I will be back in my hometown of Buffalo on Monday night. Christmas brings up all kinds of mixed emotions and expectations. I will be seeing my mother and my older sister and my nephew and his family. This is a season of dread, becoming nauseated after hearing yet another version of Silent Night at the mall. This is an annual pilgrimage for me seeing what changes have taken place back home and working role in the family dynamics. I might see if it’s possible to stream a black holiday classic movie.
This year is more challenging than ever as I have fought with my body to achieve a certain level of health. My two main presents are to myself: I had tied to quit working a few months ago and then I accepted a job a few weeks ago that begins in early January. My new supervisor has called several times and I have filled out all kinds of paperwork so I guess this is going to happen. The second gift is that of my functioning mostly pain-free body. I have an appointment with the VA on Monday to get the remainder of my ear wax removed before getting on the plane.
I am quick point out to all who will listen that this holiday is something very different for everyone. There are the people seeking asylum who are facing family separation and even death trying to find a better life for themselves and their families. There was the hear wrenching story of a young girl who died in a prison camp yesterday. There are the pictures of hundreds of Yemenis on the brink of starvation. There are the survivors of the journalists who were killed attempting to shine the light of truth upon the evil deeds of powerful people. There are the people whose stories were told in the song First Christmas of loneliness, abuse and fear. There is the loss of democracy caused by the state legislatures in Wisconsin and Michigan. And finally there are people being spat upon by racists who don’ even know them but feel cIt is a time to reflect on our hopes and dreams and resolve to find a way rejoice and be glad in it.
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.
Our church has a history of attempts to create more racial diversity and the most recent was in response to the events from 2 years ago which exposed the dominance of white supremacy in Unitarian Universalism. I found that I was not seeing this white supremacy all around me. I just thought, oh that’s how the services are supposed to be. Oh they haven’t been able to hire African-Americans. I was strangely distant from the few African-Americans who I saw due to my introversion.
Last week there was an event conversation across differences which offered an opportunity to talk. One interesting aspect was that there was a small group set aside for people of color. I participated in this group which was more diverse than one would have expected. There were four of us and I was the oldest. Two people were bi-racial in very different ways. While I cannot divulge what we discussed I can say that it made me think about the ways in which my introversion was preventing me from becoming as effective as I believed I could be.
I retired from work recently which gave me more time to pursue committee work. We have a very exciting project underway to develop and submit a grant proposal to a fund created within the church. Our project would provide resources to a small struggling organization which assists mothers whose children have been murdered. I see the project as something I could be involved with in a way that will allow me to overcome my interpersonal problems while aiding the community. I am quietly optimistic that by learning how different African-Americans can be, I will be a better person and a better leader.
I am struggling. I thought I had found some answers for my foot problems by getting new orthopedic shoes from the VA on Friday. But today my feet were as painful as ever and I did not put on the shoes. I also was hit with some potentially devastating personal news that may or may not be true. I will have to wait for about a month to find out. I have cried a few times and tried listening to music. Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel mostly. Meanwhile I received confirmation that a fitbit is on the way as a reward from my insurance app. I have been earning points for exercise and the new shoes were going to help me. I made 11,000 steps Friday. I had noticed that my pattern had been to go all out for a few days and then be practically inert. I am hoping to become more consistent. But the wild card is what will happen with this personal news.
Sometimes I regret not playing more of a role in my nephews’ lives. My oldest nephew, John, was born the year I graduated from high school. When I was graduating from high school, I was experiencing deep depression. I felt loss from a woman I loved. I was protesting the war in Vietnam. I wanted to be a part of history. I was a horny male teenager. The depression was the most difficult of those things to understand. I remember writing letters back home in lower case to try to make them understand I was not doing well. Depression was a family characteristic. My mother and older sister have also lived with it. When you are 17 or 18 everything seems so overwhelming. The depression was about what my mind was saying about feeling empty and lonely.
