The nature of Ancestry is a very lyrical one. It is different then lineage in that it is more subjective, it is not only bestowed upon the person but also the persons choice. Ancestry implies a certain familial closeness, yet also a distance due to time or place. Patricia Smith and Etheridge Knight each examine a different aspect of the phenominum.
In Smith’s “Skinhead”, the persona seems to be choosing his ancestry. The White supremecist, skinhead declares “I’m your baby, America, your boy, drunk on my own spit, I am goddamned fuckin’ beautiful.” In ways this may seem empowering for him, but in other ways its extremely isolating. This skinhead has nobody, he only has “his own beauty”. He talks about black people he sees on the street that act as if “their fat black mammas named them freedom”. The people he despises have family, they have ancestry. He is alone. Saying that he is “Americas baby”, he could be asking for America’s love back. Back to a time when America looked similer to his own beauty. “I am your baby America” he is asking for accpetence, asking for closeness.
Knight, knowing very well who his family is, plays with the idea of closeness and ancestory. The speaker is in a prison cell and looking at pictures of his family. At some points he feels very close to them, saying that ” I am all of them”, other times he creates distance, saying “I am me, they are thee.” He’s captivity creates a physical barrier as well as an emotional one, saying that “he is a theif” in contrast to his family. He explores this feeling of being far way from them, however I feel that the narrator is still optimistic in the closeness he feels with his family. I believe that this is the case in the way he describes his uncle that ran away from the family. The uncle left, but his grandmother still talks about him because her bible doesnt have a place for “whereabaouts are unknown”. Drawing on the Bible and religion, he makes his grandmother god character, and a merciful one, one that does not completely give up on kin even when they leave the family. Even when, in religious terms, they are an apostate. In that way, the speaker, while exploring the distance and the seperation he feels from them does have this sense of family, even from within his jail cell.
Looking at these two poems together, the speaker in Knights “Idea of Ancestry” is in many ways the black man that the skinhead hates. While Knight sits in jail alone, to his family he is freedom. He has the acceptence and closeness, the skinhead seems to hate and crave. Because Knight has that reassurance, he is able to examine the closenss and seperation between them. However the skinhead, as mentioned before doesnt have this leasure he parades his own beauty and claims yet begs America to be a product of it, to be its repsonabiltiy.
Do you think somebody can demand/create their own ancestry like in skinhead?
What do you make of the use of numbers in “The idea of Ancestry”?