Saturday, July 20, 2013

A Stick, A Stone / é pau, é pedra

As salaam alaikum,

I just listened to Obama's full speech reflecting on the Trayvon Martin case. As one of my friends said on facebook, "My President is Black." And honestly, this is one of the first times that I have felt that in a positive way in a while.

As in, I recognize my president is black and not because of hateful comparisons to monkeys or reference to as the antichrist or anything overtly racist like that. And not because of the many covertly racist ways that he is regarded.

He explained so eloquently why the case is so painful for us, black people, in a way that was appropriately delicate but detailed.

I'll say it this way. I'm called to mind of my grandfather, who in his youth was instructed to act like he had a developmental disability if a white woman tried to talk to him so he would not face violence from her white relations (i.e. lynching and the like). See the case of Emmett Till. Spoiler alert: those who killed him were acquitted. And I think, will I have to teach my sons to fall to the ground, face down, with their hands raised if confronted by a white man who appears to feel threatened by them? Is that really what's going on here?

It's bad enough that I may have to defend my sons against teachers who, by the age of five, believe my sons to be aggressive, out of control, and want to kick them out of the classroom, expel them, enroll them in special ed. It's bad enough that I'll have to fear for my sons' life at the hands of peers, depending on where they live.

This case sent a dangerous precedent that set race relations in this country back decades. Back to the time of the Emmett Till murder, back to the time when the last black body swung from a tree.

As I thought of this, however, the following words came to my mind: é pau, é pedra, é o fim do caminho...

It's a twig, it's a rock, it's the end of the road...

Or, as the English version goes, "A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road."

My favorite song of all time is "Aguas de Março" by Tom Jobim. My favorite version of it is Elis Regina's, though I like almost every version of the song, ever.

And I thought of the song, and it took on new meaning to me.

I love that I can shift and think in another language. I love that I'm fluent in Spanish and can hold my own in Portuguese. I love that I can slide fluidly into this world and meld with a people whose mindset is different about race (far from perfect, far from racial utopia, just different) and escape from the brand of ugly we have here.

I love that I can shift into a language with it's own music with unique lyrics and sentiments I haven't necessarily heard in English-language songs. And today, "Aguas de Março" expressed a sentiment that it hadn't for me before, that I don't think I could find in another English-language song.

It's a long version of my SO's "oh well" when something falls outside of his hands, though is regretable.

A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road, it's the rest of a stump, it's a little alone.

I learned all of the words in Portuguese, which took me months, but now I know it by heart. Categorically naming all of the objects in his surrounding, from a cut on his toe to the car stuck in the mud...and the mud, and the mud...then carefully translated into English, using no words that had Latin roots, Tom Jobim ingeniously crafted the Waters of March with an arrangement that sounds like a gentle but persistent rain.

Each of these little objects makes up a landscape, the psychological landscape of the Waters of March. The song tonight sounds to me like surrender...peaceful, wet, gradual surrender, piecemeal, to life, to reality, to beauty in pieces. Still existing in spite of the rain, in spite of the end of summer.

They're the waters of March, closing the summer. It's the promise of life in my heart.

I listened to the speech by Obama and it gave me hope. It made me feel less desperate. Seeing so many of my non-black friends applauding it on facebook made me feel less alone. Not that I needed their validation, but I'm glad to see black people weren't the only ones who cared. And seeing Obama, who I have personally felt has compromised many of what he said were his values in the name of maintaining his position, be real in front of the press and explain what it felt like to be black and hear that verdict--the world isn't quite as bleak as I thought it was for a while.

It's part of the human condition that we make life bleak for one another. But it is excellence of the human condition when we are able to do right by each other, bring each other up.

But Trayvon is dead, George Zimmerman is acquitted, several other unarmed black boys and young men died because they were suspicious, even more black boys and young men died because of senseless violence, and so many black boys and young men are in jail, out of jail or on the conveyor belt to jail. What I experienced tonight was beauty, but beauty is always bittersweet in the face of sorrow.

And that's what a lot of Brazilian music is for me. Bittersweet beauty in the face of sorrow. The beauty is always lovely sounding to those who don't understand the lyrics. In the lyrics is the pain.

So "Aguas" breaks it down for makes that beauty elemental. A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road, it's the rest of a stump, it's a little alone. It's a sliver of glass, it is life, it's the sun, it is night, it is death, it's a trap, it's a gun...

On a slightly related note, the video of the children expressing shock about that controversial Cheerios ad renewed my intense desire to have children of my own. So cute! Little people are amazing.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013



Justice doesn't exist on this earth. I wish it did, but no matter what side of the tracks you stand on, you know it not to be true. You know of cases, you know of unfair dealings.

I believe that Justice exists on the other side. Not my side of the tracks or your side, but transcending sides. I believe that Justice exists in the next life.

But I recognize that this, my belief, potentially brings no comfort. So I keep it to myself unless asked to share.

There is not fair and there is no jury of peers and there is no justice where people feel less empathy and sympathy because the other person has brown skin and coarse features and kinky hair. There is no justice when someone cannot relate to the pain of someone else because they look different than themselves.

And there is no potential for sanctuary when my brothers and cousins and eventually my sons can be shot because a bunch of frightened people who don't look like us feel threatened by our brown skin, our coarse features and every other stereotype that comes with it.

It actually disgusted me to think that people didn't care about this, snuggled up next to their honeys and their children and rested comfortably knowing this was not their problem. Similarly, as a black person, I've never felt so exposed and helpless as when this verdict came crashing down.

I felt like we could shout as long as we wanted, but we wouldn't be heard.

Because this was a long time in the making. From all of the ways that slavery was upheld for 80 years after The Emancipation in peonage, prisoner leasing and sharecropping, from the way that system was revived in the War Against Drugs--it's veritable eugenics.

I thank God that it's Ramadan and I will find my solace in Him. Because those who believe that justice was served have a disease so deep in their hearts, and I know I cannot protect myself from being exposed to such people, and for the first time in my life, I am afraid of such a thing.