Eye of the Story

The Evergreen State College

Author: Cheryl Harai

Close Viewing Cheryl Harai My America, Honk if you love Buddha

                 In the Family Gathering, Lise Yasui was looking for her family history. The film focused on her grandfather and his experience at the internment camps.  Her uncle does not want to talk about that time.  He seemed to have the attitude that; It’s in the past, so it doesn’t need to be talked about, leave it in the past. Yasui looked at how the internment and the reluctance to talk about it affected her life as she explored the memories and silences in her family history. With this film she breaks the silence as she looks for her place in the family history.  There is an underlying theme of –what defines an American and what does it takes to become an American after emigration.

In My America or Honk of You Love Buddha, Renee Tajima-Pena went out looking for Asian –America in the 1990’s. This film explores also has the underlying theme of – defining what an American is and again asks what it takes to belong here. She talks about the idea that anyone who is Asian is perceived as “foreign” or “an enemy”.  When she met Victor Wong in S.F. China town he said “What is an Asian American, I’m I an Asian or an American? Do we all look alike?”  He also talked about the Civil Rights Movement and described this time as one where, “I could become part of America.” Even though he was born and raised in San Francisco’s China Town. 

During the film there was a segment where someone was asking, “Why can’t I call them Japs?  Then the question was raised: Will we ever truly belong in America?  Then it is answered by the Filipina Burtanog sisters, well maybe: “After 200 years or so you start to feel like home.” That is after 8 generations.

Wong also said, “This face is Chinese-American, they couldn’t tell the difference… The war with Japan, with Korea, with Vietnam, was one huge war with Asia. Most Americans think of this face (even unconsciously) as their enemy.

Towards the end of the film, Pena says, “Traveling through America can take your breath away, and could break your heart.  Americans just don’t know who other Americans are.”

Victory Wong reminded me of my husband. With his silliness, chasing birds in the park and his seriousness about the racial inequalities he had encountered. My husband also sometimes has the attitude of “It’s in the past, leave it there.” He says that the past is often too painful to discuss, but then something happens to make him feel that he is not a true American. Or he hears something on the news that makes him think that it could happen all over again. Such as the talk about building internment camps for the Iraq people living in the United States.  Then he starts telling some of his stories and hopes that someone listens.

After viewing My America with me, he decided to tell a number of stories demonstrating just how hard it was to be considered a Jap, and not an American.  Here is one story.  To give you fair warning, this is not a humorous or light hearted story of being Japanese-American. It is a story that many of his generation would not tell, because it is in the past and too painful.

 

 

 

——-

One of my first memories was the day I first learned that I was a “Jap”. My brothers and I were out picking coffee on our farm. All of a sudden a squadron of planes flew overhead. We ran to the house yelling for mom to come see. As she came out of the house, the explosions started. More planes flew over and we were rushed inside to hide.  It seemed that it went on forever. Finally, just after it got quiet, dad walked in. He looked wrong to me, defeated somehow, as he said: “They did it, I can’t believe they did it. The Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor”.

                We were just kids and would soon learn what this attack would mean to us. The next day at school, the teachers divided us by race, taking all the Japanese kids and separating us from everyone else. The other kids were yelling: “traitor”, “Killer”, “spy”, and worse of all “Jap”.

This term came to define the rest of my early life, we “japs” needed to prove that we were American. It didn’t matter how many generations our families had been in the United States, if you looked like Japanese, you were not fully American.

                Dad soon went to war. Our aunts and cousins who lived in the states (mainland U.S.) lost everything and were sent to the camps. They were busy proving that they were American and this was the price.

August 15, the streets filled with people celebrating, newspapers announced “Japan Surrenders”. The war was over, and the celebrations began. We, the United States, had bombed Japan right out of the war. We had dropped an atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Almost 150,000 people died that day.

At home, in private, it was a whole different story. We were quietly mourning. My mom’s sister and her parents lived in Hiroshima. Because of the war, we hadn’t heard from them for a couple of years. We didn’t dare write: that would be enough to send us to prison for being spies. We had to choose: American or Family; American or Japanese. We chose American; we just had to prove it. It was hard though, with the bomb on Hiroshima, it felt as if our family history had been wiped out along with most of the family.

