Sunday, January 20, 2008

What is the Color of my Culture?

The Color of My Culture
Valarie A. Washington

My culture is colored by the family that raised me. It is the soulful blackness of the church that loved me and the colorful mix of the the foods and flavors that nourished me. My culture is the red-hot rhythmic dance of a people, the jazzy blues of music that beats in my heart, and the brown-eyed melodies of life that I learned how to sing.

The color of my culture is dark green and life affirming like collard greens on Thanksgiving. It's rich and strong in orange fibrous keratin like yams on Sunday afternoon. It is golden yellow like fresh cornbread crisp from that old cast iron skillet, and it is the conspicuous black spot staring back at me from black-eyed peas cooked on New Years day. My culture is as colorful as any soul food dinner served on mix-matched plates and as shiny as the Reynold's wrap we use to take our plates to go. It's sour green pickles, wine candy, red kool-aid, grape now-n-laters, red-hots, lemon heads, and bomb-pops.

My culture is multi-colored like kente clothe weaved together in a really tight pattern. It is jewel-toned and ruby red like the church ladies hats. It's soft pink and lilac like little girl dresses on Easter morning. It is beautiful like the stained glassed church windows that we propped open on hot summer holy ghost days. It is as majestic and and rich as Mahalia's voice on Precious Lord and the regal way she stood in her choir robe on the back of those church fans we use to wave. My culture is far-reaching faith in a Thomas Dorsey classic like Peace in the Valley. My culture is as white and pure like the hearts of the stewardess' board and the church mothers sitting clustered on the front row. My culture is contrast of pure whites, whiter than snow that we sang about in familiar hymns cast against the blackest covered Bible that holds God's powerful word.

My culture is bright yellow like the smiles on our faces listening to the children's sunshine band sing songs from their tender hearts. It is as complex as the synchronized turns that the ushers and the urshers made walking up and down the aisles of the church. It is the melodic hues flowing from the voices of the young adult choir singing the chorus of "How I Got Over!" My culture is intensified by the click clack joy of tambourines and that shrill B flat that sister Mary always managed to squeeze out just a little off key. My culture is concrete gray and unshakable like the faith we were always taught to have. It is as thunderous and moving as the morning prayer that would raise you from your seat, wake the sleeping child, compel you to wave your hands, testify, and shout -- AMEN!

The color of my culture is cocoa-brown skin, light, bright, and almost white. It is colored like the ashy knees in summer, Vaseline, and blue hair grease or the kind that we scooped out of the red jar. My culture is colorful barrettes, beads and ribbons that little girls wear in their hair. My culture is colored by the rhythmic way we in which speak, the way we roll our Rrrra's, and the way that only my mother could turn a phrase. It is the worn-out beige handle of that old worn out pressing comb that was always sparking on the kitchen stove. It is lively and colorful like our conversations and slips of the tongue that only grand-momma or big momma can make.

My culture is the royal blue way they we love and revere our mothers. It's the gold-ribbon honor that The Spinners gave to "Sadie", and Boys II Men gave to "Mama". My culture is loud like my mother and her sisters when they hear their favorite song on the radio. It is as deep as the deepest note that Barry White ever sung and higher pitched than the notes Minnie Ripperton sang about, "Lovin' You" and every note she sang in between when she took us, "Back Down Memory Lane."

My culture is crimson stained from the blood shed by the Martin King's, Emmit Till's, James Chaney's, Malcolm's and nameless men that died to make us free. My culture is played out in the soundtrack of our lives sung by Marvin, Curtis, Otis, and James Brown who first told us to be black and proud before he sang anything about feeling good. My culture pours out red heart love and chocolate covered soul like Patti, Aretha, and Gladys. The color of my culture changes effortlessly like a chameleon. Because, when we had little to believe in, we sang, hummed and waited when Sam Cooke told us "A Change is Going to Come..." And even now when we feel like we want to give in, we can still hear Luther saying, "Never too much, Never too much..." My culture is familial and connected like, Marvin Gaye's, "Brother, Brother, Brother" and the true refrain he sings in, "Make You Wanna Holler." You know, "throw up both my hands."

The color of my culture is true blue American and the color of hope that Barak Obama had the audacity to write about. It is the silk ribbon in Stevie Wonder's sky. It is the crayon box of colors that drew out the richness of a people before MTV had a generation and Beyonce ever had a hit. The color of my culture holds the supremeness of the Supremes, the emotion of the Emotions, and the dreams of the original Dreamette's . My culture is found in the rainbow colored way in which we were loved, protected, and encouraged that allows us to love, honor, and share in return.

My culture is the red carpet red that led me to every good thing that has and will ever happen in my life. It is a shinning star that announced the birth of a King and the same bright light that will lead the way for every little black boy and girl for generations to come.

The color of my culture is a legacy that won't end with bars and tones at midnight and it is the hope of a people that will never ever fade.


VALARIE - Single, Ethiopian-bound, mother-to-be of two bright-eyed Ethio children. said...

My friend Sharon sent me this after the reading the poem.

"This is sooooooooooooo inspiring. I also had a "big Momma" who lived
downstairs from us. My grandmother's name is Sadie. I attended the Rainbow
Push annual breakfast and conference honoring Dr. King on Mnday. It was also
inspiring. As black people we have come so far."

Melanie said...

Lovely use of vivid color imagery to describe your culture. It reminds me of poetry.