17 September 2006

More Reflection on Race in America (along with a smattering of garden-variety ephemera)

Apologies in advance, this is going to be long. It's crystalized a bunch of different themes which have been scampering around my brain over the last few days. Sorry.

Wow, life's been busy with the new job and all. I'm also stumping for a local congressional candidate and haven't had a day fully to myself since Tuesday, with another one not expected until Friday. This working five days a week is going to be a bitch!

A friend from my old place of employ called this morning having lost her wallet and in a bind. I met up with her to bail her out until payday. I've been there. I lost my wallet once and had it stolen once last year, the second occasion three days before a three-week roadtrip. I traveled 7,000 miles on one credit card. And no MAC card. It was no small feat!

She told me that my former co-workers comment on how much they miss me. As well they should...I am a very witty, funny person. I just wish they could have appreciated that a little more while I was working there. I hope to maintain some of the contacts I've made because I really do like a lot of the peeps I used to work with. I expect I might even come to enjoy some of those who rubbed me the wrong way more if I'm not spending 36 hours a week in their presence.

While we were discussing my new job, I remarked that I had noticed a difference in the clientelle...the patients seem happier at my new place. Former co-worker woman told me that's because I was no longer in "the ghetto." What she didn't realize was that I'd always worked in "the ghetto" (Camden in NJ and Reading, PA prior to my last job) and had never encountered so many miserable patients and staff as at the place we'd worked together.

When she heard that part of my work history, my former co-worker said, "Oh, that explains it. You were just accidentally put into white skin." She's black, btw, this work friend. I took it as a great compliment when she said that. Not that I try to "be black" but I try to understand and empathize with people from all the cultures I come across, including the many black and Hispanic patients I've cared for over 22 years in inner cities. It was very complimentary to me that she thinks I relate well across those racial lines, well enough that she can feel comfortable being herself with me.


I managed to cruise the Internets a bit last evening after passing out leaflets and generally talking up my candidate at four different community functions yesterday. It was hard for me to get myself out of the car for the first one. Believe it or not, I'm fairly social phobic. Going off solo to an event where I don't know anyone is something that can paralyze me with silly doubts and fears. I had to finish listening to Car Talk on NPR and smoke a couple cigarettes before I could finally say, "Get yer chicken ass out of the car, Cheryl, and go do what you've said you would do!"

I was a pro by the fourth event. I even managed to not take it personally when the third event turned out to be attended by a very different sort of crowd than those who would likely support my candidate. I shoulda known by the Jag and the SUVs in the parking lot.

The first several places I cruised were firmly involved in race or racism in some way. My homepage is AOL. I've been a member since 1993 and still get a lot of mail there. I also read some of the headline stories they post, including some of the fluff, I'll admit. The lead story last evening was about a pair of twins who are singers/performers/songwriters receiving a less than grand welcome from the community to which they've just moved. The girls are lovely...14 years old, blonde, blue-eyed. They're also white supremacists.

They are sprung from and raised in a family that espouses white separatism, sports swastikas and moves from a particular area because it's "not white enough" anymore. The name of their group is Prussian Blue. Feel free to Google it but I'm not going to link it here. I don't really want my site in any way related to a white supremacist site.

Here is the link to the ABC News story on the family. It was a community in northwestern Montana which expressed their concern about exposing their community to racist elements and individuals. Given what I saw of Montana on my trip out west last year and the reputation that state and its neighbor, Idaho, has that surprised me. I guess there are decent people everywhere in the world, huh?

I was struck by a particular statement in the article, spoken by the mother about the girls:

"They hope to help fellow whites come to understand that love for one's race is a beautiful gift that we should celebrate."
Well, how could anyone argue with that, hmmm? Yes, it seems to me that this should be a goal for everyone...to help those of their race feel better about themselves and to see the beauty within themselves and the prescious uniqueness of their race's particular genetic expression. Hell, we could try something revolutionary and encourage others to see and believe the beauty that is in them, despite their differences from our "Us." What a concept.

I've mentioned that I fell in love with the Bajan culture when I was in Barbados this summer, remember that? I did come to love it, too. Not because I met a young Bajan man and had a torrid, four-day affair but because I was able to talk with Sean about his island and its culture. I conversed with the Bajan man who took me sailing about local and world/US politics, the local culture. Barbadians are really very traditional people. Believe it or not, underneath my sex-positiveness and feminism and dyke-ishness, I'm a very traditional person. I respect traditions and rituals and cultures. All of them.

Somehow last evening I wound up being treated to videos of an incredible young djembe drummer. In researching a bit I discovered that djembe is:
...a skin covered hand drum shaped like a large goblet and is meant to be played with bare hands. It is a member of the membranophone family of musical instruments: a frame or shell (in the djembe's case it is a shell) covered by a membrane or drumhead made of one of many products, usually rawhide. The djembe originated in West Africa, where it became an integral part of the area's music and tradition.
Gotta love Wikipedia.

The drummer I happened upon yesterday was Isaiah Chevrier, who is four years old. Isaiah was born in America but lives in Africa now and is learning traditional djembe drumming in Bamako, Mali in West Africa. The child is amazing. I've provided a video clip here. If you'd like to see more, click on the clip and it should take you to YouTube where you can find more of Isaiah, his two year-old brother and other djembe drummers.

