I looked at the world through the curious eyes of a young African boy seeking to understand the world. As children we are told to keep our hands to ourselves, to be honest and respectful. We are supposed to wait until it is our turn to speak and to answer questions as fully as possible. A child would look at the picture of the snarling Brett Kavanaugh and wonder if he or she had been deceived. That in fact we get ahead by becoming angry, making baseless accusations and not answering questions at all. How was it that Kavanaugh transformed from being calm, polite and judicial into a Republican party operative from one week to the next. It was clear given the speed with which Republicans produced lists of his supposed long time friends that they had expected to hear about Kavanaugh’s past. The idea that he kept his appointment books from years ago was unbelievable. What purpose would it serve?
Would I want to be judged according to what I did 30 years ago? Why not? I was in mm mid 30s and had completed bachelor’s and master’s degree and started my professional career as a librarian. It was a brief career but the things I learned enabled me to adapt to the changing environment and explore different careers. And I am happy to report that I had completed high school and college without committing any sexual assaults. I never found that I needed to drug girls and I seldom found that getting drunk improved my ability to enjoy myself.
Once I experienced having the room spinning around from being drunk I learned my lesson pretty quickly. I thought about Kavanaugh portraying himself some kind of young innocent and laughed. I remembered that I was in a hurry to find a woman to have sex with as soon as possible after I finished high school. I had been warned by my family not to get a girl in trouble in the days before Roe v Wade. I learned to resist doing things that I did not understand and that would have had long-term consequences. Several years ago I met up with an old girl friend from high school and relived the memory I had buried in which I had angrily left her after I learned she had become pregnant after we broke up. I also learned she had overcome struggles with alcohol and had been sexually assaulted.
My proudest moments of my youth were of marching in various cities for peace, racial equality and justice as a member of several different political groups. Although I am not proud of everything I did I am glad and aware of boundaries I did not cross. I have seen some statements by people who suggest things that Kavanaugh should have said as an apology in explaining his behavior as a youth. He was not a big enough man to say them. Instead he became the man who showed most clearly why he should never be appointed to the Supreme Court. If it was in my power I would impeach and remove him from the federal court altogether.
If there was ever a song that changed my life it was Young Gifted and Black. I heard the version by Aretha Franklin which was the title track of an album in 1969. I was graduating from high school and going through a lot of changes. I was depressed, becoming more politically radical, facing the Vietnam war and wanting to surround myself with more black people. I was trying to decide which college to attend. There was St. Bonaventure a local Catholic university or Howard in Washington, a traditionally black institution. I was also struggling with depression and my role as a support for my younger brother. i was desperately in love with a woman I had met at a campaign headquarters a few blocks from our family’s house. And there was Aretha and young gifted and black. And I knew that somehow I would survive even if my brother did not.
Since that time I have attempted to live up to the vision of that teenager I still have some years to go, maybe even 20 or more years. What surprises me is that this seems to be a song that most impacted the baby boom generation. Music has changed. Maybe one of younger performers has already created the song for this generation and I have yet to hear it. But I will be listening. She told us “yours is the quest that’s just begun.” There are new quests out there.
One of the more unusual discussions I had with my family during Thanksgiving week was regarding my nephew and his stepfather Richard. Richard is a 60-year-old with the body of a man 20 years older. He has never taken good care of himself and as a result he has developed certain conditions such as diabetes. In fact he is facing the possibility of having his toes amputated before the end of the year and more to come.
Richard did not have a close relationship with his sons and so neither is feeling willing to pay the expense of his funeral when it comes in a year or two. My sister suggested getting one of those life insurance policies sold specifically to cover final expenses. I bought one at her suggestion several years ago. However I am also thinking that I should suggest cremation. But the problem is I will not be in a position to advocate for my body. My solution will be to write down my wishes including whether I would wish to have any and all measures taken to prolong my life. This will be something different from what usually happens in my family where we seldom live a will or final instructions.
I think that Richard might serve the African-American community better as a cadaver at the university medical school. There, they could study the impact of preventable disease on the human body. I am not certain whether he would have to contact the university but someone should talk with him as soon as possible.
African-Americans are infamous for neglecting ourselves. My nephew told about the things he had suggested much in vain for Richard to use in the hopes that he might have a better quality of life. A lot of the women in our family have lived long healthy lives well into their eighties and beyond. However, a lot of the men die relatively young. I have outlived my father by several years.
I saw a movie about a black man who confronted the unhealthy lifestyle choices in his family and began eating and exercising more. It became contagious and they were no longer living with diabetes. Death will eventually come to all of us no matter how healthy we try to live. But we can live longer, long enough to see more generations of our family grow up and long enough to provide good examples for them. There is no need to rush to see the end.
I just told a story to my sister from a long time ago which I have clung to as an example of being mistreated and patronized. But listening to her reaction I realize I may misjudged the person who I thought was misusing me. I have learned over the years that my memories are often faulty and I erased certain things that did not fit my perspective. For example I tell people that we moved from an all black neighborhood to an all white one just 8 blocks away. In reality our next door neighbors were a white couple including a man who drove a truck for the bakery around the corner. My sister, who is six years older than me, remembers that I broke a window in our neighbor’s house and mom made me go over and apologize. Mom paid for the window and after that we had a wonderful relationship.
However things did not go as smoothly with me. Perhaps it was due my personality as I was introverted and I would sometimes lash out at people. One of my hobbies was playing baseball and listening to the games on the radio. The top player at that time was Willie Mays. Well, as luck would have it, our neighbor would ask me about Willie Mays whenever he saw me. One day I told him that there was more to me than Willie Mays. I don’t recall that the man said another word to me. Looking at it from the man’s perspective, Chris that that was how men related to other people. Especially boys. I could have told him a little bit more about me that he could use to talk about. Instead I shut off communication.
This brief story suggests that there might be a value in looking at a situation from the standpoint of the other person and wonder what they are thinking of me as we interact. Am I communicating what I hope to be saying or are they hearing something very different from me? What do you think?
My overseas readers have deserted me. Meanwhile I was reminded of the power of in , person friendship. I attended a workshop today on the problems created by adverse childhood experiences. I had experienced several including racism, alcoholism, metal illness, domestic abuse and being exposed to smoking. But education, resilience, friendship and having a goals and hope helped me overcome my ACES. I saw myself as young gifted and black, not poor me.
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.