Sunday, July 06, 2008

What Goes Around

I haven't seen Roots in a while.  It was broadcast on consecutive nights during my junior year in college.  I remember only bits and pieces of it because it was hard to watch.  I remember the view of the middle passage because it made me realize what stern stuff I come from and am made of.  I remember Kunta Kinte's name for white people (toubob) and though I try to never call or think bad names about people (I hate the term "white trash;" humans aren't refuse), the word holds a solid place in my consciousness.

What I remember most, though, is Kizzy's story line.  Kizzy.  Kizzy meaning "stay put."  Kizzy:  daughter of Kunta Kinte and Bell.  Kizzy:  living doll and close playmate to Missy Anne, who Missy Anne taught to read as a lark, causing, upon discovery, Kizzy to be sold away from her family as punishment for being able to read.  God, I cried as Kizzy was hauled away in a wagon, shrieking for her parents.  I remember Missy Anne, played by Sandy Duncan, one of my favorite actresses as a child, felt nothing though her carelessness caused the rending of a family.  I knew that that or something like that happened or more importantly, could have happened, to my ancestors.

In one of the last episodes of the series, there was a scene that has, like the word "toubob," stayed with me.

It is decades later for Kizzy.  She's old and has weathered losses of her own.  Missy Anne, also old, is in a carriage and stops for a rest, perhaps, at the plantation where Kizzy is now property.  Kizzy instantly recognizes Missy Anne.  Leslie Uggams, playing Kizzy, gives such a look of almost joy at seeing her childhood friend.  The cruelty of Missy Anne's youthful actions is not yet remembered by Kizzy.  Kizzy calls Missy Anne's name.  Missy Anne is hot and thirsty and demands, in that fashion that flints off the backbone that I and just about every person of color my age recognizes, that water be fetched by Kizzy.  Missy Anne holds no more recognition for Kizzy than she would an old shoe.  And then Kizzy remembers.

Kizzy walks to the well, dips a cup for water, turns her back to Missy Anne and her entourage, and spits in the cup.  Kizzy gives the cup of water to Missy Anne with a smile and satisfied eyes.

Jesse Helms passed on to his judgment on Friday.  Jesse Helms, who could no longer while out and about, hurl nigger, nigra, boy, gal, or if he was being kind, colored at a black person, instead assigning "Fred" for such same intent.  Jesse Helms, who surely knew that his actions emboldened like-thinking Americans to commit all manners of terrorism against fellow citizens, and was steadfastly unrepentant.  Jesse Helms, who rather than help grant hope for those whose lifestyle he didn't agree with, made it his business to bring to them to ruination.  Jesse Helms, who is being hailed in death as, in the words of President Bush, "...a kind, decent, and humble man and a passionate defender of what he called 'the Miracle of America,'" corrupting the definition of kindness, decency and humility.

Any judgment I might accord Jesse Helms is given to faults of my humanity, of which vengeance is certainly at the top of the list.  I try to resist thinking that.  I resist because I believe in something more profound than I -- nature, fate, balance, spirit, God -- that has a sense of justice more righteous than mine.  And on the selfish hedging your bets side, I really don't want to be judged harshly for the many mistakes I've made in my life when the time comes, if indeed that is how it is.

Still.  It's too bad I never got the chance to spit in his cup.

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