As soon as I was old enough, 17, well almost 17, I enlisted in the Army. I supported the United States, I was American, and I was proving it. I got sent to Korea- to war. Then I was sent to Vietnam.  I was infantry, and the radio man.  The radio men were the most targeted men in the U.S. forces. I was lucky in Vietnam. I kept almost getting killed. Walking out of my tent and having a mortar hit it before I had gone more than a few steps. Walking with my best friend to mess and having him fall into my arms dead, hit by a sniper. There were unbelievable horrors to witness and survive.  I won’t tell you much more now, this isn’t the story I want to tell. We were there fighting a war, it didn’t matter why, except that many of us were there proving that we were American.

After my first tour, (I was there twice) I was sent back to the States. My wife and 3 kids met me at Fort Benning in Georgia.  I had R&R time and wanted to spend it getting to know them again. We decided that since we had never seen the South, we would go on a car tour and show the kids what a great country we lived in and what being American meant.

We piled into the car and started out to see our country. After a few hours everyone was hungry. “Denny’s” the kids shouted, it was one of their favorite places to eat in Hawaii. We stopped for lunch. The kids ran in and my wife and I followed as they piled into a booth.

I noticed that the other diners were staring at us. I was in my dress uniform, a requirement at the time; we were not allowed to wear civilian clothes in public. I thought proudly that maybe they were noticing my uniform, that I was an American soldier.

The waitress came to the table “We don’t serve people like you”. The kids got quiet. Tears started running down my wife’s face. “What do you mean”, I asked.  “We don’t serve colored people like you, baby killers, Japs! – Get Out!” 

I stood up, “Let’s go”. My daughter said quietly,” I have to go potty”. My wife took her hand and started walking towards the bathroom. She didn’t get far as a man stepped in front of her and shoved her towards the door. Everything went crazy, the boys ran to defend their mother, screaming, pushing, a punch or two and my family was shoved out the door.

We encountered similar situations over and over during our shortened trip. Grocery stores wouldn’t sell to us. Gas stations refused to pump our gas. I had to resort to vending machines filled with candy and chips to feed the kids. We weren’t even allowed to use the bathrooms.

We were on this trip to discover America, to show our children what a great country we lived in, to give them pride in their Americaness. What we showed them was what it is like to be an outsider, a “Jap”.

It was only a few years ago that the feeling of not being fully American began to change. Someone came up to me and said “Thank You for your Service”

I may not be able to show it, but you should know just how much this means to us old veterans, who have given our whole lives to our country, especially those of us who had to prove that we belong here, prove that we are American.

——- James S. Harai

 

Cheryl Harai 3/1/16 Don’t give me insulin if I pass out

3/1/16

 I’m diabetic, don’t give me insulin if I pass out

I wasn’t feeling very well this morning, no real surprise. Some mornings my blood sugar is low when I wake up. Lately, I haven’t been able to eat enough to keep my levels up. I take very little insulin since the surgery. I sometimes resort to candy to correct the lows.  I was out with a friend and got dizzy, sat down and I guess I passed out.  

She told me that she panicked and rummaged through my bag. Seeing the insulin, she was sure that it would fix my problem. So she loaded up the syringe and gave me a good dose of it.  She had no idea what she was doing.  Later she would tell me that she saw on TV that people pass out from diabetes and if they do they need insulin. She thought that she was doing the right thing, and she almost killed me.

When I didn’t wake up immediately, she called 911.  When they arrived, she told them what she had done.  The EMT’s checked my blood sugar and it was 14. It should have been around 100.  They quickly put in an IV and started the glucose water.  A few hours later, I woke, in the hospital.  It took a couple of days for my levels to reestablish themselves.

I had a long talk with my friend, so did my doctor. She had relied on TV and movies to learn about my illness and emergency treatment.  She didn’t understand that it is more common for a diabetic to pass out from low blood sugar, where the treatment is to eat some sugar and then some carbs, then it is to pass out from high blood sugar. And if your blood sugar is high enough to make you pass out, there is lots of warning signs. Giving a big dose, unmeasured of insulin to anyone, is an almost sure way to kill them.   I think the doctor finally got through to her when he told her that.  She was told to always call 911 and don’t try to treat, unless you are directed to by a doctor. And never inject someone with anything unless you are sure you know what you are doing.  

