My journey home--and now back--is almost complete. I have eaten too much Chinese food. I discovered that a foul concoction called "scotch beer" is just as hellish as the name implies.
I have also tried to write while sitting at a Panera and suffering the yammering of yentas complaining about the difficulties of their stay-at-home rich people suburban housewife manufactured drama. The white new money classes who talk in loud tones at mid-tier dining establishments about first world problems for all to hear is mighty entertaining...for a moment, and only for a moment, before it quickly becomes tedium.
In all, those are mild complaints for what was a nice trip home, one that was subsidized by the readers and friends of We Are Respectable Negroes. I appreciate all of your support and wish you only the best for the new year.
[Some personal sharing and random thoughts for the holiday and new year. Do share your own thoughts too, and treat this as more or less an open thread for these days when we are traveling, distracted, and when posting may be light.]
Returning to a childhood home is a life ritual which allows us to reflect on the promises we made to ourselves (and family) those years ago and the dreams of where our lives would be in that far off nebulous future that came into being too fast and too soon. When I return to my childhood home, I always look through old books, pictures, and papers. This is a scavenger hunt of my recent and mid past life. It is also therapy. I hope that I am not the only person who likes--or is that some time of masochism in practice--discovering essays written in high school, "genius" papers from college, or love letters and mixed tapes made for "the one", the person you knew that you would marry when you were 17?
I was laying in my childhood bed, conducting my end of year life inventory, listening to Coast to Coast AM on the radio, and looking through some of books that are still in the bedroom. As much as we grow and change from our teen years to twenty or so years later, the seeds of who we are--or are running away from being--are likely still present there.
For me, Star Wars books sit next to Baldwin and books on military affairs, with random sci-fi and fantasy mixed in with graphic novels and tomes on sex that hide on the bottom of the pile or hidden in recessed shelving. A random book by Rush Limbaugh and one by Thomas Sowell sits behind an overpriced red, vanity press published book called How to Please a Woman Every Time. Page 35 of the latter contains a gem of knowledge. Seek it out. How did those books find each other? Who knows?
Of course, the comic books which (I believed at the time) would bring me great wealth in the future, are stored in Mylar bags and cheap metal file cabinets thought of as stalwart vaults and redoubts when first purchased. Ghetto Nerd financier dreams of how the autographs of Negro League baseball players and comic books would finance a future education and retirement at 40 are fantasies, gone, exposed. The teenage hope of a carefully cultivated fortune in comic books and sport memorabilia remains, quite literally, priceless and so very warm and comforting.
Home always brings questions.
I grew up near where Eli Whitney invented the cotton gin during the 19th century. He thought his invention would help to end slavery. The opposite occurred. The cotton gin actually helped to make slavery in the South a more profitable and stable institution.
Mikhail Kalishnikov died on December 23rd of this year. He invented the AK-47, what is one of the most devastating implements for killing in human history. The AK-47 and its related family of weapons have been the tools of oppressors, criminals, tyrants, liberation movements, and freedom struggles. A child can use the AK-47 to kill with ease; the AK-47 makes killing a childish thing. The gun is a great social leveler.
Mikhail Kalishnikov was proud of his invention. He possessed no guilt over how it has been used to kill millions of people. He died the day before Christmas Eve.
Driving by Eli Whitney's museum, I wondered, was Mikhail Kalishnikov able to catch a ride with Santa Claus to the afterlife--or whatever fate awaited him? Are inventors "good" or "evil" as judged by how their creations were used?
When I was in elementary school, I was given a collection of folk wisdom and African-American history called "The Black Book" . It still sits under an old television. I believe that this gift was intended as either a cure all or intellectual prophylactic against the type of Eurocentric and white American triumphalist teaching that was the norm in most public schools during the Reagan 80's. Little black and brown boys and girls need and should be taught that they are not bystanders in American history and life.
As an adult, I do in hindsight reflect upon the wisdom of giving an eight-year-old kid a book that contained lynching photography. The photos of black World War One soldiers, cowboys, politicians, artists, and random folks just living in a quotidian way helped to offset the horror. The lesson was taught: black folks are not just victims.We are heroes and regular people too. We are great, petty, winners, losers, eccentrics, lovers, fighters, victims, successful, and mercurial weirdos...just like any other group of people, experiences modulated by our own particular struggles as a people.
Little black and brown boys and girls need those lessons about our history and present, perhaps even more in the post-civil rights era, when empty triumphalism and the fact of a Black President mask the semi-permanence of White Supremacy in American life.
The Black Book contains a photo of a lynching. Next to this horrific image is an excerpt from Langston Hughes' poem "Negro":
I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.
I’ve been a slave:
Caesar told me to keep his door-steps clean.
I brushed the boots of Washington.
I’ve been a worker:
Under my hand the pyramids arose.
I made mortar for the Woolworth Building.
I’ve been a singer:
All the way from Africa to Georgia
I carried my sorrow songs.
I made ragtime.
I’ve been a victim:
The Belgians cut off my hands in the Congo.
They lynch me still in Mississippi.
I am a Negro:
Black as the night is black,
Black like the depths of my Africa.
Have White Supremacists such as the reality TV show Duck Dynasty's Phil Robertson ever thought about what Christmas was like for black folks during Jim and Jane Crow, American Apartheid, and the reign of the lynching tree?
Robertson's Jim and Jane Crow dreams is one where white racism was love and benign cruelty. White trash like Phil Robertson is not capable of the leap of empathy necessary to try to understand Black Humanity. Thus, Langston Hughes' poetry is a great antidote for a society and culture in which such casual white supremacy is the norm.
The fact of a Black Santa was likely not a point of controversy during Jim and Jane Crow. African-Americans had no choice but to provide our own, as we struggled on the other side of the colorline.
Our homes are archives. Legendary jazz musician Louis Armstrong for example, was very self-aware of his role in American history and cultural politics. He made thousands of audio recordings for "posterity". His home is now a museum. While there they can listen to Armstrong's recordings of his conversations with friends, efforts to seduce his wife, thoughts on music, race, and politics, as well as other assorted topics.
What would visitors learn if your childhood home (and room) was made into a museum? What things did you discover when visiting your family home on this holiday or another time? Were memories kicked loose that you would have preferred remained buried and hidden in the clutter?