Random Thoughts from an Uppity Negro / The Color Line

In Honor of the ‘Quilt Sewers’

Those of you that have been keeping up with my blog this summer you know that I’m in an internship where I’m the ONLY black person; moreover, that I’ve only had conversations with less than five black people this entire summer.  So, when I got back from Phliadelphia I was starting to feel the effects of not being around black people–yes, it’s really that bad.

So, I called my friend COGIC Kid and I was telling him that I was kind of getting tired of having to bite my tongue around these people, and how in general I just wanted to go off on the director of the program, who is 28, and my partner who I just generally didn’t like by that point in the summer when I had called him.  So, in typical fashion, he went on to say, “You know how back in the day, when them old black women would be sitting around and they’d hear something the white folk say that they disagreed with, they just kept on sewing they quilt.  So, you need to just keep on sewin’ your quilt.”

It reminds me of the scene from John Singleton’s “Rosewood” [Editor's note: Why is it that everytime I wanna use a YouTube video, it doesn't exist, but everyone else's blog is just LITTERED with videos and what not?!?!?!] when Miss Fanny decided to cry rape from the “big, black, coooolllorrrred” and Aunt Sarah (Esther Rolle) and Philomena had to keep on scrubbing the floors and not say a word.

So, this post is in tribute to all of those black women who had to keep their mouths shut, because clearly as “Rosewood” showed, when you open your mouth, you run the risk of losing your life.  This post is to all the black men who had to keep on chopping wood, playing dumb, just in order to maintain their own lives and the lives of their wife and children.

But, I wonder what’s the pathology behind the silence.

My life isn’t on the line, perhaps some weird glances, or maybe just a heated discussion.   But today, I chose to “sew my quilt” in a staff meeting when someone brought up the issue about pre-judging, or condemnation, suprisingly no one used the word “prejudice” and the group entertained this idea of “hypocritical” versus “hypercritical” and the true etymology behind the words and how they’re used contemporarily.  Then someone said, “I think we judge people based on their class.  More so than race.”

Now, I had on my “Black History…To Be Continued” shirt and I just sat there, and I realised that I was starting to get used to it.  I didn’t have the same panic attack that I had had when my host mother said “hip hop is from the prison culture” but rather, I looked up, and made sure that I was the only black person in the room and I looked to see if anyone was looking to me as if to comment.

I kept on “sewing my quilt.”

If I had opened my mouth, I would have told them that from their world view of living in the suburbs where there interactions on a personal level with blacks is at a minimum, that it is quite easy for them to say that.  Definitely, in intra-cultural situations, I do believe that class plays a heavier role–DUH, because we’re all the same race; skin color has been neutralized in those situations.  And in those instances, I, along with everyone else makes judgments based on clothes, shoes, style, whether or not the young man has on skinny or baggy jeans, below the butt or not; for women, whether or not she appears to have false hair, whether or not the clothes are form fitting, if she’s dressed like an athlete or not. Definitely, if the clothes aren’t on point, aren’t matching, one begins to wonder about class.

The stereotype that everyone in the ‘hood is spending $150 bucks on J’s is a lie from the pits of hell.  People from the hood are worried about food and basic stuff, it’s the middle class, dare I say, uppity kids like me who can afford, or whose parents can afford $150 bucks on a pair of shoes.  So, if a black kid is running up and down the street with hair clearly uncombed and shoes run down, versus someone like me, who brushes his hair in the morning and try my best to make sure my shoe game is on point–then a class judgment gets made, probably on both sides, but again, this is an intra-cultural exchange.

The inter-cutural exchanges are the ones that pose the problems, I would hvae told the group.  I would have went on to tell them that the problem is that too many people associate race as class.  Meaning, if you saw me walking up the street, you would have made a class judgement on me because I was black.  And blacks ought not to be too smug, we do it to, but none of us talk about it.

Instead we sew our respective quilts.

I’ve mentioned it in more than one of my blogs (I’m not about to search archives to find exactly which ones), but I am persuaded that it’s really because we, black folk, have been taught to not offend white folks.  Aside from the fact that I am sleeping in my host mother’s house, and that her husband was sitting there, I doubt I would have reacted any differently–why because I have been taught that “you can’t tell white folk some things.”

No, this was not from my parents direct teachings, but rather as a result of cultural influences.  I didn’t wanna come off as an Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson: despite me agreeing with them on many things, somehow their delivery affects their perception which is clearly faulty.  As a result, I keep on sewing my quilt.

I just want to wrap this up by paying homage to the black women and men who sewed quilts and chopped wood just to live to see another day so that I, and many others, could have a chance to stop sewing quilts and chop wood and actually have that conversation.

Keep it uppity and keep it truthfully radical, JLL

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11 thoughts on “In Honor of the ‘Quilt Sewers’

  1. I understand that you have to pick your battles, but how long do you think you can “sew your quilt” with the people you are interacting with during your internship? Perhaps your response to some of their silly comments would help educate them on things they clearly have no clue. I understand that you can’t speak up on EVERYTHING, but no offense, these people sound quite dense and they seem like they could use a “good teachin’.” But that’s just me… :-)

  2. As someone who has been a part of the leadership of a white church for almost three years now and has worked in the area of racial reconciliation for even longer than that I know the things you say are absolutely true. And as someone who as never been taught NOT TO OFFEND WHITE FOLKS, I also know that it is not easy to constantly have to decide when to put your dog in the fight (If PETA is out there, this is just an expression, chill) which is somethingwe do with BLACKS AS WELL. Especially when the same people are paying you, let’s just be honest.

