City Place Mall: Why You Don’t Shop Where There’s A “Hood Policy”

March 4, 2014

City Place Mall, main entrance, Silver Spring, MD, June 10, 2012. (Farragutful via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 3.0.

City Place Mall, main entrance, Silver Spring, MD, June 10, 2012. (Farragutful via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 3.0.

Last Thursday afternoon (February 27), a security guard at City Place Mall in Downtown Silver Spring, Maryland confronted me and my 10-year-old son about wearing a hood over our heads, having just come inside from below-freezing and windy weather. The security guard explained that the policy at City Place Mall is to forbid patrons from wearing hoods, hats, scarves, sunglasses and other clothing that would make us more difficult to identify. When I asked for a written indication of this policy, the security guard told us that the one sign for your 400,000-square-foot mall was downstairs in the lower lobby, which does patrons like me little good in informing us of their racism and stupidity.

Keep in mind, I’m a 44-year-old man with a 10-year-old kid, who’s only intent was to go to an indoor ATM machine to withdraw my money from my bank account so that we wouldn’t freeze. We weren’t shopping at Marshall’s or another store in the mall. What were we going to do, buy two packs of Skittles at the dump of a snack store at City Place instead of just one? Buy two bottles of Lipton Ice Tea (Arizona Ice Tea makes our teeth hurt)?

Me with hood get-up I wore last week with son in tow (numbers added), March 4, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

Me with hood get-up I wore last week with son in tow (numbers added), March 4, 2014. (Donald Earl Collins).

If this is how they treat all patrons, this policy would merely be a stupid one. I suspect, though, that they don’t stop women in veils or burqas, Sikhs with turbans or every person wearing sunglasses. No, Black and Brown male patrons — especially ones that look young and healthy — are their targets for such an idiotic policy.

I emailed Lisa Petrie about this incident and wanted clarifications about this policy. Petrie is a co-owner of Petrie Ross Ventures, LLC, the Annapolis-based group that manages (read owns here) City Place Mall. In addition, I asked her to answer the following questions:

1. Is this in fact the policy of City Place Mall, to force patrons to remove hoods and other clothing upon entering the mall?

2. If this is in fact your policy, then why isn’t it posted conspicuously at the entrances to the mall for all patrons to see and read?

3. Is this policy one that security guards are supposed to apply, and if so, are they doing so in an equitable manner?

Petrie didn’t answer any of my questions. Instead, she emailed me this response:

It is our policy in all of our properties to ask our patrons to remove their hats, hoods, etc. only as a safety precaution for all that visit our malls. I am unsure as to the procedures as I am not part of the operations team however I will ask that if you have any questions that you follow up with the property manager on site, Mr. Gary Brewer.

Bottom half of a Petri dish, the only thing I'll buy from City Place Mall in the future, October 20, 2005. (Miaow Miaow via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 2.0.

Bottom half of a Petri dish, the only thing I’ll buy from City Place Mall in the future, October 20, 2005. (Miaow Miaow via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC 2.0.

This is a ridiculous statement, unless by “safety precaution,” Petrie means that there are George Zimmermans in all their malls waiting to shoot anyone with a hood over their heads if their skin has a significant melanin content. I did, after Petrie sent me his contact information, send Brewer the same information about the incident, as well as my questions. Mr. Brewer has refused to respond.

If this is how City Place Mall and Petrie Ross expects to treat its patrons, though, I think that whatever plans you have for this mall should come with the disclaimer that not all patrons are welcome, especially Black and Brown males. You can name your dilapidated mall Ellsworth or even Crap. I already don’t shop there. I can always withdraw money from another ATM.


Over 3 Billion Blacks Killed

February 19, 2014

McDonald's signage, Austin, MN, May 20, 2006. (Jonathunder via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC and GFDL.

McDonald’s signage, Austin, MN, May 20, 2006. (Jonathunder via Wikipedia). Released to public domain via CC and GFDL.

