Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Happy Inauguration Day

Let me first say, before erupting into (mostly) unqualified joy at what is happening, that for the last few months I have been unable to stop thinking of the one-drop rule. It's ironic, understandable, and a more than a little sad that this racist rule invented long ago to increase the reach and human properties of slave owners would continue to inform the way we imagine identity in this country. I am a huge proponent of self-determination, and believe people should be able to draw their own identities. It is no small wonder that anyone growing up brown in this unequal nation would want to ally themselves in identity with others suffering from the same depradations. I deplore the divisive nature of this conception, though, where I as a mongrel american am supposed to be somehow 'other' from people who fit this same description. I have no doubt that I have benefited from looking like those in power in this country. I have also repudiated these benefits wherever I can, dressing in rags and with my blond hair chopped and raggedy and teeth gnashing.

In the last century, a people I consider my people were gathered up and wholesale slaughtered, a full third of this diasporic nation erased. What shocked me a few years ago was finding out about the boatload of refugees that was turned away from every nation, wandering the seas until they sank. And yet, in claiming myself a one-drop jew, I alienate myself from my father's Catholic family, coming to this nation in their own way to flee persecution and poverty. (And where does this leave the Latino contingent of my family, emigrated in 2008 tto Miami?) I honor all these parts of my heritage but even as I do, I cast them away as a way of defining myself.

I think of the urban public schools I attended in Pittsburgh, and the books we read by Richard Wright and Chinua Achebe. I thought of The Women of Brewster Place when painting black ladies' faces on brick walls for Song For Coretta, a play about Coretta Scott King's funeral I am working on right now at Brava Theater. I am reminded of my travels across the US, and reminded of the time in Portland in 2001 when I found The Men of Brewster Place in a book store, sitting down right then and there to read the whole thing.

I just watched G Bush get into a helicopter and leave the White House. I see a new man, a good man, standing there.

This is the year I will finish editing my book about America, and I tell you here and now that I honor my past but cast off these other mantles of identity and declare myself, simply, an American. Call me or yourself what you like but we are also this thing together.

Oh what a thing to be on this day!