Guys, I just read the most interesting article:
It’s such a weird thing to think about in a way because although we are aware of slavery and its continuing effects on our country, it’s weird to think that Michelle Obama’s Great-Great Grandfather was enslaved (as the article above states). I mean that’s really not that long ago. I grew up with two Great Grandmothers and even lived with one of them almost as a second mother. I don’t know much about my Great-Great Grandparents but I do know a little about my Great Grandmother (that I grew up with’s parents). They lived in Kearny, on a farm. They had about 13 children (I might be overestimating on that but I think that’s right). In 1906, my Great-Great Grandmother either died in childbirth with my Great-Grandmother OR shortly thereafter. My Great Grandmother (I’m going to call her Gram from now on because that’s what I called her) was the youngest of 13 and ended up being raised by her oldest sister Josie and her father. I doubt they had a glamorous upbringing. I do know that their farm was small, they had a couple of chickens and various other animals and that’s all I really know about that. Because like that woman says in the article, I never thought to ask too many questions while I still had her. I DID have the presence of mind to ask some questions though and the above is what I remember. (She died in 1993 or 1994 when I was in eighth grade.)
But all of that seems very real and vivid to me. It’s easy to imagine my Great Grandmother’s parents because I lived with her and was very close to her. And also nothing that special happened to them (that I know of). They lived and they died as private citizens on their own farm with no one pounding down their doors and no one trying to force them to do things they did not want to.
So it’s weird to me that Michelle Obama’s Great-Great Grandfather was actually a slave. Maybe it’s because I am white, but slavery feels very distant to me, as though it is something that happened a long, long time ago. I read “Beloved” and cried my eyes out. I just could not imagine that someone could have that much hate and selfishness in their heart to commit the atrocities against those people that they did. And I can’t believe they just got away with it like that.
And you know what always strikes me as amazing; the “newness” of African-American culture. Bear with me because I am not a member of this culture but from an outsider’s perspective, it seems like African-Americans get a lot of shit and go through a lot of shit because they have little to anchor them and what they do is based on pain. Everyone else on this Continent is basically here because of someone else’s tenacity to bring them here. They were raised in a place where they knew people, identified with the culture and could weave that culture’s traditions into their own to stay grounded to their own people while subtly blending newer local traditions into their own. In short, they had time to adjust and the freedom to do it.
During slavery, people were just picked up off the street in Africa, put on boats like animals, forced to come here in brutal conditions against their will and when they got here, were forced to behave like animals, wearing a bit and pulling wagons, working endlessly and being beaten if they could not continue on. The conditions these people had to live in probably did one of two things:
1) Forced them to try to hold onto their customs and roots while at the same time…
2) Forced some of them to give up their customs and roots to assimilate to white culture in order to protect themselves and their families.
That’s fucking brutal.
And so you have an entire contingent of people on this continent today who are without roots to Africa because their families were literally FORCED to give their children Anglo names, practice Anglo religions and wear Anglo clothing.
Of COURSE, African-Americans are going to have a little confusion amongst the ranks. And by that, I mean, when it comes to celebrating holidays, knowing what living conditions are like in Africa and/or knowing your own roots back to your country…things have GOT to be murky. I almost feel like African-Americans have been forced to create their own culture in this country. And that’s funny because it’s the reverse of any other culture on the planet. The culture of a people stems from changing slowly with the tide. It comes from good times and bad, leaves bad things behind and carrying on positive traditions to make life happy and keep ancestries alive. African-Americans are deciding their own culture NOW, in real time and we’re here to witness it. That’s really cool and weird right?
Anyway, I could go on and on but this is just something I have been thinking about and wanted to write about. The whole thought of a culture creating itself in FRONT of our eyes is amazing.
Oh one last thing that I thought was incredible was that last night President Obama spoke last night at the CENTENNIAL celebration of the NAACP. 100 years of fighting against oppression and on the 100th year, the First Black President of the United States is the speaker?! You can’t plan that shit! God I wish I could have been in that room, those people must have been over the moon. I know that yesterday at the rally, there were a TON more African-American people than any other race of people and it was nice to see. You could palpably feel how excited and proud everyone was. (And how pissed of that they’d been had but that’s another story altogether, we were all only pissed BECAUSE of how badly we wanted to see our President and when the hell is the last time that’s happened?!)
Oh one last LAST thing that I want to tell you (interesting because I was just talking about this with my boss in an unrelated conversation) is about the Great Grandmother I was talking about earlier, Gram. One of her sisters had a kid, and then they had a kid and that kid is/was Governer Jim McGreevy (the disgraced Gay American Governer of NJ). So yes, me and my boss worked it out and I am Governer McGreevy’s third cousin once removed. This basically translates into: We’re both Irish. But still, interesting factoid, haha.