I also have allergies and carry epinephrine in my bag for emergencies. That also has the potential to kill me.

It could have ended so much worse. I’m glad she finally understands that.

Storytelling Cheryl Harai 2/17/16

 

I began listening to a book on tape, or CD that is, on my way to school this morning. I chose this particular book because it didn’t have any connection to my school project and would give me a chance to change my minds focus for the short time I was driving. I am listening to Ireland by Frank Delaney.

I have just a 40 min. drive to school, when the traffic is clear as it was this morning. I listened to the introduction and the first short segment or short story on the CD. The book is about a young man in Ireland who has a storyteller visit his family. He became fascinated with the stories the man is telling and after he leaves, researches the history of Ireland and then goes out to find this storyteller, learning even more of Ireland’s history in the process.

Irish history = no connection with my school project on Judo, women’s history and Japan. Or so I thought. Until I started listening.

The Author, Frank Delaney, is a skilled storyteller and in his Authors Note talks about history and storytelling, in relation to Irish history. He wrote;

“Imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history, and therefore, to understand the Irish, mere facts can never be enough; this is a country that reprocesses itself through the mills of its imagination.

But we all do that; we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story. And no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All “Truths” are only our truths, because we bring to the “facts” our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. Thus storytelling- from where it comes- forms a layer in the foundation of the world: and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.”

I had to go get the book and read this in print. It seemed to speak directly to me about the histories and stories I was trying to write, and did not just apply to Irish storytelling. “Imagination and emotion insist on playing their parts in every history” and “Mere facts can never be enough.” This is where my stories seem to fail or at least have become boring. Who wants to read fact to fact, no matter how skillfully it is written. (Not that I claim that much skill) Just linking this fact to the next fact, leaves out the emotion and does not let either the writer or the reader into their imagination.

He goes on to say “we merge our myths with our facts according to our feelings, we tell ourselves our own story.” And this is what I envisioned when I conceived of writing about the women in judo’s history, a merging of facts, both within the old myths and known histories with new discoveries of previously undiscovered stories of women’s judo. I wanted to include the emotions and feelings of these women who had up to now had their stories obscured or whose stories had just disappeared in time, leaving only fragments to be discovered again.

Delaney continues by saying “no matter what we are told, we choose what we believe. All ‘Truths’ are only our truths, because we bring to the ‘facts’ our feelings, our experiences, our wishes. This seems to be a very important concept to understand when writing stories and one that I will have to keep in mind as I rethink my writing once again.

I also was intrigued by what the author said about storytelling and how important it is. “Thus storytelling- from where it comes- forms a layer in the foundation of the world: and glinting in it we see the trace elements of every tribe on earth.” The storytellers: “possessed brilliant powers; they brought the long-gone past to life vividly, without what he called ‘the interference of scholars. Those professors,’ he said “ They dry out history in order to put it down on paper” In his father’s view a tale with the feeling taken out of it had “ no blood and was worth very little”

Drying out history so it could be put down on paper. How easy it is to write this way, to take out the emotion and reduce our history down to just facts. I know that I am guilty of this at times, as I try to tell the stories I have discovered and are putting down on paper. And here the Author describes his view of a story of only facts as being worth very little. This description brings me back to the goal I have when writing my histories, I want these stories to have value, to have interest and to show the upcoming generations of women and girls that they were there in the beginning along with the men. That they do belong in the history of the sport, and they belong today.

Delaney also wrote about the storytellers themselves; “They had counterparts all over the globe- India, South America, China. Such travelers wandered into a village, spread a rug under a shady tree, and began a daylong tale of the country’s old times. They called up dragons and fire and mountains and maidens and gods. Wary villagers who drifted forward to hear what was being said always stayed to the end. Whatever the topic, the audience knew they could be assured of vitality and drama- great events told in bright colors with huge spirit. Thus the traveling storyteller and his oral tradition shaped much of the world’s culture and character.”

