Friday, December 25, 2009

Remember Your Past, But Honor The Good

In the section of Monica A. Coleman's book, "Making a Way Out of No Way," that I am reading, she is discussing the importance of remembering our ancestors. Our ancestors still influence our lives and it is important to remember their lives, although one should only honor and repeat the parts of their lives that was positive and loving. She talks about how so many African Americans today do not know much, if anything, about their own ancestors and how detrimental that loss is. As an adopted person who does not know much about her birth parents, I have strongly identified with this aspect of many African Americans' lives. I know that my adopted father's side of the family's ancestry is Welsh and that my adopted mother's is French. In fact, I can through her claim famous roots - she is related to Meriwether Lewis, of the "Lewis and Clark" fame and she is related to the horrendous slave owner who cut off part of Kunte Kente's foot in Alex Haley's "Roots." When I first heard that as a teen, I was at first horrified, but Coleman says that all stories of our ancestors are important, for there is something to learn from each-just not always something to honor. I also know that on my birth mother's side there is ancestry from English, Swedish, and Irish peoples, but that is really all I know. There is a yearning inside of me to know more about where I come from and an unsureness about whether to adopt my adoptive parents', i.e. my real parents, ancestors as my own, for some reason.

Besides always feeling a kinship to African Americans for this reason, I have also always felt a kinship with Langston Hughes after reading his poem, "The Negro Speaks of Rivers."

I've known rivers:
I've known rivers ancient as the world and older than the
flow of human blood in human veins.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers.

I bathed in the Euphrates when dawns were young.
I built my hut near the Congo and it lulled me to sleep.
I looked upon the Nile and raised the pyramids above it.
I heard the singing of the Mississippi when Abe Lincoln
went down to New Orleans, and I've seen its muddy
bosom turn all golden in the sunset.

I've known rivers:
Ancient, dusky rivers.

My soul has grown deep like the rivers
I think I resonate so deeply with this poem, because like the speaker, I have never met these people or been to these places, except New Orleans, and yet, because I do not have specific stories about deep rooted ancestors, I identify with a large group of people that have gone before me. I consider all womyn to be my ancestor and us all to be from the same family.

I really love that Coleman points out that we should remember all our ancestors, but only honor some. In the American South, one often hears about honoring The Old South's "heritage." When I was younger, my state and many other states, argued about whether it should leave the rebel emblem on its state flag, with many supporters saying that to abandon the emblem is to abandon our heritage. I say, "Bullshit!" Yes, we must remember the bad as well as the good in our heritage, but to keep the rebel sign on our flag and in many other ways, is to honor that old image and the racism and intolerance is not a way that should be honored. As this year comes to a close, let us remember the past, but choose to honor only the good.

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