"Bible quilt", by Harriet Powers 1886. Powers (1837-1910) was an African American slave, folk artist and quilt maker from rural Georgia.
Thursday morning stitch and bitch has arrived early this week. Afrocity is angry and the politics of memory is like a loaded gun that blew me away. Legacy, accolades, tributes, multi-million dollar book deals, memorials are all things bestowed upon those who bear the title COMANDER IN CHIEF.
I understand that. However, I will not owe my success as a woman- a black woman- a human being- to a man (a member of the patriarchy) who has yet to accomplish anything besides being America’s “first black president”.
American Quilter: Harriet Powers (1837-1910)
This week, I was the unfortunate witness to a very sad and inappropriate situation. I saw an African American woman of note and talented in her own right, have to answer a question about how Barack Obama as changed her work. The question carried the “would your work still hold the same relevance had you started now that Obama is president rather than in the 1990’s. ” tone.
I was like WTF???? I was outraged that once again another great exchange of dialogue has been hijacked by Barack Obama. Admittedly, the conversation was about race and cultural pursuits such as dance, music, and art. But up until the mention of Obama’s name, it had nothing to do with political figures or even politics in general. The mere mention of our president’s name took the dialogue on a 10 minute detour.
- I watched Alex Haley’s Roots and Roots II: The Next Generations
- I sat in school ever so, the model black child as I was taught about the importance of Martin Luther King Jr. not only to blacks but to all Americans.
- I have read canonical texts in African American literature . (The Color Purple, Beloved, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Native Son, A Raisin in the Sun)
- I had a set of black history flash cards.
See I have paid my black dues but sorry, Barack Obama, I am just not that into you. You are no Martin Luther King Jr. in my book and you will never be until you accomplish something that is equal or exceeding him in merit and elbow grease.
Dear Mr. Obama, like Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Nixon and Carter who came before before you, to me you are merely a man that was fortunate enough to be elected to the office of POTUS. A man elected to POTUS who happens to be of color. It was great and a historic moment indeed. However, no matter how great, one negative dimension of this historic moment that has become quiet evident and annoying to me, is the assumption that as African Americans we must somehow realign our personal narratives, and our collective memories in order to accommodate Barack Obama and the magic historic moment.
Bible Quilt by Harriet Powers circa 1898
For most of my black life, Martin Luther King Jr. was “the one” and he died. Then African Americans were seeking someone to replace “the one’. Would it be Jesse Jackson Jr.? Al Sharpton? Now we have Barack Hussein Obama, someone who is acceptable as “the new one”.
This is problematic for me on several levels. “The one” is always a man, a member of the patriarchy. Black or white they have a penis and balls (well some of them do). I am fed up with black identity being articulated through the lens of black men. I don’t need a chocolate dipped Moses to lead me to the Promised Land and I would like to believe most African Americans agree with me. Haven’t we progressed beyond that? Am I wrong about this?
Obama is our president and he just happens to be black. This does not mean that we adopt some Kool Aid induced form of collective amnesia by conveniently forgetting the African American heroes and heroines that precedded him. Go into any Borders bookstore. I dare you. You are guaranteed to leave saturated with the sweat of Obama love. Mugs, tote bags, commemorative eye candy bullshit. Enough already!!!!! You can even have a tee-shirt with Obama shaking the hand of dead people such as MLK, JFK, RFK. (Pulls at hair) Stop it!
The stuff of memory…The quilts, images, folk tales, song, dance, oral histories, childhood games are all mediators of our past. Are our memories and struggles as African Americans suddenly silenced now that we have had our historic moment? Remember Whoopi Goldberg who said on ABC’s The View that her mother never thought this day would come.
“I always thought of myself as an American,” Goldberg said. “But suddenly last night, I felt like I could put my suitcase down finally … This is a moment where you realize that you have become the fabric of America.”
What ever happened to the American quilt? I thought we were the fabric of America? What were we before Obama came along? Quilting scraps?
Obama’s historic election marks the beginning of the end of sanity. It does not end racism. In fact I think it has made it worse- especially reverse racism. If his historic moment has resulted in a strengthened black race, I think the youngsters in Chicago did not get that Obama text-gram. I see no need for this revisionist black history and I find it highly inappropriate that I am now asked, “How has Obama’s election changed your life?”
Square sample from Harriet Power's Bible Quilt
My answer: “Ummm, I have a new president now…”
What if Hillary Clinton had won the Democratic primary and subsequently the general election? What would women say? Would we put our beltless maxi pads down because we have now become the super absorbent wings of America?
Collectively as Americans let’s take this historic moment and turn it into a teachable moment. This desire especially concerns women. What did the historic moment of Januray 2009 teach us as women? What did it teach us as Americans? It taught me that the patriarchy is still alive and well. It is till groping us, looking up our skirts and cheating us out of equal opportunities and pay. It taught me that if this guy can become president, practically anyone with a smile and an Ivy League degree can. It taught me that experience means nothing. Any lessons that I have learned from that historic moment are far from inspirational.
I don’t need any man to lead me to the Promised Land. I can find my own damn way. And finally, one must square up before they get a space on my quilt.
Note: If you would like to learn more about Harriet Powers and her quilts please check out a great book by Mary E. Lyons called “Stitching Stars: The Story Quilts of Harriet Powers. You can also see the Harriet Power’s “Bible Quilts” at the Smithsonian’s American History Museum and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. MA
Autographed Letter Signed,