The End of Peanuts Land

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Six Flags New Orleans, abandoned post-Katrina, 2017. (http://www.destinationamerica.com/).

I’ve told the story of how my imaginative version of Peanuts Land began, in the wake of my six weeks of punishment for running away from home the month of my ninth birthday in December 1978. The inclusion of so many World Book Encyclopedia and Scholastic Weekly Reader facts to create this alternate reality, one in which Charlie Brown was very much of flesh and bone. The creation of a utopia with few of the world’s deeply entrenched problems, one in which nuclear war wasn’t a worry. From roughly January 1979 until August 1981, I continued building on my knowledge of history, technology, geography, topography, economics, sociology, psychology, sexuality, and militarism to construct this land that never was and never will be.

This was also a time, though, in which my older brother Darren and I read comics. The Marvel and DC universes were a part of my reading in 1980 and 1981 as well. Whether it was Justice League or Spider-Man or The Incredible Hulk or The Avengers, all of them gave me ideas for potential bad guys to have on the streets of Peanuts Land City (the chief of police in this scenario was Snoopy, by the way), or enemies for Peanuts Land’s military to fight.

That world of child-like imagination with real world and comic book elements got warped like a vinyl album on a hot radiator the summer of ’82. Maurice beating me up or whuppin’ my ass once every three days between July 6 and August 1 might have had something to do with the rage and loss of any sense of control I had during my summer of abuse. My mom’s role as strikebreaker at Mount Vernon Hospital in the middle of all that abuse didn’t help. Nor did the weeks throughout July where my toddler siblings had more food to eat than me or my mom.

But that wasn’t all. One day, in between my idiot stepfather’s beatdowns, I had come from the store with a small bag of groceries. This time around, instead of walking up the fourth flights of stairs to our 616 apartment, I took the elevator. 616’s A-section elevator was and remains one of the slowest and noisiest elevators I’ve ever ridden. Guys pissed on its floor regularly. I’d seen everything from cigarette butts to dog shit on this elevator over the years. As a result, I only took this elevator whenever the groceries had gotten to be too heavy or because I was simply too tired to walk up the stairs yet again.

A broken pencil (cropped), January 2014. (http://associationsnow.com)

On this day near the end of my ordeals with Maurice, a teenage neighbor from across the hall from our third-floor flat joined me on the elevator on the first floor. As soon as the elevator door closed, she pushed me up against the elevator’s back wall and then attempted to reach into my pants for my penis. I dropped the groceries, and with my right hand, grabbed her arm while shoving her to the other side of the elevator with my left arm in a criss-cross sort of motion. It didn’t dawn on me until that moment that I was now a few inches taller than her. She couldn’t have been more than five-foot-four at the time.

“What are you doing?,” I remember yelling, just as the elevator reached the third floor.

“I was just playin’. Why you gotta be a faggot?,” I remember her responding with her fake grin.

I was already emotionally out of sorts. But this was a neighbor, someone I actually did find attractive. She was either sixteen or seventeen at the time, and I was twelve. As a result of the spring that was all about Wendy, I really didn’t find anyone even emotionally arousing. Sexual arousal was so new to me I couldn’t have described it in 1982 if the dictionary definition had been stamped on my penis.

So I did what I always did when I got really, really stressed, at least since I was three. I went into my and Darren’s bedroom, with my idiot stepfather snoring away, my mom at work, Darren in summer camp, and my younger siblings taking afternoon naps, and I humped a pillow. In this case, Darren’s brown stop-light pillow, one that he had made in art class at The Clear View School a year or two before. Except, for the second time in eight months, instead of stopping because I simply tired out, semen shot out unexpectedly from my penis, and onto the side of Darren’s artwork. Boy did I do my best to clean up the pillow, at least this time around!

Out of that experience came my last Peanuts Land run. Off and on over the next three weeks, I had created a story in which a serial rapist was on the loose. The rapist was a Black woman, an older version of my 616 neighbor. She raped men at gun point or knife point. Her signature was her super-powered vagina (think She-Hulk here). When she sensed physical arousal from the men after she forced them to penetrate her, she used her vaginal muscles to rip off their penises. A number of the men she raped had bled to death as a result.

Detective Snoopy, Woodstock and pal birds attempting to solve a crime (cropped), August 14, 2018. (http://pinterest.com.au).