Even though I am writing and not a traveling storyteller, this still applies. Today, our books travel for us, telling our stories, bringing people into their history, telling their stories. I want my writing to be this for my readers, a transformation of the history they may have already been told. I want to bring my reader into the story of judo and into the sports future stories as well.

The section of the CD I was able to listen to this morning ended with; “The wisest men tell us that everything, sooner or later, changes. And all change commences with a specific moment. We say to ourselves,” I won’t do this again, I must become different.” And we succeed- eventually.” And so I will try again. I know what I don’t want my stories to look like, I know that I won’t do it this way again, I must become a different writer to tell my story the way I want too, with emotion and feelings intact, not just the facts.

 

The Drunk Cheryl Harai

His family, his children, siblings and his first wife got up to talk at his funeral. They described him as a drunk, someone who was lazy and didn’t accomplish much, he didn’t work enough, didn’t pay the bills, couldn’t love and deserved exactly what he got- erased from existence. They talked about how the only hope they had was that his children could do better then him.

I sat there wondering what kind of man he would have been if he had truly been given a chance. A chance to live without the drugs and alcohol he finally used to keep everyone away. If he had been able to go to school as a child, if he had been loved when he was young, if he could have known that, just a little, he had something to contribute to our world.

He couldn’t read and could only do basic math. In the 1980’s he was failed by the school system. His parents also, could only see what he couldn’t do and as a child was called worthless everyday. Refusing to go back to school after grade 6, He learned to build.

He was a dreamer, a philosopher and could talk for hours about a story he had heard and what it might mean to others, what it meant to him. When he was young and it was still OK to ask someone to read to you, he asked and loved the classic stories. Checking books out of the Library, just by their covers, he would find someone to read them, so he could hear the stories.

He had the eye of an artist and could find meaning in so many ordinary things. He could tell you how the trees grew and imagined how they felt when he had to cut them down. He couldn’t tell you how he did it, but he could figure angles and design complex buildings, as long as it was in wood. Wood talked to him. He could build a home, out of logs, from a pile of wood and a picture. Tell a story and he could build it, in wood.

He was also broken and spent his whole life feeling unloved and unwanted. He lived as if his live was only an accident, a mistake of nature and one that needed to be corrected.

To his children he was an occasional visitor, not always kind, usually confused. Most often they knew him as someone their mother cursed and accused of things. She often called him “ a sperm donor”.   He could barely look at his children without feeling that he was doing wrong, rubbing off on them somehow. He loved them though, from a distance, wishing he could get to know them. Afraid to contaminate them with his unworthiness, his inability to learn, his curse,and so he stayed away.

He stayed away from anyone he started to love and tried to drown all the bad about himself. He sought to bury the tenderness he felt for the world, the conversations he had with the trees and the animals. He tried to drown his dreams and his wish that he could learn to be good, that someone could love him back.

And when someone did, he couldn’t believe it. At his funeral it was heartbreaking to hear what the world thought of this man, this drunk, who they believed got what he deserved.

 

I wonder what the world would have been like, if he had been given a chance.

 

Where is it? Journaling Cheryl Harai

Where is it?

Where is it? Where did my notes go. The ones I took in class, about the book I was reading, my notes about a section of my project, an idea, a direction, something I need to look up. Where is it? I need to find my idea, I don’t want to lost the connections I made.
Did I put them on the computer, or the flash drive? On my ipad? Or phone? In the margins of the book or in a note pad- which one? Where is it?
Im working as a student and as a writer, reading, assimilating, researching, and trying to remember. I know this about myself- If I write it down I am more likely to remember- even if I don’t go back and read it again. But, what if I did, What if I followed up on all these threads of ideas, read the books I learn about: what if I knew where all those bits were written down.
So here it is, my Journal, my place to write everything, all the bits and threads and odd thoughts. I’ve tried before and struggled with keeping the categories neat and confined, only putting finished work in my journal. This time it will be in bits, and be some of everything, a place to write, conversations and interesting everyday events.
A Journal I can answer my question –Where is it? With Here! It is here. Messy, misspelled, incomplete or finished, it is here, where I can find it. A place to store my mind, the daily stuff, school and home, the trials of health and the odd things I think about. It is here. And from here I can take the details out, to explore research and write more.

