Thoughts on Lee Daniels’ The Butler

Typically I would wait until I’d collected myself. Typically I would try and find the perfect words and the most eloquent metaphor to speak to it but to be honest…it just had to come now.
I held my breath through the fire hoses. As they sat at the lunch counter being called Coons, Niggers, kicked, spit on, beaten, tortured…I held my breath and I hurt so badly I could barely take it. I tried to go to the place they went to. I looked at them and imagined they, in those moments, were out of body. I tried to go there with them because it hurt too badly to stay.

Watching history through the eyes of The Butler was immaculate, and emotional. Beginning at cotton fields, daddy shot dead with no regard for his humanness, his manhood or his being. Mother driven mad…perhaps from going to her own other place one time too many after the habitual rapes, its hard to live all full of poison. From this beginning to Yes We Can. It was a journey that I watched in two hours but my grandmother lived, this piece of history was hers and…I couldn’t help but think of her as President Obama’s voice filled the theater.

I had to walk quickly to the car, and the entire walk I was aware of how safe I felt. There was no threat of lynch mobs or KKK. I did not have to hold my breath as white people passed me, praying to just disappear and be left alone. In fact, I realized, the fight I find myself in most often is one to be seen. My mind raced with these thoughts as I neared panting trying just to get to the car before the dam broke.

As I locked myself in, I lost it. I cried for so many reasons saying nothing more than Thank You to God. I felt…I feel gratitude that I am in the position I am in. I recognize where I come from and the shoulda of whom I stand. I felt all of it. If I had to describe it, it was as if my being gained another dimension. I was plugged into my ancestry on a level previously much more flat in affect.

I have always been proud to be Black, and actually to be Southern as well. I know the past of both and I know what I represent and how contextually a “me” is the answered prayer sewn in the soil of Georgia red clay by slaves. And I know how it feels to stand in a plantation house as a guest and have a woman who looks like me serve me a meal. I know how it literally makes you want to wish for any other moment. To be in any other place and time. That feeling at the State Dinner? I’ve felt that. Do I feel like an imposter? Being who I am, where I am? No. Even the fact that I feel at home in a system that’s been historically oppressive, and arguable is still so, speaks volumes.

But this….new recognition it is one of deep deep awareness, and humility, and responsibility. When I look over the course of my own life, I want to feel I stood for something. That I served a purpose and yes, advanced the lives of Black people. I owe them that much.

Yes owe. I absolutely feel indebted to those that came before me and as I sobbed in my car I thought of the position I have been put in and the opportunities I’ve been afforded. I guess there are some Black people who do not feel this pull. Who feel as though we are all just human and want race to be more neutral. But the truth of the matter is, ever since the inception of this nation race has mattered. Race and, yes, racism is a thread woven in the tapestry of america and why should we ignore it? Why pretend that it does not exist or that it has no meaning? The last sixty years, the last two hundred and fifty years happened. They happened, and we as a nation are still healing from it.

So while I do not necessarily share the feelings of those raceless humans among us, I understand. It’s hard and it hurts and taking it all in, becoming one with the scars and the open flesh wounds its a heavy burden to bear. But I will hold your piece until you’re ready. And when you are, I will embrace you and welcome you warmly. I am holding it. I will hold it, and even if it brings me to my knees like it did tonight, I will surrender to it and say thank you. Thank you. Still I rise.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Lee Daniels’ The Butler

  1. I will not even attempt to describe my feelings in reading your post. I will just say what a beautiful, respectful, gratitude filled and inspiring post. I’m better for having read it.

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