Week Note 6 - 9 August 2020
The weeknotes have been, well, weekly since George Floyd was murdered. As that sunk in it took a lot of focus away from this restarting writing and sharing and put it to reading, supporting, and talking to others. I was utterly gutted, mostly because I felt like I looked away and had been feeling things had improved over the decades. But, I was somewhat blind to much of the issues I grew up in a Sesame Street world where everybody gets along and learns about each other, their background, and the wonders they bring to this world.
Much of this disappeared for me after high school as I ran an errand with a friend who I had just met in one of my courses. We went to get a couple tires from his car and went into a tire store in Stockton, California. There were people in there working and my friend and I were the only two customers in the store, but nobody was stopping to help. I finally said across the counter, “excuse me…” and it was like throwing a match on gasoline as the n-word started flying and one of the guys grabbed a tire iron and slammed it against the side of one of the large metal shelves and walked off. I just wanted to leave as it seemed like it was going to be more than nasty words thrown around. My friend said, “No, it is fine”. I really had trouble comprehending that. A couple minutes later a big sheepish guy walked up to the other side of the counter and apologized quietly and asked my friend what he needed. Tire sizes were shared and a couple minutes of walking away from counter and away from where the commotion had come from. When he returned he said they didn’t have that size, but they would have it in stock in a week. We left checking all around us in the mid-afternoon light.
This was the mid 1980s and the anti-apartheid movement and awareness was in full swing. Joining causes, writing letters, and going to concerts with an awareness focus was common. Our church was housing the Anglican Bishop of Namibia and some of his Deacons around this time. I enjoyed talking with two of the Deacons that were staying with my parents and I. They talked about the South African soldiers beating parishioners and the priests to drag them out of their church. They had dents on their upper arms where bones had been broken and one of them a good dent in his head from the butt of a gun. I said I would really like to come and help, but I felt my skin was the wrong color to do any good. They stopped and grew more calm and looked at me in the eyes. One gently took my wrist and turned it over and pointed to the veins and said, “You know the blood in your veins is the same color as the blood in our veins. We are all the same color on the inside. What really matters is what is in your heart.” That really stuck with me, as did their stories. I didn’t go to Namibia, but I did read everything I could about Africa after that.
In the late 80s I took my last semester of undergrad in Oxford and spent time in Lyon, France, and traveling a little. I read a lot of the broadsheet papers and Namibia was in the news in English papers as well as other African countries. But, one of the things that stood out was how people of color were treated around Oxford and France. It was quite different from than in the US. That difference stood out. Talking with other Americans of color whom I knew or got into conversations with on coaches or trains, I brought up the question of what they found. The difference in their perception was things were much more open and equal (this is far from everywhere in Europe), but the differences then was a sense of freedom to be who they were, more so than they felt in the United States.
When I finally got back to the US so I could go through graduation (I could have stayed and rowed in Oxford and travelled with the college boat I had an offer to stay for Trinity term and row with and I could have stayed and travelled with my friend in Lyon). When I left the US in the prior December to head to Europe I was expecting to have culture shock in Europe, but I didn’t experience much and I deeply enjoyed it. It was an amazing experience. Returning to the US I had massive culture shock, which I wasn’t expecting and it shook me. My perception of life and lives of others, the news, the size of cars (as well as needing a car to get around), and the lack of fresh produce and fresh bread within an easy walk. But, watching news on tv the racial tone of the news was something I had completely not seen before I left. It was really clear watching news of a conflict in Virginia Beach between young (mostly black) beach goers and police and CNN (in 1988) was framing those of color as the problem. It was something I hadn’t seen or noticed until being away and returning.
Somewhere over that summer I stumbled onto an interview and focus on James Baldwin and he was echoing a lot of what I was seeing and feeling as a difference between Europe and the US. On a trip to Berkeley I went to one of my favorite bookstores and picked up a couple paperbacks of Baldwin’s works and started reading. Having somebody else writing about things I was seeing and feeling, which I didn’t think I knew others around me I could talk about was comforting. Baldwin also wrote about other issues I didn’t have experience with, but it opened my eyes to things others dealt with. What I got with Baldwin was an understanding of America, Europe, personal freedom, equality, and living in one’s own skin. I no longer remember the essays nor which books (I still have them, but I picked up one or two more that I didn’t put time into and memories of them ran together).
As Black Live Matter marches and protests were fully under way I found I was thinking of Baldwin a lot. I picked up Eddie S. Glaude, Jr.’s Begin Again: James Baldwin’s America and its urgent lessons for our own and have been reading it slowly. Reading bits and letting it sink in. It has been good.
The Year of Covid–19 it has been difficult to keep up with friends around my son’s basketball, which feel a lot like a home and family. My son is missing his team and coaches and the common goal of the team.
The next weeknotes I will fill in some of the past few weeks of other things I’ve been reading, watching, listing to, and more. There have been some good sparks that have me excited, entertained, and exploring again.