I am reading this book by Ngozi Adichie that was a major best seller. It is the second book I have been reading since buying new glasses last week. I had been struggling with reading previously often crying as I tried to read. I took off my glasses because apparently the part of the lens where one does close reading was too small. There was much about my eyes that was unknown to me. It seems that I am not very good in buying glasses, sometimes keeping them way past the time when they are to be discarded. Other times getting glasses that don’t fit and look ridiculous. Now I have good glasses, my eyes are dry and the streets are damp. Now to find out why everyone is reading this book.
My first Nigerian novelist was the much beloved Chinua Achebe who made me feel the struggle of Africa being ripped apart by colonizers. I read him when I was in college either running from the police or trying to find a girl friend. Now I have these new glasses which make me feel like reading and writing once more. The book puzzles me as it seems to make a lot of jumps in place and time. At first, the main character Ifemelu is a smart mouthed blogger in America getting ready to return home to rekindle an old relationship and being tortured by an African hair braider who seems to be having a mental breakdown. Then she is a child enduring her mother’s religious fantasies in Nigeria. I will see where this leads.
I have been reading facebook posts promoting suicide prevention and talking about the need to look after one another. The need to offer support, empathy and resources. But there are so many places where vulnerable are most at risk.
Youths are at risk, people in mental hospitals are at even more risk and the most at risk of violence are in prison. I just read a story in the New Yorker about the story of a young man in the New York state prison system whose father was preparing to send of him a care package only to discover he had been buried 6 weeks earlier. The article by Jennifer Gonnerman, told how Lonnie Hamilton II learned that his son had died on March 18, 2016 when he went to the prison website. His son, Lonnie Hamilton III, had hung himself after becoming increasingly depressed in the Marcy Correctional Facility.
This is a story about an involved father who worked long hours to provide for his children only to lose one of them to crime and seeing his son torn away from the community. It is a story about failure to notify the next of kin about what was happening. There were signs especially self mutilation that should have set off a thousand alarm bells. I don’t think that the prison tried everything possible to assist Lonnie.
These kinds of tragedies happen all too often. I don’t think the prison was set up to meet the needs of a deeply troubled African American young man so he became a casualty. This is a cry for help, action and a replacement for the deconstruction. I would hate for this to happen to one of my nephews and hope people will use these stories
As many people know, mental illness runs in the family. All of us in my family have experienced different types of illnesses, including depression, schizophrenia and manic depression. I was more fortunate than my brother in being able to recover and develop resources. I have friends who struggled along with their siblings cycling in and out of the hospital including forced treatment. i was never subjected to a mental hospital or picked up on the street for engaging in some bizarre behavior. Instead, I recognized that I was not the person who I had been told I would become.
I saw all the warning signs and decided to heed them. Again, I see a positive in my deciding I didn’t want to live like that. Recognizing that you need help and then actually need help can be painful. Some people literally may need to crash into a wall. And others unfortunately, may crash through the wall, leaving their loved ones behind to cry and wish that there something more they could have done. I am a peer support specialist certified by the State of Wisconsin and I can help see you through the woods.
Patricia Raybon devoted a chapter to the trauma she experienced when her father, when her father fought and won a battle to build a house in a previously all white section of a suburb of Denver. She was exposed to hatred and ridicule by strangers simply because she was a very dark skinned girl. In school, she was shunned and even ignored by teachers who ignored her protests that her name was Patricia and called her Pat instead.
In the lunchroom a student flung peaches on her hair, which the teacher ignored. It was a time when she almost felt like becoming invisible. But she couldn’t go talk to her father because he was fighting his own battles. H had provided what he thought was best for his family which was a solid roof over their heads in a good neighborhood. It was her job to figure it out.
And suddenly a solution appeared. A blond haired girl named Kerry Monroe said hello one day. And slowly Patricia turned from an object of ridicule to be avoided into a girl with desires, hopes and dreams. She spent a lot of time with Kerry in a normalizing process. After a while, however, she made friends with other students and even became popular. Later on, she regretted moving on from Kerry and even sought her out. How many of you have been in this situation where you were the Kerry Monroe and sought out the black student in your room?