Despite weeks of searching Peanuts Land’s capital, Snoopy and an army of police couldn’t find the rapist. She managed to get away with killing at least a dozen men in this way.

By the time I reached the end of this story, I was in trouble again, this time with my mom. The stuffing from Darren’s stop-light pillow had started spilling out, with big rifts in at least two places. Between that and the damage from me drowning it in water to wipe up my semen stains, I’d ruined Darren’s artwork. Of course I got an ass-whuppin’! Compared to Maurice, my mom’s use of the belt might as well have been a compassionate smack on the butt for a two-year old, though.

After that, I decided to give up Peanuts Land once and for all. Even then, I knew I wanted to slice my stepfather’s balls off, and that I despised the fact that felt any attraction to anyone besides Wendy at all. Especially to someone willing to molest a preteen.

Looking even further back, I know now that some of my reaction was a residue of the sexual assault I experienced when I was six. But since that memory was a buried jumble in the summer of ’82, all I could think of to do was to do a better job of hiding my masturbatory episodes in the future.

Coming From Where I’m From

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A week and a half ago, I received an email from a reader in response to my latest Al Jazeera piece, “Why I Don’t Understand the Black Affluent Class.” She congratulated me on the article, and agreed with most of my sentiments in the piece. She also revealed that she had spent a decade living in Mount Vernon, NY.

It turned out that this reader lived five blocks from me during my Boy @ The Window years, right off East Lincoln Avenue! Part of my follow-up included, “[m]aybe our paths crossed, maybe they didn’t. But I’m sure my growing up years helped shape some of what went into my Al Jazeera piece from last week.”

I was mildly excited that someone from Mount Vernon had read one of my mainstream articles, and not just the blog. But, even with some shared ideas and a common point of reference, the reader’s response actually reflected some of what I critiqued in the article. She agreed that “Money Earnin’ Mount Vernon” had helped shape my views around the buying in of a relatively materially privileged class into White patriarchial and supremacist ideas like civility and respectability politics. Then she immediately veered toward identifying the great Mount Vernonites — “Denzel Washington, Al B Sure, Heavy D, Sidney Poitier, etc.”

What is it about smaller cities not blessed with the narcissistic largesse of a New York, L.A., or DC that causes people to fall back on the “but we have successful people from here, too” trope? Not only is this not necessary. It points to a sense of competing for attention and importance in a way that can be a bit unseemly, a way of countering a negative narrative from a crowd of self-centered media elites with one that’s just as narcissistic and needy.

The fact is, pick a spot on a map where at least 1,000 people live, and guess what? Someone rich and/or famous either grew up there or lived there for a time. Even if those individuals aren’t nationally known, one can guess that they’re known in that region or state. Dean Martin’s from Steubenville, Ohio. The opera singer Leontyne Price is originally from Laurel, Mississippi. Mr. “The Price Is Right” Bob Barker is from Darrington, Washington. Stand-up comedian Lewis Black’s from Silver Spring (where I’ve lived for nearly 20 years now). I bumped into former NFL player and sports broadcaster Ahmad Rashad at my local pizza shop in 1989. Heck, the Black feminist lesbian poet Audre Lorde worked for years at Mount Vernon Public Library. None of this could possibly change how I saw my original home base, not in 1976, not in 1987, and certainly not in 2018.

It’s not that I didn’t know the Delaney sisters lived off South Columbus Avenue, or that Stephanie Mills had a house somewhere between Mount Vernon High School and the Mount Vernon-Bronxville border. But what did that really mean to my day-to-day when I was going from one end of Mount Vernon to the other for groceries, for piece of mind, and sometimes, to avoid more physical and emotional abuse at home? How did knowing that a classmate was in a scene on the soap opera General Hospital change the fact that I still needed to hunt down my alcoholic father on Friday for enough money to cover the cost of my AP English exam? What did Al B. Sure or Heavy D’s success in the 1980s have to do with my striving for a college education, or my five days of homelessness in 1988? Nothing, of course, absolutely nothing.

