In a speech given at the International Association of Black Yoga Teachers, Pulitzer Prize winning author and activist Alice Walker asks the rhetorical question: What does it mean to be black in America? To which she gently replies:
"We are like orchids."
She proceeded to reflect on a time in her life where at a certain age she began to notice that she was receiving a lot of orchids. She admits not really knowing what to do with them; a flower she described as, "Mysterious, fragile and foreign." She was simply unsure of how to take care of them. Yet after many sad cycles of receiving these beautiful flowers, only to see them begin to deteriorate within a couple weeks, she became determined to understand how to take care of the mysterious flower these orchids proved to be. She was astounded to find out that these flowers were in fact, miraculous; having grown "casually, elegantly and profusely" from mere logs and other unsuspecting places for a flower to grow. So you see, she repeated softly "We are like orchids."
America is indeed "unsure of how to care for us." We are miraculous in that we are a magnificent flower that grows in spite of the most unlikely and adverse conditions. Protests, movements and riots even are not sparked by Black people because we are violent. It is actually quite the opposite. It is because of our unique burden both historically and presently, as Alice Walker so accurately stated, "To be black, means to care." We care. We care about everything. Alice Walker's words are extremely necessary at this time, given that in the media us blacks in America are left feel that there is something wrong with us. Prompted to look at our conditions as individual failings. The symbolism of blacks as orchids is clarifying and at the same time extremely valuable as we wish to forge meaning and build an identity not just as Blacks in America but for Americans as a whole.
The recent annihilation of our value as human beings in this country has done more than eradicate black men and boys. It has ignited our memory of the cultural history of this country which was never really left behind at the scarred backs of slaves, or this concept that racism occurred as an event suspended at a moment in time. Instead the racism on which this country was built lingered in other less visible yet powerful places. It seemed bigotry's instinct to hate was subdued almost. And just when we thought we were safe, just after inaugurating the first black president not once but twice. And witnessing the numbers of blacks attending college increase, and therefore progress socioeconomically. We were reminded one killing at a time followed by one indictment after another how we are really seen in this strange, highly contradictory and many times hypocritical democracy.
Given the recent events, our memory has been ignited. And, like letting a secret slip, the revelation of racism in America has stirred the pot again, especially for those Martians here on Earth who were unaware that racism still existed. The win-lose acculturation of the founding fathers of this country was never intended to weave us into the cultural fabric of America equally, justly nor with dignity but solely at the advantage of the oppressor and we have again been reminded of that harsh reality. The Black cultural revolution of the 60's and 70's blossomed from similar social injustices we have witnessed today. Today however with the country significantly more racially diverse, the movement is shifting from a solely Black cultural revolution to an American cultural revolution.
I would be remiss if I didn't acknowledge, on this day, the black cultural revolution of which Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was so influential. The film Selma, although beautifully directed and accurately casted was so eerily timed. Aside from the political implications of the film, the act of protest was a strong theme, showing both the thoughtful strategy and organization behind the tactic. The film while based on historical events does not make you feel as if you are watching something outdated, but rather as if you are watching today's news. At a time where many question the effectiveness of marching and protesting Selma convinces even the most avid skeptic. The solidarity and strong unified presence of such demonstrations does just that...demonstrate our stand on injustice as citizens explicitly. It is also imperative obviously, that other measures be taken at the local and federal level both in policy and in community to insure justice and peace, but it's the sum of all parts that make a whole. This is evident in the film as well. There was not one tactic that solved an issue but a culmination rather. And the act of protesting whether peacefully or not is effective in making clear what our concerns are. Today during this holiday we often reflect and access how far we have progressed racially in this country. Yet the truth is we still have a way to go. Not to discourage, but rather to encourage the passionate youth, veteran leaders, pessimists, racists and even keyboard clickers like me. Race in America is too like the orchids, mysterious and fragile, despite what seems foreign to one another we must nurture each other to continue to grow.