Worlds & Time

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Divine Right of Kings

I was actually trying to read Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie. I’ve had it checked out of the library for a while, and I haven’t managed to get through it because I simply am not well enough studied to understand the cultural references that he makes without looking up every other sentence online.

There’s a section though, that reminded me of a good blog topic having to do with a joke that I made in yesterday’s entry.

The section appears on page 37 (yeah, yeah, not all that far in, I know) and it reads:

“Everywhere was now a part of everywhere else. Russia, America, London, Kashmir. Our lives, our stories, flowed into one another’s, were no longer our own, individual, discrete.”

This is an idea that I had years ago, but Rushdie’s character hasn’t made it personal like I made it.

That’s what I think that the American experiment has partially accomplished, although not very well. I know that I’m not black or Jewish or Asian, but our country is part black and Jewish and Asian. Everything has all flowed together and our stories are all a part of everyone else’s story.

I have no idea exactly what I am. I say this and that, and I’m pretty sure that I’m at least a fourth Irish, but anything else is just an assumption on my part. Whoopi Goldberg once said that she’s not “African-American.” She’s never lived in Africa. She’s an American, and so am I. The history of anyone who is an American is my history.

I may not have a drop of African blood in me, but the slaves that were brought over from Africa are my ancestors. I did projects on Harriet Tubman back in Elementary, and I remember reading about how she didn’t know how to dust a room when she was first sold. I also remember how she eventually had to run the Underground Railroad all the way to Canada because they passed a federal law allowing slave catchers to bring slaves back from the Northern States. I’ve also read fantasy short stories from an African-American perspective, including about escapes from slavery.

You might have noticed that I use the term black instead of African-American, usually. In an American Studies class in college, and one of the black women there didn’t like the term African-American because it automatically “othered” the people that it described. That dash implies that the people that it describes are not fully American. However, if you’re black, you can still be fully American at the same time.

She told me that she would rather that I use “black” and so I do.

The history of Europe, Africa, Asia, and South America are all parts of my history, and so their current cultures are all peripheral to my own. You know what’s cool about that? Anything good that has ever happened in the world is part of my past. The foundation of the law in Babylonia; the Grecian democracies; the power of the Roman Empire, the Imperial Chinese Empire, the Incan Empire, and even the British Empire; the invention of zero and the preservation of culture by the Arabs during the dark ages; the Italian Enlightenment; the rise of Humanism and the abolishment of slavery.

Unfortunately, when you accept all the good stuff, you accept all the bad stuff as well. My history also includes the Inquisition, slavery, forcing Native Americans onto reservations and just about any persecution of one people by another. I live with the guilt of the Holocaust, but also with the sadness of the survivors.

From the perspective that every history is your history, war is hard to justify. I might as well be the product of both sides of every war, because I often find myself on both sides of conflicts, at least a little bit.

This whole perspective is a bit postmodern, although the scope is a little larger than normal. Modernism was about being objective so that you could analyze things piece by piece, and now we’re getting back to looking at the specific connections between things. I’m not looking at just my connections though. My reality bores me when there is so much more reality that I can claim.

In a way, it’s because I have no past that I can be past of all pasts. There are so many people that have strong historic connections that in America it’s become a plot: finding your roots. But when I watch Everything Is Illuminated, the character of a collector is searching through a past that could be mine just as easily as not. I can make that history of Trachtinbrod my history.

I will say that this brings to mind the divine right of kings. Blood determined who you were and how you lived. In several societies, it still does. To me, all blood is my blood, but when so many people look at me they don’t see what I see. As a white man, I can’t have a black history.

There is this trait of blood that is so odd to me. We all have a broken vitamin C gene, what difference are they looking for in that divine right? To me, the differences aren’t great enough in the past. It’s the present that I know I can’t identify with. I’m not subject to the kind of racism that is still prevalent today in America.

Still, their stories should become everyone’s stories.

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