12 Years A Slave
Over the weekend I went to see 12 Years A Slave. I thought I was ready. I went with friends- friends who talk about race and justice on a regular basis. I refused to listen to any interviews by actors or producers so as to not give any scenes away. Other than short "reviews" from friends on Facebook, I didn't indulge in any blog posts about the movie, even from people I adore like Christena Cleveland's post here and Lisa Sharon Harper's post here. I wanted to go into it with no one else's thoughts except my own, sitting beside friends I trusted with any emotional reaction I might have during the film.
I also didnt indulge my desire to hear other's thoughts after I saw it. I didnt talk about it. I didnt read about it. I didnt even tell my husband the storyline when I got home. I decided to just sit with it in order to see what would bubble to the surface most often. Now, after more than 60 hours of simply calling the movie intense, there is another word I would like to use: torturous.
I mean that word in the best possible way, but there is no getting around that the movie was torturous for me. Honestly, that shouldn't be surprising. It makes sense that slavery, the n-word, the violence- everything you would expect in a movie called 12 Years A Slave might be difficult to sit through! But it wasnt those moments that I found the most torturous; it was the moments of waiting. So many moments of just waiting. Waiting to get to the next scene, waiting for relief, waiting for something- anything to happen. For all their beauty, there were so many scenes in this movie of stillness, when hardly anything or anyone moved, when little changed, when things werent moving forward. And it was so very uncomfortable. So very intense. So very excruciating.
And here is what made me drive to McDonalds at midnight to get a large fry for some sense of comfort after this film- my ancestors have endured a lot of excruciating waiting. They waited in slave houses before being forced to board ships that would carry them across the Atlantic. They waited on ships that cut through the waves of the ocean, piled on top one another, chained to the ships core. They waited on auction blocks, naked, confused, angry. They waited on plantations, to plant and to harvest, to plant and to harvest, to plant and to harvest. Some waited to run, waited to read, waited for a signal, waited in the underground. Some waited for freedom. But not all. For some the only notion of freedom came with a spiritual waiting- for Christ to return, for the master to die, for an escape from this life, for entrance into eternal life. For centuries my ancestors waited in the institution of slavery.
And even when slavery was abolished, there was more waiting. Waiting to be considered more than 3/5ths human. Waiting to be able to move about freely. Waiting for access: to public bathrooms, to movie theaters, to education, to hotels, to restaurants, to stores, to water fountains, to churches. They also waited to be lynched, to be accused, to be declared too dangerous to live. Some preached while they waited. Some sang. Some advocated. Some voted. Some met and marched and waited for something to change, for the scene to move on, for the background to change, for relief to come. For decades my ancestors waited... my great great grandfathers, my great grandfathers, my grandfathers waited. My great great grandmothers, my great grandmothers, my grandmothers waited. My parents waited in cars on the road when hotels weren't an option. My parents waited for the riots to end when MLK was assassinated. My parents waited for their schools to be integrated. My parents waited for white flight to end and the promise of equality to begin. The waiting was not as long ago, as distant as we would have ourselves believe. It is close. It is personal.
You see, the reason I had to eat seriously salty, warm McDonalds french fries is because we are still waiting. Never mind the inequality in the school system, health system, housing system, food system or justice system. Never mind the inequality in employment, income, and wealth. Never mind the waiting for equity in large institutional and structural systems.
We are still waiting for churches to expand their leadership.
We are still waiting for Christian bookstores to reflect our intellect.
We are still waiting for cultural costumes to be considered unacceptable.
We are still waiting for white people to stop desiring to say the n-word.
We are still waiting for shops to stop assuming we cant afford anything costly.
We are still waiting for folks to keep their hands out of our hair- literally.
We are still waiting for simple freedoms.
We are still waiting for America to realize that slavery didn't initiate racism but that slavery, Jim Crow and our current inequities are results of racism. Racism is the seed that has allowed all these inequities to exist, and not until this seed is rooted out will we stop waiting.for.freedom.
And the waiting is excruciating.
*I apologize for any typos in the piece. This is so personal, I am having trouble editing myself. Please forgive any obvious mistakes, as there may be many. I'm going to go read the posts of Ms. Cleveland and Ms. Harper. You should, too.