Writing Grandmother’s Revine

Russian military forces bombed the Babyi Yar Memorial Park site in Kiev, Ukraine on March 1, 2022. I saw footage of a man climbing up on a tank and then kneeling before it. I imagined what that man might be thinking and feeling. I imagined that I was that man, that child killed in the bomb blast, that dead young soldier left behind on the side of the road by the Russian military that was being reported in coverage of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. 

On March 1, 2022, I remembered into feeling my own heart cracked open in the summer of 1962 when I was eleven-years old. That summer the goings on in my worlds had me trying to understand why Black people were hated and hunted and killed in my homes of Houma and New Orleans, Louisiana and Ocean Springs and Natchez, Mississippi. It was in Natchez, where my uncle was the editor of a local Black newspaper, that I greedily read the newspapers, journals and books that arrived for  him. It was in Natchez during the summer of 1962 that I began to read in horror about the holocaust documented in The Wall by Jon Hersey and the Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William Shirer. 

During the summer of 1962 I became completely terrified of all white people. Since all of the Jews I had ever known looked white to me, I assumed Jews had all of the same power and privileges of all white-looking people. Yet Hitler had sought to exterminate all Jews no matter how German they were or how white they looked or behaved. In my mind, heart, body and soul I came to appalling comprehensions. If white people interdicted look–like–white people, Jews and others, forced them to register their wealth, appropriated that wealth, evicted them, imprisoned them, enslaved them, and murdered them en masse based on the white superiority of only certain kinds of white- looking people, even in my eleven year old capacity, I understood the devastating truths of black peoples’ capture, enslavement, and our constant attempted subjugation, exploitation, terror, internment and murder. 

While reading these books I understood the futility of Black people attempting  to achieve full citizenship and agency in white people’s courts, governments, religions, science, education etc. I also understood our stubborn faith, purpose and determination to live free. I understood we had no choice since we could not change or hide our skin color, but we did have choices about how we lived, and lasted, and died, and left ourselves behind to carry on. 

It was that summer, as I read those books, that I came across the documentation of the genocide at Babi Yar. It was also that summer that I read about the Red Summer of 1919 in the U.S., the mass killing of Black people, Black towns and communities, the theft of Black wealth, and the forced migrations of tens of thousands of Black people by white individuals, groups and communities that were supported by and sanctioned by white cultural, economic, religious and political institutions with white supremacist norms, along with city, state and federal laws and policies. 

The invasion, bombing, forced migration, and attempted annihilation of Ukraine’s peoples, lands, and cultures has stirred in me in incandescent  fear, rage, grief, and memories of other invasions, bombings, genocides, and attempted annihilations and erasures based on imperialism, hatred, fear, and profit in our current, recent, and not so distant  histories. Since that summer of 1962 my rational fears are now accompanied by my steadfast persistence that all of us to be and be becoming self-determined, free, and in creative, purposeful, and joyous struggle for our precious lives, for our peoples’ precious lives.

I am angry, rageful really, that these histories are constantly repeating themselves. I am soul deep sad that I recognize them at home and abroad, and I am not surprised. 

Andrea R. Canaan, MSW, MFA

March 21, 2022

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