#174 Washwoman Dream

As my (just finished) scheduled posts on the Lord’s Prayer were rolling, there were times where I felt like jumping in and blogging on another matter. I’d set the posts for the lead up to Easter and the world was bad enough at that stage.

Then it started raining on the east coast of Australia.

Then Putin invaded Ukraine.

Then the covid virus started to swell in Sydney.

Then Will Smith slapped Chris Rock.

Then I got covid.

Meanwhile, it just kept on raining – and flooding.

I’ve not read Ray Bradbury’s short story collection, The Illustrated Man. Regardless, I am sure that most people on Australia’s east-coast are feeling the dystopian vibes of The Long Rain right about now.

As I said, there were times I felt like jumping in and blogging but then I thought, ‘in this season, what better to do, than pray?’ So I let it go.

It really has been a strange start to the year.

As Russia invaded Ukraine, I was reading Langston Hughes’ second autobiography, I wonder as I wander, in which he does a lot of wandering through Russia and ‘Asiatic-Russia’ as he terms it, in the 1930s. It felt odd to be reading it then.

Then Will Smith slapped Chris Rock and there was a lot of commentary on the matter. This included understandably comments from the Academy, every talk show and radio host (pretty much around the globe), water cooler conversations, sermons in Church (it’s true) and well, pretty much everywhere.

Everyone had their two cents to add: how the whole incident reflects the shallowness of Hollywood, how the whole incident reflects that Jada is the one ruling the roost and Will has to bend over backwards to please her – even slap a guy in public.

Personally, I don’t think it’s anyone’s business. At the same time, if you bring that out onto the world stage (literally) and slap someone… it kinda becomes everyone’s business.

There were also those who quickly said that the whole incident would be detrimental to African Americans because it would be used by those just looking for an excuse to make it a race issue. A David Oyelowo article expressed these concerns well, I thought.

While all this commentary was floating in the air, I was still reading Hughes’ autobiographical reflections and then started on W Jason Miller’s Critical Lives: Langston Hughes.

I’ve learnt a lot about Langston Hughes – truly, fascinating guy – and about the African American experience and campaigning for their rights. I was fascinated to learn that Martin Luther King’s dream was actually Langston Hughes’ dream first, and how much the two riffed on each other (to use Miller’s phrasing).

That anyone would turn the Oscars incident into a race issue just makes me worry that a preacher from Atlanta didn’t get his dream come true.

I’m a white Australian, but when it comes to Langston Hughes, I too have a dream.

My dream involves Denzel Washington.

For some time now, I’ve wanted to hear him perform Langston’s poem, Song to a Negro Washwoman. I’ve trawled the internet unsuccessfully and am yet to find a recording. I did stumble across him reciting I too – also by Hughes – in the film The Great Debaters. It didn’t disappoint.

But it wasn’t ‘washwoman’.

When I teach Hughes’ poetry, ‘washwoman’ is the most overtly religious poem the syllabus includes, and Washington is a man of faith. I want to hear that powerful poem performed by an African American voice that actually believes in the faith that is expressed by that woman.

There’s been a bit of commentary about Denzel Washington himself, when it comes to the Oscars incident, considering that Smith quoted him in his speech.

There’s plenty of opinions out there on that speech. At least one I read said it was as though from a cult leader referencing God and the devil. Now this person didn’t believe in God, but I get where they’re coming from.

Was it right for Smith to bring God into the speech? Even I oscillate on that one and I believe that what Washington said to Smith was an absolute spot-on word of prophecy:

‘At your highest moment, be careful, that’s when the devil comes for you.’

Washington has spoken since then and explained his logic, alluding to the old saying that ‘the devil only bothers those who bother him’. This is wisdom we can all heed. Satan always finds a way to meddle when we are about to step into our ‘promised land’ or step out for God.

So, should Will Smith have riffed on ‘God in his life’ in that speech? I don’t know.

Regardless, in my mind Denzel Washington “won the Oscars” this year.

Don’t think I’ll get to hear him read that poem though. I’ll just have to let that one go, for now.

Yours in deferring dreams,

Alison

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