This is going to be a different kind of post. But, please bear with me, dear readers. I’m just trying to work something out.
I write. I’ve written my whole life. I write essays. I write short stories. I write poetry. It’s how I work things out. It’s how I work things out of myself. Or, I work things out for myself. Depends on the issue at hand, really.
I’ve been working on a short story based on the life of my maternal grandmother. My grandmother spent the majority of her childhood in Paris, TX. She believed that Paris, TX was the lynching capitol of the world. We cannot validate that statement either one way, or the other. But, in pondering that statement, and the fact that she believed it to be true, I have some uncomfortable questions to deal with. The first and foremost of which is: what would it do to someone, psychologically, to witness that level of brutality and violence on a regular, if random, basis throughout their childhood?
But, furthermore, this type of violence had to be traumatic for all of the children, in any given community; not just the black children, who might harbor the fear that the mob would come after them. But, also, the white children, who might struggle to understand why the mob attacked anyone. What would it be like to know that you were living with, or around, people that were capable of such savagery? Moreover, to be powerless to move away from those people. What would it be like to live in a community you had seen violently change in a moment? Given how prevalent the practice was, at the time my grandmother was living, how many people were traumatized, but never received help? Or, even any acknowledgement that the event was potentially traumatic? Maybe even not any further acknowledgment that the event ever happened? How do people cope? Move on? Process that pain? What happens, after the fact, in the community?
On an individual level: What does this teach a child about power? The proper use of power? The abuse of power? What does it teach a child about violence? What does it teach a child about dealing with people who transgress their values?
We know that El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz said his father was lynched by white men in Michigan. And, his biography goes on to quite factually, dispassionately, recounts what happened to his family as a result of losing their father. The biography points to the fact that his father’s murder contributed to a series of stressing events that led to his mother’s institutionalization for mental illness. But, Shabazz doesn’t tell us enough in his autobiography that we understand what it did to them as children to know that the strongest man in their world was spirited off in the middle of the night, never to return. It is absolutely horrifying to think about. How many childhood nightmares does that encapsulate, in one single event?
Admittedly, this is a strange and dark topic. And, I don’t have a single one of these answers, to be certain. But, it occurs to me that I can’t truly understand the woman, or her view of the world, unless I grapple with these questions. And, the fact of the matter is that even if I had answers, I still may not understand her. However, it makes me grateful that her struggle placed me in a better world, where I cannot fathom what it would have been like to live in hers.