Do you remember those McDonald’s signs back in the ’70 and ’80s, before the corporation went global (from 6,000 to 30,000 franchises since ’92), where they said, “Over 100 Million Served” hamburgers or “1o Billion Served?” If the signage is there at all these days, it usually says “Billions and Billions Served.” That’s about as cheap as Black life is in the US as well, though maybe a bit more expensive in Western countries in general (they do use the Euro, after all!).

I’ve been thinking about the low value of Black lives for years, even in the middle of grad school at Pitt. But I must admit, it’s been on my mind more and more since George Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin nearly two years ago. Now, with the hung jury over the murder of Jordan Davis, with so many who find it easy to render Black and Brown lives cheaper than dog meat in the middle of the Roman Coliseum 2,000 years ago, it seems that there’s no such thing as a dead stereotype.

Jordan Davis' Facebook picture, February 17, 2014. (via Huffington Post).

Jordan Davis’ Facebook picture, February 17, 2014. (via Huffington Post).

It’s so infused in popular culture, as life and art intertwine in a macabre dance on Black and Brown bodies. Blacks especially (and for the most part, Latinos) don’t feel pain the same way as Whites. We lack the emotional and psychological control of Whites. We’re irrational and prone to criminal behavior. We’re lazy and don’t mind living in abject poverty. We love illegal drugs, but love malt liquor and hard alcohol even more. We’ll eat anything deep-fried, and don’t mind dying before middle age just so that we can save the Social Security dollars for elderly White folk.

With that as the backdrop, it’s no wonder much of the movies, music, TV and Internet depictions of us ultimately ends in our gratuitous, ubiquitous and anonymous deaths. Yes, even in 2014! I’ve recently binge-watched the now defunct CW series Nikita (2010-14) with Maggie Q as the lead. I counted at least thirty Black actors on the series over its seventy-four episodes. Only two survived the series, and one (character played by Lyndie Greenwood) wasn’t even in the last two episodes because the actress was doing double-duty on FOX’s Sleepy Hollow!

But if anyone were to take some of the largest grossing films and franchises of all time, it would become obvious how cheap folks in the US and elsewhere think Black and Brown lives really are. Between Independence Day (1996) and The Terminator series of films (1984-2009) alone, you would have to assume that almost all of the forty million Blacks living in the US died in these fictional realities, not to mention the 1.2 billion folks of at least partial African descent living in other Western nations, Africa, the Caribbean, Brazil and the rest of Latin America. That this has occurred more than once in these films alone puts us at 2.48 billion Blacks killed.

Then, between lesser known/lesser quality films like The Day After Tomorrow (2004), Deep Impact (1998), The War of the Worlds (2005) and Hunger Games (2012-present), it would seem that in every global calamity, most Blacks draw the short straw. These movies (and, prior to these movies, books) put us easily over three billion Blacks and Browns killed. And that’s without accounting for standard action films, cops-and-criminals shows, and other cinematographic renderings of the Black and Brown as disposable human beings. Unless you’re Don Cheadle, Denzel Washington, Will Smith, Morgan Freeman (sometimes) or Halle Berry, if you’re Black or Brown, your job in popular culture is to die a violent death.

Of course, those upset with my sardonic take will say, “Well what about gansta rap? What about Ice-T, Ice Cube, Snoop Dogg and so many other rappers who present Black lives as cheaper than bottled water?” Three things: 1. you really need to update yourself on today’s rap, between Lil Jon, Rick Ross and Lil Wayne, before commenting; 2. the “gansta rappers” of the ’90s were mostly rapping about a lived experience, not some fantasy life; and 3. they figured out that they could and can make money off of Black deaths in lyrical rhymes, just like folks in the movie, TV and real worlds.

Venison meat for braising, February 19, 2014. (http://www.simplyscratch.com).

Venison meat for braising, February 19, 2014. (http://www.simplyscratch.com).

This will make the likes of George Zimmerman, Michael Dunn, and substantial numbers in the NYPD and LAPD happy. Actually, what would really make them happy would be a version of the movie The Purge (2013). But instead of crime and murder being legal for one day a year, they would have to get a “coon hunting” license to kill themselves a Black or Brown person one day a year. That way, they could keep our numbers low, just like hunters do with deer every fall.


