Ambivalence and accepting history

Opinions  /  by Isaiah Wingfield '17  /  March 31, 2017

Fiona Gould '18 / The Lawrence

So much of what "Ambivalence" means to me is knowing, accepting, and loving my history. If you can remember my poetry performance during school meeting, I rattled off about 20 names of influential African-American figures, and while it might have sounded like I was just listing a bunch of random individuals, rattling off names had a purpose. Often, because of the hardship endured in the history of African-Americans, it is easy to forget African-Americans’ greatness. In elementary school, African-Americans are taught that their ancestors had to fight to the earn the right to drink from the same water fountains as whites and that they were forced to attend segregated schools. While teachings are meant solely as a form of education, from an early age, a sense of inferiority can cloud African-Americans’ minds. Unfortunately, without a more fulsome education and a yearning to relieve the burden of feeling less than others, one can easily go his or her entire life feeling inferior. I wrote the poem "Ambivalence" to ensure that any individual of African descent can recognize how strong, important, and inspirational our people are; I wrote it so that every black person listening can understand that it is imperative that each of us have the self-appreciation and self-confidence to stand up on a stage and celebrate our history with pride.

While I believe we all need the self-confidence to celebrate ourselves and our people, it is not always easy. Ever since I can remember, my parents have been instilling black pride in me. We read things like “I Love My Hair” by E.B. Lewis, and my parents placed large books about influential African-Americans in every room of the house. We had movie nights, and a majority of the movies we watched featured successful African-Americans: “Glory Road,” “The Great Debaters,” “Red Tails,” “Selma,” etc. All of the artwork in the house had black faces. My favorite piece of artwork still to this day is “The Problem We All Live With” by Norman Rockwell, the painting of a six year-old Ruby Bridges breaking the barrier and walking into William Frantz Elementary School surrounded by four officers, and it hangs prominently in our home. Even with this upbringing, which meant to subconsciously infuse a deep sense of dignity within me, I still felt ambivalent towards my race. I titled my poem “Ambivalence” to highlight the internal struggle I have dealt with throughout the years, working to ward off the self-hate that can infiltrate one’s mind and sully one’s self-esteem. In the poem, the stanzas alternate from my moments of self-doubt due to dwelling on the tribulations African-Americans have been forced to endure, to the periods of self-certainty resulting from reflections on the many triumphs of my people in spite of it all. The poem ends with my finally bringing an end to this internal struggle. I say to myself, “So how could I not love this face / When I’m so proud of my race?” I posed this question as a reminder that although there may be times when I have self-doubts, those doubts will never overwhelm me because I know my history, and I love my people.

Lastly, I would like to say thank you to the Lawrenceville community for how supportive it was of me during and after my performance. I do not have the words to express my sincere appreciation for the ovation, acceptance, and celebration I received from my fellow Lawrentians. Truth be told, I had some apprehension about delivering it. I am blessed to be a part of a community so accepting of a piece that was so personal but had so much potential for controversy like this one had.