It’s good to know that there are notable people, Black, Afro-Caribbean, African, Latino, Nuyorican, Italian, male, female, transgender, gay, lesbian, bisexual, dead, old, young, and alive, from Mount Vernon. But a community doesn’t hang its hat on notable people or the rich and successful. Its lifeblood is the ordinary, of activists, artists, and educators, students and librarians and postal workers, the grandparent here, the friend of the family there, who takes a real interest in your development and success. For that reason, Denzel doesn’t really matter to me. I can’t tell you how I feel about Albert Brown night and day, because I’ve hardly given his music a thought since Quincy Jones’ 1989 album Back on the Block (the song “The Secret Garden” makes me gag). Sidney Poitier living in Mount Vernon for a time? And?

For me, for better and for worse, it was the crossing guard at the corner of Esplanade and East Lincoln when was at William H. Holmes. Or, it was my mom and dad’s friends (drinking buddies, really), Ms. Pomalee, Ida, Callie Mae, Lo, and Arthur. Or, it was my mom’s Mount Vernon Hospital friends, especially Billie. It was my Uncle Sam. It was Ms. Griffin, Mrs. Shannon, Mrs. O’Daniel, Mrs. Bryant, my school teachers before Humanities and Meltzer. Whatever lessons I learned about aspirations, civility, and respectability politics, and the idea that these ideas aren’t all good or set in stone, they helped me in that process. These were the people who mattered to me outside of 616 and off the street of Mount Vernon.

Today Was A Good Day (sometimes)…

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Shea Stadium, second level, behind visitors dugout, Flushing Meadow, Queens, NY, 2008. (http://www.bloggingmets.com/)

Of all my Independence Days growing up, two stand out above the rest. One was Friday, July 4, 1986. It was the grand re-opening of the Statue of Liberty, courtesy of one-time Chrysler head Lee Iacocca and The Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, which had raised hundreds of millions to restore both symbols of American inclusion (via European immigrants, at least) to museum-quality glory.

Not so for me. I took my older brother Darren, and my then near-seven year-old brother Maurice and nearly five year-old brother Yiscoc to Shea Stadium to watch the Mets play. It was either a 1:05 pm or 1:35 pm start, I don’t remember. It was a beautiful eighty-five degree afternoon, beautiful because it wasn’t particularly humid, and there were no storm clouds to be found that Friday. Dwight Gooden was on the mound for the Mets, starting against the all-time great Nolan Ryan. It was built up to be a duel, and it was.

Keith Hernandez drove in a run in the first, and that was it until the top of the seventh inning, when Dr. K gave up a home run to Kevin Bass. Other than that, fly balls, walks, double-plays, and strikeouts were the order of the day. Lenny Dykstra drove in the game-winning run with a double to right-center field at the bottom of the seventh inning off of a reliever, as Ryan was out after beginning the bottom of the sixth giving up a walk and a hit. Despite giving up five walks and only striking out four, Gooden got a complete-game, 2-1 win, and 30,000 saw the Mets go to 54-21, well on their way toward their World Series title for 1986.

NYC’s MTA 7 train rolling into Queens (Wikipedia), July 4, 2018. (http://amsterdamnews.com).

But that day was so much better with three of my brothers there, away from 616 and Mount Vernon, hanging out, without an adult to supervise, or rather, abuse us in some way. It was one of the first times I actually felt like a fully responsible adult. I took the four of us down to the city on Metro-North at the Pelham stop, rode into grimy Grand Central, took the Shuttle train to Times Square, and then the 7 Subway to Shea. Maurice and Yiscoc were so enamored with the trains and the city that it seemed all they did was stare out at skyscrapers and out of train windows when we weren’t at the game. Darren, though mostly quiet, at least wasn’t staring off into space plotting some revenge on me for my “5” on the AP US History Exam while doing the Wave.

It was so cheap to do what we did that day. The four upper-deck, slightly left-of-home plate tickets we bought cost $4 each, but each hot dog was $3, and the sodas were $2. apiece Given my $3.40-per-hour job with Technisort, though, the $50 excursion wasn’t so cheap that I wasn’t thinking about sneaking a Sabrett hot dog from a street vendor in before we got to the stadium. To be sure, the hot dogs at Shea were better than my usual fare on the street or at Gray’s Papaya.

It was probably the best day I had during my Boy @ The Window years. There were others to be sure, especially in 1986, including my Mets winning the World Series that October and my AP US History exam results. But on this day, I was with innocent family members, watching my favorite team and one of my favorite players. I was lost in the humongous human mob of New York on a double-whammy of an Independence Day weekend. I slept well that evening, knowing that I’d drawn a 10 am-2 pm shift that Saturday. I planned on buying a new Walkman at the Cross County Mall in Yonkers that afternoon. A normal three-day weekend for many sixteen-year-olds was a small eye-wall in the chaotic hurricane that was my life back then.