The Walking Danger

July 12, 2013

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Justice4Trayvon blackout box, July 12, 2013. (http://jet.com).

Regardless of the verdict in the Florida v. Zimmerman (a.k.a. Justice4Trayvon) trial, there’s one sad and terrifying lesson to take away from the past seventeen months. No Black male past puberty can assume themselves to be safe once they leave their homes to do so much as to cross the street. It doesn’t matter if you’re 6’1″ and 173 pounds, like I was my senior year of high school, or 6’6″ and 300 pounds, like a good- sized high school offensive lineman. We’re not just assumed guilty. We’re assumed to have a value the equivalent of a quart of recycled cooking oil.

It amazes me that with as much walking as I did while growing up in Mount Vernon and in walking all through the city, I only faced a handful of Walking While Black incidents. From the time my Mom and my late idiot ex-stepfather Maurice moved me and my older brother Darren into 616, I was a frequent walker. At seven, my Mom sent us to the store for groceries, for soda, for cigarettes and pork rinds. Yeah, the store was a block and a half away on East Lincoln, but that block and a half led to my first mugging at nine.

By then, my walks to the store went into Pelham and Milk ‘n Things, a three-block walk, as well as stores within three blocks of the Pelham border. That led to the first weird stares from Italian store owners. At the same time, when my father Jimme came back into our lives in ’79, we’d walk to Mount Vernon’s South Side. We’d walk to East Third Street and Wino Park on Fulton and Third, to the rib shack across the street from the park, to Sanford Blvd, even into the Bronx depending on Jimme’s alcohol level. That would lead to confrontations with street folks, and even occasional stares from cops.

Wise Cheez Doodles, one of my favorites to buy as a teenager, July 12, 2013. (http://twitter.com).

Wise Cheez Doodles, one of my favorites to buy as a teenager, July 12, 2013. (http://twitter.com).

By the time I hit puberty in the spring and summer of ’82, in no small part because of the collapse of anything resembling a family at Hebrew-Israelite 616, I began to walk everywhere. Some of my walks were because my Mom’s marriage had given her more mouths to feed and no time to go to the store. So me (mostly) and Darren (on occasion) would walk from 616 to stores like C-Town in Pelham (a mile or so away), Waldbaum’s on East Prospect (a mile and a quarter away) or stores in between for food. This became part of an eventual everyday routine, one that would last until well after I began college at the University of Pittsburgh (at least, when I was home for the holidays or the summer).

We also walked to get my younger brothers and sister Sarai out of the stifling apartment, especially because it was quite literally so during the summer months. We walked from 616 to Pelham, Pelham Manor, the Bronx, Bronxville and New Rochelle in those first couple of summers after puberty. The kids helped us look less suspicious, I suppose, because two teenage Black males had no business being anywhere near the six-figure-income-set’s communities in the mid-80s (or even now) otherwise.

I also began walking to explore, escape and think. It was next to impossible to think at home, with the constant noise, threats of abuse and actual abuse and domestic violence. So by the time I’d reached tenth grade, I needed to walk, by myself and with no agenda other than to make plans for my future while clearing my head. I did get followed by Bronxville PD a couple of times. But mostly, lost Whites from out-of-state would stop and ask for directions to the Bronx River Parkway or I-87.

Hershey's Chocolate Milk (at 17, a 16oz was my favorite store-bought drink), July 12, 2013. (http://www.gifarmer.com).

Hershey’s Chocolate Milk (at 17, a 16oz was my favorite store-bought drink), July 12, 2013. (http://www.gifarmer.com).

It wasn’t until after my seventeenth birthday — when I finally began to put on a little weight (muscle, I guess) — that walking around New York, Mount Vernon and nearby environs began to feel dangerous. Or at least, others began to act as if I was the danger. I’d become a regular weekend strap-hanger on the 2 out of 241st Street headed either to the Upper West Side, Midtown or Downtown, as well as parts of the Bronx. To hunt for the latest tapes, to go to a museum or a library, to just walk around and take the city in. But I also knew to be careful, to be leery of the NYPD, to keep my hands out of my pockets whenever I went to Tower Records or Crazy Eddie’s or even Gray’s Papaya.

