Thursday, June 4, 2020
Finding the words
It didn't feel right this week, to post my usual nonsense about allotments and general ramblings. I don't really have the words to articulate how I'm feeling about the current situation in America.
I'm furious and tearful and frightened for those involved in the protests, while offering my wholehearted, yet inadequate, support to them.
I didn't turn my Instagram black because that felt like an empty gesture and I read several people of colour's thoughts about it. I thought long and hard about how I use my white privilege to support those who don't have it. I thought about how I don't feel like I'm doing enough, or the right thing. And I thought back to my first awakening to racism.
Growing up in a small market town in rural Britain, it's fair to say that the population was not diverse. My brief encounters with other cultures were through tv. Despite standard childhood issues (irritating younger sister, hating school, wanting to be older or just left alone to read), nothing shook my intensely white view of the world. Certainly not our history lessons.
And then I walked into English class and was handed Maya Angelou's I Know Why The Caged Bird Sing as a set text. My interior world was never the same again.
Written with a clear eye and lack of sentimentality but with empathy, compassion and a dedication to telling her truth, Angelou wrote out her story and I read it in a night. Then went back to the teacher and asked if there was anything else by someone like her.
From Angelou, and that one wonderful teacher, I met Alice Walker, Toni Morrison, Zora Neale Hurston and James Baldwin. I learned about Sojourner Truth, Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, and more. Whole worlds of struggle, rage, injustice and a life limited, scripted, by skin colour. Scales fell away from my eyes and have never grown back. I don't let them grow back and that requires work, regular evaluation of my thoughts and processes.
I still have that copy of IKWTCBS, battered and dog eared, tea splashed and wrinkled from bath water. It has moved house with me 5 times and I know exactly where it is on the shelves. My penciled notes, in a hand just finding its way, are still there. I've underlined sections, some so deeply, the page is scored by it. It's never been leant out to anyone - I buy copies for people instead.
If you're looking for a way to remove the scales from your eyes or to open your mind to why, why, some are so sick of waiting for our "progress" that rioting is a legitimate form of protest, start with the queen. Start with Maya.
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