I found myself in similar circumstances in the 1960s and discovered my own version of Kerry Monroe, a friend with whom I listened to the Beatles, the BBC Radio and tried to figure it out. And similarly, I moved on and found a crowd that shared interests with me. I wonder how many people are finding that these same dynamics of racial ridicule and being treated as the other apply to us as adults. How many of us seek out friendships with people who look or sound different from ourselves.
How comfortable are we with people from racial and ethnic backgrounds outside of our own? Because of de facto segregation, we can still live a lot of our lives in a world of our own making away from Asians, Africans, Whites and others we wish to shun. Or we can live intentionally in a rich mosaic in our own and other people’s cultures It is a choice we are free to make because we had our first interracial friendship.
An important step in the process Patricia Raybon took on her healing journey was forgiveness. She had to learn to forgive those real or imagined slights she may have received from white people. She had to stop hating nameless people because there were health consequences for holding onto it. And she had to start forgiving her father who relentlessly drove her to excel. For him it seemed as though nothing was quite good enough. Maybe he didn’t tell her often enough that he loved her. Indeed, it seems that he did the things a loving father would do. Many people will be incredulous reading this and wondering are you serious? I wish my father had pushed me.
I listened to the TED hour about nudging people to push beyond their perceived limits to be able to achieve more and Patricia’s father was a textbook example of this concept. I also listened to a talk by researcher Carol Dweck about her work on the concept of fixed mindset versus growth mindset. Clearly Patricia’s father helped to instill in her a growth mindset being being able to take on bigger challenges.
How do you forgive such a man?To quote from an Aretha Franklin song, oh what a man, what a mighty good man.In my family the role of Patricia’s father was played by my mother. And I have my own forgiveness journey to travel.Patricia relied upon her Christian faith to provide answers and guidance. I will look for answers outside of the church such as a book by Barbara Flanigan Forgiving the Unforgivable. I am not the person I was before I started to read and explore and I am not the person who I will become. The excitement is in the road ahead.
Please, feel free to share your thoughts.
Today I picked up a book Waking up White by Debby Irving. It seems to be the perfect companion to My First White Friend by Patricia Raybon. Patricia was the daughter of a government worker and a veteran fighting against segregation and racism. Debby Irving was born in 1960 the daughter of a privileged New England family who almost never was forced to think about race. Whereas Patricia is very dark and confronts the question of racism and color consciousness among African-Americans. To help lighten the load I also picked up some quick reading Walter Mosley novels. Mosley discusses race while his characters solve mysteries and try not to be killed.
It is impossible to imagine how white and isolated from reality Debby Irving was in her WASP world. She described it as being something out of 1960s television show, Father Knows Best where dad commuted to work, nothing controversial was ever discussed and they rarely if ever saw African Americans or other people of color. It wasn’t that they were overly racist, they just never saw us.
Her story is one of self discovery and coming to grips with the idea she was unprepared for the real world. Perhaps some of white white readers have been in the position of Debby and can relate to her experience.
America, where are our Girl Scout cookies? It has been about 4 weeks since Liz and I ordered from the young woman who brought her children with her to charm their way into our hearts. We were instantly smitten. We wanted, no needed, our fix of Thin Mints for the year. It would be a few weeks before we would be savoring their goodness.
Girl Scouts are one of the traditions of late winter and early spring you can count on. Like the basketball playoffs, football player drafts, flowers and buds on the trees. Girl Scout cookies help us to regain the pounds we foolishly claimed we were going shed during those new years resolutions we made under the influence of some intoxicants.
We have heard that people in our community have been receiving their cookies. And to make matters worse, some little cherubic girl scouts were at the grocery store plying their wares. No orders for you little tots. We have sworn our allegiance and our bellies to those three urchins who disappeared into the darkness.But perhaps, if our order has not arrived by next week we will cheat on our little friends. We will buy those store displayed cookies and spend the day indulging ourselves until we are too full to go for our Sunday afternoon stroll.