Niama Leslie Williams
I think back to Sunday night when I was talking to my Mama about Beloved. She start off tellin me about reading Frank Yerby with great devotion cause he was the bestselling author in the late forties/early fifties and he was Southern and wrote about Southerners.
And she say, my Mama who born and raised in Texas til she was twelve, "but he always wrote about the white people." It took her several of his books to realize that at some point in them the Black people always became central.
And I say, "oh yeah, at some point they became the catalyst for whatever needed to happen for the white people." Cause, like, I teach literature and shit. And she say, "yeah!"
"But," she says, "he wrote in the late forties, early fifties and he had to sell books, right? So he couldn't tell the truth. He had to hide it."
And she gets kinda quiet.
And I say, "ohhh, I get it." And I get kinda quiet.
And I say, "hmmph. That's the difference between the generations. That's why I am so grateful to Sonia Sanchez and Toni Morrison and Alice Walker and Lucille Clifton and Robert Hayden and James Baldwin and Langston Hughes and all the way back to Phillis Wheatley. Because they created a tradition for me."
I say, "because of them, I expect to be told the truth. I open a book and expect to be told the truth. And when I find a lie, be it Black writer or white, I think, okay, that's a paper this scholar has to write and
And I say, "Wow. I am so glad I asked you that." Cause I love my Mama, and I want to understand her every little pain. The additional gift she give me in that conversation is she say Beloved give her information she never had. And I ask "What?" And she say it told her how the slaves lived every day psychologically with the horror of their existence.
She say, "When Baby Shuggs-- oh what did she say?"
She ask me, cause her memory be slippin a bit, not much, just a tiny bit, and I say, "oh, she said 'Let the children come. And laugh! Laugh for your mothers.'"
And my Mama say, "YEAH!"
And I say, "she said 'Let the men come. Men, dance for your wives!'"
And we both say, "How them men DANCED."
And I say, "and then she say, 'Let the women come. And women, weep. Weep for the living.'"
And we both say, "YEAH. Weep for the LIVING."
Cause we both women, and we both been raped before we was twelve; shit, before we was ten, by men who were supposed to be our caretakers, so we know what weep for the living mean.
And we know what coping psychologically mean when there ain't no psychiatrists, or there are psychiatrists who don't understand you at all.
And I tell her how I physically could not get up out of my seat as the credits rolled, how I had to sit there long after the lights came up even though it was the last showing of the night and the theatre was closing down. How I tried to talk to two white women I befriended at the pay telephones as we both called taxis, they were mother and daughter, and agreed with me that it was hell getting a cab on Saturday night in Philly. Their kindness and interest did not save me from the necessary trip to my male friend. I was so shook I fled to his house even though we didn't have that kind of understanding. I stood on his porch and faced his tall, angry Palestinian face-- it was late and he was not a night owl like me-- and did not wither; I had no resources left and he saw that. He could see in my eyes that I was about to disintegrate like the souls Detective Stone used to send back to hell in the tv series Brimstone. I had one toenail on the planet, and the rest of me was gone, elsewhere, spent.
It was the level of pain, the level of pain and the obvious choice of
surrender. I was okay, coping well, until the women from the church showed up to pray. When those women walked toward Sethe's house and gathered there to sing, hum, moan that spirit away from her house I was no more good. I knew I needed that kind of healing, and that kind of healing took place right there in that theatre. It was fiction, this was make believe, but I was in serious trouble before I saw Beloved, I was suicidal pretty much every day. Call it the pressures of graduate school. Call it repercussions from bonding so tightly with the faculty when you first arrived from L.A. that now you
feel as if your parents are divorcing and you are five years old all over
again. And in the middle of all this you in love with a Palestinian who
can't decide if he's crazy or not, if he loves men or women or not, a
Palestinian who wants to buy you a car and caters to almost your every need.
As I sat there devoid of strength in that theatre the voices told me "we knew Beloved would cut it"-- visions of a greater pain will do that, as will pantomime of a healing. The women in that circle touched me so deep my demons didn't have a chance, and like Toni Cade's character in The Salt Eaters I could answer the question of whether or not I wanted to be healed with an unequivocal yes. Those women sang and I made a choice: for life.
That's why I was exhausted afterwards. Exorcism changes you profoundly.
Beloved was about saviors. My friend had in his eye the same loving look of devotion and I'ma stay with you til you through it that Paul D had when he sittin by Sethe's side in that last scene. My friend may have been confused about a lot of things, but he knew enough to sense my fragility, my need for strong arms, and he held me. Refused to hold me in bed all night long, what I really wanted, but held me with verbal love, talked me down from the precipice of exhaustion and not knowing what I had been through.
Oprah have no idea what she did. Fuck box office. Beloved about a whole lot more than ticket money and millions made back. Her baby, as she called it, saved a life, and that something not many movies do, that not a power many movies have. She got it right. For me and my Mama.
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