Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Name is Peaches

I am sitting in my living room, after dark, listening to Four Women by Nina Simone. For those of you not familiar with the song, you can listen to it here. In the song she sings the story of four women: a slave, a prostitute, a mixed girl, and an angry post-slavery woman.

Alice Walker wrote in the Color Purple that when you first see the shores of Africa, it's as if someone strikes a chord inside of you. This song does that for me.

Nina Simone sings with such soft power, boiling down four caricatures representing epochs in black history yet encapsulating in four minutes the reality of a 400 year period of history.

The first three verses are matter of fact, and then she sings the last verse:

"My skin is brown. My manner is tough. I'll kill the first mother I see. My life has been rough. I'm awfully bitter these days. Because my parents were slaves. What do they call me? My name is Peaches!"

No other song I have ever heard in my entire life has ever compacted into such simple verses a vitriolic anger that simply, radically, and unapologetically holds the anger of all those held in bondage plus the weight carried by and lived with by their descendants.

Slavery ended 142 years ago, and I am still pissed off.

I have heard so many times from so many people (almost uniformly not black) that they don't understand why black people are so angry. They don't get why we still carry a burden "laid down" by ,at this point, our great-great-great grandparents. In fact, the only people that I have met that actually understand are Jews. Genocide whether 142 years ago or 60 years ago is carried in the DNA of those that survive it.

When I hear Nina Simone sing "Black is the Color" or "Four Women" or "Strange Fruit" or any number of her songs, I can hear the pain and anger that is carried and is righteously held in her for all of us that share those same terrible roots. And like all things grievous it can be healed, but never has the United States shown the will or the willingness to go beyond an apology to the amends necessary to heal those old yet still fresh and festering wounds. name is Peaches as well.


  1. I love this song, and so many other Nina Simone songs that, at age 15, brought me into a world, and in touch with people and experiences that my life was in no way destined to cross with. That is to say: my suburban, white, wealthy education left out a lot. A Nina Simone collection was probably one of the first times I ever had to really think "someone other people's lives have been very different from mine." A lot came out of, and continues to come out of, that basic, but not required, realization. "Four Women" is powerful beyond measure, it is life changing music and storytelling.

    I'm somewhat torn, Brandon, that you would cite Jews as people able to genetically remember oppression and genocide. I believe that is true, but I have heard that, far, far too often, be used to justify violence in Palestine. Meanwhile, I hear American Jews (some, painfully, in my own family), use our relative success in the U.S. social structure as proof that if we can do it, anyone can, ignoring racism, and the uniqueness of American slavery, and a whole lot else.

    I believe Judaism and Jewish history and Jews have a lot to teach me about working for justice; I hope that, as a community, American Jews can think deeply about congruence of our actions with our beliefs and history. I hope we can listen to each other's stories, listen to each other's music, and connect. Thanks for connecting me, this morning, Brandon.

  2. I discovered "Four Women," "Black Is the Color" and other great work of Nina Simone's only a few years ago thanks to a coworker who gave me a Simone mixtape CD. Before that, I only knew "Mississippi Goddamn" and "Young, Gifted and Black." Man, she was such a unique and fiesty artist. Mary J. Blige is supposed to be playing her in a TV movie.
    BTW, slavery may have ended 142 years ago, but Jim Crow only ended around the time I was born. People act like they forgot the next century of legalized racism that followed slavery, even though anti-interracial marriage laws were struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967, one year before I was born.
    I am a member of the first generation of Black folks to live in this country without legalized racism. And I'm not even a half-century old. There's people my mom's age (she's only 61) who remember not being able to go to the library as kids and having to sit in the back of the bus. My mom grew up in the North; that's the only reason why she never experienced legal segregation.
    Like Richard Pryor said, 400 years of this shit, and they wonder why we're still mad.

  3. Hey Jessica love. Thanks for your thoughtful response. Though Zionist Jews often use their past oppression to justify the current and ongoing oppression of Palestinians the actions of Jews in the wake of their genocide do not remove the fact that the genocide happened. So, here I am trying to honor that horrifying history without supporting the horrifying occupation of Palestine.

    Life is never uncomplicated.

    And Stephanie I hear you. My Dad's family IS from the South. My Dad was born during segregation, and my Great Aunt, who is still alive, took me on a tour of their town and showed me the negro school, which mysteriously burned down after Brown v. Board of Education, so that the black folks would never have to go back to that dump.

    Yeah, I am pissed.

  4. Brandon, you know how much I adore Nina Simone. The emotion in her voice just wraps you in a cocoon and holds you tight until she stops singing.
    One of my favs is "Plain Gold RIng."

    Both of my parents are from the South (Mom: S. Carolina - Dad: New Orleans) and they're both older and lived through Jim Crow. In the town my mother grew up, there are still plantation houses sitting on sprawling acres of greenery. There is a plantation and cemetery called Bonny Hall that houses the bodies of my grandmother, older brother, and all of my slave ancestors, most of whom, have unmarked graves.

    Black ppl have a history that is so complicated, dark, but at the same time, so rich, beautiful, and unique. I tend to get upset when I'm asked why Blk ppl are still so angry. The truth is if you haven't learned about slavery, oppression, and how its almost indoctrinated in blk folks then you wouldn't understand...It's something you have to want to understand.

  5. I'm tempted to ask: Who the *fuck* is stupid enough to ask "why are black people so angry"?

    But I know better. The ranks of the clueless and ignorant are endless. Goddamn, sometimes being conscious is just too depressing.

    Hell, I'm angry. Seriously pissed off at how throughly the ruling elite of this country have fucked over the average American of my generation (and subsequent ones), and I'm damn frickin' privileged, relatively speaking (white male, gifted and talented, son of a full time volunteer community / educational activist). I'm fully conscious of the fact that pretty much everything in my society, and everyone around me, reinforced and supported the belief and assumption that I would and should be extraordinarily successful, and laid the groundwork for that to become a reality.

    There's just no way I can even begin to appreciate how angry someone with everything stacked against him or her would be.

  6. You know, it took me a long time to get angry. I was raised mostly by my Mom, who is for all intents and purposes white (she is native as well, but she looks white on the surface). I grew up, except for three years in early elementary school, in most white neighborhoods until I got to high school. Cerebrally I understood why folks were angry, but I didn't get it.

    And then one day I did. And when I finally got angry, it was explosive. It comes and goes in waves, and it sometimes surprises me. My brother got angry and didn't speak for almost a decade, no lie. We both used drugs to deal with some of our anger, and now I blog about it and shout about it and use this forum as an escape valve.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts, feelings, and insights. And thank you for reading!