For me, reading The Invention of Wings could not have come at a better time. This book deals with slavery, women’s rights, and the harsh realities of the lack of civil rights for blacks and women in the era just before the Civil War.
Perhaps some feel that the story of slavery need not be told again, need not be regurgitated through new eyes, new characters, new circumstances. We have ROOTS, right? We have 12 Years A Slave, we have Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Do we need more?
My answer to that question, and obviously Sue Monk Kidd’s answer is, yes. Yes. We should never stop touching back into history. We should never stop repeating its heights or its atrocities in word, or song, or discourse. Once we pacify ourselves enough to believe that history has nothing to teach us, humanity will have come to bitter ends.
In her own words, Kidd explains,
During my research, I came upon a thesis about the Grimké’s Charleston house that included a transcript of a legally executed inventory and appraisal of all the “goods and chattels” in the house at the time of Sarah’s father’s death in 1819. As I read through this long and detailed list, I was shocked to come upon the names of seventeen slaves.
They were inserted between a Brussels staircase carpet and eleven yards of cotton and flax. I read their names, their ages, the roles they performed—coachman, cook, waiting maid, washer, house servant, seamstress, etc.—and I read what they were supposedly worth. One slave, Diana, thirty-six, was listed as “useless” and valued at $1. There were four children included, ages eight, six, four, and three months. The eight year old was named Ben, the same as my grandson. Their mother was Bess, age thirty. Together the five of them had been valued at $1500.
The moment hit me close to the bone, in part because of how real and close these human beings suddenly seemed, but also because of the sheer banality and acceptability of listing them as possessions among the carpets and cloth.
Here was not just our human capacity for cruelty, but our ability to render it invisible. How do such things happen? How do we grow comfortable with the particulars of evil? How are we able to normalize it? How does evil gather when no one is looking? Discovering the seventeen names on the ledger was when I understood how dangerous it is to separate ourselves from our history, even when it’s unspeakably painful.
One of the reasons this piece of historical fiction felt so important to be reading in the NOW was the foment of so many racially charged clashes between police and the African-American community– and that is putting it nicely. Reading over an article in The New York Times today published two days ago titled “Beyond the Chokehold: The Path to Eric Garner’s Death”, I was struck again by the utter injustice of the entire scenario.
I was reminded of those subsequent deaths of Walter Scott, and most recently Freddie Gray. I remember the shock that went through me as I watched the scenes of police force in Texas to break up a teenage pool party. I was reminded that we, the people, would like to say that race does not matter in America.
I can’t even say that WE believe that, because I don’t really think most Americans DO believe that RACISM IS dead in America. RACISM is ALIVE. It may be more quiet, more toned down, more tempered with voices who want to say that people of color have hatred for the OTHER as well.
Or maybe most Americans do not believe that racism exists, and that is the actual rub. The ignorant idea that we have had ENOUGH talk, ENOUGH repair, ENOUGH distance and time and damage control beyond slavery and “separate but equal”. I think those ideas are filled with a dangerous, even deadly passivity– it doesn’t exist because I believe it doesn’t exist and what is everyone hollering about. No, RACISM not dead.
RACISM is still alive and well. HATISM is still fresh, too. This disturbs me even more. I recently read a post by Matt Walsh, a popular blogger whose self titled, sub titled blog reads that he is in the business of pedaling “absolute truth and alpaca grooming tips”. His second sub tag causing me to greatly question his first self given title and task.
So how does Matt Walsh, conservative blogger play in to Eric Gardner’s death? Good question. Matt recently wrote an article titled, “Dear Azalea Banks, please feel free to leave America and never return”. Walsh lambasts rapper/musician Azalea Banks for he comments in an interview with Playboy where she ignorantly and idiotically spoke about hating America and hating white people.
I can honestly say her words were rude, mean, hateful, and in poor taste. You may even call her remarks racist. They are. But what I do not understand is why? Why, Matt Walsh? Why did you need to take aim at an uneducated, ignorant, rude, African-American woman?