(Here is a link to more videos on YouTube on djembe drummers. Here is the link to Rootsy Records and a little info on Isaiah's parents, Jeremy Chevrier and Tewah Simbo and their endeavors.)

I love to learn about other cultures though, for some reason, my interest seems pretty much confined to all the continents but Asia. For a reason I can't fathom, Asia hasn't sparked my curiosity yet. Africa, though, yes. Africa is interesting. As I've become an NPR junkie and an evening/night person, I've learned a great deal more about Africa and African politics. The BBC has pretty in-depth coverage of the subject and I find it very intriguing. Though the violent struggles upset me greatly, the history of African cultures is fascinating.

And the music. I've always been attracted to the music. Whether it's drumming or Moroccan chanting or the incredible harmony of South African choruses, I've always found myself drawn to it. I remember, many years ago, the original World Cafe on WXPN. Back in 1990 or '91, it was truly a world music program, primarily but not exclusively focused on African traditions.

And the art of African cultures. And the history. Like the Lemba tribe in South Africa which claimed descent from a lost tribe of Isreal and was found to be genetically related to modern Jews. The morass that was Apartheid. The conflicts between tribes. The simplicity and complexity of modern African life. It's all fascinating to me.

I think it must be horribly frustrating to be an African-American individual in America and feel and have a desire to claim Africa as your heritage. But which part? Africa is a big continent. Where do you belong? Which part is yours?

I am predominantly German, with a little Scots-Irish thrown in for fun. I have the luxury of knowing the genetic and historical make-up of my family. One distant family member did the geneologic research long ago to trace one antecedent's emigration from Hanover, Germany to South Jersey in 1853. Hey, it's not Mayfloweresque but it's a history. My father is from Pennsylvania coal country, Northumberland County. I can lay claim to an Anglo-Saxon history and a Pennsylvania German culture. I'll leave the drunken Irishmen in my family out for the time being.

All of this is done with absolutely no effort on my part. It's my family history. It's my birthright. It's something the vast majority of African-Americans don't have. They can look in the mirror and see features that are clearly African but which African? Nigerian? Kenyan? Kikuyu? Xhosa? (Here is the Wikipedia list of African tribes, if you'd like to learn more.) It would be like knowing I was European but having no idea if I was Italian or Swedish or Czech. With my (formerly) dark brown hair and hazel eyes, I look much more like a mutt than an Aryan. Very few Africans are afforded this small but crucial aspect of their identity. No wonder they're pissed about it.

I remember seeing a show on PBS last year about African genetic heritage. Apparently, there are new tests available which can pinpoint ones genetic markers to African regions and, in some cases, to particular African tribes. One can also discover whether one has European or Asian genetic makeup or a mish-mash of any or all of them. I hope I can find a link to that program because it really was fascinating. I was able to find the program. It aired in February of this year...so much for my memory. It's entitled African-American Lives, and was hosted by Henry Louis Gates, who is chair of the Department of African and African American Studies at Harvard.

So, if reparations are due the descendents of African slaves, how's this as a proposal...give them their history back. If a test is available to tell someone which part or tribe of Africa they descended from, let's get all that want it that blood test and let them know who they are! They can do with the information what they wish, though I'd hope they would want to further explore their heritage and incororate that into their identity. Bottom line is they deserve to know who they are and where they are from and to have the option of learning more, if the technology exists. It does. It's the decent thing to do.

In the meantime, since this idea isn't very likely to gain a wide audience, maybe we could all just take a little effort to look inside ourselves to learn about what's beautiful in there. While we're at it, we could encourage and help others to do the same. And we can try looking for what is good and beautiful in others while we're at it. Wouldn't it be grand if we could all come to celebrate what is different about us as well as what it the same?

tags: Africa / culture / djembe / drumming / life / race / racism


At September 18, 2006 4:51 PM, Blogger Jean said...

Those PB girls... it enrages me everytime I hear it.

You weren't joking about it being a long one. My damaged brain needs some time to digest. ;)

At September 18, 2006 8:38 PM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Thw whole concept of supremacy of any sort pisses me the hell off. It's so destructive.

You digest all you want...need a little Maalox Max?

At September 19, 2006 8:42 AM, Blogger Jean said...

Maalox... I was thinking more of some nice happy pills :), but Maalox might work.

Any kind of concept of supremacy pisses me off, but with PR, it's the same feeling I get when I see grade schoolers holding signs for Fred Phelps. Just seeing a new generation of hate coming up, scary and sad

At September 19, 2006 9:47 AM, Blogger Kristin said...

Adults who are racist or ignorant just piss me off, but kids? It breaks my heart. It feels fundamentally wrong when these horrible ideas come out of their mouths. It's like they've been violated and made to believe they like it. They're barely alive and there's a part of them that's dead already.

At September 19, 2006 10:06 AM, Blogger Cheryl said...

Yes, it's very sad.

By the age of 13, I was a flaming, bleeding-heart liberal. I also held positions which were very different from those of my parents.

Do they not now make their own choices? I think at 14 they're old enough to share in the blame for their beliefs.

I can only hope for an eventual epiphany for these kids.

Damn shame.

Happy International Talk Like a Pirate Day, all!


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