Archive for July, 2009|Monthly archive page

My Sorrows Can Not Be Skip’d

In Uncategorized on July 28, 2009 at 3:59 pm


My father and Henry Louis “Skip” Gates have nothing in common. Pops was not Harvard educated and the story of his ancestry has never been made into a PBS special.  You see, my father lived in the bowels of the old south; racism felt about as natural to him as raising the cotton he sharecropped in the hot southern Louisiana sun. 

He had been farming since he dropped out of school in the sixth grade, hoping to help my widowed grandmother somehow break even at the end of the seasons, remember…sharecropping was a “neo slavery” that often left African Americans owing White land owners more money than they earned during the sale of their crops at harvest.  He never abandoned farming, which I later realized was a blessing as I understand the process of growing my own food.  As a matter of fact, my father could build a house, farm, fish, and hunt; or basically live independently if our government one day decided to treat him like a refugee (queue Katrina). I used to somewhat be embarrassed by his “countryness”. He even grew a couple of bushes of cotton every season, which I now realize was his non-verbal communication of the Akan principle of Sankofa. You see, Africa lives within us, whether we acknowledge her or not.

Sidebar: My father lived to see me make my pilgrimage to the Continent (great…now I’m crying). I brought him back a royal sword because I realized when I became an adult that, in his modest way, he was a great warrior, and he deserved to know it.

I watched my father struggle to support his family with an inadequate education and a prayer that his children would be more than him. I surveyed his mechanical genius as he repaired TV’s, refrigerators, and air conditioners- with no formal training, and pondered who he might have been had he been afforded the basic human rights that we all should be guaranteed; mainly the right to thrive.  I witnessed his uneasiness when being pulled over by police, I suppose, as he wondered if he would be threatened, beat, or murdered in front of his children. I observed my father bury himself in alcohol as he suffered being a man in a world that demanded that he could not be one. The horrors of racism and racial profiling are not lost on me, a thirty-something, educated, and freedom bound Black woman.

So as I watch the novella that is the Gates-Crowley-Obama stream of events; I don’t stand unaffected. As they all “play” the race card, and joke, and sip beers, I realize that my father’s memory deserves a real discussion on racism and how it affects us individually and collectively. This mask of cohesion and diplomacy only leaves one set of losers; and it is not an officer bold enough to be offended as he was called out on his behavior, which surely pointed to a white superiority complex that remains the large elephant in the room that everyone pretends not to see. (Ahem- that sentence was mad Baldwin-esque).

And speaking of Baldwin, I think this quote from him serves this post well:

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

Mr. President, I await the invitation to tell you my father’s story.  Please have plenty of Kleenex on hand, because it’s not a jolly tale. Oh, and my father drank Pearl beer, it’s a southern classic.  If you would forward that invitation in his name and in care of Jo the Nubian, I would greatly appreciate it.  By the way, his invite warrants only the finest calligraphy and stationary; you know the kind reserved for dignitaries and sorts.  I’ll check the mail daily.