Life as a Caregiver- Cheryl Harai

Life as a Caregiver

3 days away from home, surgery, and morning release from the hospital, afternoon school speaker. I feel like I can hardly stand as I walk in the door, holding on the door frame for support. “Hi, I’m home.” I call in greeting, looking for the substitute caregiver that is supposed to be taking care of Jim, my husband.
Jim responds: “ Suz had to leave, What’s for dinner?” Instantly I’m back on full caregiving duty. I can’t eat yet, so look in the freezer to see what I can cook fast. Put fish in the oven.
Paper towels all over the kitchen floor, full of pee. House stinks. Pee Towels picked up, garbage taken out. Dogs let outside and food bowls filled. Go in and greet Jim in person, make tartar sauce, cook rice, empty the dryer, scrub the pee off the kitchen floor- sanitize, get the stink out. Empty the dishwasher, load, and clean the puke up off the hallway floor. Jims dinner on the table, go outside and collect eggs while it is still light. Wash the eggs, feed and water the chickens. Let the dogs’ in. “Maggie needs a bath”, give Maggie a bath- she stinks. Gather Jims dirty clothes and start the washer, clear the table from Jim’s dinner and put away the extra tartar sauce. Wash the dishes; put bags in the garbage can.
Vacuum Jims floor, clean his bathroom, change his bedding, fold clothes and put them away, fix lunch for tomorrow and package it so he knows to eat it. Change out the laundry and start the bedding. Blow dry Maggie :”she’s cold.”
“Jim, I need to sit down for a few min”
“ok; did you make my lunch? Where’s my bedding? when will it be done? Where’s the tartar sauce? Look, I’m giving the dogs food now (I already fed them, but they don’t mind a second dinner). I’m letting them out (I just brought them in for the night): what’s this spot on the floor ( I missed something); Sumo’s tonight, I need to get up at 1, set the alarm so I can watch.
Spot cleaned off the floor, Jims bed made, Dishes put away, sign on lunch to identify it for Jim, Show Jim the tartar sauce, Dogs in, Alarm set for 1am sumo. Jim showered and dressed, tucked into bed.
My turn, I sit. Oops, I didn’t eat anything yet. I’ll sit for a few minutes and find something; I didn’t fix my lunch, oh well. I’m too tired now. I didn’t take my meds, gotta get that done- in a few minutes, tired, hurting, can’t move.
Oh shit: The alarm is ringing, School time.

Checking out a new judo club 1/10/16 Cheryl Harai

Journal Entry      Checking out a new judo club

I was looking at joining a new judo club, in a new part of the country for me. I had just moved and was looking for my home.  For that is what my judo club is, it is my home: the place I belong, a source of strength, my extended family.

I was visiting to see if this would be the place for me. I introduced myself to the instructor and gave him my rank credentials. His name was familiar to me as mine was to him. As wide spread, and with as many people that practice judo, those of us who have been around a while get to know each other, if only by name and reputation, just like a large extended family where we’ve heard of each other, but haven’t met everyone in the family.

Traditionally students line up by rank at the beginning and end of class. As the students lined up, the women went to the end.  In years past, the women, if they were allowed at all, lined up at the end, after the youngest male. It had been a number of years since I had been at a club that still did this.  The line was a line of power, a line of respect and it was supposedly a line of commitment and knowledge. Women had their place in the hierarchy. No matter how long she had studied judo, what her rank was or how long she had studied, she was placed under the youngest, most inexperienced boy, even the one who had started that very day. This club that I was visiting, lined up this traditional, oppressive way.

Looking around as they lined up, I knew that I would have to challenge the status-quo at this club. For the moment, I lined up at the head of the women. Just to see how the class would be conducted. I was wondering if the women were treated with equal respect, and the line-up practice was a remnant that had yet to be challenged, or if women were accorded the disrespect that was initially shown.

Class went fairly well. Little things though, still separated the women from the men, the girls from the boys.  The girls were helped up after they were thrown, the boys got themselves up. As the workout intensified, a group was assigned to practice forms, all but 1 was female.  The boys were pushed physically and the girls encouraged to sit down and take a break if it got too hard. Outright disrespect for the women was not practiced, but it was there, subtle and as a matter of traditional practice.