How does this advance the cause of care, kindness, love, equality, compassion, goodness, uplift, and yes, TRUTH. Did you speak the TRUTH, Matt Walsh? I didn’t find truth in Walsh’s words at all. In fact, instead of truth, his article made me sad, somber, decidedly angry, and hurt. Why?
Why was I hurt by an article written by a blogger that I know very little about who chose to write about a rapper/musician (if you can even call her that, Walsh and I can agree on that point) I know nothing about? I am hurt because rather than advancing any vein of discourse, rather than actually intelligently, reasonably pointing out some ignorant comments by an uneducated person, in a sordid context, Matt Walsh chose to undress Azalea Banks even further in front of everyone– in front of America.
He chose to use his small white male blogger power words to take Azalea Banks down. And he did. He won. Nearly all of the comments on his feed praised his punches, and raised a figurative glass to his exit invitation to Ms. Banks.
What I don’t understand is why? Why did Walsh stoop to her level? Why did he open her up to all 293 comments made on his article that was picked up by The Blaze? Other than offending Walsh personally (because honestly, who does believe that middle American farmers are to blame for the continuance of rampant racism across our nation) because Banks obviously does not like white people, and that is sad and not nice. But why did Azalea Banks gather Matt Walsh’s hatred?
This to me is the PROBLEM. We simply cannot see past the end of our own noses or our own egos. So when there is money to be made, headlines to be plugged, and vitriol to sling, we will do it in protection of RACISM, upholding racism. Or at least in Walsh’s way, we will point out that other people of other colors hate our color just as much as we hate theirs. Why?
I do believe that we need people to stand for civil discourse, for reasoned or even heated debate and public discussion. But my feeling is that letters like Matt Walsh’s are only an invitation to MORE hatred. None of these stories or histories is one-sided. I need and want police officers who uphold and protect and defend our laws. We need police officers. I do believe that their lives are worth everything. When did we loose sight of the fact that EVERY LIFE IS WORTH EVERYTHING?
Even Azalea Banks? When did we loose that? Well, maybe we didn’t have much to loose because WE are still pushing, struggling, fighting, raging, writing, choking, shuffling our way to it– to this trait called kindness, to this universality called love, to this place called Zion.
Will we ever get THERE? Will WE? I am talking the UNIVERSAL WE, sweet friends? Will we ever get to the place where we realize that we HAVE often looked at others with difference and seen LESS. We have written their laziness, their unwillingness, their unworkingness (yes I realize that this is NOT a word), their criminality, their lasciviousness into our hearts.
But I want to make it clear that those traits are not manifest simply in a subset of humanity– a color, a race, a gender, a culture. They are carried in the nasty little parts of each of us. So while we try to root them out, why don’t we do that INDIVIDUALLY with our MAKER and then leave a little room for OTHERS’ processes in the process?
Yes, Ms. Azalea’s comments are ignorant at best and unconscionable in a WORLD where people truly see and know and SEEK to understand one another. There was nothing okay, or right, or uplifting about her comments either. He words degraded others too. Walsh is right. But it is his words, so well crafted, grammatically accurate, bitingly chosen, and brazenly published. His words bring me grief. Head in the hands, what has humanity come to, grief. No truth in them.
He shows me the REAL world in which I live. A world of people that WISH we had come so far, far, far from Charleston, S.C in the 1830’s. The Charleston marred by a torture chamber labeled as a workhouse, one race who owned another, one gender who owned them all, one oppression after another. But who we are instead are people still intent upon racializing, zealotizing, naming, undressing, spitting on, and oppressing others like a world we so claim we want to leave behind.
My prayer is that we will. My prayer is that we will invent those wings and fly. These dreams of equality, of love, of understanding are not lost on me. They are recognized still and they are realizable. They need not be deferred. I really enjoyed this book, and it made me think a LOT about THAT kind of flight. The Invention of Wings.