Whew! I just finished writing an essay on the Door of No Return. I seem to be doing pretty well with non-fiction writing these days; too bad I can’t say the same about my poor novel. I’m writing about HOW I’m going to write the novel, and yet very little’s getting done. Hopefully all this brain activity will get me motivated to plunge back in. Do you know about the Door of No Return? Here’s a photo my friend Keith sent me after he visited Goree Island off the coast of Senegal.
The Door is generally believed to be the threshold within a slave fort that transformed Africans into slaves; on one side you were Ashanti, Igbo, Yoruba, or one of a dozen other ethnicities; you had your own language, your own name, your own history and cultural heritage. And then in an instant, all of that was stripped away and you “became” black, a negro, a slave (in the eyes of slave traders, at least). So my essay is sort of a meditation on the function of doors in my imagination, starting with the magic wardrobes and secret gardens I dreamt about as a child, and building up to the Door of No Return and the use of portals in my speculative fiction novels. My essay draws heavily on Dionne Brand’s amazing book, A Map to the Door of No Return: Notes to Belonging—I couldn’t stop myself from using her brilliant quotes, and encourage you to look for this book, though I believe it’s out of print in Canada. I had one of my moments of rage while visiting Toronto a few years back after finding Brand’s book on the $2 table of a major bookstore. It ought to be required reading for every Canadian student! Anyway, here’s a bit of my essay; if it gets rejected, I guess I can always post it in its entirety in here:
Looking back on those days now, I marvel at the girl I once was. Why would a plump, brown-skinned girl with an Afro embark on a quest to read all the books she could find by Frances Hodgson Burnett? Was I an Anglophile in training, or was my taste in books (and music, and clothes) a way of rejecting popular representations of blackness, which fit me just as poorly (if at all)? Up until grade three I started each school day by singing “God Save the Queen,” so perhaps my taste in literature was the inevitable result of Canada’s colonial legacy.
Whatever the reason, I have since made peace with my past self. I accept my own hybridity, which is too often reduced to the fact that I am mixed-race. There is a common misperception that mixed-race people exist solely for the purpose of bridging the racial divide. I am an educator, so I do have a professional obligation to teach others to respect and value difference. As a writer, however, I have a somewhat different mission. Unlike our unfortunate president, who is attacked whenever he dares to broach the topic of race (and even when he does not), my goal isn’t racial reconciliation. Instead it is to expose and explore what Dionne Brand calls “the fissure between the past and the present;” with my writing I aim to reveal “a rupture in history, a rupture in the quality of being…a physical rupture, a rupture of geography.” Brand explains,
That fissure is represented in The Door of No Return: that place where our ancestors departed one world for another; the Old World for the New. The place where all names were forgotten and all beginnings recast. In some desolate sense it was the creation place of Blacks in the New World Diaspora at the same time it signified the end of traceable beginnings.
Later in the essay I remind folks that there can be no reconciliation without truth, so hats off to former President Jimmy Carter for admitting on MSNBC that Rep. Joe Wilson’s outburst was at least partially motivated by racism. Carter’s a Southerner himself, and he knows what’s going on with these rallies that have more than a whiff of the mob about them. One of my favorite bloggers, Diary of an Anxious Black Woman, is back online (hurray!); you can find her analysis and a link to Carter’s interview with Brian Williams here.