By Ernie McCray
As I sit writing as a still new 75 year old, I’m so glad I’ve lived, in spite of how scary our world is at times, to see shreds of promise rise before my eyes, hopeful happenings like Arab Spring, gays marrying, and Occupy. I love anything that keeps hope alive.
That being said, I just read the most inspirational memoir, “The Fluency of Light,” by Aisha Sabatini Sloan, the niece of a new friend of mine. I was feeling good about the book before I even fluttered the pages because I found out on the back cover that Aisha lived in my hometown for a spell and has a masters from the University of Arizona, as do I. And she taught creative writing there too. All of that, alone, represented hope to me as back in my day at the U of A it was very unlikely that she would have even been invited for an interview to teach Wildcats. My school has come a long way.
Aisha writes about “coming of age in a theater of black and white” and that resonates in deep places in my soul. I mean, having lived a life as a Colored-Negro-Black-African-
I loved taking this trip with Aisha across the rough terrain between blackness and whiteness that she, the child of a black father and white mother, like three of my children, has had to traverse in order to create an identity for herself.
Identity! Isn’t that what it’s all about? Having a sense of ourselves, discovering who we are and where and how we fit in?
What a nice read this writer provides in her search for light and illumination in a black and white world. Her take on my main man, Thelonious Monk, as a shiner of light through his artistry, through his nuanced funky tones, was so nicely done.
She writes of her dad growing up in Detroit and I’m transported back to the summer of ’49 when I was but a growing boy vacationing in the city with my mother – and the KKK relegated our little stay to a trip in hell.
She explores “passing for white” and I can’t help but remember one of my mother’s best friends who did just that. I can still hear them laughing so hard about descriptions of life in the heart of the white world that they would almost fall to the floor.
I can relate to the picture she painted of her dad, a renowned photojournalist who is more than comfortable with the “Queen’s English,” also nearly falling to the floor with laughter as he “talks black” on the phone with a childhood friend. I do it all the time as there’s nothing like the rhythm and sounds of my people’s way of talking, of being, ebonic though it be. Life in two worlds.
She mentions, along the way, her travels in South Africa, and the light shines brightly in me as I acknowledge Nelson Mandela’s gift to the world: a “Truth and Reconciliation” approach to getting beyond racist political and social sins. What a world this one could be if we learned to truly forgive our trespassers.
Aisha brought so much to the surface in this journey into blackness and whiteness. Pinocchio, even. Yeah, Pinocchio. But that’s all I’m going to say other than: I think that anyone who reads this book, no matter who they are, will see themselves reflected in the fluency of the light that this brilliant insightful author shines on our consciences and beliefs as we strive to make sense of our world.
Aisha Sabatini Sloan is now among the shreds of promise that have risen before my eyes somewhat recently. She keeps hope alive. She makes you think. I love it.