Sharpening My Oyster Knife

In 1928, Zora Neal Hurston wrote:

Someone is always at my elbow reminding me that I am the granddaughter of slaves. It fails to register depression with me. Slavery is sixty years in the past. The operation was successful and the patient is doing well, thank you. … No one on earth ever had a greater chance for glory. The world to be won and nothing to be lost. … Even in the helter-skelter skirmish that is my life, I have seen that the world is to the strong regardless of a little pigmentation more or less. No, I do not weep at the world-I am too busy sharpening my oyster knife. … I have no separate feeling about being an American citizen and colored. … My country, right or wrong. (Taken from I Love Myself when I am Laughing . . . and Then Again When I Am Looking Mean and Impressive)

This from a black woman living in the South, pre-civil rights era.  She could acknowledge “the terrible struggle that made me an American out of a potential slave” while refusing to allow that she was “tragically colored”. She maintained that “there is no great sorrow dammed up in my soul, nor lurking behind my eyes. I do not mind at all.”

And her attitude was not a product of an upbringing insulated against racism; she simply chose her own unique life-view: “Sometimes,” she said, “I feel discriminated against, but it does not make me angry. It merely astonishes me. How can anyone deny themselves the pleasure of my company? It’s beyond me.”

I love this woman.

And as unpopular as it might be to say right now, I love my country, too. I’m sure it would be far more vogue to tilt my hat at a tragic angle and utter sidelong epithets against capitalism, politicians, educators, and moral decay, but here’s the thing: we have it pretty good. My children go to school every day. For free. Medical care might be expensive, but it exists. Gas prices might be rising, but I have the freedom to own and drive my car, or not, as I choose. This experiment called American democracy is ongoing and we have less than stellar moments in our history, but it has not failed. I get in my bed at night and I don’t worry too much about what will happen to my family while my eyes are closed. I’m warm, dry, and reasonably certain that when I wake up in the morning the landscape won’t have changed significantly while I slept. There is political unrest in some places–but those demonstrators pretty much all return to their homes at night; they aren’t carried off on stretchers or buried in mass graves. There are not thousands of children with swollen bellies languishing in camps on the outskirts of our major cities. Segments of our population know hunger, but we have never experienced famine; from time to time we endure  injustice, but not tyranny.

I am grateful to be who I am, in the country in which I live, with the opportunities that surround me daily. My race, my heritage, my country, right or wrong. It’s an amazing time to be alive.

Remind me of that, next time I start whining…

2 responses to “Sharpening My Oyster Knife

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