When I lived on Highland Avenue in Knoxville in a house that's no longer there, I had a garden out the front. I dug up a whole patch of grass and had an abundant patch of flowers. It was bursting. I overstuffed it with gaudy flowers and contrasting colors and hit it hard with the Miracle Grow. I tended it lovingly and planted it up with discounted stuff I got at the garden center where I worked. I watered it with a great long hose and water that I borrowed from the fire station next door.
I often carried a little portable Sony Radio with me to listen to Prarie Home Companion or All Things Considered while I worked. But public radio isn't all talk, and I like chatter while I work. Sometimes my neighbor came over and talked to me while I gardened. He was from some Caribbean island, I can't remember which one now. I can't remember his name either.
He talked a bunch of shit, but I didn't really care. He'd stand and watch me while I worked and talk about black identity politics and a lot of anti-white racism and a smattering of Marxist theory. But hey, it was chatter.
"Your ancestors were pigs," he told me.
"It's pronounced Picts," I said.
He gained new respect for me when I told him I had some Asian blood from my Finnish ancestors. A one-drop theory of sorts. Had we only been able to the DNA testing we have now, I might have been able to tell him I have a little black blood, too, which I do. I'm sure he would have warmed further with that.
One time I mentioned Alice Walker, an author I like. He went livid. Apparently, she's a traitor to the black cause. This all flashed back to me because BBC Radio 4 is featuring The Color Purple as its radio drama this week.
I'm not sure why he was so anti-Alice. But I suspect that it was because of that book she wrote about female genital mutilation. (Possessing the Secret of Joy). He seemed to take that as an affront to the global African experience. He said she knew nothing of the African experience and that I shouldn't read her books. Fair enough, Walker hadn't grown up in Africa (the protagonist had), but you know she's a novelist. Those people make stuff up.
Apparently, in his view, this destroyed her credibility on all counts of relating the black experience, or any apparently.
I told him he was talking shit. "What do you know about being black?" he said.
"What do you know about growing up female in the South?" I said.