After class, I was invited out with the rest of the black belts, the ranking members of the club, to get to know me and for me to get to know them. This is standard practice when ranked visit each other’s clubs. Everyone was nice and we had a good time. They were conservative and it seemed to me, tradition bound.  They hand even thought about how they treated the female members of the club different. I didn’t push or challenge, but let them explain how they retained the traditional values and practices of a judo club.

I decided to join, and believed that with my influence as a female black belt, I would start to challenge the traditional, gender based practices. The first one I tackled was the line-up.  I didn’t say anything, but at the next class, I stood with the male black belts. I got the look, the what are you doing look. The look that said I was stepping out of line (I was, wasn’t I), but out of respect for my rank, no one said anything. During class, every time I was offered a hand up, I let them know that I could stand up by myself. At the end of the class, I again stood with the black belts, and one of the adult novice women, stood in line with the men, according to her rank.  No one said anything.

The next class, all the adult women had integrated into the line-up, and one of the young girls, asked the question “ why do we have to stand at the end”  The instructor didn’t answer, and looked at me, expecting me to tell them about tradition. Instead I said “: you don’t, your rank is just as good as the boys”.  The next time we lined up, we were fully integrated, nothing more was said about the matter. The girls and women started noticing that I was not helped up and that I didn’t sit out during the hard parts of the workout. I started to push them to participate, and then, so did the other senior students. Soon the women were just part of the class. 

I didn’t stay a member of this club for long, I moved again. But I like to think that when I respected the traditions, but did not accept the different treatment for women, I opened the instructors’ eyes just a little. Let him see that women doing judo, were just people doing judo and that they didn’t need to be treated different and didn’t need extra protection.

 

Close Reading The Devil Finds Work

On the very first page of the book, in the section labeled Praise for James Baldwin’s The Devil Finds Work is the statement made by – Booklist “His instructive comments reveal what a black child and black audiences in general perceive in white-produced movies…” This is an interesting statement and brings up the question; what does a black child or person perceive about his race, what does he think about being black and how does this develop into his identity? I wonder also, what does he think about “white” people and how does this influence his perceptions and identity? The definitions of racial identity and the accompanying culture are a “hot” topic today and Baldwin in this book addresses his experience of being “black” through his film reviews and the stories he included of his life.

Starting on page 6, Baldwin says: “I was a child, of course, and, therefore, unsophisticated. I don’t ever seem to ever to have had any innate need (or, indeed, any innate ability) to distrust people:” Baldwin then goes on to describe what he thought and believed of white people: “White people as they lived in my imagination, and also as they were in life..” He describes that his views of white people “had a profound and bewildering effect” on his mind. There appears to be a conflict between his statement that he didn’t have a need or ability to distrust people and his views of white people: “I had found white people to be unutterably menacing, terrifying, mysterious – wicked, and they were mysterious, in fact, to the extent that they were wicked: the unfathomable question being, precisely, this one: what under heaven, or beneath the sea, or in the catacombs of hell, could cause any people to act as white people acted?”

How did he describe his involvement with white people? Baldwin in his description of Miss Miller included some of his experiences with white authority; “the cops who had already beaten me up…the landlords who called me nigger, the storekeepers who laughed at me.” He is separate from them, not like them, not authority and especially not white. It is apparent that Baldwin included these examples of differences to demonstrate his childhood confusion about the trustworthiness of people and his distrust of white people. This difference between the understood and familiar black community and the confusing, menacing and even evil whites were the foundations of his racial belief system and his discovery of what it meant to be black.

