Wednesday, January 31, 2007

on the verge

hi mike,

haven't heard from you in a while. january is hard, I know. it's been a hard one this month. reeling from the expense of the holidays - both financially and emotionally. this year, instead of my mind, I lost my health. flu, sinus infection and now, out of nowhere, migraines. but the show I had last night rocked february in mightily, and I woke up to a text message from my baby sister telling me that she loves me dearly. so I'm hopeful for a better month.

I couldn't wait for your next letter, sorry. something's been pressing on me, and its really the reason I wanted to start writing these letters in the first place. I had that sense of being in exile from my own culture the other day, and it spawned an unexpectedly ungracious, maybe even racist response, and I want to come clean.

there's a man in Oakland right now, Marcel Diallo, who's committed to creating an African-American cultural district in West Oakland - to be called the Lower Bottoms District - to preserve the history and heritage of the people and places in an area that is quickly being gentrified by people looking for cheap(ish) property, or warehouses to throw parties in. his vision is amazing, and, even though he's just a dude, not some millionaire, he's found ways of buying a bunch of property, encouraging his friends to do the same, and starting a group called the Blue Dot Collective to support African-American arts in the district.

Marcel's ideas are amazing. I think time and the local economy are on his side right now and that he'll do well. also I genuinely appreciate his mission - I think it's true that West Oakland should be preserved as an Afro-centric district. the history there is incredibly rich - and full of lots of racism: by the mid-forties it was home to the largest black middle class outside of Atlanta; family-run businesses drove the local economy while art and music thrived. at that same time, local (white) officials decided to build a highway, the "Nimitz", which would, and did eventually pave over the entire main street in West Oakland, dispersing the middle class folk, and leaving West Oakland to be devoured by warehouses, other industrial buildings and the slow unraveling of poverty.

far as I'm concerned, understanding the history of black people in this country is one of the most important things that any of us can do. black history is ours (whites') too - despite the fact that it is a significantly less empowering experience for white people to dive into.

okay, you're wondering where my lack of grace comes in. you're waiting for me to say Diallo's ideas are amazing, BUT. but I'm not going to say that. I do think Diallo's ideas are amazing. what happened a few days ago began with a search for more information about Diallo & his Blue Dot Collective. I ended up here.

this blog excited me - it's a multi-author, multi-media, Afro-centric smorgesbord - and then I came upon this article called "On the Verge of Dating White Girls." [enter unexpectedly ungracious, maybe even racist response]: what the fuck? why does dating white girls stand as a metaphor for cultural assimilation? why does this claiming of personal power have to be an act of exclusion? why am I expected drop my stereotypes of him, and yet lay down under his stereotypes of me?

I know the answers to my own questions of course: slavery, that's why. white people did horrible disgusting things to black people - and continue to do them - and that is not easily amended. this is American history. this is what my people (most of whom actually came over late in the 19th century due to the potato famine) have left as their legacy - for which the paleness of my skin is an unmistakable hallmark: such division, such deep division, and pain.

I remember taking a class about apartheid in South Africa at Ithaca and seeing this ad that some white Africaaners had taken out in local papers after it (apartheid) was dismantled. The ad said "Why cry over spilt milk? The past is just that - past" I remember being horrified and insulted by the message of this ad. the insinuation that mass murder = spilt milk. I wonder if my response to the title of this man's column is just the same though? am I frustrated by the "not getting over it" that it intimates?

no, I don't want anyone to get over it. I don't want to forget slavery happened. that's the point though I think. I want to HAVE the discussion. I just don't want it to be about white vs. black. the white/black division was what was used to create the context for such a horrible practice in the first place. keeping this division won't help us heal, or understand, or prevent it from happening again. I want the discussion to be about humanity - the incredible amounts of pain we can adapt to, and the incredible amounts of pain we can adapt to doling out.

maybe I don't really understand what he means by "on the verge of dating white girls".



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