My ever-inner war

Subtitle: What today’s racial unrest unsettles and surfaces within.

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Born in 1862, my great-grandfather,
my mother’s grandfather,
my grandmother’s father,
was the offspring of a white father,
my great-great grandfather,
and a black mother;
her birth names long-lost,
long-ago away washed by Atlantic’s waves
from the sands of western shores of Afric’s land.

My grandmother,
my great-grandfather’s daughter,
my mother’s mother,
could have passed for white;
yet choosing not,
she, in her generation, marched for civil rights.

My mother, fair, too, oft was mistaken for white.

My father –
a dark-skinned man of black and Latin heritage mixed
whom America taught to hate his skin, an inerasable blight
provoking stares,
inciting curses, and
closing doors in his approaching face –
would marry a black woman, my mother,
in part, precisely, because she looked white
(oft, self-loathing, he protesting, “Never darken the race!”)

And I,
all of my life,
in my body,
in my blood,
bear history’s bitterest memory,
made new every day,
of the cruelest, doubly-dehumanizing union,
this yet unresolved violent interplay
of slavers and their people-property.

I see that war in my face,
daily etched deeper into my brow
and daily traced in animus-eruptions rising from my bowels.

And there is no peace.

© 2020 PRA

7 thoughts on “My ever-inner war

  1. Paul,

    This cracks my very heart in two. That you, of all the people I know, would have to suffer this pain, is so, so unjust. And yet I know you are one among millions who may find cause to feel the same because of the damnable perversities of American human history. “American history” – the term seems so bland, so generic, so unparticular. And yet, to hear you allude to actual daily American history as it landed upon one/each of your black ancestors, I find it is a term poisonously loaded and pointed at discrete, irreplaceable human beings who this day walk this land and live life under its dark shadow. It is a term that we must commit to parse and re-parse until we finally understand what it actually describes, not just the easy, popular parts that we have been so carefully educated to remember and to admire, but all of it.

    Last week I read and was devastated by an article that perhaps you have seen that echoes in so many respects what you have illuminated in the words of this poem. Here is a link:

    Charles Blow’s column in the NYTimes today is also pertinent to your revelations in this piece.

    Paul, thank you for the honesty that I know does not come without cost to you. We need to hear these stories. We need to observe the pain surrounding them. We need to come to grips with how so many pieces of the past have come together to bring us to this moment of reckoning, and we need to understand that this time we must see them, we must feel them, we must allow them to penetrate the protective barriers white society has erected to keep them hidden. And then we must, all together, decide what must be done as a result of our new understanding of ourselves, both past and present, in order to become the people we want to be for the future.

    With love and gratitude,

    Karen

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  2. Always, my dearest Karen, I thank you. Foremost, for your compassion and care, and your eloquence in naming and claiming the truths – at least, as I, too, name and claim them – of our human living, in general, and our American living, specifically…

    This latest poem/post surprised…stunned me. It is not that I have not known that there was a slave-owner (doubtless, more than one) in my family tree. And it is not that I have not known that the shade of my skin is living witness to this reality that I come from the union of seed and womb of owner and property. I have known. My grandmother made sure that my brother and I knew. Nevertheless, I, in the words of the prayer, have “lived and moved and had my being” daily with little conscious attention, indeed, awareness that the inner tumult I have experienced all of my life was traceable to this sin of our American history and our American present – institutional slavery and its bitter fruit of racism. I oft have thought and felt that my inner tension was rooted in the particularities of my parentage and formative years of their nurturance – some of it grand, some of it not so grand. Now, in these days of renewed racial unrest, something (as I’m wont to say) has broken open inside of me. Now, I see, again, the pathways of my roiling innards run back, way back hundreds of years…

    And I, too, can see more clearly that I ponder and pray, speak and write as an act of catharsis, lest I be consumed and implode or, I believe, even worse, explode, lashing out at others in ways destructive.

    A luta continua (within and as well as without)…

    Love,
    Paul

    P.S. Thank you for sharing the article. I had not seen or read it.

