I look at my canvas and think that Liberty is a bitch. She has a decidedly European face and means freedom but not for all. What if I were to make her black with a hint of caramel? Give her dreadlocks and a spear, a nose wide as the horizon, a red dawn of pain to be born upon? Keep her eyes green for balance? I think of my own power and how I’ve been protecting others from it. I think of my art as a guide to what I need to be paying attention to. I find myself reeling, hurting, needing to see my grandmother as the world goes mad. I need to see her and let her love me and let her know that I love her as the world goes mad.
We are veterans, she and I, in this war against hate.
I need her to know that our hard-fought-for-forgiveness still stands and towers over the harm she did before my life began. I need her to know that I remember she tried to destroy my father and my mother’s love for him and that her family wanted to have me killed in the womb. I need her to know that I remember AND love her still.
I need her to see the truth before she dies – the impact of her upbringing on her family and the fact that love can conquer even this. I need her to know that I am here and I will hold her hand as she struggles over the stones placed in just the right places to be treacherous as her old feet seek a solid place to stand. She will not fall because I am here, black and white and strong and forgiving all that has been done.
I also need to thank her for showing me hate and how it works and for making the journey to the half-way point where I could meet her. Contrary to jaded belief, I did not need to defeat her. It took listening to understand from both places on either side of the divide. It took hearing the hurt beneath the hate, the love beneath the pain, the cry to be seen and accepted for us to be one again. Because we weren’t born to be two. Disharmony is learned and distrust is hard-earned.
My brown arm reaches out to steady her age-spotted once-white frame as she shuffles one uncertain foot in front of the other, reaching out unsteady, shifting weight slowly so as to allow the ground time to earn her trust – as she must have done with me. I need to see her today so she can put a balm on my wounds, rub my scars with gentle hands now wise to the lie she was told and told herself. We are not so different. I need to clean the flesh wounds and bind the bones from the week spent fighting with her kin struggling to let the light into their dark thoughts. I need her to remind me that the love on the other side is worth the war we wage today. My own blood – her people – would care as little if it were me shot in cold blood in front of my children or my local supermarket. My own flesh and blood would be fine with it if it were my blood spilled. When those who love me cry out “her life matters!” they will counter with “All lives matter.” They would help the system find a way to say I’d asked for it – after all “she was no saint.” They would care more about the police coming and taking their gun from their suburban homes than the white hoods or blue uniforms drawing me – their cousin – from my bed and hanging me from the nearest tree. She was no saint. She drove ten miles above the speed limit to work every day. She never used her turning signals to switch lanes. She was asking for it. She was no saint.
I need my grandmother today. For her I don’t need to be a saint. She won’t say a word. She won’t mention the news she’s been glued to immobile all week in her house alone. She won’t mention the hurt on my face or the limp I walk into the house with. She won’t even see the blood-red paint on my hands from the blood of Liberty that I’ve been moving around to keep my longing limbs coiled for a fight from adding to the harm already happening in the world. I will have to show her.
She will be glad to see me, pat the arm I offer, and squeeze my hand as she draws me closer. The best thing that ever happened to her, she says. God gave me to her, she says.
May God give every one of my racist kin a black baby to love.
I am serious. May all the young of my family find love in smoothe black embraces and may they kiss the faces of the killers of their hatred. May a beige-coloured love be our only fate as humanity faces the dawn of a new age. As people picket, pretending that the line between them exists, I will raise my afro-hooded face and lift my green eyes to the sky and call the divide of race a lie. The black spots of age bursting through the milk-white skin on my grandmother’s arms reveal the false god of white-supremacy.
In the end only the colors of love and wisdom win.