"Those who have experienced Paris have advantage over those who have not. We are the ones who have glimpsed a little bit of heaven, down here on earth." - Deirdre Kelly

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Auld Lang Syne et Dans L'Avenir (and into the future)

Peter, an enslaved African American
Baton Rouge, LA - 1863

Auld Lang Syne  literally means "long, long ago." You might think it strange that my post celebrating the beginning of 2011 would begin with a tragic, violent photograph of an enslaved 19th century African American man. Believe me, that's not how I intended to ring in the new year. Actually, that is so not how I did ring in the new year.

Mr. Gorgeous and I were invited to our favorite states side French restaurant - Mon Ami Gabi. We sat with a few friends in the bar, munching on raw oysters and sipping tres yummy champagne while we waited for the countdown. At the stroke of midnight, the love of my life wrapped me in his arms and kissed me - so sweet. A minute or so later, we called home and wished mom and the kids a happy New Year. After a few more sips (okay...flutes) we headed home to finish our New Year's celebration with the most important people in our lives - our children and mom (yeah, Coco and Henri were included too).

When we got home, we donned our party hats, opened a bottle of champagne (for the adults), juice boxes (for the kids), a can of tuna (for Henri), and a bit of rare Roast Beef for Coco (her favorite) and had a second celebration. Yeah it's probably the historian in me, but as mom, Pete and I sat and watched the kids dance around our Christmas tree, shouting their made up lyrics to Auld Lang Syne, out of nowhere came the thought: "Thank God we're welcoming 2011 instead of 1811 or 1911." 

If I had been observing (note I did not say celebrate) the new year prior to 1865, I would have been worrying that my sons, daughter, mother or myself would be sold in the next week or so. You see, that was the prime time of year slave owners sold their chattel (Black people).  

If I had been observing the new year in 1862, I would most likely not have known that President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation (22 Sept. 1862). I probably would not have known that 339 years of enslavement had ended and that my children, my mother and I would finally have an opportunity to be recognized as full legitimate citizens and fully partake the American Dream - on paper at least. You see, the Proclaimation did not go into effect until 1 Jan 1863 and was not fully enforced until 19 June 1865 (Juneteenth). But the stranglehold of racism intimately mixed with injustice would not be erased with the sweep of a President's pen. Even with the end of legal slavery, if I had been celebrating the new year in the 19th or 20th centuries I still would have had to worry about the lives and well being of my children, my mother and myself.

But the nation's grappling with the 'Black problem' did not end in  1865. The struggle for full, fair and equal representation lumbered on for another 143 years. Between 1871 and 1991, 9 Civil Rights Acts were passed through our government's Congress; along with the desegregation of the U.S. MilitaryBrown v. the Board of EducationLoving v. Virginia, and on and on. And along the way, for every three steps forward there were two steps back. But, though the process was long, dangerous and frustrating, things did get better and continue to.

Then in 2008, something miraculous happened. U.S. citizens of every hue elected our first African American president - Barack Obama.

I don't need to rehash the details, you were there. And a glorious time it was and is! As this new year begins, full of possibilites and opportunities, I marvel at - and am so grateful - that my children, mother and I are living in the 21st century. My children live in an age where the 1st pix in this post is long, long ago. And have been replaced by...


and this

Flotus & Potus shaking their groove thang at the Governor's Ball
21 February 2010

I'm a Historian. Specifically, a historian of African American women's history. I became a historian, in part, to learn about my history, the history of my mother and our foremothers. And it has been my responsibility and supreme honor and joy to share that history with my children. While that history is ugly and sad, it's also filled with amazing triumph and perseverance. It's a history that mom, Peter, my children and I are proud of - last semester I brought my oldest (Rory) to class with me on a day that the class was coincidentally discussing U.S. slavery. In the middle of our discussion, my 10 year old raised his hand and proudly declared "we come from slaves." I was so proud of Rory, I thought that my heart would burst from my chest. Our history is as proud as any other, my son got it - WOW.    

Is the world perfect? No. Is there still a lot of work to do? Of course. But in this moment, in this time and place, I give thanks that I - the great grandaughter of slaves - can turn on the tele, pick up a newspaper, power up my notebook and show my children...themselves, where they've come from, where they are, and the wonderful future that awaits them -  hier, ajourd'hui, demain (yesterday, today, tomorrow).

For auld lang syne, my dear.
For auld lang syne.
We'll take a cup of kindness yet,
for auld lang syne.
- Robert Burns, Scots poem (1788)

*I originally wrote this post New Years Day 2011, sorry for the delay ;-)   
  Vivre, rire, aimer!



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