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.


  1. Love this! I think your post echoed my sentiments.

    The black experience is such a varied one, and yet, in moments like these, when we (even our president) have to explain why so many of use are thinking or feeling a certain way, my eyes reopened.

    It's like one of my FB friends wrote, a Jamaican-American man raised by his mom and white Jewish step-dad --- Thank you for reminding me that I am black.

    It's weird that there are indeed white children growing up today who don't have an idea who Emmet Till is... and yet, in our community, I would believe, the numbers are much higher. I'm hoping that our kinds will know about Till, and Martin as truly things of the past.

    1. There are plenty of black children (and adults) who have no idea who Emmett Till is. There are plenty of black people who looked him up after Li'l Wayne's ignorant lyric.

      The racism that drove us into the Civil Rights movement has not gone away. It's just that much of it has become illegal. We're taking steps backward legally in the protection of our civil rights because people just learned that Martin Luther King had a dream and they think that now it's all over. There will not be a time when we can relax!

  2. Try indian and Pakistani music. I prefer pakistani Music nad western classical