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    1. Paul,

      It is so valuable and important for me and for others like me to understand this moment in time as not only revealing to white Americans/white people all over the world what Black bodies, Black minds, and Black souls have carried largely undisclosed for hundreds of years, but that the moment is also manifesting to Black Americans/Black people across the world new depths of understanding and clarity and new depths of resulting pain from the variety of centuries-long indignities, injuries, insults, and deaths they perhaps are just now beginning to fully comprehend. Thank you for making that so clear in this poem and in your response to my note. I will sincerely try to mourn with you for what you are feeling, realizing, and expressing, but I know I can never fully understand it, and I mourn that also. The burden you carry is at least as much mine as it is yours, and particularly from a prospective standpoint, that is true.

      It is so surprising to me that in my 73 years of life before George Floyd’s murder I learned so little about things that always should have been a huge part of my learning and that now, in four weeks time, I am so inundated with overwhelming truths that I never understood were hidden beneath veils of secrecy, outright lies, carefully-constructed systems, and. truth-be-told, well-disguised shame. In one way, when I think of the people, like you, who are so caught up in not knowing whether they are going to implode or explode, I feel so terribly sad and angry, but at one and the same time, I feel so grateful to have lived long enough to experience the revelations and the truth-telling that have come in the last month.

      Thank you for your precious truths, Paul, as hard as they are. They are truths our country and our world need so badly. I pray that we learn how to receive them and what to do with them for the sake of each individual and for the sake of all of us together.

      Take care of yourself, my Brother. I love you.

      Karen

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  3. Ah, my dearest Karen, my eyes flood with tears in thanksgiving for your understanding and your care for me and for yourself in your willingness to understand and to care. Bless you. Thank God for you.

    It occurs to me that one aspect of this current time is the call for white folk to be and to become allies of people of color. A term that envelopes this call, this cry is “ally-ship.” As much as I value the concept, indeed, when it happens, the reality of it, sometimes, for me, words and catch-phrases can more obscure than reveal the heart of the matter. I write/say all this to say that you, for me, to me, with me are my sister. For we are of one family.

    Love you,
    Paul

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    1. I am humbled and so grateful to be considered your sister, Paul. That’s a privilege I can wholeheartedly embrace.

      Much love,

      Karen

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      1. Yes. my dearest Karen, you are my sister. And I am most grateful.

        And, my dearest Loretta, when you write, “…when I got to the work force, I was so tired by my own struggle of trying to be successful as an African-American female that I was too exhausted to want to learn about the struggle of others back then…”, believe me, trust me, I understand. You need not confess a thing.

        In this regard, earlier tonight, I was engaged in a conversation about race and one of my observations – nothing new here – was this. It is difficult, perhaps, at times, impossible work, on a daily basis (and for anyone, I think, white, black, red, brown…) to know how much of the environment or ether is outside of one’s body (and soul) and how much is within. In knowing that inevitable, inescapable balance, one better (best?) navigates the tension between – using terms of the vernacular – staying “woke” (alert, aware) and “drinking the Kool Aid” (being overcome and desensitized to the realities of inequality). Speaking always and only for myself, this current racial unrest has stirred within me sensitivities and informed sensibilities I cannot say for certain that I had heretofore. My orientation is changing. My focus has sharpened. And given the reality that I have more life and labor behind me than before me, I pledge not to waste much (too much!) time on trivialities.

        So, my beloved sisters, let us carry on! A luta continua…

        Love,
        Paul

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  4. Paul & Karen,

    Karen is right, this is so painful! Your words -“Etched in” your face speaks volumes about the pain that we as Black folks often feel. But most of us can’t express it in the way you do! So thank you!!

    Karen, you aren’t alone in all you are learning…. I also have to confess, that I too have learned so much of our own history during my 100 day lockdown. I’ve learned about people I’d barely heard of and never learned about in school. I also wish that I had paid more attention to my great grandmother’s stories about her grandmother’s time as a slave, but thankfully there are records that I also have been eagerly digesting.

    When I was in college, I had to go to another university in order to get a course on African-American history and people looked at me as if I was crazy when I said I wanted to learn more. You basically had to go do your own research so I could learn more.

    I’ll also confess that when I got to the work force, I was so tired by my own struggle of trying to be successful as an African-American female that I was too exhausted to want to learn about the struggle of others back then.

    By the time I realized I needed to leave corporate america before it killed me, someone commented that they were glad I had overcome all of my physical ailments and that all of my scars were healing… But Paul I truly understand what you mean about the pain being etched in us, because my response to that person was that my emotional scars of being a black female in a white male dominated profession are much deeper and much more painful than any scars I got during surgery!

    Much love to you both! Thank you for all that you are teaching me!

    Loretta

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