He extended his arms and grasped a large wagon wheel: placing his right hand on the top and the other on the nine-o’clock position. His eyes stayed intensely focused on his perpetrator, his jaw set in cold defiance, his body braced to accept the tremendous but familiar pain of leather slicing the skin. Wiipow! Wiipow – over and over again — landing on old scars from past whippings. He did not want to show pain or weakness because in his mind that would show defeat. But his body betrayed him causing his jaw to release, his nose to begin to quiver, and a tear to escape.
Interacting with my Sisters and Brothers this week has made me think of Denzel Washington in this memorable scene from the movie, Glory. We are trying not to break (by break I mean to show raw emotion or vulnerability).
I don’t think that we’ve ever learned how to break, and many of us have never been given permission to break. We hold our heads high in the most dire of circumstances. We are the children who sat around the family dinner table and heard about the atrocities those before us had to bear. I went to school knowing about my ancestors who couldn’t go to school because they had to work in the fields; about those who had to go to a lesser school because they had to be separated from White people; and about those who were spat on when they were one of the first to attend an integrated school. I knew about my Grandpa who had a limited education but who got a prime job at the Steel factory, but also knew that he was harassed daily because it was then a job that only White men were supposed to get. I knew that my mother got kicked out of Sears for daring to try on a hat; and that my dad went to jail repeatedly for fighting for Civil Rights while he was a student at Morehouse.
These stories weren’t told with a hint of shame and certainly no evidence of sadness; but a strong sense of pride. These stories were my family’s spoken history, recited repeatedly to let me know that I come from a strong people. We overcame so much. Baby, you can overcome anything (and you bet not complain).
And I rarely complained. When I did, I was met with absolute ridicule and admonishments to “buck up.”
So, I get some of my friend’s behavior, edicts and admonitions:
No use of complaining. He’s President now.
Time for action.
We should give Trump a chance.
Nothing wrong with people meeting with him or performing at his inauguration.
We gotta move on.
It is who we are: strong, resilient, and tough as nails – generally and particularly on each other (you know it’s true).
All that said — ya’ll can give me a bottle and call me crybaby because my ass is sad. I’m talking drinking wine daily, eating junk food I ain’t ate in years, don’t really want to talk to nobody, straight ugly-cry sad. I’ve lost relatives and haven’t been this damn sad (sorry — I’m talking like distant uncles and 3rd cousins. I know . . . I know . . . I’m wrong).
I’m not going to get into if President Obama did enough for Black people or changed the world the exact way that we wanted. I just loved him being there. A black man was THERE, in the White House, leading our country, I loved having a Black family in the White House. Even when the country was facing a crisis, I liked seeing a Black man confidently deliver the news and the plan of action. I fawned over First Lady Michelle Obama’s beautiful dresses as she attended formal dinners. I liked seeing a First lady who danced (with rhythm), who appreciated the same music, who had hips that I know she had to consider when she bought her clothes, who was so brilliant and so articulate and so down. I loved seeing two Black children traveling across the world, thriving, doing well. Heck, I even liked seeing the two Black dogs running on the White House lawn.
I felt hopeful: for myself, my children, for Black people. Just him / them being there made so much seem possible. I guess for some people it’s like when Neil Armstrong landed on the moon or when Mary Lou Retton finally won a gold medal in gymnastics at the Olympics for the United States; the day that President Barack Obama was sworn in as the 44th President of the United States was my most joyful moment as an American.
So grant me and anyone else who wants to break, who needs to break, the permission to do so without admonishment. For a moment, let us be sad, let us complain, let us be disappointed in this country. Don’t worry, we will be back to business soon — doing what we can do to overcome — just like we have always done . . . and just like our ancestors before us.