Betye Saar: Keepin’ it Clean

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At first I thought Betye Saar didn’t have much to offer. I had heard but didn’t really hear of her. If I would have known, I would have come before the last day. But, hey, at least I made it! And, I finally met the work- the Wash Boards. The mammy’s revolutionized.

My Grandma cleaned. That’s how she made her living. She cleaned homes. She smiled a lot. She was a kind person, her clients said. But, she was also scorn. She was also taken advantage of. She was given the shorter end of the stick. Not a life of sweetness at all. That’s whom I thought of mostly, Grandma.

I never used a washboard. I am almost willing to bet that my mom did. Maybe around her house as a child. She’s not here for me to ask her. There was one in my house while growing up. It was a musical instrument to me. Mom had purchased a white washing machine that we all loved. So, we played with the washing board, until we forgot about it.

The washing board suggest the memories of the African American women who did cleaning for others and their life style. Their characteristics that came with it. “They had a certain cleanliness about them”. That, they did, Ms. Saar. And there are some of those women who are still around.

When I am around my aunts, church mothers and Grandma. I am all of a sudden conscience of my white tee and I would beg my brother not to wear ripped jeans- they look extremely  out of place around them. I am conscience of the white blouse I have and cherish but messed up in the washing machine. Knowing of them, makes me always want rid my closet of old, stain clothes. And of the stylish ripped Old Navy jacket.

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I take a step back and witness the art on the walls. The walls are of the color of water. The lights are dim. The wash boards hang on the walls evenly.  Using a washing board starts the process of metamorphosis. Your body turning into a machine. There is nothing even about using a washing board. Your arms move up and down, your hands back and forth, your back is bent, and your legs are steady. Steady. Stead…Steady. Steady. Stead…Steady. Trying to keep the washing in the offish rhythm. Even your neck is steady. And the pain, it comes steady, too.

I came across the white dress in the corner. The baby’s christening gown. A beautiful dress. But, adorned with racial slurs sitting atop is a child’s photo. It’s the slurs that await her. The slurs that can’t seem to be washed out of the dress, no matter how big the washing board, because they can’t be washed out of the tongue of society.

I came across another assemblage. The ironing board. Another board. This time requiring one to stand and press. Within the board are the slaves who were forced to aboard the ship, 1619. Boards. There is a chained iron and behind the ironing board is a sheet that was just pressed. And, ingrained into the sheet in small letters, but there for the world to see are the frightening letters KKK.

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Blacks cleaned their sheets too?

I wonder if Saar ever thought about extending this idea of boards? With all that is going on now in black communities, we can take a step back and look at the homes the wash boards are found. Look at the boarded up windows and wooden doors of these homes or shacks. Those who could barely keep a roof over their heads. I think of Grandma again. That’s what happened to her home.

One week in Aberdeen, Mississippi

Taken from different Journal Entries:

This is my second GO (Global Outreach) trip with Fordham University.

I don’t know if its because I am more mature or more aware of my race and what its representation means but being here has evoked many thoughts and feelings.

At St. Francis of Assisi

We attended mass at the Aberdeen Catholic church, St. Francis of Assisi,  that is affiliated with the camp. The priest,  spoke very matter of factually and was full of arrogance. I found myself blocking out what he was saying because I could not get over his character. I thought it was a bit…dainty and very turn stand-offish. However, at the very end of the sermon, he said these words:

‘…in the mean time, while I wait for the Lord to return and take me, I will joyfully do his work’ which spoke to me because one, as a Christian, I am seriously waiting for Jesus’ return and this thing called life- which is a full time Job- I want to do with a smile on my face. It’s always easy to dismiss people and very seldom do they captivate me again once I’ve dismissed them- and he did.

A Black Virgin Mary 

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What Can I give while I am here?

I sat still and thought, here I am taking. As my neighbor once said to me, don’t always be ready to take. Give. I thought, what can I give? I can give joy and love and a real smile even when I am uncomfortable or in the middle of dismissing someone or an idea.

Constant Inspiration

‘Pray Big. Love Big’ A quote on the back of a tee shirt. I am surrounded by a lot of quotes. Almost everyday someone wears a tee with an inspiring quote.

Comparing my GO acceptance

I can’t help but think the reason I had to wait so long to be accepted to a GO trip (many years ago) was because so many students were leading trips and feeding their own prejudices. I mean really, I waited about three years to be picked! And, GO trips are about giving back to communities not picking and choosing friends.

GO Alaska was totally friendship.

Thinking about Back Home

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I’ts 6am and I am up in the main cabin. My biological clock gets me up at 4am daily and since I couldn’t go back to sleep, I prayed and tried to shake off thoughts of my friends and family back home. I can play Pandora but its so peaceful here. The birds are singing and rising with the sun.

Observations and Answers to Questions

I have eight children in my group. 5 blacks and 3 whites.

While talking about race, a black young man who works at the camp, told me most of the slave homes are passed down through generations so the white own most of the property and blacks are dispersed throughout Mississippi.

As we drive, I see that red looking sand that many authors wrote about when writing about the deep south.

Hand-games

I taught the girls how to play ‘Tweet Baby’. The black girls got it so fast. I only wanted to slap with them. I feel that we are all really related by some common thread. I thought of two things, how difficult would it be to start a black cultural camp or run a camp at my church?

Some History of the Camp

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I am now outside near a lake. Ms. Heidi showed me a special place to sit and watch the sunrise. The Presbyterians built the camp in the 1940’s. There is a little outdoor chapel.  and leading to the outdoor chapel, there is a sign that reads, ‘The Lord is in His Holy Temple, Let all the Earth Keep Silent before Him”. As you continue to walk, there is a arch that reads ‘Let’s worship God’.

The lizard in the girls dorm

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When we got back from lunch, the girls let out a shriek.

A lizard!!

They crowed around the door all eager to see the green medium lizard. The news of the new comer spread like wildfire. The camp counselors gathered in the bathroom and spent several minutes trying to catch it.

Aberdeen Lock and Dam/ Aka the Waterway

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There was a short nap time. Then the girls were told to put on their swim suits and the whole sun screen and bug spray parade began. The air went from fresh to chemicals.

We all boarded a yellow school bus and went to Aberdeen’s waterway. I watched as children and adults got into a lake to swim. This truly is living with the land. Simple living at its best. The water dirty and muddy.  I’ve never swam in a lake before.

Happy Times Consist of…

Driving through the county, smelling the grass. Listening to the language of the children. Hearing their accents and looking at their expressions.

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Dialogue- Let me Slap you 

Camp Counselor: Stand still! There’s a bug on your back! Let me slap it!

Me: Wait! No!! Just fan it off.

Camp Counselor: I won’t hurt you!

I started jiggling so it’ll fly away. Bug flies away

Camp Counselor: I wasn’t going to hurt you. Those bugs bite and leave bumps as big as this (uses both hands to show how big the bump can get)!

Me thinking: No bug was going to bite me and one one was about to slap me.

Dialogue- Slap Me!

Me (calmly): There’s a bug on you.

Camp Counselor: Slap It!

Me: No, I don’t slap bugs.

Camp Counselor clicks teeth and rolls eyes.

Camp Counselor 2: Turn, let me help.

Camp Counselor 1 turns.

Camp Counselor 2 slaps back with force.

Camp Counselor 1: aaaahhhh! Ouch!!!

Me: Roll eyes.