Still, there were incidents at Milk-N-Things and Tower Records and a general feeling that folks, older, often White but also frequently Black were genuinely afraid that I — a person who’d been mugged four times before my fourteenth birthday — would hurt them.

Walking was how I learned how different I was from a societal perspective. That though a teenage, I was the dangerous Black male, to be treated as if I just escaped the plantation, as if I hope to find a store to knock over and a White girl to knock up against her will.

I’d hoped to spare my son this lesson. Sadly, because of George Zimmerman killing Trayvon Martin, I can’t. But at least he won’t have to learn this lesson from scratch like I did. And luckily, I knew and did enough to avoid danger — or being seen as the danger — long before I turned seventeen.


Rachel Jeantel, A Real, True Beautiful Friend

June 28, 2013

Witness Rachel Jeantel continued her testimony,  George Zimmerman trial, Sanford, FL, June 27, 2013. (Jacob Langston, AP/Orlando Sentinel; http://time.com).

Witness Rachel Jeantel continued her testimony, George Zimmerman trial, Sanford, FL, June 27, 2013. (Jacob Langston, AP/Orlando Sentinel; http://time.com).

There will be months’ worth of stuff written and said about Rachel Jeantel and her performance on the witness stand during the George Zimmerman trial. Everything from her dark skin and being overweight to her lazy tongue syndrome and reluctance to take the witness stand. Between Black Twitter on Wednesday critiquing her language, shyness, and style and blond-haired, bubble-headed Whites picking apart her testimony on Thursday, it’s a wonder that anyone sees Ms. Jeantel as a human being. She’s far more than the hero, villain or ghetto girl that folks in social media have and will portray her to be.

Ms. Jeantel is beautiful to me, skin-deep and otherwise. Yes, she’s not perfect, which is one of the things that makes her a beautiful person. The most important thing to remember about Jeantel, though, is that she’s a real person and a real friend. The truest friend any human being could ever hope to have. I should know. I’ve never had more than eight people in my life at any time that I could truly call friend, and none during my preteen and teenage years before college. Of those, about half have proven themselves to be fair-weather friends, unreachable when I’ve needed them the most.

Jeantel is the ultimate friend, for she has acted in Trayvon Martin’s best interests even after his death. A friendship that gave her the strength to tell the truth, to endure ridicule and scorn and hours of cross-examination from Don West. Jeantel gave voice to Martin from beyond the grave, knowing that she was in the right.

Jeantel makes me think of a scene from Tombstone (1993), the one with Val Kilmer playing Doc Holliday. Dying from the long-term effects of tuberculosis and living the life of an alcoholic gambler, Holliday continued to ride with Wyatt Earp to hunt down his youngest brother’s killers. When asked, “Why you doin’ this, Doc?,” Holliday said

“Because Wyatt Earp is my friend.”

In response, the other character said, “Friend? Hell, I got lots of friends.” To which Holliday replied, “…I don’t.”

Jeantel may well have lots of friends, but her friendship with Trayvon Martin is as real, true and beautiful as it gets. I hope that my close friends are even one-tenth as true to me after I’m dead as she was to Martin this week.


The Road to My Memoir, Part 1: Welfare

May 7, 2013

Adrian LeBlanc's Random Family (2002) and Rhonda Y. Williams' The Politics of Public Housing (2005), May 7, 2013. (Donald Earl Collins).

Adrian LeBlanc’s Random Family (2002) and Rhonda Y. Williams’ The Politics of Public Housing (2005), May 7, 2013. (Donald Earl Collins).

This isn’t a straight-forward post or series of posts. I didn’t come to Boy @ The Window quickly or easily. I didn’t intend it to be a memoir, even though I’d left myself bread crumbs to turn it into a memoir years ago.

The first time I’d thought about writing a book related to my experiences was at the beginning of my junior year of college, in September and October ’89. Not even three months after my idiot stepfather had left 616 for good, and I was thinking about writing up something about the experience? A bit ambitious I was!

