Friday, September 02, 2005

My People Don't Like the Water

My people don't like the water. There are those who say it is a remnant of the slave trade when the rebellious, the suicidal and the dead were cast over the side of the boat on those long, horrific journeys from western Africa to the "new world". And there are the stories from a flood at the turn of the last century where the evacuation plan of the plantation owners in Mississippi for the their workers -- sharecroppers, indentured servants, one step away from slavery -- was to put 'em on the levee and leave them there. Don't want nobody escaping to a better life, you know.

That is what they did in New Orleans. Just left the poorest, the sickest, the least mobile, behind. Evacuate. Folks without cars, or money or contacts didn't know that meant they, like refugees all over Africa, needed to put their belongings on their heads, their children and old folks on ther backs and start walking while they still could walk. Start walking before the winds came and the rain and the flooding. Start walking because no one was going to help them get out, at least not while in possession of their health, their dignity, in too many cases, their lives.

At some point they will collect the bodies. But some large number will never be recovered, they are already in the ocean, mingling with the memory of all those black bodies that ended up there in the past. Washed off levees, thrown over board, jumped to death's freedom. Who are the saints but that vast cloud of witnesses?

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