5 (a letter to my mother)

July 12, 2010

Ok, i feel the need to clarify a few things. Maybe not clarify, but elaborate.

When we were talking yesterday about the Oscar Grant case, and you went off on me about “living in fear” etc etc, i have to say that you were really off base about some things. In fact, most things.

Yes, my wife and i both were getting emotional about the case, because as black people, we deal with racism all the time. This is, as you know, something i’m only in the last few years REALLY becoming aware of, and it’s being brought into sharp relief thanks to many issues, including the reaction to Obama’s presidency by the conservative base (and conservative politicians decrying EVERYTHING he does), along with things i’ve been reading in an attempt to make myself more aware.

As i said yesterday, you raised me to be and i grew up being a very trusting, polite, soft spoken individual, who always respects authority and people in general, operating under the assumption that doing these things would warrant the same respect out of them, and largely that has been true. But i also grew up with a lot of privileges that many black kids didn’t have, including yourself, dad, and pretty much all of the rest of our family, as you were quick to note. I was also in school with, and hung out with, and rode around with a lot of privileged white kids, with further divorced me from the realities of everyday black people. That part’s more about who i chose to be with due to my interests, but still, that’s what happened. So i didn’t have the same experiences that a fair majority of black people in the country have had. I’m glad and grateful for that, but on the other hand it means that for a long time, relating to other black people has been a source of consternation, and often, alienation for me. You say that you tried to get me to relate to other black people, or to read about black experiences, but i honestly don’t remember a single time, after a particular storybook you read to me when i was little, when you suggested that i read any of the (many i now realize) books you had about racism and black people’s collective experience in this country. As i said yesterday, i had no idea who Emmet Louis Till was until a few months ago. And case and the issues surrounding it are pretty damned important.

So now that i’m actually starting to read up on these things, and understand more about our contemporary history, and learn more about the positive and negative aspects of it, i hope you can understand why i might be a bit upset when cases like Oscar Grant come up.

I know you’re concerned that i might be getting too upset or too emotional about a case that took place on the other side of the country, but the fact is that it really could take place anywhere. Like i said last night, no matter how i behave, there’s no way for me to tell how other people are going to behave. Like Schroedinger’s Cat, i have no evidence either way to tell me that a cop is villainous or virtuous (and thus all cops are simultaneous both and neither). I know how to deal with people, but that’s no guarantee they do. So i have to think about that, and that’s not something i was ever really taught growing up. So, now, when i hear about case like Oscar Grant, and it’s brought to bear once again that at it’s worst, racism kills people, if i get sad or mopey or if i vent while i’m processing my emotions over what that means for me and my family that doesn’t mean that i’m becoming obsessed.

ALSO, it doesn’t mean that i’m taking on my wife’s fear/anxiety (not that she is consumed by either) just because we talk about these things and deal with our emotions together. And you shouldn’t talk about being fearful, especially when it was you who feared and said flat out that i would “get gang raped when i got off the bus” in NYC, because i was going there to model nude. What basis did you have for that assumption besides paranoia on your part?

I’ve long suspected that you and, by extension, Dad have this fear that she’s been some kind of corrupting force in my life. I suppose from a Christian perspective that might be true, but since i don’t look at things from that perspective anymore, i can’t say that such a thing is true for me. Also, looking at the last six years of my life, my perspective about life and issues in this country have been changing steadily and dramatically anyway, so there’s no way to say for certain that my wife had anything to do with how i’ve changed. Naturally, since we got married, there have been many things that we two have discussed when it comes to racial, gender and sexual politics that have changed how i view things, if for no other reason than the fact that i have someone else’s point of view on it. But since i’d been looking up many of these same things anyway, I was already moving in that direction.

You’ve been saying to consider my sources and make sure i get the whole picture, as if to imply that i, or we, don’t normally do that. I know that my wife was raised in a fearful environment, but she’s her own person, with her own reactions to how she was raised, and she is DEFINITELY not her mother, so your implication that we wouldn’t let our daughter or any of our other children play outside is an overreaction on your part, and assumes an overreaction from us, which could not be further from the truth. You also explicitly said that “one of us needs to be balanced in that house,” as though either of us is unbalanced. You said the same thing when my daughter was born, and i was sent home instead of being allowed to stay with her and my wife in the hospital that extra day. I cried when i went back the next day and held my newborn daughter again, and when we talked on the phone, you said that i was being too emotional. Over my own child? Seriously? You seem to think that a man showing that kind of emotion is… what? Feminizing? Emasculating? I don’t understand.

I am turning 35 this year. Whether you think i act like it or not, i am a man, capable of thinking and acting on my own. I can always improve, but honestly i’m finding these implications from you to be condescending. I understand that you’re concerned, but i really think you need to get off my back about what goes on in my head. If i bring something up to you in conversation, it’s because it’s what i’m thinking right then. I remember quite clearly your advice not to “let something become a god” to me. Do i have a history of doing anything like that? Or were they just phases i was going thru like any other person as i grew up? I’m inclined to believe the latter, and since i am still growing as a human being, i feel that this current focus on racial politics and history is not anything for you to freak out about like it sounds like you are.

So… stop it.

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