Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Permission Not Needed

I contemplated and thought and mused for a couple weeks about a couple things.

First, the tenth birthday of Facebook that has connected the world.  Even as I sit in my office writing this blog on a site that wasn't possible a decade ago, I thought about the Jewish heritage of Facebook's founder and the confidence he had as a college student to transform the world.

Second, I thought about the tragedy that took place in my suburb.  Six years ago, the quaint Mayberry-ness of my suburb was splashed across the nation's newspapers as a place of a racially motivated mass murder.  It wasn't all good in county.  Then the majority were all wringing their hands wondering how this happened, without realizing how much they ignored the other side of the tracks.  The community spent the immediate weeks and months talking across race and culture, desperately trying to understand each other, clearly one side trying to hold onto their unearned privilege.  Eventually, it quieted down and only a few of those original groups are still meeting, still doing the hard work of trying to see the humanity in each other.

Finally, it is Black History Month, that time when the rest of America gives a polite nod to the notices about black musicians, black inventory, black educators, black firsts, for those twenty-eight days that make up one of the coldest and shortest months of the year.  Dr. Carter G. Woodson, the creator of what was originally Negro History Week, did it in February to honor President Lincoln and Frederick Douglass, who, like my husband, share February as their born days.  He wanted to shine a spotlight on all those things that the browner population has contributed to the greatness of the nation and to remind the nation that without their contribution, many of the things they take for granted would not exist.

I thought about these things for an entire week as my children talked about the token offerings of school, the roll call of African Americans that are easy for their European American teachers to remember.  Little is discussed of Malcolm X, but on the heels of his birthday, they trot out Dr. King, they mention the underground railroad and the bus boycott and the peanut butter inventor, but not the everyday black men and women who continue to make history. They act as if black history fits within the brackets of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement.

It was against all that that friends and I were discussion the nature of permission.

My husband, in a speech he gave at a local church this past Sunday, mentioned that our Jewish brethren neither forget nor forgive their genocide.  He commented that one of the Third Reich criminals could be hidden away in a hamlet, a ninety-year-old man, and they will still drag him from hiding and march him in front of the world as a war criminal, insist upon his prosecution and his imprisonment of the remainder of his years.

They don't ask permission to do this, they remind the world, regardless of heritage, of the atrocities the Germans perpetuated upon them because of their ethnicity and religious belief.

I remember learning about it as a girl, watching and reading about it as a girl of ten, empathizing with them, thinking of how horrible it was.

But as a woman of color, I remembered that most white people want us to simply be quiet about our own holocaust, slavery.  To stop talking about being segregated, degregaded, taken from ancestral land, being raped or lynched, or our culture, name, and religion stripped away to produce "commodities for other people's consumption." February is the only month, besides Dr. King's birthday, that they will at least politely listen, respectfully (except for the teabaggers) nod at a pain that still runs psychologically deep within our tainted soil.  Then on March 1st, they want us to forget, to be quiet, and to not talk about it again.

So I wondered, who needs their permission in the first place?

I live in the St.Louis area and the Italians do not ask permission to paint their fire hydrants in the color of the Italian flag.  The Irish don't ask permission to parade everything green for St. Patty's Day and remind the city of their own neighborhood, pubs, and contribution to the city.  The place of royalty in our country, the love of Downtown Abbey and the want of this to be an English aristocracy still permeates our land, especially along the East Coast.  They are not asking permission to remember their German (St. Louis) heritage and red brick buildings or their cultural celebrations.

If they don't need permission, why do black people need permission?

I thought about the connection of all of it and the dialogues happening on Facebook (thanks Zuckerberg) empowering a young generation of black men and women to remember their heritage but to also strive for their dreams. To love their natural hair, even if they are still visually assaulted daily with the skinny European image of a waif with blond flowing hair.  It is a quest daily that they don't need permission to undertake.

Permission is not needed to celebrate one's heritage and culture, to be the best of oneself and to say, no, your stereotype of me and my people is not the reality of me and my people.

Remembering has it's place, celebrating accomplishments has it's place, discussing has it's place, and not of it needs a central power to say when it is enough, when to stop.  We stop when we don't have to remind anymore.


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