I Dreamed I Was Black Last Night

tornado-funnel-cloud

I had an interesting dream last night and thought I would share, partly just because I found it weird and wonder what it meant, and partly because I think maybe there was a pearl of wisdom to be found in it about race relations.

In the dream my family and I were scared because a tornado was announced to be coming straight at our home. We don’t have a basement, so we ran to the neighbors’ house to beg them to take us in and give us shelter in their basement. The first family we asked said no. Interestingly, they were the same race as we were in the dream. The second family (a white couple with a baby) agreed, and not only did they take us in, but they offered to take in another family as well.

Now, at this point it is necessary to say that while I am about as white as you can get in real life, in the dream, myself and all my family were black, and it didn’t seem the slightest bit odd or out of place that our race had changed. The other family our neighbors agreed to take in was black as well. I remember looking around at all of us gathered together and thinking that the white couple was probably uncomfortable around that many black people. Weird thought to have, but it is honestly what I thought in the dream.

While we were all huddling together in the basement, the tornado hit and it was an experience I will never forget. It was SO painful physically. The force of the noise and the vibration was agonizing. In the dream all of us started screaming simply to try to release some of the tension in our heads and bodies from the vibration and furious sounds. I have no idea if that is what a real tornado is like or not, but it shocks me even now to think of how much it hurt in the dream and how vicious it was. It almost makes me wonder if past lives are a real thing, and if they are, if I didn’t endure a tornado in a past life. Maybe someone out there can tell me if that is anything like what a real tornado feels like.

That was pretty much the end of the dream. We all survived and the damage wasn’t really that bad to the house. But the whole race relations thing has been niggling at me all day. I feel there is something profound there for me to learn. If you want to take a shot at dream interpretation, please feel free to give it a shot in the comments!

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A Sad Tribute to Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Paul Laurence Dunbar

Last weekend my husband and I visited the Paul Laurence Dunbar House here in Dayton, Ohio. Being a poet myself I have wanted to check out the historical site for a while. When we arrived, I was happy to see quite a few others there, including several kids. I noticed that we were the only “white” people there (other than the tour guide), but I hoped that was just coincidence and didn’t mean that people from different ethnic backgrounds ignored this part of history. I have noticed over the years that many people tend to only care about the history of their particular heritage, which I find sad. There is so much to be learned by experiencing different cultures and studying the lives of people from all kinds of backgrounds.

Before we toured Paul’s house, we all watched a mini documentary on the life and times of Paul Laurence Dunbar. As the film went on, I began to feel worse and worse. They talked about how Paul was highly educated for his time, even becoming class president and the founding editor of his high school newspaper, but was still denied jobs in the fields he studied, because as they put it, “an uneducated white man was still considered better than an educated negro”. Paul eventually had to take a lowly job as an elevator operator. They went on to explain how even though Paul did eventually gain some notoriety as a poet, he was truly saddened because the public refused to notice his deeper, more thoughtful poems written in standard English and instead only celebrated the lighthearted ethnic “dialect” poetry. Even worse, they used his poems to back up their belief that African Americans were not as smart or important as “white folks” and even worse, that they had actually enjoyed being slaves.

When we walked over to the house, the tour guide explained that Paul and his family were the first African Americans to move into this nicer part of town (much to the dismay of some in the neighborhood). Most of the people of his race were forced to live in the “ghetto” in little shanty homes that were nothing more than thrown together huts. As I listened to all this I looked at the faces of the sweet, innocent kids around me. I felt awful that they have to live in a world where this kind of prejudice once existed (and still exists), even if the circumstances have gotten better since Paul’s day. I know it isn’t my fault and that I didn’t cause it, but I felt awful that my ancestors were likely a part of the society that so mistreated (and continues to mistreat) an entire race of people.

I could write about some of the other unfair things that were talked about, like the Dunbar family’s slavery background or how African Americans soldiers were considered “good to stop a bullet” but not good enough to be appreciated…however, I think a few of Paul’s words capture the frustration and unfairness best –

I know why the caged bird beats his wing

Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;

For he must fly back to his perch and cling

When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;

And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars

And they pulse again with a keener sting –

I know why he beats his wing!