The transracial adoption books I’ve read have suggested to white parents that they might consider relocating to a neighborhood that has more diversity. I think back to the Adoption petition our attorney, Steve Hirsch submitted, which said the fact that we live in New Orleans is an added bonus to us raising an African American child.
So today, instead of going to the new branch of the Maple Street Bookstore on Ponce de Leon, I took Tin to the Community Bookstore because it’s motto is “We celebrate Black History 365 days a year.” The owner, Vera Warren-Williams is a dyed in the wool storyteller. I first took Tin in there when he was about 2.5 years old and she read a book to him that came alive with her eyes and hands and even feet moving in wild gyrations.
Jennifer Turner, who works there, recommended The People Could Fly, American Black Folktales by Virginia Hamilton. I had picked up the book when I was perusing the shelves but some of the illustrations seemed a little scary so I put it back. Turner said she had memorized these tales and had read them to her own son when he was young – even using them as cautionary tales to listen to your mother.
Tonight Tin and I read the first tale, He Lion, Bruh Bear and Bruh Rabbit. In her introduction Hamilton says:
Out of the contacts the plantation slaves made in their new world, combined with memories and habits from the old world of Africa, came a body of folk expression about the slaves and their experiences. The slaves created tales in which various animals–such as the rabbit, fox, bear, wolf, turtle or terrapin, snake and possum–took on the characteristics of the people found in the new environment of the plantation. … These tales were created out of sorrow. But the hearts and minds of the black people who formed them, expanded them, and passed them on to us were full of love and hope. We must look on the tales as a celebration of the human spirit.
What’s true of all people, especially those oppressed, is an uncanny ability to stretch the mind outside of its reality. The stories we were told, the ones we tell ourselves, and the ones we tell our children form our narrative as Eudora Welty once said.
I would love to hear what stories or books you read as child or read to your own child that helped you make sense of something as incomprehensible as slavery or the Holocaust or death.