One day, when we were kids, Mommy made a Pronouncement: “Today, you are going to meet your white relatives.” I don’t recall meeting our white relatives (maybe I was traumatized), but I remember this pronouncement. I was still innocent, and, therefore, had no sense of the evil white folk had done and were continuing to perpetuate against Black folk in America during the Decisive Decade that I was born into. To think that white folk were in our family tree. . .
At this time, and throughout my life, I started having this dream, of a tree. As a kid, I found myself in this Garden, and there’s a tree, the biggest tree I’ve ever seen, and people, Black and Brown, Red and White, and Yellow, are leaves on the biggest tree I’ve ever seen.
This was before the Day of the Rope.
The tree seems to grow even bigger over time, and the Black and Brown leaves jerk up and down.
During the Decisive Decade, when I was a Black Boy, I saw the Black and Brown “leaves” falling from the biggest tree I’ve ever seen. The Red leaves were practically gone.
This dream has not gone away. I still dream this dream, but I can now interpret it, with my understanding of history, psychology, and the science behind DNA. Of course, the leaves on the biggest tree I’ve ever seen are people, the whole of humanity, all the races.
One of the most beautiful passages I’ve ever read about race, which explains something else, uses a tree and leaves as its metaphor:
Like leaves on trees the race of man is found,
Now green in youth, now withering on the ground:
Another race the following spring supplies,
They fall successive, and successive rise. . .
- Homer, The Iliad
One day I was invited to give a “race talk” at a predominantly white church. I wanted to shake things up a bit, so I went to the biggest tree I’ve ever seen, although it’s only in my dreams. Later, I imagine this tree of my dreams in Mississippi, so far from the Garden of Eden.
My race talk began with my family tree. I told the white folk that I was shaking it, and shaking it, and shaking it, as hard as I could, until a white person fell out. I then went on to say that if they shook their family trees hard enough, then a Black person was bound to fall out. (I confess, I enjoyed making them turn red, but it turned into a teachable moment, to have a courageous conversation about race.)
Eleven percent of my DNA has European roots. I have second cousins whose percentage of DNA is eleven percent African, and 79 percent European. Perhaps they are the “white relatives” Mommy mentioned during her Pronouncement when we were kids.
My two white sisters, Joyce Penfield and Anjahni Davi, though, are not bound to me by blood or DNA, but we share something special, including we were all born on October 1st, in different years.
When our baby brother Whitney, not Houston, passed away less than a year ago, I learned from the people who love him, that family not only includes the people we share parents, but also with people we share our lives. With my two white sisters, we have shared important moments in our lives, where our journeys intersected. They are just as much a part of me as my biological sisters.