A conversation with a friend from Germany.
She speaking of her German heritage. lederhosen. name days. Learning to knit in public school. Tales of her mother’s Bulgarian heritage. She was proud of both.
I had nothing comparable to share.
I could talk about being Texan.
Pecan pie. Fried okra.
Fried cornbread. Fried chicken.
Fried green tomoatoes.
Border collies. Rattle snakes. Horses.
Armadillos. Hereford cattle.
Sheep Spanish goats.
Fishing at the tank. Chasing horny toads.
Peach trees. Chiggers.
I knew a few stories about my dad’s family. A great grandfather (or great great grandfather) O’Dell came from Ireland and jumped ship to stay in America. An Irish family named Hannan showed him kindess and he took their sur name. My maiden name is Hannan.
My mother, a Simpson. seems to be of English and Scottish origin according to my internet search. The internet mentioned fair skin which I interpret to mean “burns easily in the sun.”
Basically, if it burns, surely there is a dash of it in my DNA.
German? Maybe. Definitley German on my husband’s side of the family. And English and Irish and Scottish and Scotts-Irish.
I just remember my great grandmother. My mother’s mother’s mother. Momma. I remember visiting her in the hospital in Goldthwaite. There was not a nursing home or care facility so the small hospital doubled as such. I remember her skin being very soft. Translucent. And she smelled of powder from a circular cardboard box with a big poofy puff inside. She wore lacy bed jackets.
I know my great grandmother’s stories from my mother and grandmother.
One story is of slaves celebrating their new freedom down by the creek. It was my great grandmother’s birthday. She was very young and she thought they were celebrating her birthday.
Stories of her hiding with her siblings from the Indians on her way to and from school.
I doubted the veracity of this story until I read “The Captured: A True Story of Abduction by Indians on the Texas Frontier.”
Set in the same neck of the woods where my great grandmother grew up, her stories ring true to the stories in this book. The time period is the same. My great grammie most certainly hid from Indians as she was coming and going to school.
The O’Dell turned Hannan grandfather’s story is laden with death, abandonment, extreme poverty, and abuse rape by an elected officials. Tales of standing in the back of the church, a widow and ten children, standing because they could not tithe. (I don’t know why they kept going.)
That pastor missed more than a few chapters in his bible!
Lots of stories. No origin stories.
Nothing before arriving on our hallowed American shores.
No tartan plaids. No four leaf clovers.
No stories or foods reminiscent of homeland.
Just Texas and Maine.
My mom from Goldthwaite, Texas and my dad from Liberty, Maine.
That was as far back as our history reached.
My cultural heritage is divided.
North and south. Salt and sugar.
Slow talking and fast talking.
Sunfish and pickerel.
One side of the family puts salt on tomatoes while the other side uses sugar.
Same for watermelon and grapefruit.
One side salts and the other sugars.
One side of the family makes savory beans and the other side sweet beans.
My cultural identity: Salt or Sugar.
White or white.
I read an article delineating how white folks became white.
A tale of white evolving to include and to exclude.
A narrative of power over. Hierarchy.
The article woke in me the memory of that conversation with Monika.
“I don’t know, Monika. I am just – white.”
I said that.
I had no idea.
I did not make the connection to racism.
“We don’t know where we come from. Nobody remembers or thinks about it. What we know doesn’t mean anything. My equivalent of Lederhosen would be a cowboy hat and boots.”
White history is shallow.
White history is grave.
It is time to dig up the shallow grave and sift it for bones and treasure.
I know race is a cultural construct.
I know the consequences of that construct to be real.
I know that the consequences weight most heavily on those who are deemed not white.
I had not considered WHY race was constructed.
White was constructed to replaced cultural identity to consolidate fair skinned minorities against the slaves.
Whiteness was constructed to create polar opposites.
White and black.
White was invented to lord over.
Slavery has a long history. America was the first nation to base slavery on skin color.
Before prisoners and the impoverished were enslaved. But when the indentured Irish woman ran she could disappear into the general population. By confining slaves to a dark skin color it was easier to find them when they ran.
There was a season when Irish was not considered white.
A season where Hispanic was white.
Still many see Jewish as apart.
Seasons pass and we do not even know what we do not know.
Seasons pass and we forget that there was ever another way.
Seasons pass and the aberration becomes normal.
Build up. Take apart.
Push back. Pull together.
Add a layer. Remove a layer.
More of this. Less of that.
It is what artists do.
We explore surface to discover depth.
A pathway to deep.
Race is a construct. A construction.
What does the deconstruction of whiteness look like?
White privilege. White supremacy.
White washed tombs?
Irish? German? Scottish? English?
RE-CONSTRUCTION! Let the RE-construction begin.
I have four paintings on easels in my studio as I type.
A fifth finished painting, Pulse, will go back to the easel as soon as I hit send. It will be the first in the series.
A new series Exploring Whiteness.
I have never thrown down a new series before starting it.
Maybe this is a mistake.
Maybe it is a delusion.
Maybe the time is now.
Racism is a white problem.
The burden of consequence is carried upon the shoulders of those of color.
It is so easy to think that it is a black problem or a brown problem or anybody’s problem but mine.
Racism is a white problem.
Please, if you are white, follow this link. If you are non-white, it still might interest you.
Start by reading the linked article.
I believe art can change the world.
Today I believe my art can change the world.
I do not know what I will believe tomorrow.
Today is more than enough.