers down that flaming cross-lined road to racial utopia, it ain’t quite that simple. You see, it would be easy as all hell to trot out the “it’s a Black thang, you wouldn’t understand” meme, but—sh*t. You know what? It’s actually apt for this, so yeah—“It is a Black thang, and too many of you really wouldn’t and quite honestly don’t wanna understand.” So lemme break it down. I don’t know Reverend Al—contrary to what many White folks may believe about how we all have each other’s e-mail addys—but I have a pretty good idea that finding out this ugly little bit of family history brought on a few sleepless nights for the permed, progressive preacher. You see, it’s a helluva thing for Black folks born here who have antecedents who were slaves. Our American history is a nasty one. “We didn’t land on Plymouth Rock…Plymouth Rock landed on us”. I remember my 8th grade History class, which as luck would have it coincided with the first showing of “Roots” on television. My teacher, Dear Mr. G______ thought it would be cool to assign a class project of having us kids attempt to trace our history back towards our own “Roots”, if you will. It was a two-week long project spanning the week of ‘Roots’ broadcast, and the week thereafter. God bless Mr. G______, the man meant well, but the project was doomed to be a pigf*ck from jump. You see, when time came to present the assignments—replete with illustrated family trees, a brutal truth became apparent. The White kids in class were able to present large, multi-branched and dense-leaved sequoias of lineage, going back in some cases to the 1800s, with indications of residence and occupation as supporting information. The Black kids for the most part brought the equivalent of small, barren azaleas to the party. Missing and incomplete branches. Stunted roots as it were, for once we hit the blood, sweat and tear-stained wall of slavery in the research, the trail often went cold. I remember the collective pall that came over the class as it became evident that the project had gone down two very different paths for the two groups of students. It was depressing as f*ck. Kid after kid went up there with a mixture of shame and sadness in their delivery, as they sought to explain the odd, yet obviously minimal presentations they were able to mount. Once you got to great-grandparents, (and for those of us with older parents--grand-parents) the trails often grew cold, and there was little description of familial anecdotes and detail like occupations and migration with reasoning. The discomfort in the class was palpable, and it was only a couple of kids after my lame-*ss, brief and apologetic presentation that Mr. G prematurely ended the oral reports, opting to just collect the projects and grade them. He somberly apologized—for not “giving some of you as much time as you probably needed to do this project properly”, he said. But us Black kids understood what he meant. He regretted putting us in a f*cked up position like that where we’d discover—harshly, what damage slavery had wrought.
What damage slavery had wrought. Black folks don’t think about it every day. We work. We plod along through life like everybody. Pay the bills, Fret about the kids. But slavery is a stealthy mother-f*cker. It creeps up on you when you least expect it. You hear folks discuss their lineage in great detail and your mind cannot help but wander to where your lineage effectively wisps out into a vapor trail. And that point doesn’t take much of a journey to get to. You realize your American history is different from the revered and regaled ones of people you know. And different in an ugly, mean way that an outsider—a not-Black person can never really understand. It depresses you. If your life is hard, it can make you feel less American than a lot of folks. Sh*t, if your life is easy and people get too giddy about the depth of detail about Great-Great-Grams Mimsy and Durwood and their horse-drawn move from Ol’ Virginny to Sandusky in “ought four”, you often can’t help but feel a bit of second-class citizenship in the face of that. Your American experience is not pretty, charming or romantic. It’s truncated and abrupt. Not a tree, but a weed. A dandelion. A dandelion long ago blown upon, with its bits scattered the million different places the wind blows.
And when you do manage to break through that wall, if you’re of means and have the wherewithal to gather those historical dandelion scatterings to form a whole thing again, the odds are you’ll stumble onto a slap in the f*cking face like Rev. Al’s getting now. “Pyow! Right in the kisser!” It’s a helluva thing. You go through life and make your way, trying to succeed, pushing the thoughts of your history to the backmost part of your mind, because let’s face it—dwelling on your folks having been slaves is a bitch—and then, once you do dig around a bit, you hit a flaming gas pocket of America’s overt racist past like this. And it burns. Burns you right to the core. In Rev. Al’s case, the lineage going back to the Ol’, Ol’, Oldest of Ol’ Strom’s plantation is a true kick in the gut, but is ironic and instructive in a way. You get the mantra of “Hey! I got nothin’ to do with what happened then, so lighten up!” from those who would minimize slavery’s damage.. But the sad reality is that just like the roly-poly Rev didn’t have to scratch history too deep to find Ol’ Strom grinnin’ there with a whip, the odds are a lotta White folks wouldn’t have to scan too hard before finding a relative who benefited from slavery’s enforcement. It’s our collective wound, people. The historical nail bomb that’s pockmarked us all.. Beyond the issues of reparations, mules and acreage, we have to acknowledge the way slavery has bifurcated this country—beyond blue n’ gray, north and south, but yes, you’ve got it--to Black and White, while linking us all the same. And yes, I mean beyond the superficial, “get beyond it”, mock-dealing with it, people.
It’s there. It’s real. And in your face every day like the headlines that jump out at you from the newsstand, i.e.”Sharpton Descended From Slaves Owned By Thurmond Family”
It would appear, that irony is far from dead. And sadly, neither is slavery’s legacy.
- posted by LowerManhattanite
Labels: black, sharpton, slavery