Tuesday, January 20, 2009

This Is My Country

I don't know when the snow began, but when I peeked out of my bedroom window around 7:00 a.m. it was snowing. I pulled up the covers and went back to sleep. I hadn't planned to go in to the office today but I took the snow as a sign that perhaps a higher power decided that we should all slow down and bear witness to the rebirth of hope.
Bear with me as my thoughts are moving too rapidly for me to easily sort them out; I've been feeling somewhat hyper for the last few days. I've been thinking a lot about my childhood, the birth of my great nephew three weeks ago, mama's death, and Whoopi Goldberg.

Sometime in the early 1980s, Whoopi Goldberg created a one-woman show called, The Spook Show . It caught the attention of Producer/Director Mike Nichols, and he brought her show to Broadway where it bore the less controversial title, Whoopi Goldberg Live on Broadway. Sometime in the early 1990s, the show made it to television on HBO where I saw it. Goldberg presented a series of character monologues. Developing each persona with only a few physical props, she created each character through her voice, physical demeanor, and her words. It was a show unlike any other, as Ms. Goldberg lulled you into raucous laughter and then hit you up with a sharp slap of reality that moved you to thought and even tears. Laughter and tears is a heady combination.

The Goldberg created character that has stuck with me and been on my mind lately is a child, Little Girl with Blonde Hair. Placing a white shirt on her head, the "little girl" explained that she didn't want to be black any more and that the shirt was her "long blonde hair." Her mother had dismissed her idea as ludicrous but the little girl was convinced that there was something to be gained if she could move from being a little black girl with nappy hair to a little white girl with long blonde hair. The excerpt below is from the monologue Little Girl with Blonde Hair.

LITTLE GIRL: I told my mother I didn't want to be black no more. ... Man, she say even if you sitting in a vat of Clorox till hell freezes over, you ain't gonna be nothing but black. And she was right too, because I sat in the clorox and I got burned. And she say I just got to be happy with what I got, but look. See? It don't do nothing. It don't blow in the wind. And it don't casca--cascadadade down my back. It don't. And I put that bouncing stuff in it and it didn't even lift. And I want some other kind of hair to do something else. I do.

I laughed until I cried. I think of myself as pretty good with words, but I don't know if I have the skill to explain why this performance has stayed with me for all of these years. I think that it is because there was a piece of truth in Goldberg's show that spoke to me. I don't ever recall consciously wanting to be white, but I do recall wanting to be pretty, and pretty meant looking like Shirley Temple or Elizabeth Taylor in National Velvet. There were no little black girls starring in movies and being presented as cute, talented, and smart.

The wounds gained from growing up in a culture that continually reinforces your status as a people without value, whose only purpose is to serve, who by virtue of the color of your skin and the texture of your hair are--inferior--other--less than-- do heal, but the scars remain. Ms. Goldberg's brilliant performance spoke to those scars, told me that I wasn't alone, reminded me that I shared an identity with a strong and resilient people who were not afraid to take a look at ourselves and share laughter as we struggled to overcome our adversity.

This morning when I got out of bed, I realized that my great nephew, Donovan Josiah will grow up in an America that offers hope and opportunity for him that I did not expect to see in my lifetime. I thought about my mama who died before she could see Barack Hussein Obama take the oath of office. I thought of the disrespect that she endured in her lifetime, the dignity with which she held her head high in the face of the realities of a society that worked over time to reinforce that black people were inferior. I recalled my father telling me of having to ride in the back of the bus as a boy while German POW's were allowed to ride up front, of his long journey to the west coast after enlisting in the military, again at the back of the bus. Even his uniform, worn in the service of his country wasn't enough to rate him a better seat. I recalled the doors that I could not enter, the signs that made it clear, "No Colored Allowed." I thought of all these things today and tears rolled down my face as Barack Hussein Obama took the oath of office, but the entire time that I was crying, I was laughing out loud with joy and when President Obama intoned "God Bless America," I whispered the words with him.


Yasmin said...

I have seen the Whoopi Goldberg sketch that you peak of, and I understand the parallel you have drawn in this excellent post.

Although from the UK I watched with pride today as President Barrack took his oath, and believed in him as a leader, he is not here to right wrongs but to unite, to treat everyone equally, but for those of you that had to sit in the back of the bus, this must have been a very special day indeed.


Bucko (a.k.a., Ken) said...

It was a powerful day today, and there is HOPE :o)

Beth said...

Sheria, I am crying and smiling all at the same time, right along with you.

Your new little family member is a cute peanut, and I know you'll tell Donovan all about the importance of today. He'll laugh, and look at you like you're his crazy Aunt Sheria, and say, "What's the big deal?" Because he will have opportunities and dreams that were inconceivable just a few years ago.

God Bless America, my friend.

