by Storyteller Donna Washington
Donna’s father is quite a trickster, and one afternoon in the 1980’s, while her large family was traveling through the south, they ran into a potentially dangerous situation. Donna’s trickster father literally saved our lives.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: The-West-Indies-Brer-Rabbit-Avoids-Danger-For-A-Black-Family-Traveling-In-America
- Have you ever traveled to a new place and felt uncomfortable?
- Have you ever met a person who made you uncomfortable? What did they do?
- Have you ever seen another person being bullied because they are a different color or culture?
- Have you ever seen somebody use humor to get beyond an uncomfortable situation? Why do you think humor helps us through difficult situations?
- More Brer Rabbit Tales: http://americanfolklore.net/folklore/brer-rabbit/
- Picture books for the K-5 that deal with race and racism: http://humaneeducation.org/blog/2014/06/26/14-childrens-picture-books-exploring-race-racism/
- Great books for kids of all ages about segregation: http://www.the-best-childrens-books.org/civil-rights-kids.html
- African American/Black History
- Crossing Cultures
- Education and Life Lessons
- European American/Whites
- Family and Childhood
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
- Taking A Stand and Peacemaking
My name is Donna Washington. This story is called the West Indies. It is a compilation of a piece of folklore and a personal narrative about traveling through America. It starts with a Brer Rabbit tale.
Now there came a day, when Brer Rabbit was tied up so tight you could only see his eyeballs movin’ and Brer Fox was makin’ rabbit stew. But Brer Rabbit was just laughin’ and Brer Bear said, “Why’s you laughin’?”
And Brer Rabbit said, “Wha…I can’t help it. I’m thinkin’ about my Laughin’ Place. And when I think about my Laughin’ Place, ha, ha, I gotta laugh.”
And Brer Bear said, “I want to see the Laughin’ Place. And so, they untied Brer Rabbit, and tied the rope around his neck. And he led him on into the forest until they got to a great, big ole tree and Brer Rabbit said, “Ha, hm, my Laughin’ Place is in the-yah. And Brer Bear dropped the rope and stuck his head into that hollow tree and he heard bzzzzz. He pulled his head out. There was a great, big, ole hornet’s nest right on the edge of it and on his nose. There was a great, big, ole hornet’s nest right on his nose.
And Brer Fox said, “Don’t move. I’ll git it.”
And he picked up a big stick, whacked it really hard, and broke it in half. Those hornets went up in the air and came back down and started stinging those critters all over. Well, Brer Bear and Brer Fox went running back up Cotchapie Hill.
And Brer Bear turned around and said, “Wait a minute! You said this was a Laughin’ Place and I ain’t laughin’.
And Brer Rabbit had rolled over on the grass, got that rope up of him, and he said, “Ha, ha! I said this was my Laughin’ Place and I sho’ am laughin’ haard!” And he ran off into the grass. Now that was the kind of story that I grew up with.
But what I didn’t know is that I lived with Brer Rabbit. My father was a very unusual man. Six four and one of the blackest human beings you’ll ever see in your life. He had black belts in judo, karate, hop ki do, tang su do, and taekwondo and he was in the Army. He knew how to use rifles, nunchakus, and swords. But he had a guilty secret. He didn’t know how to dress at all. When he wasn’t wearing a uniform, he had on black socks, sandals, ripped up shorts and a ratty t-shirt.
My mother is five foot two. She is always very well put together. She’s beautiful. She’s light skinned. She’s very, very lovely.
When I was a child, because my father was in the Army, we moved every three years. And my father had an attitude about America and it was this, “I fought for this country. You’re gonna see it.”
And so, we went across country in this giant van. Now we had two dogs, a toy poodle and an Alsatian Shepherd, which is sort of like a long-haired shepherd. They’re silver and black. They look like wolves.
And they’re seven children. And it was the 80s, so we always had these… we all had these big, giant Jheri curl afros. Now the way we traveled, my dad would get in the car, and he’d become Mr. Happy Drivin’ Man. “Ha, ah, look at that! Look at that! Look at that!”
And my mother would run roughshod over the children in the back. “Stop that. Sit down. Don’t talk to him. Move over.”
And the dogs would sleep in front, where we’d taken the seats out. Well, at one point in the 80s, we were moving from Oklahoma to Virginia by way of Florida. And we would get up at 0 dark 30, which is before the sun and we would travel. And my mother would hand out fruit. And then, when it got a little later, we’d stop and have breakfast. Well, at one point we got to our location so late, my mother couldn’t buy any fruit. Everything was closed. And we got up so early, she couldn’t buy fruit. Everything was still closed. None of us had combed those giant Jheri curl afros. They were twisted all over our heads.
My father came out of the hotel. “Huh, ha! Time to go.”
And my mother. She got out of the hotel. She was wrinkled. Aaaa! We get in the car; all the children fall asleep. Going across country, my father doesn’t care if anybody’s listening to him, “Look at that, look at that, look at that! Ha!”
My mother, “Keee! We must stop and get coffee.”
My father says, “Okay.”
Well, about an hour later, we all woke up and there was no food. And World War III broke out in the back of the van. “Mom, he’s touching me! Mom, he’s hitting me! Mom, he’s doing this! Mom!”
My mother says, “Shut up!” She turns to my father. “We must stop and get coffee.”
My father said, “Okay.”
And he turns off the road. Now, we were on this little two-lane highway somewhere in the south. He turns off, onto, like, a little… what was like a path, gravel road.
And my mother says, “Where are you going?”
He said, “It’s an adventure. Huh, ha!”
And off we go on this gravel road. All seven of us have are our, our faces braced against the… pressed against the windows, wondering where we are. We go up… we end up in front of what looks like a little hiker’s station, and the place is falling apart. The wood is really weathered. It looks like something out of a movie. And the shingles are all peeled up on the roof. And sitting there on the porch, two older white gentleman playing checkers.
Well, I can just imagine what they saw. This giant bus comes heaving up out of the undergrowth and then pulls up. This giant man gets out on one side. Little bitty lady, all wrinkled, gets out on the other side. And then out of the back, come one, two, three, four, five, six, seven heavily Afroed children with a wolf on a leash. By the time we finish walkin’ the dog, they were gone.
We went inside. And my mother took a lo… one look around and said, “Don’t get anything that isn’t in a wrapper,” which means we get to eat junk food for breakfast. And so, we go running to the hostess Twinkies and the hostess DingDongs. My mother gets a coke because she will not drink the coffee outa that place. My father, always, when with the local color, gets a big jar of pickled pigs’ feet. We go to the counter. We throw everything down.
The man behind the counter, his name is Sam. We know that; it’s on his pocket. He doesn’t start ringing anything up. He just looks at us. He reaches beneath the counter. And we hear a c-l-ick! And he says, “Y’all ain’t from around here, are ya?”
And my father looks at all of us and he looks at my mother and then he looks back at Sam. And he rises up to his full six foot four, and he says, “No. We are from the West Indies and we are traveling in your country.”
And Sam says, “Well, welcome to America,” and starts ringing up the food. And my father is talking about the “big sky, the big mountain.” And my mother is staring and the, the seven of us we’re trying so hard not to laugh. We are trying to keep it in, my father playing some trick on old Sam. And after everything was all rung up, we went back, and got in the car, and my father maneuvered that big old bus back down onto the road.
We ripped those Hostess Twinkies and Hostess cupcakes. We thought it was the most hysterical thing we’d ever seen. My father tricked old Sam.
And I realize, that at that point in my life, when we had all been in so much danger, and my father who has tried to kill you 25, 35 different kinds of ways could have made any choice in the world.
I had seen Brer Rabbit doin’ some of his finest work.