Contrast this with Wednesday, July 4th, 1979. My mom’s friend Mrs. Ralph was hosting a 4th of July party at her house off Wilson’s Woods in Mount Vernon, with kids included. She had hamburgers and hot dogs on the grill, tons of ice cream and drinks, and an ice cream cake to top it all off.

I just couldn’t help myself. I became a nine-year-old version of Pac-Man. I devoured two hamburgers and two hot dogs, had some red drink, and a slice or two of the vanilla ice cream cake. All within the first half-hour of us getting to Ms. Ralph’s house.

I couldn’t have been higher if they had injected me with heroin and then had me snort some Oxycodone. I was running around the house and laughing for no reason whatsoever, my older brother Darren staring at me like I was an alien. My mom had grabbed me by my shoulders at one point. “Stop acting up!” she said.

Looney Tunes’ Tazmanian Devil in the midst of an eat-a-thon, July 4, 2018. (Catherine Babey
via http://pinterest.com).

But I didn’t stop. At least not until I ran into one of Ms. Ralph’s dividers in her living room, knocking it down along with some half-empty cups and plates on an adjacent table.

My mom took off one of her square-heeled flats and proceeded to beat my ass with it for the next minute, in front of a crowd of twenty or twenty-five guests. The ass-whuppin’ hurt, of course. The fact that it was a public one hurt even more. I was crying well after the party went back to normal. Ms. Ralph, though, came over to me later, reminded me that what I did was wrong, and then gave me a hug and told me that she loved me.

Looking back, I definitely deserved some punishment, maybe even an ass-whuppin’. The public spectacle and the shoe was probably a bit excessive. Was it a good day? No. But it was a day that made the 4th of July 1986 and so many other days easier to appreciate and savor.

On Wet Rags and Crocodile Tears

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The tears of Allison Ettel, a.k.a., #PermitPatty, NBC’s The Today Show (cropped), June 26, 2018. (http://bet.com).

I’ve been thinking about this post for a while, probably for at least two years. But it does help when others closer to the subject write about it as well. Between @ProfessorCrunk Brittney Cooper’s chapter “White-Girl Tears” in her hard-hitting Black feminist primer Eloquent Rage (2018), @blackgirlinmain Shay Stewart Bouley’s recent blog post “Weapon of lass destruction: The tears of a white woman,” and Ruby Hamad’s piece in The Guardian, “How white women use strategic tears to silence women of colour,” what can I really add? (Everyone who believes in feminism and wants to support women of color writers ought to read these essays, by the way). Oh, just the idea that men of color deal with White women’s/girl’s tears as well. And that some of us have been just anti-sexist enough to recognize how our Whiteness and patriarchal-dominated society privileges and legitimizes such tears, often to our detriment.

Over the years, I’ve taken to calling those who cry over the least amount of adversity and stress wet rags, and those instances in which sobbing becomes a central theme “wet-rag episodes.” This started for me in the late-1990s, when my then girlfriend (now wife of eighteen years) would spent upwards of 12 hours of her Saturdays watching Lifetime movies (some of which were originally NBC, ABC, or CBS specials, before the dominant return of reality TV in the double aughts). At first, I did a play on Lifetime‘s slogan back then, “Lifetime: Television for Women,” adding, “not for men” whenever the tag line appeared during commercials.

But Lifetime is an addiction, if you sit there long enough watching the ups and downs of romances, the constant threat of stalkers, date rape, teenage pregnancy, and drugs, and the upbeat endings and vindication at the end of every two-hour movie. What I noticed most of all, though, were the waterworks. Everyone from Lynda Carter to Lindsay Wagner, from Elizabeth Montgomery to Jaclyn Smith could cry at the sound of a book drop!

Cartoon character from Fairly Odd Parents crying an ocean of tears (cropped), June 30, 2018. (http://fairlyoddfanon.wikia.com).

Admittedly, I cry very easily while watching emotional and gut-wrenching scenes. I cried when I saw Viola Davis take on Denzel Washington’s character in Fences (2016) over his years of cheating and his secret family. Especially when Davis blew a snot bubble in the middle of the scene. I was through for the next three minutes!

