What kind of American are you?

People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them. James A. Baldwin
Newly edited: what I’ve learned from this Election Process:
1.) Shut up and listen.
2.) Act, don’t react.
3.) Edit yourself.
5.) slow down and breathe.
6.) Be grateful.

I mostly turn to literature and writers and some other wise figures for explanation and important things to consider. American Literature is a place I go to to see how people answered this questions on what it is to be American. Here are quotations from them.

This passage in the Great Gatsby is etched in my brain. It comes up often when you work with oppressed people…

They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money of their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.”

In just a few sentences you see the complexity of American History since it was born starting with “smashing up” Native Americans, slavery…

James Baldwin has written so much about all of it that resonates today, it’s hard to choose what to put in here:

It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have. James A. Baldwin

Here is a quote that speaks to a part of myself I certainly don’t like. Baldwin is talking about taking responsibility. When you are born or choose to become an American, you are agreeing to participation in its history and learning from it, I’m quite not sure how to say that; Baldwin articulates it well:

Nobody is more dangerous than he who imagines himself pure in heart; for his purity, by definition, is unassailable. James A. Baldwin
This one really gets at what is happening in this moment of our collective history:

I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.

Here are some from Leonard Cohen, whom I think about today and thank him for his magic.

“Act the way you’d like to be and soon you’ll be the way you act.”
This one above speaks to me as I remember many times when I’ve tried to figure out how to emulate someone’s behavior and it seemed like I needed to wear this person on me to be like them; you can strive but I get weary of chasing buses.

“We are ugly but we have the music.” this short sentence seems to sum up how it is to be an artist made in America.

Last one:

“Everybody knows that the dice are loaded,
Everybody rolls with their fingers crossed,
Everybody knows that the war is over,
Everybody knows the good guys lost.”

American women writers:

Here are some words for today and tomorrow: Audre Lorde

There’s always someone asking you to underline one piece of yourself – whether it’s Black, woman, mother, dyke, teacher, etc. – because that’s the piece that they need to key in to. They want to dismiss everything else.

Only by learning to live in harmony with your contradictions can you keep it all afloat.
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/audre_lorde.html

There are no new ideas. There are only new ways of making them felt.
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/a/audre_lorde_2.html

In other words, I would be giving in to a myth of sameness which I think can destroy us.
Emily Dickinson:

In other words, I would be giving in to a myth of sameness which I think can destroy us.
Here is a provocative one that speaks to the last year and last few days:

People need hard times and oppression to develop psychic muscles.

Finally:

America will never be destroyed from the outside. If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves. Abraham Lincoln

Here is Malcolm X with a prescription for all of us people asking today what to do, what can be done:

“I for one believe that if you give people a thorough understanding of what confronts them and the basic causes that produce it, they’ll create their own program, and when the people create a program, you get action.” — Malcolm X

I will end with this. I always fantasized about just reading for the rest of my life:

“My alma mater was books, a good library… I could spend the rest of my life reading, just satisfying my curiosity.” — Malcolm X

 

 

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3 thoughts on “What kind of American are you?

  1. Thank you, Natasha. You’ve made a rich offering of quotes to help Americans (and non-Americans) to begin to understand this moment in history. I might be projecting, but I feel a kind of bruised pain coming through blogspace. Wishing you well.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for reading and commenting. I like to imagine dead people like the ones I quoted seeing what’s going one and telling us not to despair or turn this into a fear based story but see that many freedoms they worked to get us are still here and more. Fear allows leaders to be experienced as terrorists which means we give them a power they don’t have…

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ah yes, Natasha. I like your point of view. I think it’s dangerous to fan the flames of fear. But I do see there are lots of people at the moment experiencing completely rational fear. (if fear can be rational). ie minority groups who have been – and are being – targeted as objects of hate.
        Ohhh it’s complex, isn’t it.
        I’ve just been thinking about how individuals respond differently to trama or grief. Even 2 parents within one family can respond utterly differently to loss of a child for example.

        Like

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