Nobody who is that age is old enough to understand. If there is one thing I regret I wish I had learned to understand myself sooner. My younger brother also lived with a mental illness triggered by use of hallucinogens. I believe that I survived because of a combination of nature and nurture. James left home as a teenager and went west at a time many people were feeling alienated and wanting to get away from home. I was old enough to go to Howard University and be a part of history and the largest anti-war demonstrations in American history.
When you are young and you are struggling you have more options than I saw as a teenager. For me, the best choice after dropping out of college was the military. But when I returned to civilian life, I struggled with economic security. I heard the voices of my nephews but I was in no shape to be able to help them. Now that things seem to be different and I have gotten help I am no longer being driven by depression or mania. I am doing well. I was part of my niece’s life at an event to retire the flags last week. I cannot go back into the 1970s but I am proud to part of the present.
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?
I have been reflecting this weekend on some things that have bothered me about the stories I recalled from childhood that my family and I used to tell about people who we suspected were gay, lesbian or bi-sexual. We had no understanding of what we were talking about but it seemed there were more of these people. My sister said they were “funny.” We would look at certain entertainers, like the Hines brothers and she would remark that one of them was almost certainly one of them. I don’t know whether we ever discussed James Baldwin in the same way. It was not that we hated these people, we simply did not understand them.
Our mother was very uncomfortable discussing sex and sexuality. It was clear in school that my classmates knew a lot more than I did and they said things I did not understand. Where I learned about sexuality was through politics. There was a group called the Mattechine Society that had a radio broadcast and gays and lesbians. And when I became part of the antiwar movement there were people talking about the need to fight all kinds of oppression. I grew up in Buffalo, New York, where Workers World Party was formed. One of the leaders was Leslie Feinberg who was the first trans person I had ever met.
I opened my eyes to the reality that there were more identities than I knew when I first became an adult. I grew up in the era of the Stonewall Rebellion in New York. One of my cousins was the first gay person in my family. As I looked around I discovered I had more gay and lesbian friends, including a woman who was part of the poetry group I belonged to. My best friend in my 20s was a bi-sexual woman who helped me struggle through underemployment.
A lot of has changed in these many years. On a Facebook post this morning I talked about the Supreme Court ruling that took us from an era of passing laws and constitutional amendments to discriminate to recognizing that all citizens were entitled to equal protection under the laws. When I attended the Unitarian Universalist General Assembly this summer I was asked what pronouns I used and I was stunned. I almost went back to the old All in the Family theme song talking about “when girls were girls, and men were men.” Fortunately those days only exist on television reruns. Another new thing that I did not understand or accept was the use of the term cisgender for men like me.
Yet in spite of the changes that have taken place there are still people clinging to their old prejudices. I saw something on Facebook about the so-called “gay agenda” which was a term invented by right wing bigots years ago as part of their campaign to deny equal rights. It is time to speak truth to ignorance. So, yes, my pronouns are the ones listed as the title for this blog entry. You can say of me that he said we need to accept and recognize our brothers and sisters.
UBLAC (Uplifting Black Liberation and Community) is an organization based in Sherman Park, almost a year old, led by black women. They are drawing many coalition partners together for racial justice work and are an accountability partner for SURJ. Standing Up For Racial Justice Milwaukee is a part of the national SURJ network of groups and individuals organizing white people for racial justice. They align with the mission, vision and shared values of groups such as UBLAC. Members of the First Unitarian Society Black Lives Matter Group participate in UBLAC and SURJ events. Thus it seemed reasonable as the new chair to suggest that UBLAC ask us to host their upcoming potluck. This week we exchanged emails about the idea for August 6th. Unfortunately before we were able to act, the group was able to book another location. When I got home this afternoon I asked whether w might be able to host the next event which will be November 19th. I am optimistic. I hope to attend next moth o become familiar with UBLAC. We are developing our fall agenda for the Black Lives Matter First Unitarian Society.
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.