The language of oppression hides
in bitterness and hate, cowers
beneath tables and folds
of a woman’s skirts, lowers
its head and hands
to the feeding trough, surrenders
its body while its insides
scream defiance and resistance
The language of oppression chokes
out Truth, stifles
what really happened
to our mixed race
I’ve been doing a lot of reading lately. I’m wrapped up in poetry and editing books where I am taking the last classes of my master’s degree in English. After reading a lot of Native American poets like Layli Long Soldier, I was moved to respond to the way so many Americans are stuck looking backwards. Even though their narratives are stories happening right now, they are influenced by a perception that some Americans are victims who are owed something by other Americans who were oppressors. There is something wrong with that.
On this blog, I shared a very personal poem from my own struggles with identity and heritage. That poem went on to be published by Sylvia Magazine.
No one would imagine I would have such issues, though, because I am as white as white can be. In our culture, white is synonymous with oppression. In the South, I am particularly aware of the hateful stares of my “minority” neighbors. Everyone assumes that I have had an easier life because I am white and that my ancestors owned their ancestors. If they asked, I’d tell them the truth: my ancestors lived in tiny rooms with newspaper walls on land they did not own. They worked alongside former slaves; they didn’t own any slaves of their own.
Racial identity is a complicated thing in America. We want to claim a strand of our DNA like we are pure bred of that nationality. The truth is that we are all mixed. If it were not so, we would not have survived in this brutal, foreign land. For love or survival, we formed alliances with other cultures and mixed our blood with our neighbors.
I can look back on that and say my poor ancestors were taken advantage of by an oppressive majority race, or I can look back on that truth and say my ancestors made sacrifices to afford a better quality of life for their offspring. I believe both are true, but which one perpetuates peace and harmony in society today?
We can’t change the past. At some point, we have to make peace with what happened to our ancestors and be thankful for the sacrifices that were made to provide a chance for a new life for all of us. The American melting pot is not easy or beautiful to all groups of people, yet we all are that pot. We need to realize that it says more for our resilience and determination that we are still here despite all the atrocities of the past than it does to point fingers at others and claim we are better than them because we were victims. In every family tree, there are both victims and victimizers. Instead of more protests, insincere apologies, and tax-paid handouts, we should embrace our own life story and make the most of the days we are given.
Looking back on history is not where we find our identity; it is where we learn how to do better in our own lives. True identity can only be found in Christ.