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 just listened to a story on This American Life about Alan Pean, a young African-American man who experienced a severe psychiatric breakdown while living in Houston, Texas. Alan was a college student who had previously survived a couple of episodes of manic depressive disorder. Alan came from a high achieving family with doctors including his father.
Alan found that his mind was overpowered by a delusion that caused him to jump off the balcony of his third story apartment, make his way to his car and crash through the gates. He drove toward St. Joseph Hospital, a major medical facility in downtown Houston. He crashed and totaled his car into the hospital and somehow told the emergency room staff he was having a manic episode. But he was never treated for his mental disorder. His father who is of Haitian descent arrived a few hours later and also told the staff that his son was having mental problems and yet Alan was still not evaluated by a psychiatrist.
His father left to try to arrange getting Alan help for his mental illness and shortly afterwards the staff had trouble with Alan and called for security. This turned out to be Houston police with guns who were not trained in dealing with psychiatric patients. Alan was tasered, then shot and almost killed and later charged with assault. Although the charges were later dropped there is a disturbing pattern of mental patients being shot or tasered by police who have little or no training in dealing with them.
There is a New York Times article about the incident involving Alan Pean. People need to be aware of these kinds of incidents and understand that psychiatric patients need help, not bullets. They need people trained to deescalate and force is the last thing you would ever want to use to help someone recover his or her mind.
This story raises other questions, such as what if Alan and his father had been white? Would the outcome be different? Would the hospital staff you turn to for help be able to recognize that when a white person says he needs mental help, they would hear the person and attempt to provide help? What prevents them from hearing the same statements from people of color? What information is available about the hospital you use and their policy about the use of force? How equipped are they to handle people with a mental illness? Is the person the staff calls for help going to be an armed police officer? And finally, what safe alternatives are there to hospitals for people with mental illness and how widely known are these alternatives?
Tonight I attended a screening of the 53206 movie at the First Unitarian Society. The movie showed the impact of the mass incarceration of African Americans focusing on a few families in this impoverished zip code. The zip code has one of the highest rates of incarceration in the country. I remember years ago being at a sign of hope in the community, a business incubator that was intended to help small business formation by African Americans. The businesses are long gone and what remains is the empty building.
The 53206 movie was shown at a Unitarian church in downtown Milwaukee to a packed crowd many of whom I did not know. There was an organizer from the 53206 project and talk about the lives being wasted and the depiction of a family hoping and waiting for their father figue and husband to return. He was denied parole, which is the most common result of parole hearings in Wisconsin. The governor plans to cut the parole department staffing even more.
The situation is complicated by the fact Wisconsin passed a truth in sentencing law in the late 1990s mandating that prisoners serve the full term of their prison sentences. But there are thousands like the man in the movie who are eligible for parole like the man in the movie but find the door slammed shut time and again. There is a lot of discretion still in the system and there are alternatives to long prison sentences but the fact we are not using them means that people are making money keeping things just the way they are. Who will have the courage to speak up? We signed cards tonight asking for changes but this is a long term project.
I just realized that I was still thinking about the story of the young man who committed suicide in a New York State prison. So many things in the system failed leading up to that tragedy. How did Lonnie Hamilton III, end up in the Marcy Correctional Facility and what stories had been written before I found the article in the New Yorker. If you google Lonnie Hamilton death, these are the stories you will find
We have traveled the road from the usual tragic story of a young man’s death to the possibility that the corrections officers played a role in worsening his mental health issues. The failure of the officials to disclose his worsening condition to his family is inexcusable. If my son was breaking down I would sure as hell want to know. And there was contact between Lonnie and father for some time while he was in prison, so I would think it would have been easy to find him and arrange a visit. Separating a person from their family and then not providing the proper mental health treatment is surely a way to kill our young incarcerated people.
America,we have a problem here. We have the problem of removing people from our community to be sent away in white rural communities fr extended periods of time. We have the problem of inadequate treatment in these facilities. We have the problem of the discretion parole and probation officers use to re-incarcerate people who don’t re-offend. And we have a problem of preventable deaths. This is the issue. Although the original focus of this blog s mental health I find that I am missing the big picture if I don’t look at how mental health intersects with criminal justice. You can expect more stories such as these.
I am part of a group that has been attempting to launch a chapter of black non believers in Milwaukee. We had a couple of lunches last year at a coffee shop but mostly we exist on Facebook. Facebook is helpful because we are able to exchange ideas. The group has grown and we are up to 38 members. Some of us have posted about trying to organize a meeting for this month. Meanwhile we are able to post ideas and share information. Recently someone posted an article about 10 fierce atheists that was published on Huffington Post. I checked out one woman,Deanna Adams, who publishes a blog Musings on a limb about being a black mother, a professional and an atheist in Houston. She was an active member of the Houston Black Nonbelievers and is now a board member of the Houston Humanists.
Her blog is worth reading as I did tonight. I plan to check out some of the other people mentioned in the article. Most of my inspiration about secularism comes from the Freedom from Religion Foundation which has a wonderful essay contest for students of color. I posted a few articles from Freethought Today on our Black Nonbelievers page. My energy comes and goes so that is why I fall silent. I am very active on twitter which is where a lot of people read my thoughts.
One very interesting thing I checked out was regarding black lives matter. There was an article about the fact two of he founders of the movement are lesbians who intentionally include their vision and that was offensive to on man who became involved in promoting black straight pride. To me our gay, lesbian and transgender brothers and sisters have always been there. We haven’t always acknowledged their presence. Straight black people are not under threat. People don’t conduct referendums on whether straight blacks have the right to marry and their presence in movements is not considered controversial. It is time to make the equal protection clause of our constitution a reality. No more sitting in the back of the bus.
Debby Irving traveled a path from isolated childhood to involved and doing good work in the inner city during her adulthood as she explained in Waking Up White. She raised money, taught school, attended diversity workshops and generally was a good person. But it seemed that her experiences were h0llow. The hollowness resulted from the fact she had not confronted her whiteness. She had grown up thinking that childhood was like every else’s. The baby boom men came home from the war, got married, went to school on the GI Bill and bought a house financed with government assistance. But her aha moment arrived when she enrolled in a course at Wheelock College in Cambridge, Massachusetts on racial identity.
She saw a move Race-the Power of an Illusion that uncovered the history of government enforced discrimination in housing, education and almost every area of life. We have been running in an uneven race. In the white privilege workshop, Dr. Eddie Moore illustrated the concept of white privilege by using a movie that showed a white person at the starting line several steps of the black runner. As history progresses from the 1600s until the 1960s the black man finds himself slipping further and further behind. Finally in the last 20 years, the black man begins to break new ground only to be struck down by shortened life spans. African Americans die much earlier than white people in America. The black man in he race was Patricia Raybon’s father and the white runner was Debby Irving’s father with generations of privilege.
We must do what we can to help remain in the race. The picture above is the famous jazz musician John Coltrane who died at age 40 after a life struggling with heroin addiction and alcoholism. So, this blog entry has many purposes. One is to tell of the racial awakening of Debby Irving as she understood the various advantages she had enjoyed and was unable to see for so many years. But another purpose is to encourage African-Americans, including me, to live healthier lifestyles. My mother is 92 so I have a long way to go before I sleep.
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.