Chariot

Chariot: (n) a two-wheeled horse-drawn vehicle used in ancient warfare and racing.

“Negro spiritual. “

It’s not exactly an oxymoron, but within the two words there seems to be a contradiction of purpose.

After all, if you were a Negro, you might find it difficult to be spiritual to those who decided to know you only by that term.

Yet a race of people who were beaten, subjugated, raped and sometimes nearly starved managed to get around a fire late at night when their persecutors had retired to the Big House, and come up with songs which we now display in our religious catalogues today.

  • “Let My People Go”
  • “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?”
  • And of course, “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot”

Even though the songs are melodic, harmonic and perhaps even rhythmic, they all carry a central theme: “Dear God, I hope they stop beating me and if they won’t, I hope you kill me soon.”

You can be sympathetic to their plight.

“Swing low, sweet chariot,

Comin’ for to carry me home…”

A pretty simple passage: “Since there’s no solution here on Earth, since the Massa has the whip and since my family can be sold at a moment’s notice, maybe it would be wise to begin Eternity really soon.”

Negro spiritual–a music that tells us where people find solace when other humans abandon and mistreat them.

It is soulful, it is seeking and it is sad.

I can’t listen to the song about the chariot without realizing that my ancestors made the singer want to die.

 

 

 

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Chapped

Chapped: (adj) when lips become cracked, rough, or sore

There was a seventeen-day period back when I was a sophomore in high school, totally possessed by the demon of obsession, when I was
completely insane about my lips.

I don’t know what caused it.

Early in the year, I had nearly driven myself crazy, fearing that while I was sleeping I would swallow my tongue because I overheard a conversation on the subject. But I was finally convinced that my tongue was attached, and would be unwilling to slither down my throat.

During this seventeen day period, I caught a glimpse of my lips in the mirror–and they seemed huge. They weren’t. But my perception had temporarily taken a vacation and left behind a neurosis to care for my brain.

I was convinced that my lips were too large–and since I was raised in a prejudiced Midwest community, I asked my mother if we “had any Negro in our family.” (That’s what we called people of color at the time–Negroes.)

My mother was not only shocked at the question, but sent me to my room until I could come out and “be a decent fellow.”

While I was in my room, I decided to stare at my lips some more. This second viewing caused me to realize that they were not only huge, but they were chapped. I was positive I saw little white flakes trying to surface and take over my mouth.

What was I going to do?

Now please understand–it’s not like I was in some relationship with a girl and my lips were in constant demand. But optimist that I was, I thought it could happen soon, or that some young lady might just take a dare and kiss me. In doing so, would she comment on the acreage of my pucker–how dry and cracked it was?

It was the only thing I thought about. I flunked a pop quiz in chemistry class because I sat there the whole time looking at the beakers of fluid displayed against the wall, wondering if there was something in there that would shrink and smooth out my smooch.

As I don’t know how it began, I also do not know what ceased this madness.

But after seventeen days, I transferred my strange pursuit of lip shrinkage and mouth softening over to a stretch mark. You see, I found one right underneath my left armpit, barely able to be covered by me squeezing my shoulder tightly against my body.

 

 

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Buckwheat

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Buckwheat: (n) an Asian plant milled into flour

The first black person I ever saw was on a television screen, watching “The Little Rascals.”

His name was Buckwheat.

He looked really weird to me. And of course, the producers of the show did little to play down his ethnicity.Dictionary B

No–that was the goal. The purpose was to establish that even though this crazy group of kids had invited in a snooty rich girl–Darla–and a black bug-eyed little boy named Buckwheat, that it was completely normal because these were all children of the neighborhood.

From that experience, I learned the power of imperfection.

While some people may scream about injustice in the world, there are those who quietly and perhaps awkwardly introduce ingenious concepts into our lives, and by doing so, gradually contribute to the common good.

Even though Buckwheat was a very stereotypical “tar-baby” type of character, the mere fact that he was in the gang and included with all the white kids, rich kids, Italian kids and kids with cowlicks, caused me to deal with the possibility that the races might just possibly be comfortable mixing together.

Without that, I don’t know how long it would have been before I ever saw what we then referred to as a “Negro.” And by that time I would not have been six years old and pliable to the notion of accepting another race.

Even when ideas are not perfect, if within their imperfection they are moving toward social justice, we should certainly support them.

 

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Batty

Batty: (adj) crazy; insane.Dictionary B

Most of the things I was taught that were “batty” and out of whack when I was a child of ten were revised by the time I was twenty-five, and then, almost universally accepted.

For instance, I often heard the word “nigger” when I was ten, which transformed into “negro” and then became “black,” making a sharp turn toward “African-American,” and now, honestly, I have no idea whatsoever what would be appropriate to say.

When I was a kid of ten years, divorce was evil, then became unfortunate, followed by common, culminating in expected.

At ten years of age, there were no gay people; then suddenly there were “queers and fags,” followed by “souls in distress who needed our prayers,” and nowadays have become the prerequisite for being a television star.

I am not offering this as a lamentation. I just feel it’s time for us to redefine “batty” and stop assigning it to human behavior.

We will save a lot of time this way, because eventually everything that at least somebody does will receive a level of acceptance and no longer be prohibited.

So what is batty? May I offer three suggestions:

  1. I believe it’s batty to think you can hold a war in an attempt to gain peace.
  2. I think it’s batty to have a human race and assume that because they’re male and female, they will never get along.
  3. I think it’s batty to worship a God who refuses to love some people because they don’t meet all the guidelines.

There you go.

I’m pretty sure those three things will continue to be batty as time goes on. Of course, I could be wrong.

After all, we live in a society that dishes out ounces of warnings … while manufacturing pounds of bacon. 

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