With Lifetime movies, though, I stopped crying for these White women over the twists and turns in their lives. I watched one scene in one movie where the main character broke out and cried at her dining room table in her laid-out, five-bedroom home when she realized she only had $10,000 left in her bank account. I didn’t just laugh. I howled. As someone for whom poverty and financial struggles have been a constant companion, having that much money in any account at any time has always been a time of celebration. “You shouldn’t laugh. Poverty is relative,” Angelia said while also laughing. “No, it isn’t. She’s a wet rag!” I responded. I’ve spent a good portion of my career proving this point, too.

That scene took me back to so many wet-rag episodes in my life. Like when my high school valedictorian classmate cried angry tears over a 67 on an English essay exam our junior year, losing 25 points because she didn’t underline James Baldwin’s book title Notes from a Native Son in her essay. I didn’t feel sorry for her, Ms. 5.45 GPA, not one bit (it’s all in Boy @ The Window).

Or, during my second year in grad school at Pitt, when a student in one of my US History to 1877 sections tried to proposition me to raise her C- average. When that didn’t work, a fountain of tears poured out. I handed her a tissue, but said, “Your tears in no way are a substitute for studying and working harder in this class.” She didn’t exactly give me 5’s on her evaluations of me in the course at the end of that semester.

Ten years later, I had White women as co-workers and students who could cry about almost anything. My one-time boss Ken blamed me for making a former co-worker cry because I refused to take her “I hope you had a wonderful vacation!” the week after 9/11 in stride. Yeah, sure. It was a week in which I was stuck in Atlanta for four days after a one-day work trip and had to take Greyhound for 15 hours back to DC, not knowing if my older brother was dead or alive. I said as much to my co-worker, and she ran away from me crying.

A student in my History of American Education Reform graduate course cried when I refused to change her grade from an A- to an A. I was in the middle of explaining how she could revise her research paper and still end up with an A. It was just before Thanksgiving, and until that moment, I had thought that this was one of the best courses I’d ever taught, with one of the best group of students I had had in one of my courses. Her sudden sobbing actually pissed me off. I tried not to show it. But I did say, “What are you crying about? There’s nothing about your standing in this course for you to be crying about.” I said it in a tone that I’d only find again once my son became a preteen.

Caitriona Balfe as Claire wailing over the loss of Jamie and the Battle of Culloden, July 9, 2016. (http://www.bookbub.com).

It’s to the point now that I don’t even watch wet-rag shows anymore, at least once the character becomes one. For example, I watched the split first season of Starz’s Outlander with Caitriona Balfe as Claire, and found it mostly enjoyable. Until she began turning on the waterworks in practically every episode. My wife continues to watch, but laughs every time I ask, “What happened on Wet Rag this week?”

I know that White women and White girls, like all human beings, have plenty good reason to cry. Every time I saw video of Kyle Stephens‘ sentencing-phase testimony about what convicted rapist and felon Larry Nassar starting doing to her when she was five years old, I cried for her and with her. Trauma and tragedy are good reasons to cry, wail, sob, and weep. But, so many wet-rag tears are drop-of-the-hat, crocodile tears. About getting caught in lies, about making racist and anti-poverty and anti-women-of-color statements that don’t go over well, about anything that would otherwise paint them as narcissistic and not-so-smart brats.

While I know I don’t have as difficult a row to hoe as so many women of color in the public sphere, one thing I know I’m not allowed to do in a hyper-masculine world of Whiteness and patriarchy is cry. I got hit with the f-bomb so many times growing up, from Black boys, Black men, and Black women, and faced threats of violence as a result. I would’ve been recommended for psychotherapy if I had ever cried over an A-, and been laughed at for complaining about my workplace conditions. Women of color can lose careers over their tears. Black boys and men have lost their freedom and lives over them. One isn’t less damaged over the delegitimization of our tears, but the damage can be differential, depending on gender, class, sexual orientation, and the level of toxic hyper-masculinity surrounding you.

That is why I can’t stand wet rags. Their tears fill the world with concern and fear, and marginalize and dehumanize the rest of us. I have no sympathy for crocodile tears. I don’t know if I’ve ever had sympathy for them.

