Lawrence Hill has an article in the Edmonton Journal, “Burned in Amsterdam, author fires back.“. It’s a must read and the basic idea: his reaction to learning his book “Book of Negros” (title based on a historical document) was burned by the Foundation Honor and Restore Victims of Slavery in Suriname on June 22, 2011.
In the article, he speaks of his reaction & his sadness, “And it hurts, frankly, when your own people reject you, or tell you that you don’t belong, or challenge the very identity that you have shaped for yourself.”
Boy, do I identify with that sentiment. But I also identify with the Foundation.
And the whole thing leaves me feeling really muddy and sad.
People who know me/read this blog know I reference myself as a “brown girl” or a “coloured girl.” The reason is simple. I’m a mixed race kid and I learned early (much like Lawrence) that the world is very rigid in the names you are allowed to call yourself & the names they call you.
I was never East Indian enough for the East Indians, West Indian enough for the West Indians, and forget about being part of the Canadian or Chinese or African groups.
You’re not enough.
Not black enough.
You don’t speak another language.
You don’t look like us.
Heartily depressing, let me tell you, to a seven-year-old who just wanted to share the swings with the blond girl or the seventeen-year-old who was told by her crush, “You’re okay as a friend, but I’d never date a coloured girl.”
Why do names hold such sway?
At this point in my life, I don’t care if you call me a woman or a womyn, talk about my history or my herstory. What I care about is you paying me the same as the man beside me. What I care about are the opportunities afforded me and whether–should something terrible happen–the society will rise to my defense.
Why do we hang to the history of a term rather than redefining it–or better yet, letting go of its emotional charge?
The answer is obvious. As a comedian once said when asked why it was okay for Black comics to use the n-word but not the White comedians, “Because historically, White people didn’t use the term in a grammatically correct way.”
And it’s why I see the side of the Foundation.
Those words, with their barbs and poison, their sharp edges and hard surfaces, are still hurled and flung, still used as verbal bullets of human destruction.
Maybe it would be different if we didn’t use those words, maybe then they’d lose their toxic hold on our synapses.
But we do use them and they burn us, and I understand why people see the name and not the story, why the focus on the title and not the document.
I suppose in the end, Lawrence Hill said it best, “It hurts…but I empathize with them.”