What I did do, though, was somehow find my old scraps of journals about what happened to me when I was twelve before I came back to Pittsburgh and Pitt for the school year. I wrote up additional experiences, about running away from 616 in August ’85, about my Mom’s experience at the feet and fists of my now ex-stepfather, about my time on a drafty Pitt stairwell the year before.

That was painful to write about, so soon after finally being rid of Maurice, too soon, really, for me to fully process it without re-living the experience. So I wrote or rewrote four of these experiences in all, and put them away in one of my Pitt notebooks.

But there was one other experience I wanted to write about, to move from a personal story to one of academic scholarship. It was the experience of my being on welfare from ’83 to ’87, covering on-the-ground perspectives from people like me and my Mom, as well as those of case workers. I thought that it would fill a void in both media coverage and in historical scholarship about the topic of welfare, particularly how it became a racial stereotype and slur.

I thought that by juxtaposing (and that’s the word I used for this back in ’89) the plight of welfare recipients and case workers, that I could show some sense of irony. That so many of the case workers and managers were only a paycheck or two away from being on welfare — and that some of them had been on welfare themselves, at least based on my limited experience — would make for an interesting story. What I hoped to show, ultimately, was the inhumanity of the welfare system itself, pitting people from similar socioeconomic backgrounds against each other because of the mix of welfare as racial and as a form of the undeserving getting their government handouts, of crumbs from America’s table being turned into a political football.

I didn’t say this exactly when I had a conversation about this topic with my former TA Paul Riggs in October ’89. The ideas and many of the sentiments, particularly about “juxtaposing,” “irony,” and “inhumanity,” though, were all part of the conversation. Riggs told me I needed to slow down, that even if I somehow were able to make this topic historical, that I’d need to much more reading on the topic, to divorce myself from my emotions around this topic.

In some ways, my late-twenties mentor was right. It’s hard to do scholarly work on a topic in which you are heavily emotionally invested. The topic wasn’t historical, given that I had just lived it and my Mom and younger siblings were still living it. And I was nineteen after all, and after seven years of seldom writing for any purpose outside of the classroom except letters to former high school classmates and college friends, a book would’ve been a daunting, almost immeasurable task.

That started me on the path to learn how to write like an academic historian, instead of writing out of emotion and irony. One that would delay my writing on anything like Boy @ The Window for the better part of a decade, even as the academic process enabled me to do the interviews and research necessary to put the memoir together.

Luckily, there are three authors whose work over the past decade has covered this topic of welfare, racial stereotypes, inhumanity, criminality and irony. Mostly in ways I would’ve covered it had I had the words and research skills to do this work twenty-four years ago. Adrian LeBlanc‘s Random Family (2002), though a sensational accounting of a Latino family in the Bronx between ’88 and ’01, does provide a glimpse (still MacArthur “genius” Award winner). Rhonda Y. WilliamsThe Politics of Public Housing: Black Women’s Struggles Against Urban Inequality (2005) is her excellent collection of research and personal vignettes about public housing, welfare, Black women and empowerment despite the odds covering the period between the 1940s and the early 1980s (with a bit on the early 1990s). All just before crack cocaine, TANF and the gentrification of previously off-limit poor neighborhoods in a city like Baltimore became bigger themes.

And now there’s Kaaryn Gustafson‘s Cheating Welfare: Public Assistance and the Criminalization of Poverty (2012). She covers in so many ways what I’d once hoped to capture in emotion and storytelling about the stain of welfare as illustrated in policies and politics. Kaaryn’s (I know her from my New Voices days) written a great book, one that I wished I could’ve read or written when I was nineteen.

Kaaryn Gustafson's Cheating Welfare (2012), May 7, 2013. (http://nyupress.org).

Kaaryn Gustafson’s Cheating Welfare (2012), May 7, 2013. (http://nyupress.org).

That wasn’t my path, though I had interests that would include welfare. No, my path was about race, diversity, education and self-discovery, not just about my Mom and family.


