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Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Operation was Successful

Next week I’ll be teaching a workshop called “The Art of Essay Writing.” As part of my preparation I’ve been reading classic essays looking for examples of how one should be written. I came across one called “How It Feels to be Colored Me,” by Zora Neal Hurston written in 1928. Hurston's tombstone described her as, "A genius of the South, novelist, folklorist, anthropologist." She lived from 1891-1960 and speaks frankly in her essay about race from her perspective as an black woman. I find her spirit to be invigorating. Here's a little of what she said:
"Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. The terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave said 'On the line!' The Reconstruction said 'Get set!' and the generation before said 'Go!' I am off to a flying start and I must not halt in the stretch to look behind and weep. Slavery is the price I paid for civilization, and the choice was not with me. It is a bully adventure and worth all that I have paid through my ancestors for it. No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. It is thrilling to think--to know that for any act of mine, I shall get twice as much praise or twice as much blame. It is quite exciting to hold the center of the national stage, with the spectators not knowing whether to laugh or to weep."
Clearly she is saying that a nation can change and when it does it offers people new opportunities. And when opportunity arises we owe it to those who paid the price to get off to a fast start and then, ultimately, to sustain it.


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