“You got to keep that thing up, baby.” Or Lessons (on Managing the Aesthetics of Aging) from the WPA Slave Narratives

Reading through the WPA Ex-Slave Narratives for my next project has given me ALL the feelings. Yes all of them. Although there are countless moments, like those of pain and loss, that leave me feeling incredibly sad, there are also ones that leave me laughing and crying with a reminder of my deep love for my people. Most of the latter come via what I call “life lessons,” those bits of wisdom that only the elders can deliver. Here’s one of those gems:

“So many folks been here long as me, but don’t want to admit it. They black their hair and whiten their faces, and powder and paint. ‘Course it’s good to look good all right. But when you start that stuff, you got to keep it up. Tain’t no use to start and stop. After a while you got that same color hair and them same splotches again. Folks say, ‘What’s the matter, you gittin’ so dark?’ Then you say, ‘Uh, my liver is bad.’ You got to keep that thing up, baby.”

Ms. Alice Johnson, age 77, Little Rock, Arkansas, in Arkansas Narratives Part 4 (Kindle, loc 649-53).

That’s a life lesson mixed in with some wisdom shade. In the archive.

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