Entry# 16: Sarah Crysl Akhtar–The Last Time

October 1967, Birmingham, Alabama, USA --- Civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. sits in a jail cell at the Jefferson County Courthouse in Birmingham, Alabama. --- Image by © Bettmann/CORBIS

Free to Fail

Literati:

As far as I can tell, we have had NO entries in this discussion about racism from ANY persons of color. Why is that? Best explanation is that our site has rarely had people of color visiting us. We have not heard growing up, as Barack Obama did, car doors locked as he walked by.  So what irreparable harm has been done to us “less” colorful people to express an opinion?

“Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.” (Martin Luther King from Letters from a Birmingham Jail)

I am part of the equation. I weep as I see the whip lash into someone else’s back, and it is a different quality of pain than that of the one’s whose flesh  is serrated, both physically and spiritually. But this does not disqualify me from weeping, or wanting to repair what 400 years of slavery has wrought upon us as a nation.

Sara Crysl Akhtar weaves her own unique thread into this narrative.  A mixed marriage has as much right  to fail as one that stays within confines of “racially pure” unions.  I hope you appreciate her candor as much as I do.

The Last Time

by

Sarah Crysl Akhtar

 

The last time I saw Grandpa, he rushed passed me as though I reeked of brimstone.  It was only to be expected; this loving man had always railed against the schvartzes and here I’d gone and married one.

Everyone was glad Grandma was already dead; this would have killed her, they said.  I myself have always doubted that.  If she’d known how my dad beat me, until I was old enough to make a threat he couldn’t ignore–

My aunt and uncle showed up in my mother’s living room to persuade me against this sundering of the order of the universe.  They hadn’t been much concerned with anything that had come before but this was a horror too far.  I used to joke that we, in contrast to everyone else in the family, were actually changeling Appalachian Baptist hillbilly Jews; I had an alcoholic dad and no college fund, and here I’d gone fornicating with a black high school dropout who’d been cashiered out of the army and whose poetry wasn’t really any good.

The neighbors were sure, at least, that I wasn’t headed off to wedded bliss with a cake already baking in the oven.  They’d said, confidently, that my mom would have shipped me off to Puerto Rico to one of those unwed mothers’ homes serving the needs of New York Jewish girls who couldn’t keep their legs closed until they’d been consecrated to a circumcised guy.

I was very sorry not to have been actually living in sin; I’d so been looking forward to it.  He was the one who insisted on getting married and we did, three months later, as soon as he turned twenty-one.  I was eighteen so that was no problem.

I must say it surprised me, the look on my black boss’s face, when I showed her a picture of my bridegroom.  I’d imagined I’d be celebrated by all my friends in that summer factory job, they’d all seemed to think I was a cool fun kid, and I was, right up until I took another black guy off the market.  No one was clutching me to their bosom in proud approval of my one brave blow for equality.  It wasn’t that, anyway.  Though I had more than my rightful share of naiveté at that age, I never thought we were more than two people who imagined themselves in love, unwrapped in any sort of crusading banners.

The marriage didn’t last; no one should have worried.  It was just training wheels for all the rest of the stuff you encounter in your life.  First thing I learned:  that stain of non-acceptance was thoroughly equally divided among the populace.  Foolish to think people’s own histories of oppression would make them naturally more welcoming to those who couldn’t stay within the lines of the coloring book.

Things must be better now.  You see mixed couples even in financial services commercials on daytime cable TV.  If that’s not a barometer of the times, what is?

 

7 comments

  1. Jeff Switt says:

    Thanks for demonstrating that a point can be strongly made without beating the reader to death. So glad you posted. Jeff

  2. Lady Pafia Marigold says:

    Thank you Ms. Ahkar for this reality check on how inter-racial, inter-religious couples are judged & stressed in relationship. Next, let me address the intro by our editor which states, “As far as I can tell, we have had NO entries in this discussion about racism from ANY persons of color.” I will state (not giving out their name) that at least one of the contestants is by blood, mixed race. Families often include more than one race today. DNA-wise we all originate from one source. I’m having my own DNA(s) (probably bi-gender chimera) tested & will be proud if I am multi-racial. All people are my spiritual brothers & sisters.

  3. Miryam Howard says:

    Well put Ms Sarah….
    Perhaps there is a self-preservation instinct that kicks in when one responds to a mixed racial union…. Despite the desire to attain or acquire a “pure race” the process has never been successful. As a Jew, we are encouraged to marry within our race, as to keep a level of purity intact… this is not reality however for most Jews I know, including myself. Is desiring to co-habitate with ones own race a bad thing? Personally, I think it is just fine, however, to do so because one thinks they are superior is a lie and I believe only gives way to destructive behavior called prejudice.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      I have found that the least likely people to be my “own kind” are those who share my ethnic origins. Yes–I want to live among people who share my values, and among my values is an interest in differing points of view. But accidents of origin are not what I regard as meaningful categories.

  4. Michael Stang says:

    Thank you, Sarah, for writing in. I know I’m late, it’s January, but I never want to lose being thrilled. Thanks again.

    • Sarah Crysl Akhtar says:

      Jeff made me do it. I’m glad he did. There are some people I hope will always continue to enrich my own personal corner of the universe. You and he are two of them.

  5. David Jenkins says:

    Thank you Sarah.
    God knew no East no West no South
    no Skin nothing I learned like
    traditions of sin but later
    life began and strangely
    I survived His innocence
    without my own
    —-June Jordan

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