". . . But the past does not exist independently from the present. Indeed, the past is only past because there is a present, just as I can point to something over there only because I am here. But nothing is inherently over there or here. In that sense, the past has no content. The past -- or more accurately, pastness -- is a position. Thus, in no way can we identify the past as past." p. 15

". . . But we may want to keep in mind that deeds and words are not as distinguishable as often we presume. History does not belong only to its narrators, professional or amateur. While some of us debate what history is or was, others take it into their own hands." p. 153

Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History (1995) by Michel-Rolph Trouillot

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Harry Belafonte

What brought Harry Belafonte to my consciousness was a song, of course.  A Christmas song, on a Christmas album of Caribbean Christmas songs that I played over and over and over as a child, entranced not only by the lyrics, but by the individual words themselves.  This song was "The Borning Day."  Even now, the verse that brought tears to my eyes every time I heard it, make my eyes fill. Harry Belafonte understood what it is to be poor. He's never forgotten.

Mary and the baby hungry

Yes, we know what hungry be
So we bring them peas and rice
And a little ginger tea
Only pigeon peas and rice
A little ginger tea

Mary thank us with her eyes
She poor the same as we
She poor the same as we

Mary and the baby lonely
Lonely is not good to be
So we sit awhile and chat awhile
To keep them company

Stay awhile makes the baby smile
Pass the time of day
When we see how pleased they be
It make us glad we stay
So glad that we could stay

Mary and the baby weary
Oh, we know what weary be
So we make a bed and pillow for their head
With down from the muhow tree
Only down from the muhow tree

To rest them soft and good
We feel bad this was all we had
We do the best we could
We do the best we could

Mary and the baby rest easy
We go away and let them be
On hush tip toe and voice kept low
We look up and see
Stars of hope shine in the sky
To mark the baby's birth

Seemed to say it's borning day
Of better times on earth
Of better times on earth

The marks of poverty are constant hunger, isolation without privacy, exhaustion -- and yet, still hope. O gods ....
There was no way that girl could know back then that one day she would meet Harry Belafonte, and thereafter, occasionally spend time in his company. Mr. Belafante singing "Borning Day" was the first gateway to the Caribbean for her, sparking her imagination, but she never dreamed that in the future she'd be there often, see the poverty, the joy, the fun, the beauty of the Caribbean for herself.

Mr. Belafonte's 87 now.  He's written a book that speaks to what he's seen and experienced over his lifetime of artistic achievement and political activism, particularly on behalf of the poor and powerless.  He was motivated to finally do this book because his dear, dear friend, Marlon Brando, died without doing so, and Belafonte is one of the remaining who know all the wonderful things Brando did too, for the poor and the powerless.  What the people did with whom he's worked closely during their lifetimes, from Martin Luther King to Sidney Poitier, to Marlon Brando and others of that generation of entertainment celebrities, is the subject of his book, along with his own political education.
My Song: A Memoir (09/2011), written with Michael Shnayerson, is more than worth reading, particularly for his account of growing up poor in Jamaica and Harlem.  It's full humor too.  The book is the second part that fills in all he couldn't include in his documentary, on Brando and othersSing Your Song (HBO, 10/2011)
Last fall. when Occupy Wall Street here had a weekend of panels and so on with the activists of the Civil Rights era of the 20th C, Mr. Belafonte was present and an active contributor. Today, Smiley and West gave Mr. Belafonte their whole radio program to talk of his response and ideas about what's going on now.  He was as inspiring on the radio as he is in person.

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