Doom to you who call evil good
and good evil,
Who put darkness in place of light
and light in place of darkness,
Who substitute bitter for sweet
and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20—The Message)
My great granny Alice in West Virginia lived in a house behind my grandparents. Granddaddy looked after his mamma, what with her coming through hard years of being enslaved and all. I remember Granny’s house being shiny and impeccable! She was tall. Taller than tall; and very regal. Very light skinned considering the rest of us who were dark and she had long plaits.
I believe she had some Indian in her, or it very well could’ve been due to having a white father…that was prevalent back in the days of enslavement, dont’cha know? Nevertheless, she was a tall quiet proud woman, with a strength which emanated from her eyes, from her very stature. Never in a hurry. Took each day as it came. I am sure the days of her fear were no longer. Her son had built her a house and she had family to look after her. Her days were long. And I remember arriving in West Virginia, driving up and running to her house, banging on her door.
From inside she would say: “who’s there?” (Knowing full well, we were in town), and I would respond: “Its me granny…it’s NeeCee”. She would open the door and bend down to hug me and shower me with wet kisses.
Great granny Alice’s gardens were beautiful and plentiful. She kept them that way. The grapevine was the best. I have memories of my sister and I sitting on a mound on the side of granny’s house and pulling clusters of dark purple grapes off the vine, sitting down in the grass and eating those grapes and then running off to play with a neighbor.
We had no fear…
We ran gleefully to gentle reminders to mind our manners, and to play nice and be careful in the high grass. We ran and played and not even the gnats buzzing around our faces mattered.
…we always found our way back to that grapevine.
We were never afraid in granny’s gardens…we were never afraid in the strangeness of a way of life different from ours. Garden snakes, spiders and bugs held no fear for us.
My sister and I simply hosed down the fruit of the vine, sat in the glorious sunrays absorbing the vitamin D that fed our melanated skin! We were always a little darker when we got back to New York: a rich dark chocolate.
We rejoiced in the experience of juicy grapes and tomatoes…juice dripping from our giggling mouths. We could never do that at home.
We were never afraid of going into the darkness of the grapevine…the darkness of the inside of the grapevine was a treasure trove.
We’ve been used to the darkness for ages, before electricity was invented and we lived in the bush, living in the ways of our ancestors. We were taken away and stowed in the belly of the beast (I mean slave ships). We were hosed down with water to clean the excrement and urine and dirt off of us, if we were good, we received our hosing on the top deck.
We learned your strange ways; we bore the lash, when we displeased you.
Yes, we know darkness very well. We learned your language and learned the art of telling it slant, saying one thing and doing another. We courageously lived in the darkness of the night as we escaped and sought refuge as many are doing currently.
We are not strangers to darkness…we are treasures of darkness.
We’ve been hosed down by your darkness, by the darkness of your words, by the darkness of your actions or inaction, thereof. We have been hosed down by your water hoses and dogs. We’ve been hosed down with the meanness and emptiness of your words and well meaning concepts of hospitality and race relations. Your darkness frightens us. Your darkness is not a treasure trove.
We’ve been hosed down by your greedy reasoning, saying one thing and meaning totally another. You send us away hungry and afraid. But we are a proud people. Some of us have learned well and have awoken to the reality of the times. Others still need reminding every now and then.
I was reminded, thusly:
A card I received as I took a trip to Kenya.
I found this card, as I was packing. I received it in 2008/9 when I went to speak in Kenya. I must’ve received it within a day or two of my journey, because I don’t recall these words…. yet, here they are, as bright as the day: “As you journey to “the Dark Continent”…written by a white woman to me, as I prepared to go to Kenya. Why would you call it the Dark Continent? What did that mean? That I would be infused with the “Light” that only the Master of the Universe (or Mistress)….which was true, not only was I going to be infused with the Light, I already was/am the Light……
It meant exactly what she said: that she believed it was a place full of uncivilized people.
She put darkness in place of light.
Did she not understand that is where all of life began? Did she not understand that she was a descendant of that civilization?
The Motherland, where the light of creation began!
I write, and am shedding tears for my Granny Alice and tears for my “so many great -greats” grandfather: Tarleton “slave” Fleming, born in 1738. He was a strong man too. I have his blood running through my veins as well.
Treasures of darkness, my ancestors are.
And you wonder who I am, how I came to be, and how my pride and strength seems to override my circumstances.
I am a treasure of darkness. I come from royalty, I am royalty.
I shine so brightly that not only can it not be understood why, but you dislike our capacity to shine. We’ve been shining forever! Our backs shone as we bore the lash, and we shone as we went from row to row, picking your cotton.
Doom to you who call evil good!
We shone in the moonlight as we waded in our waters. We were raised to the moonlight and blessed by the night with shouts of ache and modupe! (shouts of amen and thanksgiving). We were blessed daily by our ancestors and the stories of our ancestors passed from generation to generation…and before you know it, even our history was being hosed down in what others perceived to be the truth.
You substituted the sweet with the bitter.
The truth is, we are children of the light. And regardless of what you say or what you do, those of us who know who we are, will always be “difficult” or “angry” or “rebellious”. And the truth of the matter is, those are probably words that would better be relegated to other people. Not the people of color.
We are treasures of darkness, bearing gifts for all who would but open their eyes and their hearts to see, and receive. We were told as we got a little older about the way things were in the world.
I am still telling my children things about people in the world as well. More importantly, I tell my children about who they really are. They are regal, descended from royalty.
As I was called to speak at a youth gathering which was quite stressful (for a number of reasons), it was my son who reminded me who I was…He told me I was a treasure and people sometimes are intimidated by someone such as myself. Me? I’m just a person of color. Royal by lineage, defiant and proud and humble and loving. Enduring all and will persevere to the end. This is who we are…my people of color. Treasures of darkness!
It’s us granny, its us!
(The very Revered Rev. Andrena Ingram describes who she is as a Spirit filled, truth telling pastor. Tempered by sun and sharpened by lightening. Love, compassion, freedom and always seeking justice. Womanist by nature!)
Stock photos courtesy of Reverend Kwame Pitts