In honor of the upcoming Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and King Day of Service (both January 19, 2009), I’m sharing a couple personal stories, told in two parts so you aren’t subjected to one unwieldy post.
In case you’re wondering, I’m a multi-generational American with a mixed-European ancestry. None of my known family members have a traceable African ancestry, though some of my friends have. As most of my childhood was spent in an area with few people of a dissimilar ancestry, religious and spiritual tension was of more concern.
Yet last year, I realized all my stories written during high school for personal reasons–that is, not for a class assignment–include racial, not religious, tension. Sure, most of the races weren’t human, but fiction stems from subconscious, real-life concerns of its author.
That realization last year sent me into my memories to find a reason, an experience that drove a new fear deep into my brain.
I found such an experience in my memories of third grade. I was eight-years-old.
One day, my third-grade teacher started explaining the history of African slavery in the U.S.A. When she described the way people were captured and transported across the Atlantic, I couldn’t bear the images her words formed. So, I covered my ears and watched her talk instead. After a few minutes, I realized someone in class might suffer more than I did. With my hands still pressed against my earlobes, I twisted to look at George*, whose dark skin and kinky hair made him unique at the school.
His hands covered his ears, and his eyes were squeezed shut.
Seeing him like that intensified the realism of past horrors. It was the first time I wondered what it would be like to be a descendant of slaves. I have no idea whether George was. His chances were higher than mine, though.
Unfortunately, not everyone in class shared my experience. While I thanked the universe for how the world had changed, another student proved a few days or weeks later that the past can return. The story of that day is in Post II.
*Not his real name. I had no means of contacting him to ask for permission to use his name.