I’ve always been proud of my ancestry. I’ve told my children and grandchildren about it, and a good portion of people with whom I’ve spoken about my family have been entirely unaware of it.
I came to doubt that reputation entirely, after reading The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven by C.S. Lewis.
In the book, Lewis (brother of Nigel) argues that all human beings, great and small, are descendants of a godlike creator. He writes of how, from those sources, we have inherited a large capacity for violence.
The excesses of war we look to for some answers are nothing more than “doubling,” a grandparent’s guilt, or a way of lifting ourselves from disappointment in the past.
Lewis mentions two incidences from the penumbra of earlier history – the Great Penobscot scalping of 1786 and the Cherokee tattoo of 2007.
From Lewis’ postmodern perspective, the legends of scalping from the 1700s – the story about the crow and the pigeon – could also be read as a commentary on the differences between black and white, with whiteness having suffered its fair share of injury.
In Lewis’ analysis, the story of the scalping – a story intended as a condemnation and a warning of the dangers of cruelty – speaks to today’s understanding of whites behaving badly.
I have my own story of violence in the heart of the European world. What makes my story different is not just that I am black, and my grandfather’s name is St. Thomas Lynch.
What makes my story distinct is that, according to Lewis, my ancestors were all chattel slaves. When our grandfather was born, Americans had outlawed slavery, but they had no such law in place for the Black population.
St. Thomas was considered property, his humanness eventually stripped from him. Those were not the times of the Cortezes, the 15th century Spanish conquerors, the pirates, or the 16th century Scots.
I am all that’s left of my forefathers. I am the bastard child of a failure of peace and democracy, where “new gods” took their place at the Supreme Court.
When I ask children about their families, I tell them the truths about my family. I tell them about slavery, because what I have taught them is not just right, it is moral. I tell them because I know that if only one of them can find someone who can understand their ancestor, then the next generation will have a chance at being free and equal.
I do not believe that there is anything obscene about white supremacy, but I do believe it persists, and it exists to a huge degree because of white supremacy.
This, as Lewis tells us, is just part of the story we know. What matters more is the unfolding meaning of the story as we make it up.