Histories

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Stories never fall apart all at the same time, especially your most important ones. It seems like they should but they don’t. Instead you have to just keep taking them apart, piece by piece, keep trying to reconstruct based on new information. It’s kind-of exhausting, to be honest. And how can you possibly know you aren’t just telling yourself a new story? How can you know it’s any more reliable than the old one?

We’ve been talking about the civil rights movement in class again. It’s not the first time but for whatever reason this time new information stuck with me. Several things have stood out to me but on a personal note, one of the things that seemed important was I think that these classes are probably the first time I’ve actually learned about the civil rights movement. I mean, you know, osmosis, whatever. I knew about it. I knew Martin Luther King Jr. was a thing obviously (conservative Christians love to claim him as one of theirs and ignore the parts of his theology they totally would have hated), I knew Rosa Parks refused to stand up on the bus, I knew that within my parents’ lifetimes schools integrated. When we went to go see Hairspray together my mom told me that she didn’t remember any of this stuff really impacting her in her small hometown but she did remember that when the dormitories integrated in her older sister’s college, my grandparents did not pull my aunt out of them. Some parents did. I was glad to hear that, that seemed important. But we’re talking within the last five or six years that I heard that information. Did I learn about this stuff at all in my “schooling”? Did I read any of it? I’m pretty sure that I didn’t know who Emmett Till was until I saw a video in class last year. His picture looked kind-of familiar, the name rang a bell but I definitely had not heard the story of what happened to him.

Part of the reason that this is so important to me personally is because my father claims to be a history buff. This is one of the central things about my father. He loves history, he loves politics. I have always believed that about my father. It is a story he’s told me many times. But it’s a story I’m struggling with now because if it’s true, why don’t I know more about history? Maybe he liked it but just didn’t want to pass it on. Maybe he doesn’t mean what I think of when I think of that story. Maybe what he really means is that he loves white man’s version of history. Maybe he only loves the history that confirms what he knows. But I never believed that about my dad. I believed he was kind and good and that he wanted to know the truth. Now I think maybe he was nice and meant well and wanted to stay comfortable. And that’s just not the same story at all.

The more I go forward, the more I feel like the majority of my stories were lies. Not intentional lies. I don’t think anyone was conspiring. I think it was all well-meaning, frightened reactions. I think that my parents believed everything they told me because they needed to believe it. I think they probably even more strongly believed everything they didn’t tell me because silence is the strongest weapon they have and I really do believe that they were trying to pass on the things they thought would be valuable to me. It’s no one’s fault, there’s not really blame to lay. But I’m still left here with a puzzle that I’m trying to undo, pieces I’m trying to sort, stories I was never told and stories I have to reconstruct or scrap entirely. To tell you the truth, some days it’s a little hard to know what to do with it all.

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