Love you,

Gerry said...

I was moved to tears by this entry as I could feel the pain that lasts as long as such prejudice lasts and worst of all strikes innocent children. I have been having my mind enlightened by this book I am reading called "Slavery by Another Name" which is full of so much brutality of man toward his fellow men that it has become very painful to read. And so much of this brutality inspired by greed. It seems like this country entered a good moment, a peaceful valley, when Obama could be elected, and it is going to be hard I know for all of us to believe that the brutality is receding. It is going to take a lot of vigilance and strength to keep it at bay. May God give us strength to keep making progress. Gerry

Leigh said...

What a moving entry, and what a historic day for our country.

Hugs, Leigh

cw2smom said...

Very powerful message! It was a wonderful, exciting day for us as Americans. I hope Mr. Obama will continue to unite and inspire us as we move forward after a terrible 8 years. My own father, who grew up in Oklahoma with the prejudice of being Native American, used to tell me stories of how the Blacks were also treated there and I was horrified. It was something I didn't experience in Southern California as a child. He took us to the Lorraine Motel, where Dr. King was murdered and to the museum, where we sat on the bus that Rosa Parks was told to go to the back of...it was incredible moving to see how far we've come since then! I can only imagine the struggles of the Black people in our society, and can only compare my experiences as a woman trying to break into law enforcement 35 years ago only to be told I couldn't because I was a woman. Finally, I went to work for Corrections, where I excelled and became the first female Captain to promote all through our ranks! It was a milestone. I am excited to see what happens for all of us in the future with Obama! The world is rejoicing. So am I...Blessings, Lisa

Lisa :-] said...

I am thrilled beyond words with our new president...but I cannot imagine what it must be like to be a black person experiencing this moment in history. Enjoy it. Savor it. You deserve it.

Sybil said...

You always write a wonderful journal and it is always a great pleasure for me to read it..Thank you..Today you excel...As you know I also was watching from over here and the tears also fell...for the past sadness and for the future's hope... I do think the US has a great new leader and pray that God will keep him strong and lead him on the right paths.
Love Sybil xxx

Robin said...

In my mind, POW's are always deserving of respect, but certainly not to disrespect anyone else particularly if that anyone else is being disrespected b/c of his or her skin color.

It was thee most peaceful, hopeful, tearfully happy insanely huge mob crowd whatever, polite even for hours and hours on end, that that in and of itself was amazing. All colors and ages and sizes of people, strangers, sharing in the cold and waiting literally hours to be sniffed by dogs and each one of us hand-body searched, et al.

Welcome to a new nation. A new world.

And, I have to be so proud -- this is my city, renewed, too:)

This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice, and be glad in it. -- Psalms something

Saltydawg said...

I watched Obama's speech from across the big pond and felt humbled by his words yet elated at the same time. Tears fell down my cheeks as for me the words, 'we will extend an open hand if you uncleanch your fist' said it all.
God bless America, God bless the world and God bless you my dear friend.
Gaz xxxx

Selchie said...

What a beautiful post, thank you for sharing this. It's hard to believe that segregation ever existed. I think we are all feeling hope with Obama for a more integretated world. Thank you your post really moved me.)

Marc said...

I saw that Whoopi Goldberg show, in NY, on my 25th birthday. I remember thinking during that blond girl sketch that this is one thing gays and blacks had in common, the relative lack of role models in the media. It's something that straight white people take (or took) for granted without a second thought.
Of course, like everyone else, I was inspired on Tuesday. But I am far more moved by his first days in office. Symbolism of change is a great thing, but real change is far greater, and far harder.

Indigo said...

I waited until I had the time to sit and reflect on each and every word in this post. Because I knew without a doubt your words would make me cry, smile and cry again. Our country has once again changed history...this time I can stand proud of the changes that took place.

It's been a long time in coming my dearest friend. I have no doubt your mother was there watching with tears streaming down her face as well. Beth is right...Donovan will grow up in a world where he won't understand how huge this is. Because his world will have all the things, those before him never dreamed where possible. For once I'm truly proud to be an American. (Hugs)Indigo

Cathy said...

Wow this brought back memories! I remember when she'd bow her head and put that white tee over her hair, then thrown back her head in one quick swoosh and there she was, the little blonde girl. Always tossing back her long lovely curls lol. Ms. G really had it down so perfectly lol I could never have foreseen her eventual uber-success bec I thought geez, she's so radical! And now look lol.

chefkelly25 said...

I think your entry made many people stop and take the time to refect on things. It was a very proud and moving moment for many in this country that we have not had for quite some time. As for Whoopie, I used to crack up when I watched her and still believe she is one of the greatest comedians of our time. Are there many women who wouldn't want to look like Elizabeth Taylor. She was gorgeous! Kelly