Monday, December 10, 2007

Same Kind of Different As Me

Have you ever witnessed slavery? Ever seen a marriage in which the wife is subjugated to the husband?

Yesterday, I saw slavery firsthand and shook the hand of a former slave. And this morning, I read Suzanne McCarthy’s testament to the “handicapped form” of marriage in which the man dominates the woman. A link to McCarthy’s post is below. Here’s who I met yesterday:

Denver Moore is the co-author of Same Kind of Different As Me: A Modern-Day Slave, an International Art Dealer, and the Unlikely Woman who Bound Them Together. It’s the bestseller on amazon.com’s “Ethnic and National” top-five short list (with Tony Dungy’s and Clarence Thomas’s biographies; with David W. Blight’s book including the autobiographical manuscripts of slaves Wallace Turnage and John Washington; and with Barack Obama’s statement of political vision, now with Oprah Winfrey’s backing). On page 3, Moore says:

I worked them fields for nearly thirty years, like a slave, even though slavery had supposeably ended when my grandma was just a girl. I had a shack I didn’t own, two pair a’ overalls I got on credit, a hog, and a outhouse. I worked them fields, plantin and plowin and pickin and givin all the cotton to the Man that owned the land, all without no paycheck. I didn’t even know what a paycheck was.

Yesterday, Moore and his co-author, Ron Hall, shook hands with a few of us. They had come out to tell their stories, and their story together: the story of how a woman, Debbie Hall, brought them together in a very unlikely friendship. The whole event of their story telling was unlikely yesterday. None of us really escaped slavery and its effects today. It was December 9, 2007 in the United States of America. (This is the place where “we hold these truths to be self-evident,” where slave-holding men mention their Creator and their endowments – without a mention of blacks or women – when they make their declaration of independence from a monarch who incites against them the red “merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”)

More specifically, it was 7am, and we were in Texas, in Fort Worth (aka “Cowtown” and “Where the West Begins”). We were at the National Cutting Horse Association's best-of-the-best Futurity event. And we were in the worship service of the Cowboy Church there. I counted every person in the arena: 102 whites, 1 black. It was a scene reminiscent of the keynote address of this year’s Feminism(s) and Rhetoric(s) conference in Little Rock, Arkansas, where during lunch white feminist scholar Krista Ratcliffe showed colored slides of colored women rhetors and spoke from lessons of her book Rhetorical Listening: Identification, Gender, Whiteness while we the audience of mostly whites ate desserts served by the hands of the all-black wait staff, mostly women.

Moore followed Hall, and began his story by thanking God for helping, by thanking us his audience for listening, and by thanking the elite cutting horse owners and the Will Rogers Coliseum authorities for doing what they do. Moore quickly specified: “When I was living on these streets here in Fort Worth, yall gave me some good work, cleaning yalls horses stalls here. Keep doin what yall do.” Moore was not being disingenuous; nor was there a hint of sarcasm in his voice. No. Just plain gratitude. In his body, he found appreciation for the good in the bad. Slavery, in the form of sharecropping and homelessness and physical abuse by white racists, had once and perpetually taught him profound bitterness. But, yesterday, Moore talked as a changed and as a changing human being. (Hall did too). Yesterday, as Moore spoke and as he sang a blue Negro spiritual of struggle and hope, there was not a throat without a lump in it (though I noted through blurry eyes that several of the tough Texas cowboys can still hold back their tears).

We all came into the arena the same; and now we’re some kind of different. Buy the book. Listen very, very carefully. (Click here for McCarthy’s insights. Interpret the views very, very carefully). Consider change.

4 comments:

eclexia said...

I wish I could have been there. Negro spirituals are incredibly powerful, with the realities of struggles not minimized at all, but somehow made bearable for yet another day by hope.
Thanks so much for this review. I'm anxious now to get to read the book. The nearest library with the book is several counties away, but here's hoping they can get it on Interlibrary loan quickly.
"In his body, he found appreciation for the good in the bad." What a helpful reminder. Thanks again.

J. K. Gayle said...

Hope you find the book, and in it you get to "hear" Denver Moore singing (in print) some of the words of the spirituals. Thanks for the thoughts on your blog about being moved by Doris Lessing, Eclexia.

eclexia said...

Ah yes, it WAS here that I heard about this book. I ordered it from Amazon and am so glad I did. For as simply written as the book was written (meaning the writing itself wasn't what stood out), the story gripped my heart in an amazing way. When I finished, I curled up on my bed and wept for some time. Even though I'm very emotional, I usually don't cry like that from reading and especially not once I'm done. In that story, so many different things I think about came together. Or maybe it was just that I finally was able to see more clearly some of the questions I felt but hadn't been able to articulate. In any case, it was incredibly powerful. I shared it with my very good friend who was looking for a book to read at the gym. Come to find out, she knows the area where the book is set very well, because her parents and a brother live nearby, and she has been in one of the churches mentioned in the book. Beyond that personal connection, it also moved her powerfully.

When I saw your recommendation for this book on Lingamish's site, I started to think that maybe this was where I'd heard about it. I'm glad to have found that out, so I can tell you thanks and let you know it was money very well spent buying the book.

J. K. Gayle said...

Welcome back, Eclexia. Thank you for your passionate review of the book! It's the life transformation that is so compelling in the stories of Debbie Hall, Denver Moore, and Ron Hall. And your story, and your friends now intersects with theirs; as does mine and my family's right here where much of the narrative takes place.