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.
Nina...my name is Peaches as well.