Rachel’s post

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”?

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3 Responses to Rachel’s post

  1. Rani says:

    Ancestry is a central feature of both works. Ancestry is something you are born into, nothing something you can chose. The Skinhead choses to blame his own faults and mistakes, such as his inability or unwillingness to work due to the loss of three of his fingers, on his American ancestry. However, I believe he is making a mistake in doing so. He is taking out his frustrations with himself on minority groups, then uses his ancestry as an excuse for his appalling actions. Additionally, I think the numbers in “The Idea of Ancestry” are very important. Rather than being vague, and using words like “many” or “a lot”, Knights goes through the trouble of using very exact numbers. Many can mean 2, but it can also mean a 100. His use of numbers acts as another detail in the work to add a layer of specificity to the work.

  2. I found Rachel’s discussion of the skinhead to be interesting. She says that when the skinhead declares “I’m your baby, America…” it’s an empowering statement as well as an isolating one. I looked at it differently, as a statement of weakness and vulnerability. I think that although people who are skinheads or the like, who act very tough and very cool, seem to be powerful and in control, they are in actuality the weakest and the most vulnerable people in society. Their toughness and masochism are a mask, a tough and violent front to hide how scared they really are to just be themselves. The skinhead uses violent language and violent actions to hide how desperately he wants the acceptance and closeness that Rachel discusses.

  3. The first question that Rachel is asking here is quite interesting. In “The Idea of Ancestry,” Knight focuses more on the traditional meaning of “ancestry”- meaning, your lineage and who has preceded you in your family. However, in “Skinhead,” Smith totally ignores his familial ancestry and instead, he adopts America as his “ancestry.” Smith writes, “I’m your baby, America, your boy,” and I think this does show that the speaker is creating their own ancestry because the speaker identifies with America and not with a father, mother, grandfather, etc. I think who your ancestry is in a sense actually your decision because you decide with whom you wish to identify and call “your own.”For me, “Skinhead” has broadened the meaning of the word “Ancestry,” in that I no longer think of it as being only older/prior family members, but rather, it can be a person or country with whom a person relates and identifies with. (As a side note, the speaker in “Skinhead” mentions Hitler and the speaker does seem to posses “Hitler-like” traits so perhaps in a sense, the speaker recognizes Hitler as his/her “ancestry” as well…)

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