Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Thoughts from Black History Month 2017

This will be a little random, but there are bits and pieces here that I want to get out.

I mentioned being torn between Maya Angelou and Gwendolyn Brooks for poetry. I would never even have known about Gwendolyn Brooks, except for a pinned tweet from Mikki Kendall:

"We are each other's harvest; we are each other's business; we are each other's magnitude and bond." - Gwendolyn Brooks

Regular readers should not have any trouble figuring out why that quote resonated with me. Also, based on that statement, the point I am going to make shouldn't even be surprising, but I was touched by the kindness in Brooks' poetry. There was a sensitivity and empathy for the lives of people in her poems, for circumstances mundane and tragic. Supplemental interviews and reminisces corroborated that aspect of Brooks. I value her kindness and compassion, and the value she could see while looking at "each other".

Initially I wasn't enjoying The People Could Fly that much. Many of the tales were familiar, and I had kind of wanted them to be more magical. Near the end, though, there was a true story of a man who ferried escaping slaves across the Ohio river until the time that he went seeking his own freedom, and that was fascinating. Then the last story was the title tale, "The People Could Fly". It was so magical and moving and heartbreaking. So if you start the book, and it's dragging for you (which if you read a lot of folklore is a real possibility), don't give up; at least read the last section.

I wrote yesterday that 1948 was the official start of Apartheid and the Khama marriage, but it was also the publication year for Cry the Beloved Country. It was so much more familiar than I expected it to be.

Things that I have learned since being a high school and college student against Apartheid have shown me that I didn't know that much about it then. Beyond that, most of what I have studied has been near the end. Of course it would look different seeing things near the beginning. There were two things that particularly struck me, and I guess that's where the familiarity came in.

Paton was inspired by what he saw around him, of course, and his attempts to help, but he was also inspired by The Grapes of Wrath. He read it on a vacation, which he needed because he was burned out, and there's something to remember there for people who want to do good. Regardless, I saw that he was inspired by Steinbeck and thought, "Okay." I read about the worn out land, overgrazed and dry and children dying from lack of milk, and people leaving their homes in the hope of some chance to survive that contained a lot of empty promises, and then I understood differently. Of course it inspired him!

And maybe it discouraged him too, because all over different parts of the world we keep having the same problems, but then maybe you remember that you are not alone in caring about it.

I wondered other things too, like if some of the formality built into the language and customs made it harder to have necessary conversations. I suspect that there is more than I understand about the correlation between not valuing people and destroying the land. I was grateful to find helpful people.

There was a bus strike going on in the city, due to a fare hike that would be insupportable for those who relied most on the buses. Car pools were organized, but a lot of people took long walks. (Yes, there was a familiarity there, but for something that was still coming on our side.) And there were people who would offer rides to those walking.

I never heard much about white South African resistance to Apartheid. (I heard rationalization about how the news made it sound worse, which was really disturbing.) You would hope there would be people who didn't approve, and it is good to see that was true too. It doesn't undo all the people who wanted it, or were afraid to let it go, but it's something. I'll take hope where I can find it.

There was one other thing about South Africa, getting back to that fraught relationship with Great Britain that was being explained as context for the opposition to the Khama marriage.

I am a big fan of L.M. Montgomery. Rilla of Ingleside is set during WWI. The family's housekeeper reveres Lord Kitchener and relies on him utterly. All I ever thought of from that is that there was a high ranking military guy, probably from the peerage, who died while WWI was still in progress. In that South African background, I learned that he was also responsible for concentration camps during the 2nd Boer War. Wives and children of the Dutch South Africans were imprisoned under horrible conditions, resulting in thousands of deaths. That's literal: 4177 women, 22074 children, and 1676 men, who would be mainly those too old to be combatants.

Susan's admiration was treated as a joke, without the text otherwise commenting on the merits of Kitchener. I can't help but suspect that there were many older Canadians who relied on him, and then wonder if part of their faith in him came from how abominably he treated the Boers.

It was a bit of a shock. It probably shouldn't be, because at this point I shouldn't be naive enough to be shocked if a "war hero" has some atrocities on the record. Without excusing anything about Apartheid, the tension with Great Britain becomes understandable. Also, one begins to see the difficulty in condemning human rights abuses when your own hands are dirty.

But that brings us back to the Khamas, and I already wrote a lot about them. Through different posts I also said quite a bit about Hidden Figures; maybe I tend to write more about things I've watched. That will lead us into next week, because I watched a lot of stuff that relates. Only some of it happened in February, but that goes perfectly with the reading.

I guess the final thought should be that this was really more of a Black History Year than month. Maybe my studies are just becoming more integrated. That sounds better than terrible disorganization.

Related posts (besides Monday and Tuesday):

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