On page 10, Baldwin continues his exploration of his racial identity; “I knew that I was black, but did not yet know what being black really meant, what it meant, that is, in the history of my country, and in my own history.” Page 11 continues the theme of discovering what “being black” meant to him. “I had no idea what Two Cities was really about, any more than I know what Uncle Tom’s Cabin was really about, which was why I had read them both so obsessively: They had something to tell me. It was this particular child’s way of circling around the question of what it meant to be a nigger…I did not believe in any of these people so much as I believed in their situation, which I suspected, dreadfully, to have something to do with my own.” He continued to struggle with the question of race, trying to understand through films and his readings. On page 15 Baldwin says: “I could not see where I fit this formulation, and I did not see where black fit. I don’t think I ever dared pose this question to Bill, partly because I hadn’t yet really accepted or understood that I was black.” But he was beginning to understand. Being black also meant that he was ugly (6-7), that he was poor (10), that he was a victim of “the world’s social and economic arrangements” (10), that he could not be a hero and most importantly that as a black person, he lived in a country where the majority of its citizens were his enemy (19).

As Baldwin ages he identifies additional differences between his experience of being black and his beliefs about white people, now incorporating the identity of “American”. “White Americans have been encouraged to continue dreaming, and black Americans have been alerted to the necessity of waking up. People who cannot escape thinking of themselves as white are poorly equipped, if equipped at all, to consider the meaning of black: people who know so little about themselves can face very little in another:”(59) Blacks are often confronted, in American life, with such devastating examples of the white descent from dignity; devastating not only because of the enormity of the white pretensions, but because this swift and graceless descent would seem to indicate that white people have no principles whatever.” Baldwin declares that “Even the most thoughtless, even the most deluded black person knows more about his life than the image he is offered as the justification of it.” (62) He also sees white people of his era as “dimwitted, good natured and flamboyant, yet in the same phrase also said that “ not even the most vindictive hatred could have imagined the slimy depths to which the bulk of white Americans allowed themselves to sink: noisily, gracelessly, flatulent and foul with patriotism.”(85)

Throughout the book, Baldwin has built a picture of both the Black and the White person. A black person begins their lives trusting people, but soon learns that whites are not to be trusted. The white person is evil, wicked, menacing, terrifying, and mysterious, depraved with no principles, oppressive and perverse. They have a need, “a compulsion to civilize the world and remake it as their mirror (83). The whites also transform others, immigrants into more white men upon their arrival in America, as long as they are not Black (49). Baldwin also says “ Whites may or may not deserve to be hated, depending on how one manipulates one’s reserves of energy, and what one makes of history; in any case, the reassurance is false, the need ignoble and the question in this context, absolutely irrelevant.”(68) There is not really a question of whether or not whites deserve to be hated, because they already are. Page 64 explains the nature of this hatred and Baldwin’s belief that there is a profound misunderstanding of its nature. “There is hatred certainly. But the hatred is not equal on both sides; for it does not have the same roots….black men do not have the same reason to hate the white men as white men have to hate blacks. The root of the white mans hatred is terror, a bottomless and nameless terror, which focuses on the black…an entity which lives only in his mind. But the root of the black mans hatred is rage, and he does not so much hate white man as simply want them out of his way, and more than that out of his children’s way. It is a species of cowardice, grave indeed to pretend that black men do not know this, And it is a matter of the most disastrous sentimentality to attempt to bring black men into the white American nightmare, and on the same terms, moreover, which make life for white men all but intolerable.”

We need to work on change, not just on one front, but two. We need to find a way for Black Americans to see the whole range of possibilities around them, to bring the youth into pursuing their full range of interests, to remove the roadblocks that currently limit them. We also need to introduce the underexposed to the issues and work together to solve them. We need to learn about each other by exploring the question of how people come to understand their racial identity and how those beliefs continue to promote continuing conflict between the communities even today. We need to challenge the stereotypes, the stigmas and limitations of the imagination. In 1889 Fredrick Douglass delivered a speech, marking the twenty-seventh anniversary of the abolition of slavery. “The fact, for it is a fact, an ominous fact, that at no time in the history of conflict between slavery and freedom in this country has the character of the Negro as a man been made the subject of a fiercer and more serious discussion in all the avenues of debate than during the past and present year.. The American people have this lesson to learn, that where justice is denied, where poverty is enforced, where ignorance prevails, and where any one class is made to feel that society is an organized conspiracy to oppress, rob and degrade them, neither persons nor property would be safe.”

Where ignorance prevails.

 

 

References in addition to reviewed text:

Fredrick Douglass speech on the twenty-first anniversary of Emancipation in the District of Columbia, Washington, D.C. (April 1883).

