I live in an Impressionist painting. Lines and colors blur. I see no sharp edges. More Pointillism than clearly defined points.
Strings of Christmas lights increase in diameter ten-fold in a diffused fashion. Streetlights and headlights sparkle and spread. Candles are better, bright lights hurt.
I see spots before my eyes! And squiggly lines dart about. I see something in my peripheral vision. No, it’s all in my head.
Faces are a mystery if they are too far away. Far away is only a few feet. Others must think I’m a snob when I can’t read their facial expression from a short distance. My eyes just fail to read a smile, a frown, a grimace. Sorry, I’m blind to your emotions.
That’s my world without eyeglasses. Thick and heavy ones for the hopelessly myopic. This is my artistic vision. I can’t see the scientific narrative.
I’m from Detroit. A writer of a recent Detroit newspaper article would argue with me on this point since I never actually lived on any street within the city. I am a phony because I only lived near the city of Detroit.
When I lived in Warren, Michigan, I could look across 8 Mile and see Detroit from my kitchen window. (No, I do not hang out with Sarah Palin.)
Before that, I lived in Hamtramck a couple of blocks from the Detroit city limit. Hamtramck is a small city that is completely surrounded by Detroit.
The street I lived on in Hamtramck created and at the same time broke down some racial barriers. I lived on one side of the street where all the houses were occupied by white people. Across the street, all the houses were occupied by black people. Divided right down the middle. At the age of four, all the white and black people sitting on their front porches sort of looked the same to me.
One of my first observations of racism took place in the women’s clothing section of a department store. I was with my mother and grandmother. Two teenage girls debated over the monumental decision of which blouse they should buy.
My grandmother spoke in Polish to my mother, “Just look at that, black people are shopping here!” Her words implied that these black teenagers should be banned from certain places and activities. This is the first time I remember being fed a racist thought.
This was the late 1950’s and within a few years all the houses on my divided street were torn down. The dismantling continued into the 1960’s.
A Kenyan-born professor taught an African Studies class I took at an American college. One time he mentioned that the American Slave trade forever skewed the relationship between Europeans and Africans. The relationship was healthy between them before the horrible trade began and should have remained so. But the growing market for slaves in the Americas altered the dynamics.
This was an offhand comment and the professor didn’t dwell on it, nor make it a political point. It was a basic observation and lament. Many years later, this one comment remains vivid in my mind.
Africans traded worldwide as equal economic partners with other countries and continents. Advanced civilizations flourished on the African soil. The Library of Alexandria in Egypt was once the largest and grandest in the Mediterranean world. Slave did not define an African.
And yet here we are. Racism is central to the American fabric according to some groups. Even if racism is diminishing, it is not gone.
Africa has a rich history. Racism was the result and not the cause of slavery. Slave traders dehumanized Africans so that they could treat this one race as if they were property. Slavery obscures the historical Africa.
The real story of Africa is not victimhood. A sense of healing in the future might begin if we can revisit the past.