Rooted Against the Wind. – book reviews

Rooted Against the World By Gloria Wade-Gayles Beacon Press, 1997; Boston; 197 pages; Paperbacks: $12.00

Rooted Against the Wind is a collection of essays in which Gloria
Wade-Gayles takes us with her as she grapples with personal responses
to some gripping issues: aging, rape, homophobia, where Black scholars
should teach, and choosing to live in a Black community. Her responses
are loving, sensible, and wise.

Although I could have written the first essay–“Who Says an Older
Woman Can’t/Shouldn’t Dance?” — with very few changes, Wade-Gayles has
a wonderful way of putting complex ideas into a few words. Take the
following statements, for example:

“Perhaps I dance because many of our mothers could not, or did not.”

“Becoming older is a gift, not a curse, for it is that season when
we have long and passionate conversations with the self we spoke to
only briefly in our younger years.”

“To be Black, woman, and older is to be plunged whole into toxic
waters from head to torso to heel, and we must find creative ways to
prevent the damage from being consummate, for this triple jeopardy
removes us from what this culture values: being White, being male, and
being young. [African Americans] have yet to develop immunities to the
ailments White America suffers. We love young as much as we love White
and we continue to privilege male over female.”

I like the way Wade-Gayles articulates these unformed understandings of mine eloquently.

In the second essay, “Fissures in the Moon: Sharing Pain in Order
to Heal,” she describes a brutal sexual assault and makes the point
that empathizing with rape victims falls far short of knowing how
victims actually feel. And again, I felt a kinship with Wade-Gayles —
not because I have been assaulted, but because I worked a ruse, similar
to the one she used, to prevent a “date rape” when I was in Nigeria
many years ago.

Not only did reading Rooted Against the Wind reinforce many ideas I
already hold, but I have also been provoked to change some of my
attitudes.

“Fighting My Homophobia: An Essay of Gratitude for My Students”
encouraged me to think about how I feel about homosexuality, and to
make the effort to move beyond merely “accepting” gays and lesbians to
a more active role.

Wade-Gayles says, “If Whites have a moral and political obligation
… to support the racial struggle, heterosexuals have that same
obligation to the gay and lesbian struggle.”

Like her, I do not want to become “a woman who measure[s] or
weigh[s] human pain.” I, too, have shifted my anger about interracial
relationships to real problems, as Wade-Gayles explains in “A Change of
Heart about Matters of the Heart.” I believe that establishing a
loving, intimate relationship is so difficult-particularly in a society
that values material achievement over emotional well being — that if
it can be done at all, the race — or gender — of the people involved
is irrelevant.

I know about the hell of dissertation politics that she describes
in “Going Home Again: The Dilemma of Today’s Young Black
Intellectuals.” I gave up on my attempt to obtain a doctorate early in
the 1970s when I was told by the chair of my committee that a study of
Black literature was “academically invalid.”

Again, Wade-Gayles, gets to the heart of the tug-of-war over gifted Black scholars in one pithy summation:

“In my opinion, there can be no justification for any African
American scholar to use her or his words and time, influence and clout,
to undermine Black schools.

“I ask again, for what reason and to serve whom?”

The only essay that did not resonate with me was the final one,
“When Race is Memory and Blackness is Choice.” Wade-Gayles writes of
choosing to live in a Black community as if it is somehow unusual.
Perhaps it’s because I live in Chicago, but it looks to me as if most
African Americans live in predominately Black communities, whether in
the city or in suburbia.

And for those like me who presently live in mixed communities,
there is no “forgetting” our people. Members of my family and many of
my friends continue to live where we have always lived. And I visit
them, shop there (there are no collard greens in my neighborhood
grocery), and get my hair cut there. My residence is a matter of
logistical convenience. In no way does it affect my sense of who I am
and who I have always been.

Apparently, and thankfully, my life outside the academy has spared
me the knowledge that calling people of African descent “Black” is no
longer politically correct. I have on occasion heard the term “people
of color,” but all it means to me is that somebody is using “White” as
the point of definition and I — and most of the people I interact with
— don’t do that.

When I am not reading for sheer entertainment, there are three
things I want from a book: new information, reinforcement for ideas I
already hold, and provocation to think about my beliefs in a new way,
possibly even changing them. Rooted Against the Wind provided me with
all three.

At times, I felt that Wade-Gayles and I were either the same spirit
split into two persons, or we somehow know each other without ever
having met. We are both Black women over fifty who have parented alone.
She is a professor of English, as I once was. We are both writers who
have dealt publicly with issues of personal concern. Perhaps it is
these circumstantial similarities that have led us to almost identical
ideas on the issues about which she writes. I am eager to read her
other work.

Janet Cheatham Bell is a writer, publishing consultant, and the
author of Victory of the Spirit, Famous Black Quotations, and The Soul
of Success. She is a former teacher of African American literature at
several universities.

COPYRIGHT 1998 Cox, Matthews & Associates



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