Red water of life seeping through our skin
slipping ’neath our feet upon entering the mouth
of the seaward riding beast.
White teeth cruelly biting slathering thirsting
Red water splashed in salty welts of torn brown
flesh ’neath the beating sun and leather whips
red waves over wet graves
Black blood fertilizing stolen land
With broken backs and bleeding hands
indigo cotton weevils chitterlings grits and
Through ages lost in a land unknown never home
searching in bitter rage for images of who us be
lost here beyond the sea
Oshun weeps at my mammys feet
My Mammy cries oh lawd
As My Ancestors sleep deep in the legacy of
blood and pain waiting for the return
And Oshun Weeps.
Freedom feet swift and fleet move forward
towards the excellence that is Us.
The lost ones returning finding our way beyond
the sea beyond the homeland we never knew.
As Oshun Weeps
A vision of red water
What does it say about us as a community when one of our actions towards increasing diversity includes the removal of literary works set in the Civil Rights era? I’m referring of course to the recent decision by the Duluth School District to remove—not ban, but remove from the required reading list—Harper Lee’s To Kill A Mockingbird and Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The books were removed due to the emotional trauma felt by students of color who for years have been made to feel degraded by use of the “n-word” in the vernacular in which these books were written.
The District’s move was staunchly opposed by a majority of White Duluthians and brought national attention to our region. As a humanities student and an ardent reader, my own first reaction was abhorrence of censorship.
But then I re-examined a conversation my daughter and I had when she was a student in the Duluth Schools. She refused to watch Roots, which was not acceptable to me at the time. I felt she was denying herself a look at her own history—albeit a history steeped in blood, the “n-word,” and Black rage, but also tenderness, compassion, and resilience in the face of adversity. How could she not wish to learn about who we were and what happened to us?
This Black History Month, we finally watched Roots. Out of the blue she asked, “Why is it we have to be subjected to constant images of slavery, dehumanization, and degradation in books and films? We do have history that is not all about someone ripping open our backs with whips and selling us like cattle. I know that is a part of our history, but it is not all we are or aspire to be.”
My college-educated self had no answer for her. But I realized that her experiences with the Black historical context of literature in this country was based on the definition and context of the “n-word.” It is a part of our current vernacular, complete with all the Black rage and historical oppression and societal issues we have been dying in the streets to change about Amerikkka. That one word has shaped an ideology that is still perpetuated by both Black and White citizens of this country.
So what’s in a word? Power! Oppression, pain, hatred, fear, devaluation, dehumanization, trauma, loss of life—our Black and Brown Lives!
Now as I look anew at the removal of these books from the required reading list to make way for books written by and about people of color, I get it. Sticks and stones may break my bones, but you can kill me with just one word.
For our children, for our people, that one word has been the “n-word.” Unlike the NRA we have begun to remove the weapon of mass murder from our children’s educational experience. It’s time we remove it from our vernacular and put it in its place in history—in the past tense.