... and -- as I law awake long after going to bed last night -- hesitant to end my day with unresolved feelings -- I realized that the question has been hanging in the air for many years.
The woman who raised the question in a heavy French accent put a new edge to the issue:
"I didn't even know you were African American, or why it is so important. Why is that?"
I mumbled something that might suffice until we could move on, but can't even recall what those words were. Did I hesitate taking her query head on because she was an obvious visitor to this country for whom the overlay of innocent curiosity could be excused? It surely wasn't because I was ducking the issue out of ignorance or simple avoidance of the obvious.
My racial ambiguity is a factor, of course, one that I've had to evolve through life experience. Though I unquestionably identify as Black, though my cultural background is provided by a rich Cajun/Creole New Orleans ancestry. And my black identity rises from the fact that I did not grow up in New Orleans, but on the West Coast where those ethnic beginnings were eventually overlaid by a purely western culture. I lived the Post WWII black experience which brought with it the black activism of the Sixties and throughout every decade since -- at a time when the nation was sorting out its racial attitudes and forming a new definition of itself -- one that would permit us to elect a president of color in 2008 after a stormy and perilous journey through the latter half of the 20th Century.
I increasingly see myself as an evolving person in an evolving nation.
Part of the national conversation that prevents us from re-visiting that history -- that won't allow us to process the slavery era even today is this:
It was in 1807 that the importing of African slaves came to an end in this country, though smuggling continued unabated for several decades. The buying and selling of human beings would not end until the Civil War was fought and the Emancipation Proclamation signed in 1865.
When one goes through the slave records from the years following the official end of the slave trade, most of those who show up in slave accounts are very young. They were chattel, "livestock". They were family assets who were passed along through wills and sold as property for many more years. They were used to pay off gambling debts, etc.
It is no easier for us to speak of that painful history than it is for the descendants of slave owners to own it. But that ugly truth still hangs in the room when those skin color differences are noted, as it was yesterday. Our "otherness" has as many variations as there are races and cultures on the earth. I'm no exception, but bear the appearance of those who preceded me on the earth by whatever practices that prevailed under that cruel economic system. Yesterday, the French woman's innocence allowed her to raise the obvious, but awareness of that awesome truth smothered my voice in my throat, and I let it slip by with the realization that this was not the time nor the place to take that on.But the most shameful truth is the fact that -- once there was no new "stock" being imported into our ports, slave owners used rape in order to produce and increase their slave holdings. The fact that African Americans today are born with every skin color and hair texture, every facial feature, body shape, has to do with that cruel history of the beginnings of our ancestors. During the early and mid-19th Century, white American slave owners were quite literally selling their own children. That's the ugly truth that remains unutterable. Though many of us were born to free blacks, most were not.
But after a day of watching the debate about the de-funding of Planned Parenthood, the alleged "dismemberment of babies in the womb to harvest their stem cells," occurring in the Congress by the descendants of slave owners and their unknowing co-conspirators so piously was disheartening; hypocritical. That the Pro-Life movement would have its greatest strength among the evangelical southern Christians where the remnants of white supremacy still prevails is frightening.
If not now; when?
Wish I'd taken the time to give voice to the unspeakable yesterday.