All The Media’s Stereotypes

April 21, 2013

Dzhokhar & Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Boston Marathon crowd moments before bomb blasts, April 15, 2013. (http://www.mirror.co.uk)

Dzhokhar & Tamerlan Tsarnaev in Boston Marathon crowd moments before bomb blasts, April 15, 2013. (http://www.mirror.co.uk)

The mainstream American media was just one big, almost unbelievable fail this past week. Between the Boston Marathon bombing and the subsequent hunt for brothers Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, the ricin letters to Mississippi GOP politicians and President Obama and the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas. In the last case, the one that killed and injured more people than two dumb asses in Boston. Yet, somehow, in a world in which the best answer should be “I don’t know” or “We don’t know yet,” media folks and their experts have been tweeting and reporting at the level of gossip for the past five or six days.

Usually a fairly careful journalist/columnist, Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post tweeting three hours after the Boston Marathon bombing on April 15, “April 19: Anniversary of storming of Branch Davidian compound & the Okla. City bombing.” At that point, we didn’t even know the number of people killed, maimed or injured. Nor did we know the number of bombs that had exploded in Copley Square. Think, man, think!

The more famous comments of the week came out of CNN’s shop, though. John King had breaking news Wednesday afternoon that law enforcement officials had identified a “dark-skinned male” suspect. Being a White guy working in mainstream media means that you never have to say “I’m sorry,” apparently. Especially when all of his “breaking news” reporting turned out to be completely wrong.

Let’s not really analyze the so-called reporting of FOX News or the New York Post. You’d get more truth from a psychic doing a Vulcan mind-meld with Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s brain right now than you could from Murdoch’s news media world in a year.

Let’s also not forget many of the so-called terrorism experts whom guessed wrong about race, immigrant status and so many other details this past week. Not to mention reports whom apparently couldn’t find Chechnya on a map if the republic were blown up to 100x normal map size and they put a floodlight on it.

But the most disturbing — yet not very surprising — thing about the past seven days has been how the US media has engaged in a near-endless campaign of racial stereotypes, immigrant stereotypes, terrorism stereotypes, religious stereotypes, patriotism stereotypes, and hyperbole that attempts to defy history. A simple list should help:

  • Terrorist(s) = Arab Muslims
  • Males from the Caucasus = Caucasians, but not White
  • Muslims who commit a violent act = terrorists
  • Violent criminals = anyone not White (especially Blacks & Latinos)
  • Violent mass-murdering Whites = mentally disturbed (i.e., NOT terrorists)
  • Arab Muslims = immigrants, NOT US citizens
  • Indo-Europeans who are White (phenotypically) & citizens but not born in US = Immigrants
  • Boston = city terrorized like no city ever before

On this last one, I must put on my academic historian hat. As in — are you kidding me? Anyone ever hear of Boston in the years before and during the American Revolution? Or, in more recent times, the Oklahoma City bombing in ’95, 9/11 and Lower Manhattan, the DC sniper rampage in ’02? Or, if the idea here is that terrorism should only be viewed through the prism of those who feel terrorized, what about poor Blacks on the South Side of Chicago, in SE Washington, DC, or poor Latinos in cities like Albuquerque and Phoenix? Or, for that matter, innocent civilians in Yemen and Pakistan attempting to avoid being among the “collateral damage” caused by our drone wars for terrorist scalps?

And then, there was the need for release, for yelps of relief and cheers of joy over the successful capture of Dzhokhar Tsarneav late Friday evening, with chants of “USA! USA! USA!” included. Of course people should feel relief for the end of a tense situation. But let’s not get carried away with the tide here.

Stereotype quote taken from Annie Murphy Paul article (May 1998) in Psychology Today, January 16, 2011. (http://nwso.net/). In public domain.

Stereotype quote taken from Annie Murphy Paul article (May 1998) in Psychology Today, January 16, 2011. (http://nwso.net/). In public domain.

We know nothing of motive, but we do know that the police will return to its regularly scheduled racial and socioeconomic profiling in the coming days. We can’t wrap our collective heads around the idea that two assimilated White American immigrants decided to kill runners at the Boston Marathon. Yet we also somehow decided to culturally and legally un-Americanize them — something we didn’t do with Timothy McVeigh. Chants patriotic might be a way to show solidarity, but we refuse to come to grips with the racial/xenophobic and anti-Muslim psychology that comes with these impromptu outbreaks of so-called unity.

