Posts Tagged ‘race’

A friend of mine teaching a course on race, class and privilege asked if she could use some of my writings on the subject.  Most of what I have written simply recounts my experiences as a brown woman abroad or of my family members in the American south.  In one of the essays, I reference Sam Cooke’s song, A Change is Gonna Come.  My family has long played this tune.  It is a beautiful piece.  Until today though I did not know its history:



I don’t know if my friend will use song in her course, but she has certainly reminded me of the influence and power of song, for creating change and for simply helping people endure.  Another song I shared with her is Billie Holiday’s rendition of Strange Fruit:



Moving me right now are songs without words by Ralph Vaughn Williams:

Five Variants of Dives and Lazarus

Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis


If you don’t know these songs, they are well worth a listen!



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On my mind of late has been the idea of the missed picture.  Was there a moment when I should have taken a picture and instead I “wimped out?” It is not a question raised lightly.  Usually, if I see something and I happen to have my camera, then great.  If I don’t, then I simply have to be present and enjoy that moment.  And maybe that’s the key word:  enjoy.   The incident that I purposefully missed was not one that I think of with joy.

The moment took place when Steve and I were traveling around down south.  We entered an establishment through a gate.  On either side of the gate entrance stood black lawn jockeys.  Now before I continue, let me be quick to state that everywhere we traveled people were welcoming and inclusive, and if I stood out as the only person of color, no one made mention of the fact.  As we left the establishment, having had a great time inside, Steve asked if I wanted to take a picture of the lawn jockeys, as an image that I could use to provoke conversation about a topic that people find difficult to discuss.  I said no.  We drove away. 

I have no image captured in pixels, but the moment will remain with me.  All the moments remain with me, when I am reminded of the complexities of race in this country and how that complexity has played out over time.  And still does.

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In today’s Washington Post, there is another powerful story involving hands, in this case, what happens when people lend a helping hand to strangers. The article is by Michael Ruane and is called “Shipwreck survivor recalls how town altered his idea of race.”  I highly recommend you read the entire article if you can, but if you can’t here’s the crux of the story:   In the winter of 1942, an 18-year old black man serving in the U.S. Navy survived a shipwreck off the coast of Newfoundland.  He is the only black man among a group of white sailors who made it to shore.  The son of sharecroppers and great-grandson of slaves, he had been raised in the segregated deep south, and served in the deeply segregated military.  His heart was well on its way to being filled with hate for the people around him, especially for those people who treated him as if he had little value.  But fate intervened.

On the shores of a strange land, covered in oil and freezing, the young man was approached by white people who held out their hands to lift him up, to warm him by a fire, and to wash the oil from his body.  Now in his 80’s, he recollects that one of the locals remarked that day, “I can’t get the oil off his body.”  The sailor had to explain that “It’s the color of the skin.  You can’t get it off.”  Eventually one of the townspeople took him home, fed him soup, and basically treated him as the human being he was.  The actions of those townspeople forever changed the perceptions of that young man about his world and the people in it.

One act of kindness changed a life.  And, if you read the article, you get the sense that that young man went on to change other peoples’ lives,  whether in the military, walking with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in Selma, AL, or with his own family.

At first the article made me sad as I remembered my father’s stories of military prejudice when he served in the Korean War.  It also reminded me of the rise in hate by people in this country of other people in this country based purely on skin color and certainly religious belief.  But in the end, the article made me hopeful, reminding me that there has been and still is goodwill in the world, and that there is meaning and impact in lifting one’s hands to help even just one other person.

You can read the article here.

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