Smith, Mark M, How race is made: Race, Slavery, Segregation, and the Senses, University of North Carolina Press, Chapel Hill, 2006

Thanksgiving Day

The first thing to know about me, if I am to tell you this story, is that I’m the outcast of my family. Maybe not fully an outcast, but not fully part of the family either, not a red-headed stepchild, but a red-headed stepmother in a family where everyone else has black hair. I am the frivolous one, not stoic like the rest. I talk and make messes. I keep animals and make art; I write and sometimes tell secrets. I am not as fit and as perfect as they are. I like who I am and I’m glad that I am different but I also sometimes wish that I fit in. They make sure I know that I don’t, and I keep trying.

The Holidays are challenging for a lot of families, mine included. My family is large and not everyone is invited to everyone’s house. Divorce and children growing up has spread the family out a little. Thanksgiving means that each of my kids, and grandkids go visit and have several Thanksgiving Meals; Grandmother’s house early, Dads or parents, and finally ending with my house- Grandpa’s house-late evening.

But this year was an exception, the dinner circuit started with Grandpa. My responsibility usually falls into providing a few snack and drinks at the end of the evening, this year I got to cook the whole meal. I cooked and cleaned. I worked for days to get ready. Hoping that this time, this dinner, I would finally fit in, at least hoping that I would be included in the conversations (I’m usually ignored; it is after all Grandpa that they come to visit).

Thanksgiving morning arrived and I was up early. The table was set and everything was ready. I was expecting a little over 30 people to come in to eat. I was anxious and desperate for everything to go perfectly. I tried so hard to make it happen just right. Only the last minute things needed to be done. Mostly the dogs had to go outside, to be out of the way.

Another thing you should know about me, I have 4 dogs- labs and I have chickens as well. I do keep them separate. Oh and I have a deck and a door to the back yard in my bedroom.

Just before 2:00, the front door opened and the family started to file in. The driveway and the street in front of the house were full. Grandpa rushed to put the dogs out. Quiet, subdued greetings were directed towards Grandpa, and I started to put the food on the table. Everyone was seated and the eating had just started, when there was a loud scrambling noise from the back of the house, from my bedroom. I quickly excused myself and calmly went to see what was going on.

I opened my door and my room was full of dogs. No not just my room, my bed! Muddy dogs, rolling around and drying themselves off! I managed not to scream and started shooing them outside. I found one in my bathroom, barking at the shower. I chased him out as well. Then in the muddy bathroom, I discovered what had brought the mob in. I had a rooster in my shower.

And in-laws and disapproving family in the dining room waiting for their dinner. I quickly shut the shower door, leaving the rooster right where he was. I looked around at the mess and quickly shut the bedroom door as well. No one should need to come into the bedroom and everyone was waiting as I walked calmly and with dignity back to the quietly talking family, waiting for me to finish serving their meal. All the food made it to the table and Thanksgiving Dinner continued on its way. It was going well; everyone was eating and enjoying themselves. Then it happened. The rooster crowed, and crowed again.

I ignored it, hoping that he would stop, that everyone would think the noise was coming from outside. But, he didn’t and they didn’t either. One of the grandsons loudly asks why there is crowing from my room, as he runs to open the door. He goes to the bathroom, following the sound and finds the rooster in the shower. Of course he has to yell. “Cheryl’s got a rooster in the shower!! Come See!”

The family couldn’t ignore the opportunity to see what strange thing I had done now. They filed in, noticing the mud filled bed, the clutter that I had gathered from the rest of the house, and the rooster in the shower. It was deathly quiet, no one said anything, and they just looked; looked at the mud and the mess and the rooster. As the last of my husband’s sons walked back out of the bathroom, he turned to me and said “Don’t chickens shit a lot”?

With that comment, Thanksgiving dinner was over. Coats went on and goodbyes were said. The family went on its way. And what did I do? I had done everything I could, the meal was perfect, and the table looked great. I had failed again and yet I couldn’t stop laughing. I think that rooster was the highlight of my Thanksgiving Day.

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The Evergreen State College
Olympia, Washington

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