Race and Blood and Poetry

I haven’t been able to focus well the past couple days. I wanted to Instagram you a picture of painting mini pumpkins together and our puddle walks in the rain. But I couldn’t show the good we were having as a family while my head and heart were simultaneously ruminating on the pain bursting through the surface of our country.

There’s no time to catch a breath. Before we have made sense of the most recent incident a newest one is thrust upon us. The confusion and the pain packed and compounded instead of processed. Wanting a straight story from the media we are left unsatisfied – there won’t be one. We look for the truth to justify a side. Therein is the problem. We’re still trying to divide up sides. We’re still trying to judge if it was deserved or unjust. It’s too simple to villainize the police always. The only side, the only straight story we get to know is we are all pulling the trigger and we are all a people bleeding.

I have never been more afraid as a parent than when we were fostering a young black boy who was tall for his age but emotionally charged from trauma. It is only a matter of time, I thought, before someone hurts him. A stranger on the street this time.

My friends of color who are raising their sons and daughters to be extra respectful, extra graceful, extra smiley, extra concise and precise as perception shifting survival tactics live with this fear daily. It is a stone in stomach debilitation of fear and feelings I will never fully know the weightyness of.

The mannerisms of my grandparents’ generation were subtle. A slide of a purse from chair to lap. A step closer to the sidewalk’s edge. But I noticed and I’m willing to bet the black man walking past did too.

On a recent visit, my dad began reminiscing about how he and a few classmates transferred to the all black high school in the ’60’s when Oklahoma City was desegregating slowly and the surprising few people who gave him and his girlfriend of color scuffle as they went to diners on the fringe of racially divided neighborhoods.

We’re moving closer, I thought, with each generation. We are learning. We are moving closer to facing our bias, embracing our histories, listening to what it is like to be a person of color.  But God help me, I find myself at times adjusting my purse or locking the car door or walking slightly more around in the name of safety as a man of color approaches, just like two generations before. It is in all of us no matter how tenderized by this topic. So I continue to question and sit in hard conversations and read stories and poetry from people of color; black women in particular.

The violence keeps happening too fast to settle into the comfort that we are healing our racially brutalized past as a nation and forming a new way into the future.

I changed our elementary schools a couple years ago after more than one adult working there gave me the color blind speech. Color blindness is a refusal to acknowledge the very real existing pain.

Which makes me wonder if for a while we all tried to move on too quickly in our generation. We tried to say “not me” and “not a problem anymore” and refused to look at the bloody now. There are faces and bodies in our newsfeed that leave us saddened and confused. There are organized protests that leave us wanting to make judgements on the effectiveness or non-peacefulness of the frustrated responses of rage, while the peaceful ones are often not shown across media.

It is time to look at the blood. To point out the blood to others. It is time to say we’re all dehumanizing eachother, but our friends of color are hurting most and in ways we cannot fathom.

When the world doesn’t make sense to me, words often do. I came back to this poem today as meditation, as prayer, as a way to listen to the pain and to stare at the blood and not look away. Will you read it with me?

 

Sons and Daughters by Maya Angelou

If my luck is bad

And his aim is straight

I will leave my life

On the killing field

You can see me die

On the nightly news

As you settle down

To your evening meal. 

 

But you’ll turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

In the city streets

Where the neon lights

Turn my skin from black

To electric blue

My hope soaks red

On the gray pavement

And my dreams die hard

For my life is through. 

 

But you’ll turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

 

In the little towns

Of this mighty land

Where you close your eyes

To my crying need

I strike out wild

And my brother falls

Turn on your news

You can watch us bleed. 

 

In morgues I’m known

By a numbered tag

In clinics and jails

And junkyards too

You deny my kin

Though I bear your name

For i am a part

Of mankind too. 

 

But you’ll turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

 

Turn your face to me

Please

Let you eyes seek my eyes

Lay your hand upon my arm

Touch me. I am real as flesh

And solid as bone. 

 

I am no metaphor

I am no symbol

I am not a nightmare

To vanish with the dawn

I am lasting as hunger

And certain as midnight. 

 

I claim that no council 

Can contain me

Nor fashion me to its whim. 

You, come here, hunch with me in this dingy doorway, 

Face with me the twisted mouth threat

Of one more desperate

And better armed than I. 

 

Join me again at today’s dime store counter

Where the word to me 

Is still no. 

Let us go, your shoulder, 

Against my shoulder, 

To the new picket line

Where my color is still a signal

For brutes to spew their bile

Like spit in my eye. 

 

You, only you, who have made me 

Who share this tender taunting history with me

My fathers and mothers

Only you can save me

Only you can order the tides, 

That rush my heart, to cease

Stop expanding my veins

Into red riverlets. 

 

Come, you my relative

Walk the forest floor with me

Where rampaging animals lurk, 

Lusting for my future

Only if your side is by my side

Only if your side is by my side

Will I survive. 

 

But you’ll probably turn your back

As you often do

Yet I am your sons

And your daughters too. 

 

 

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