    However, what I know for sure is that white people are not EVIL or even RACIST in most cases, they are as a result of entrenched white privilege, unenlightened or as Dr. King said in his sermon Love in Action, they are ignorant meaning they know not what they do. So that means we who have, for better or for worse, been given the opportunity to be in community with them (occupational, superficial, or otherwise) must speak truth to ignorance. And I have found that when you don’t demonize or go off the handle but speak sensibly and in love, they are much more prone to hear you and consider making a change.

    So though you may have to keep sewing a quilt, after you’re done with it, invite them over and tell them why you had to sow the damn thing in the first place.

  3. @Talented Tenth

    I tend to side with B. Michael Honor on this one. Coming off as a Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton may side you on the side of truth, but it’s not the side of practicality. As right as they may be, they’re perception in the eyes of many is quite tarnished because they come off as hollering all the time and not listening.

    I think Honor’s suggestion to have a peaceable conversation is about our best bet as black people. However, yet again, what do you do when your host mother says “hip hop comes from the prison culture” and she refuses to listen and is quite persuaded in her thoughts.

  4. @ Uppity:
    Where in my response did I say that the conversation should not be peaceable? Also no where did I say that you should have a Jesse or Al-like response…They don’t speak for me anymore than the man in the moon speaks for me. I think you should have your “own” response…and Uppity response. I’m not quite sure how you got what you did from my response.

    What I did ask is how long do you think you can sit and listen to their statements, comments, and proclamations and continue to “sew your quilt?” Do you not feel the need to clear up some of their assumptions? It’s just a question; don’t read into it more than is there….

    And concerning your house mother…clearly, she has selective hearing and is not concerned with what you say on the matter. But from all your posts since your internship began, there appear to be other people who might learn a thing or two from what you have to say.

  5. @talented tenth

    Now how did get that I was emphasizing “peaceable” over that of anything else? Hmmm. Maybe your reading more into my response than what was necessary. ;-)

    But, I think it’s natural and normative for blacks to be angry and uncomfortable when we get in situations like this–our natural response is to be a bit angry, well at least that’s what my natural response is. So, for me, at least, being “peaceable” is a needed admonition. I will also go so far as to say that it’s a needed admonition for MANY blacks out there in the workplace, at school or any other random interactions.

    And you ARE right, I didn’t address your primary concern which amounts to WHEN is the right time to say something. I think it should be left up to the individual. I could have said something, but I realised, I’m leaving in two and half weeks and in the broader scheme of things, THIS conversation won’t really benefit me, nor them. There were other issues at hand that needed my voice, this one wasn’t egregious enough that needed my resounding “HELL NAH!”

  6. @ uppity

    “Now how did get that I was emphasizing “peaceable” over that of anything else? Hmmm. Maybe your reading more into my response than what was necessary”

    easy…after i realized that the first paragraph had nothing to do with what i originally said, i figured the second paragraph was the heart of your response to me. and you did “emphasize” peaceable conversations as our best bet as black people… :-/

  7. I don’t worry about offending folks. I just don’t feel like being bothered all the time. I bite my tongue because I refuse to take on the job of “black explainer” on a full-time basis.

    The hours suck, the pay is horrible and the benefits don’t exist. Nope, I’m not signing up for that hustle.

  8. So many great points…

    “you can’t tell white folk some things.”
    – exactly. Some of them don’t want to hear about racism. They don’t want to face the demons withint their society and their race so they’d rather ignore it. And telling them won’t get you too far.

    @Big Man – ditto on being the black explainer.

    Basically I find myself going along to get along because it’s too tiring otherwise. Explaining what its like to be a black woman is too hard, the words aren’t easily accessible enough to put into terms easily understandable for someone who has never experienced it.

  9. “Also, Miss Laramore was a breath of fresh air as far as someone liberated to think and address issues critically.”

    Hey, just wanted to say that I appreciated your comment on the AverageBro Blog…I was getting the sense that the world (aka News and Notes listeners) interpreted my fear of being back on the mic as being pressed to sound professional. Sad state of affairs…that’s actually how I sound -and it is my personality. (Oh dear!) I appreciated your words.

    More importantly, it lead me to your blog where I appreciate that you write in great volume about issues I’m thinking about and wrestling with too. My daughter 8 has been having a time educating her Indiana school peers about the many realities they don’t know in her world, and then the last quarter of school, “officially retired from the quandary of white cluelessness that impacts her life.” A few weeks ago at camp, she added to her 8 year old experiences “not being able to be part of a camp club” because she was Black. (girls can be awful…) The director and leaders (at the Christian camp) were horrified, and we spent days talking about reconciliation and the gap in the daily experiences she has. Within hours of the experience though – her conversation shifted to “can I blog about something different today…” she’s in great training.

    Thanks for all that you add to the blogger dialog, I’ll be adding you to my “read often” column.

  10. I have to echo Gracie’s comments above. There are some white people who don’t want to hear what you have to say (like possibly your host mom) and so its not worth it…like BigMan alluded to.

    I think there are other times where defensiveness will kick in when you in particular try to tell them things. As I mentioned when you first moved, I would find the least ignorant one, explain things to him [and I say him 'cause I have an idea who that might be, not because it couldn't be a woman] and let him explain. They may take it easier coming from another white person. Than again, they may not.

    I’ve gotta agree with TalentedTenth up there, though… at some point you gotta say something. Seems a waste if you’re there and don’t impart SOMETHING to them. Plus you might explode if you don’t.

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