Lucy & Me
By Lyn May
This is a picture of our common ancestor, Lucy. Recently I watched NOVA's Dawn of Humanity. At one point I stopped the tape to get a glass of water, and realized I'd stopped it on this created image of what she looked like based on her skeleton. I was mesmerized. I stood at my kitchen sink and stared at her, and felt I knew her. I felt a deep kinship with her.
My mother was freckled and fair, but she had Lucy's long nose-to-lip distance and their lips are identical, wide and thin. I looked at Lucy's cheekbones and saw myself. I could see grandson Henri in her eyes, and my husband Lee in her brow and skin. I felt proud.
I believe a piece of the deep bigotry we African Americans live with is our culture’s reluctance to accept that we once ALL lived in trees and were speechless, furry apes, clearly not created in a God's idealized image. That's at the heart of calling a black person an ape, and meaning it in the most demeaning, derogatory way possible. In one anti-Obama screed, written when he was running the first time, the writer said his mother had "mated with an African." The implication here is clear.
We black people often look like our ape ancestors (as do a lot of white people), and many of us feel deeply ashamed of that. We are physical reminders of a past so many people would like to think is a damn lie. I believe this is one of many reasons white skin is so highly prized. It leaves the false impression that this treasured skin color means being farther away from Lucy - just in case that out-of-Africa nonsense is true. Darwin’s Theory of Evolution was slowed mightily in 19th century England because of the unwillingness of even the best scientists to accept a biological connection to darkest Africa.
Slavery was made easy for Americans to accept, finding support in Biblical scripture, and because apes, chimps, gorillas and Africans lived - and live - on the same continent at the same time. It is only a short hop from the gorilla to the human. If the former is clearly not human in the way we understand humanness, then it is easier to assume the latter is not fully human – which, in an odd way is an argument for evolution. The conclusion was that we were not human enough, not highly evolved enough, to mind being enslaved.
These are 19th and 20th century scientific and social realities that continue to fuel our interracial and intercultural conflicts today. Just like the recency of our descent from the trees in Africa, none of us is as far from these beliefs as we’d like to believe we are.
And so, if some of my ancestors came from Africa only a few hundred years ago, then I, too, must be less than human.
And so it goes.