Don Henley’s “Dirty Laundry” remains just as relevant now as his tune about the American news media was three decades ago. Still, the completely centrist and biased, always-concerned-about-the-bottom-line media is a mere reflection of our narcissistic and imperialistic selves.


Sarai, 30 Years Old Today

February 9, 2013

Sarai (with Maurice) at 12 years old, Yonkers, NY, November 21, 1995. (Donald Earl Collins).

My sister Sarai (with Maurice) at 12 years old, Yonkers, NY, November 21, 1995. (Donald Earl Collins).

It’s another February 9, more than two and a half years since my sister Sarai Washington passed away from complications due to sickle-cell anemia at the age of twenty-seven. Today would mark her thirtieth birthday. But given how Sarai’s life began, given her disease and the average life expectancy of people with it, it’s just as well that she isn’t here to become thirty. Sarai would likely be in pain, with skin bruises and lesions, laying on a hospital bed, in the middle of yet another blood transfusion.

My sister’s life and death is a constant reminder to forgive. It especially reminds me that forgiveness for us simple, linear humans is a constant process. It’s one in which we overcome our own feelings with the determination to love and to seek wisdom and grace. That Sarai had to endure sickle-cell anemia for twenty-seven years, five months and two days — or 10,015 total days — could feel me with enough anger so that I’d spend the rest of my life in hatred and contempt.

Not so much toward God. Even in eighth grade, I knew enough to know that people often cause their own calamities, and yet choose to blame God for the perditious decisions they made. No, there was a time I blamed my mom, from the time I learned that she was pregnant with Sarai and for years afterward. Why? Because I also knew about sickle-cell anemia, how it was a genetic disorder, and how two people with the trait had a one-in-four chance of passing on the full-blown disease to one of their progeny. And I knew this because my mom explained the basics of it to me when I was eight years old.

My mother worked at Mount Vernon Hospital, where they very well could’ve run a genetic test for the disease at the prenatal stage. Of course, that would’ve given my mother a rather difficult decision to make about my eventual sister’s viability. But then again, she knew before the birth of my other siblings Maurice and Yiscoc that my now deceased idiot stepfather also possessed the sickle-cell trait. That she didn’t have any of them tested was, well, lazy and shameful.

I could’ve easily blamed my now dead ex-stepfather Maurice. He was a walking disaster area, as everything he touched turned into crap. Maurice never did anything in his life that didn’t hurt someone at some point. He never once cared enough about Sarai (or any of his other kids, for that matter) to make sure they were born healthy and whole. Forget about what happened to them after they were born. Maurice’s only real interest was telling guys standing on corners about his latest sperm injection. He also liked to buy cigars after the women had to endure the pregnancy and labor, abandoned by him in most meaningful respects in the process.

And there’s the grudge I’ve held against myself. As I’ve said in Boy @ The Window and in various blog posts (including “Pregnant Pauses” from November ’12), I never wanted Sarai here in the first place. Not because I hated kids or her. I knew what her birth would mean, especially after a year in which we were without food at 616 one-third of the time and three-weeks behind on rent every single month. With my mother’s hours cut at Mount Vernon Hospital, we were on the verge of going on welfare, and I’d been taught by my mom to hate that. We were about to become a racial cliché, living and breathing racial stereotypes, and that went against everything my mother and nearly two years of living as a Hebrew-Israelite had taught me.

So how do I forgive? It’s simple, really (well, maybe not so simple). Forgiveness for me is a WWJD (What Would Jesus Do?) moment. Jesus said on the cross, just before he died, “Forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” I realize that even when we think we know what we’re doing, we don’t really know — we’re not omniscient, after all. We’re never fully aware of the effects of our decisions and actions, of all the intricacies and long-term implications.

That’s why and how I forgave and forgive — my mom, Maurice and myself. It’s the one thing I can honestly say I learned from Sarai, especially today, on her thirtieth birthday.


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