Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Rigorous Hope

Saturday night I watched Twelve Years a Slave. It is an amazing movie. Great acting, great cinematography, great writing. And it's so hard. The next morning MHP hosted a conversation with Ta-Nehisi Coates and other profoundly intelligent people in which the notion of white people holding the tragedy of slavery was articulated. 
I watched a movie, which was a representation of a book which was a representation of events that happened a long time ago and I knew there was going to be a (somewhat) happy ending. And even with all those layers, all that distance, I could barely stand it. I wanted to look away. I wanted to fast forward. I wanted to make it stop. I felt the emotion for days afterward but there is a difference in the emotional price I am paying and the price people of color pay holding those same images. 
We are all wounded by racism. Our institutions are, our country is wounded by racism. It is our history and our present. We can not talk about hope and change and liberty and justice for all as if we live in a Disney movie. We live in a story that is still being told. Ta-Nesisi articulated the idea of rigorous hope. Hope that isn't surrounded with hearts and flowers but is felt as muscle tone.  
Of course when I think about these things I start to list all of the oppression in the world. It's not overwhelming but it is fragmenting. 
I've been working on (and never finishing) a post about my purple bathroom. The bathroom is painted purple. Mom had some purple towels, which I swiped. I already had a purple shower curtain. I bought a purple bathmat and a purple hook on which I hang my purple bathrobe. There are purple non slip palm trees in the tub. None of these things is the same shade of purple. It's really quite amazing to me. Some are more red and some are more blue. Some are lighter.
And because I am such an abstract person I look at all these purples and I think about color and in many ways and I think about skin. I have known very few black people. I've known people in many shades of brown. I have only known a few white people. I think I haven't finished the post because it felt dopey and didn't really lead anywhere and revels how my thinking is less than rigorous.
Years ago I read a man writing about how he realized that when his wife, who was a painter, looked at a hillside and where he saw green she saw shades of  green and brown and yellow and more. I don't remember who wrote it but the idea stayed with me and comes back to me in my purple  bathroom. and I'm thinking about all the colors I see in skin. 
But now I think of broken and bleeding black skin and my eyes fill with tears. I do not need comfort. I need to have those tears. I need to feel that tightness in my throat.  
Right after I watched the movie I watch Doc Martin. It was on. I enjoy it. It makes me laugh. 
And that's how it is when you live with choices and freedoms and privileges. I listen to smart conversations. I read smart thinking. I watch tragedy and comedy and it's all part of something. 
The voting rights got passed and the Supreme Court takes bites out of it. 
Marion Anderson sang on the steps of the Lincoln memorial 75 years ago today. 
A woman who played the part of a slave with broken black skin accepted an award for her wonderful acting. 
Things are better.
And worse.