Tuesday, January 16, 2007

Shadows & Hope

The day after Christmas, we were treated to sweet potato pancakes for breakfast.

There had been some discussion about what we should do on this day. The day before, Camille invited us to visit her family's farm if we had time. She said they had horses, cats, dogs, etc. It sounded like a fun way to spend the day. She was off on the 26th and I was interested in taking her up on her offer. But we had already plans to tour Shadows on the Teche, one of the local plantations.

I wanted to spend time together but had negative feelings associated with plantations. In my mind, they are synonymous with oppression and slavery. I would have been more interested in learning about the plight of the slaves who survived on the plantation than the family who benefited from their labor.

In a movie we watched about the family, we learned that after the Civil War, many of the people who had been enslaved by them, stayed on to work for them. That sounds like a good thing but I imagine they were not paid a livable wage, were not offered adequate education and still faced intense discrimination.

Maybe in the week after we celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr., I can begin to read to Sam from one of the books that made an impact on me. In A Better Day Coming, Adam Fairclough educates the "general reader" about "the history of race relations since the American Civil War." Much of the information in his book was never presented to me in my educational career. I learned that there was slavery, then the Civil War, then the Civil Rights Movement and finally today. But that period of time after the Civil War where the blacks, who had been treated like property, were still horribly oppressed was skimmed over.

Even today, so many people do not have their basic needs met. Last week, I spoke with my friend, Cass, from Chicago. She has recently received her Master's degree from the Jane Addams College of Social Work and been hired to administer a grant intended to help people who cannot pay their utility bills. She talked about how our society doesn't work for everyone.

We talked about Barbara Ehrenreich's book Nickel and Dimed. Barbara was, "Inspired in part by the rhetoric surrounding welfare reform, which promised that a job -- any job -- could be the ticket to a better life. But how does anyone survive, let alone prosper, on six to seven dollars an hour?"

""Millions of Americans suffer daily trying to make ends meet. Barbara Ehrenreich's book forces people to acknowledge the average worker's struggle..." --Lynn Woolsey, member of congress

It he end of the book, Ehrenreich states that we shouldn't just feel bad about the plight of the working class but that we should feel ashamed. I think she used the work despicable about the way we still allow so many people to struggle against adverse conditions on a daily basis.

Regardless of my feelings about the ethics of the society of the time or the family who lived and operated the plantation, it is part of our history.

I appreciate having the opportunity to take the tour and learn.

It was a beautiful day.

The grounds were lovely.

It was nice to have time with Jim and Liz.

And run around outside.

In my quest to find work that will allow me to make a difference, I having worked some low-paying jobs myself lately. The difference is that I don't have to. I am grateful to have been one of the lucky ones.

But what would my life have been like if I had been born into different circumstances?

I can hear an old boss say, "Here you go again with you idealistic, socialistic..." I don't have the answers but do have a desire to find solutions that work for everyone.

This week, when Barack Obama announced his historic bid for the presidency, Cam and I started reading his book, The Audacity of Hope, together. In the prologue, Obama acknowledges, "I can't help but view the American experience through the lens of a black man of mixed heritage, forever mindful of how generations of people who looked like me were subjugated and stigmatized, and the subtle and not so subtle ways that race and class continue to shape our lives."

I am thankful for the glimpse of our past I was given and hopeful that as a nation we can be kinder and more compassionate to one another in the future.

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