Wednesday, August 15, 2012
Okay this past week I was visiting Martha’s Vineyard where in the peak season (now) you can find a higher than normal concentration of people who are African American enjoying a well deserved summer vacation. What is amazing is that these folks all of us come from all over the US to summer there, a tiny island enclave in New England. This island historically was one of the earliest Jim Crow free places we could go and be treated like human beings and not as property. This tiny Island enclave must have the largest concentration of Pulitzer prize winning authors, seriously all week it seemed like people were introduced to me and inevitably it was added that they also had won that prize for something they wrote. It is intimidating and if that isn’t enough it seems as if they were retired judges or current professors at Yale the Island is filled with high achievers it can be very scary for an under achiever like myself. What have I accomplished? Compared to that crew not a lot yes, as an actor I feel like a big slacker, oh dear! What was stirred inside my heart other than self critical examination was the awareness that the Black or African American story is complex and nuanced even more so than the Jewish American story because we have so many different racial views within our community so many varied interests and neither can claim to be the truest or most pure point of view. Why should I even mention this? Well because I feel that my story is completely different than most people who are of color from the south just by virtue of being raised in Canada although American in DNA(Oklahoma according to a maternal aunt) and because I took American citizenship but was born Canadian follow? Okay so my point is that we as a group have an infinite array of stories because of our differing hues and complexities and everyone of us. Making every story each of us holds dear and true as the African American experience. We as a group cannot stand completely united because of this an infinitude of stories that could be claimed as the African American story so it is a canvass, a quilt made up of millions of threads. Ahhhhh relief what is heartening for me who has always felt like an outlier is that most African Americans from the south in my opinion have muscled everyone else into their story because it is source, or birth place of Africans forced into slavery. Ultimately we did start life in America in deep slavery somewhere like say “The Congo squares” of southern America. We who were tortured and sold and forced into horrendous conditions early on mind you there was a brief period in the early 1700’s in New Orleans where we were not forced into slavery and could own property and live in relative peace and freedom. Still those of us whose family trekked to the furthest point north(Canada) mine in the 1920’s don’t have the same awareness but it doesn’t discount our voice. In fact our voice is just as important and hued in a way that carries a different bitterness but still bitterness nonetheless. Personally I have felt less than because my accent was Canadian and not Southern hued. I have been told I was not black enough even this year because I was not Southern Black in my being. Sure I speak differently actually I have a California affectation when I get lazy that is irritating to me at time. I do say “dude” with as a natural a breath as saying “bless their hearts” which I don’t say but could. Yet I am not less of an African American. Here is another “thing’ I being a child of the 60’s was a baby, a young child when the vote was given to us and so the struggle is something I had to educate myself about I didn’t or could not march. Now today I cherish the freedoms we have and the vote being valued even more deeply because it is under attack. I had/have horrendous racism flung at me by the Hollywood insiders that hurt and devastate me but even in the face of being “other” I keep my course. Today much has changed and yet have we? There is still have so much work to do. Within and without the community, my community of African American men and women so much healing of our response to “The wound” which is made even more tender in this election cycle. There is nothing more complex than the Black experience in America NOW because our journey to the promise land of equality is still ON. So no amount of wealth or intellectual accomplishment can take away what still seems to be “our struggle” for equality, the struggle to live with a level playing field throughout the American social fabric or structure. Super complicated and rife with pain and misery and bitterness and anger we have a lot to be cranky about. This day of the new pole tax/voter suppression being just one more continuous cut into the very heart of life as an African American. My heart is broken and yet I like all of us soldier on and cherish the sweetness of life on the Vineyard because there it seems life is more equal and celebrated and sweet, or so it seems.
Posted by Rae Dawn Chong at 8:34 AM