on my way to california last week for my granddaddy's funeral, i finished colson whitehead's the underground railroad. in the book, whitehead makes a point to depict black men and women learning to read and to write after being prevented from learning as slaves.
slaves were often prevented from learning to read and to write. depending on the situation, depending on the location, depending on the plantation, it could be a dangerous act to learn. an even more dangerous act to show that you knew how to read and write.
i sat back on the plane. i thought of how, most days, all i am doing is reading and writing. reading and writing. reading and writing and buying books and wanting to write books and then back to reading and writing.
it doesn't seem revolutionary that i am a writer and reader. it seems like breathing to me. i can't imagine my life without my relationship to words, to paper, to bindings.
i sat back on the plane and i thought about all of this. i thought about how i shouldn't apologize for my reading and my writing. i thought about how i should forge ahead, keep getting lost in words. i thought about how becoming a successful writer and reader could be revolutionary.
hours later, i stood in my grandparents' house. my dad waved me over to a wall of pictures. he pointed to one. "that's your great, great grandfather. he was born a slave."
and i thought it wasn't that long ago that someone like me, someone like my great great grandfather, perhaps even my great great grandfather, wasn't supposed to get lost in a book, wasn't supposed to put my/their thoughts down on paper. it wasn't that long ago that someone like me would have been putting their life at risk to write, to read, to express the way i do now freely.
and then i let the thoughts go.
a black man was shot by police today. i went to bed thinking about one black man who had been shot by police and then today heard of another. the police say he was armed with a gun (in an open carry state, mind you).
an eyewitness says he was armed with a book.
and now i am sitting here wondering if i am as free to read and write as i thought.
i am wondering what is left to write, to read, when it has all been said before and people still won't listen.
i am wondering what words can do to save us.