Friday, June 04, 2004

Wuddnya just know it?

NOW I know what should have been said, now that the opportunity's passed and the words and thoughts have come unstuck ... .

There's always been this mysterious amnesia about the war years. It came up again today. It's triggered by particular questions, questions that should be easily answered.

"Did you feel at one with the burst of patriotism that must have accompanied the homefront effort; the crushing speed and excitement of production?"

"No, I really can't recall that."

Then it came in a rush...the why of it all ...

African Americans have got to be some of the strongest people on the planet to have survived those years. We were being asked to work, fight, and possibly die for freedoms that would not be ours for another decade! How crazy-making that had to be. That -- for the most part -- we remained passive and more than that -- that we worked and fought and died despite the awfulness of national rejection.

If you've been reading this blog since the beginning you'll know that -- until the great migration to the West Coast changed the landscape for all time, my life had been relatively ordinary. My heroes were not black heroes. I was certainly familiar with Langston Hughes and Mary McLeod Bethune and Ralph Bunche, but I was far more familiar with Eleanor Roosevelt, Helen Keller, and Edna St. Vincent Millay. Our families, who'd settled in the west for more than fifty years before WWII were like any other immigrant families striving to live our version of the American Dream, the dream that would take us right up into the great middleclass if we played the game right. Small wonder that those years are clouded over for me, clouded by rampant confusion. It was quite suddenly necessary to redefine myself without reference to anything I'd lived before.

The part of me that moved out of that "American" side was stunned into silence (at least temporarily) while the Betty that was now lumped in with the thousands of folks (black and white) who'd dropped their hoes and picked up hardhats to save the world for democracy were strangers, indeed. They were still drinking from separate water fountains and riding in two ends of the same bus that was going in the same direction. The voting privilege had not yet been extended to many who were now being expected to get into uniform and protect the world from Facism! Confusion reigned!

African-Americans who'd moved up from the southern states to do the home front work were at the same time "moving to the front of the bus." Not so for us. We were discovering segregation of a kind we'd never known, and having our brains and emotions scrambled in the process. It should be no surprise that my memory has been dimmed over the years, in defense against the cruelty of the times.

Perhaps that's why I've never identified with the Rosie concept. She was an anomaly and symbolic of a time that produced some of the most painful growth of my life, and of the life of the nation.

I still find her little more than a paper doll. Rosie as a symbol just doesn't work for me.

Nonetheless, tomorrow at the dedication I'll catch the spirit and let go of the quiet anger that I've been carrying around all these years. Today I felt some of it drop away as I walked the memorial for those cameras. Watching myself being myself as if from some outside vantage point ... Not sure why that was, but I found myself looking back at that monument for a few minutes before starting the motor to drive back into the traffic of life ... and home again.

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