March 3, 2013 in Black History
I wrote a new piece for the Tacoma Community College Black Student Union. Let’s continue to question why black history is herded into a single month rather than looking deeply at what is true U. S. history. Here it is:
I have written these pages
once blank sheets, bleached
in ways that forget
Ghana, Mali, Songhay and Sundiata,
the founder king of Mali or Askia Muhammad
who formulated modern government and
I have swept two thousand years away
like sand and written only one word
on the beach of South Carolina’s Sullivan’s Island:
as if Africans from a hundred tribes and scores
of empires only began when their chain
blistered ankles arrived on these shores.
This, my friends, is hardly black history.
I have singled out a few precious names,
Tubman, Douglas, Hughes and King
as if the arrow of time was a single shaft
with but four feathers, when in fact
if we were to learn you,
if we were to learn us,
the sky would be thick with arrows
all pointed toward the truth
all threatening our tender hearts
ready to pierce the whitest and darkest
sternums among us
and we would no longer begin and end
our stories in Europe with conquering Popes
and Inquisitions, Conquistadors
marine provisions, just enough to keep a thousand alive
while hundreds threw themselves into the water
rather than face a life that wasn’t free.
We call that little genocidal journey
the middle passage.
But it didn’t work.
You are the gem that survived
that ocean and it shone
in shades of blues
resonating in syncopating poly-rhythms
like the world has never known
and we could not name this perfected, unfinished
sound, so we just called it jazz.
The President of Emory College in Atlanta
recently praised the 1787 Compromise
which counted each enslaved African
as three-fifths human, an example, he said, of how
civilized people could find common ground.
Which people? On whose ground must
he be standing
to fail such basic math?
No one on this earth
has ever been a fraction.
We are all whole numbers
there is only one history
and we inherit the outcome
regardless of the written pages,
we inherit the outcome, in real numbers.
We are again dealing with fractions
the historians give us
one twelfth of ourselves
as if history were beans
and our minds were the cup
and they could pour one quarter Tubman
one quarter Douglas
two ounces of Hughes
and a final serving of King
and expect each of us to be satisfied–
bean soup for February
a reduction for twenty eight days.
Did you eat your lunch?
Because, it is free and reduced.
We think best
when we are fed,
when history comes in eight courses
when the hemispheres and continents are evenly
when Africa and Black America
are served year round
when my whiteness no longer means
rationing my investigations in the name of supremacy,
when Sundiata of Mali and
Touissant of Haiti are contrasted in the same chapter,
where the sculpted works of Edmonia Lewis
and Elizabeth Catlett decorate our essays and our tables,
when we improvise in structure, the way our elders taught us
and strike a series of open fifths. Five. To form a whole.
Can it be both?
Black history. Our history.
Can it be all?
Black history. Your history. My history. Our history.
Can I own what my ancestors have done
what they still do, what I allow
what I am becoming,
what I could become
what is possible?
Can we stop accepting fractions of ourselves?
Can we take you out of this guest room?
The house is yours. The house is mine.
We share it.
The soup is cooking
tender beans with more names
than we can collect,
with time to eat
to get that recipe
to write the books
from many kingdoms
and stop, for once, bleaching the pages.