Monday, August 19, 2013

"The Butler" - My personal processing of it begins...

I saw Lee Daniel's tremendous film "The Butler" yesterday. As a baby boomer it was a very poignant review of the advents of history that were the underpinnings of my own life. Stepping into that time machine the film unfolded was not an easy, comfortable journey, but one I am so glad to have made. If one can accept it, it answers many of the recent impatient, intolerant, hand on hip, finger waging scoldings of  "why don't you people just get over it". Wish it were as simple as that sounds. Wish all it would take is the wave of a magic wane of forgetfulness to erase the anguish etched on heart, soul, and mind of those truths we lived.

A Facebook friend asked what I thought of the film when I mentioned I'd seen it. I was candidly honest in saying it was going to take some time to process those thoughts and feelings. She asked if I'd share that processing along the way. I wasn't sure I wanted to, but decided that I would share at least this first step in that journey. 

One major incident that came spiraling to the forefront for me while watching that film was that of being in the fourth grade in a Kansas classroom, one of the first spattering of black children integrating schools following the passage of the landmark decision of Brown vs Board of Education. A memory of being jerked out of my chair suddenly by my white teacher, following about 15 minutes of humiliation and accusations in front of my 98% white class of having stolen another child's - a white child's - pencil box, being drug from the classroom literally by my pigtail into the bathroom where my mouth was washed out with lye soap until it was raw. Memory of my mother's horror as she saw my raw splitting tongue and had to comb my hair carefully for the next month due to the blistering from the pulling. Memory of my mother's terror as she sought to (and succeeded in) hide the incident from my father whom she knew would have in all likelihood reacted in a way that would have resulted in him going to prison. A memory of the principal's reaction when proof of purchase was provided and the accusation disproved...the reaction being that "well, you shouldn't have gotten one the same color as the one that the other child in her class had."

I had forgotten that I stuttered quite often after that for the next couple of years or that my grades went from straight As to barely passing. But above all I didn't forget that it was in the midst of these circumstances and conditions (no need to regurgitate the numerous heartless insults and belittling we endured at the hands of our teachers those first two years ... those are graves I refuse to exhume) that I ultimately found how strong and capable I really was, how truly fearless my parents were, in particular my mother who became an active part of every program the school had from PTA onward no matter how she was discouraged or who tried to block her, to ensure the fairest treatment for her own and the other handful of black children in that hell-hole elementary school, and how our faith and our church body encircled us on day in and day out basis to support and confront both in prayer and in action what it took to survive and ultimately thrive.

So, the processing begins of remembering what the reality, not the theory behind the struggle for civil rights has been. This is day one.

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