Context

Context

Some part of me, some front and center part, really doesn’t want to write this because I really don’t want white people thinking they understand what I am feeling.

One day when I was either in preschool or early grade school, I was out by the pomegranate tree that grew in the side yard next to the house where I grew up in East Oakland, My dad came up to me and told me about my ancestors. Time moved differently when I was four or five. It might have been the day after the kid hit me with the hammer, It might have been a week later, or the next month As he spoke an epoch had passed because the prior was out of my mind.

He said, “Your ancestors were slaves. White people enslaved us. They stole black people from Africa and they murdered them and they raped them and they beat them with whips and they tortured them and our ancestors had to work all of their lives in fields to make white people rich. He said Mo was mostly an Indian, and Mo’s mother was kidnapped from her tribe when she was four, and he spoke of how white people made her mother clean house for other white people.

I listened quietly, Mo may have been the untouchable person in my life that I looked up to. I woke up next to her at four in the morning the summer when I visited her in her tiny house in colored town in Arkansas. My great grandmother who took me fishing. I sat next to her on her back porch while she plucked a chicken or snapped beans.

I’d follow her to the yard in the predawn while she dug up night crawlers. She piled me into her pickup truck and she took me fishing. I sat at the kitchen table while she made tomato preserves that I would later eat with her buttermilk biscuits. She had a habit of going for hours without an utterance, and that silence lifted a burden from me. Her silence did something to my mind that saved it.

Her house sat on an unpaved street and with infrastructure so bad that some of the people had outhouses. It wasn’t until about a year ago, as I read the story of a present day segregated town in the south with no paved streets or adequate plumbing in the black section, that I realized how intentionally hateful the substandard conditions were. As a small child, I thought that my dad’s relatives merely lived in the country under rural conditions.

On that day with my dad by the pomegranate tree, after he told me about my ancestors, he got up and and he left me alone.

Eventually, later that week or later that day, my mother took my brothers and me to a store up the block called Lucky’s, filled with white people who worked and sometimes shopped there. It didn’t seem that we were particularly disadvantaged, and my dad’s talk gave me context for how the people looked at me. On that day, partly because of my mother’s chronic emotional instability, and partly because of what my father told me, my mind filled the world with a sense that anything awful might happen to me or all of us, and that my parents could do nothing to stop it.

It would take me decades to associate the two incidents, the boy with the hammer with his mother who looked on, with my father telling me of all of those things that happened during slavery and reconstruction, and to Mo’s mother when she was only four. Until I could make the association, I was so angry at my father for scaring me, that I hated him and then pushed the hatred away. Until lately.

Then, ever since I saw the video of George Floyd being murdered, I have been filled with the same sense of inconsolable anger and hatred, This time, with hatred of whiteness instead of my dad for scaring me, I am told by more than one wisdom tradition that hatred is like poison. Still, this emotion persists in my chest, affecting this body which houses my soul. So I ask that the universe, or my higher self or something bigger than me or the situation solve this. I ask that there be an altar that I can place it on.

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