ICE is America’s Gestapo, the White House the Waffen SS

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Two pictures: ICE raid to arrest foreign nationals. February 6, 2017, (Charles Reed/ICE; http://amsterdamnews.com); Gestapo in midst of a raid, circa 1939-40. (http://www.encyclopediaofukraine.com). Both in public domain.

I may have developed my sense of thinking on the issue of inclusion and migration from the ostracism I experienced via the cool class of Black classmates from Mount Vernon High School. Maybe. Maybe not. But, it was on this date 31 years ago that the Class of 1987 graduated. And, within minutes of us tossing our mortar-board caps in the air, people who were the “cool ones” in the graduating class began ignoring my greetings and staring through me like I was invisible whenever and wherever I saw them. A silent treatment that I went through for two summers with this group.

This is not unlike the way the media and this 45 presidency deals with most marginalized Americans and the daily indignities and atrocities from which they suffer. Especially those who migrate without papers and those would-be-migrants and asylum-seekers. The amping up of a policy that separates parents from children at the US-Mexico border is nothing short of kidnapping and taking hostages. However, the policy isn’t entirely new, and the media coverage of it until a week and a half ago was scant. President 45 and his minions had truly believed that they could keep something like this under wraps, because undocumented migrants and asylum-seekers have no representatives, no voice, and no support among many Americans.

The cries of outrage across this country have proven them partly wrong. Still, the “cooler” — really, crueler — class of Americans, White, White privilege, White patriarchy, Whiteness-is-always-right-thinking Americans (which unfortunately also includes Americans of color) remain all for body snatching. They have either been silent or have made some lame-ass excuses for fuckery worthy only of superficially-cool high school graduates.

I’m reminded of the first time I saw America’s cruelty in kidnapping kids and tearing apart families. For me, it started with Roots in 1977. I watched through Kunta Kinte’s  capture and Middle Passage across the Atlantic, his arrival in colonial Virginia, and later, the selling off of his daughter Kizzy to a slave owner who raped and impregnated her with Chicken George. Kizzy (played by Leslie Uggams) never saw her father alive again (she’s somehow able to visit her father’s grave, though), and her mother Bell is sold off to some Deep South plantation.

Leslie Uggams as Kizzy Kente in Roots (screen shot), 1977. (http://roots.wikia.com).

At seven, I cried at least three times watching this. At ten, when I saw all of this a second time, I cried and got angry. Especially at Sandy Duncan’s character, Missy Anne. Because Kizzy had the audacity to have a boyfriend and attempted to help him escape, Missy Anne shunned Kizzy and put up no protest as her father sold off her childhood playmate. And I learned that this is how nice people do people like me, especially the times when we need their help the most.

Later, I learned about the Fugitive Slave Laws. I learned how Congress, starting in 1793, passed a series of laws making it possible for every White American to act as a secret police. Whites were on the lookout for runaway African slaves in places as far-flung as Charleston, South Carolina, Bangor, Maine, Buffalo, New York, and, by the 1850s, Arizona Territory and California. The assumption of African enslavement was so pervasive that thousands of free and freed Blacks could end up being sold and re-sold into slavery, merely because some random White person wanted to make an extra $10 in the 1830s (12 Years a Slave comes to mind here).

Later, I’d learn about the Trail of Tears, Indian Removal, and the long, bitter march of indigenous peoples onto reservations between the late-1820s and 1890. A population of perhaps three million Native Americans reduced to 250,000 by the time of the 1900 Census. All federal policies as the US Army executed them. All so that mining interests could get to gold and coal, all so that railroads could be built. In the process of assimilating “the savages,” the federal government also snatched thousands of Native American children from their tribes and families and put them in boarding schools. With White families all too willing to teach them to forget about their long and proud histories, languages, and peoples.

But before learning all this, I also learned through my mom’s years on welfare just how easy it could be for a government and willing neighbors to have children and parents separated. More than once, a social worker swung by in the years between 1983 and 1990 to inspect my younger siblings, to make sure there wasn’t a man in the house, to ensure that my family’s deep poverty was real. More than once, a neighbor would threaten to call Social Services on my mom (and at least once, on me when I was a teenager) because my four younger sibling kept up too much noise. The policies that now comprise what some experts call “Jane Crow,” of separating allegedly neglectful and abusing parents (mostly Black women) in the name of protecting children, were very much alive and well during my teenage and early adulthood years. Because of course, poverty in America to the point of needing a few dollars and some Food Stamps is illegal.

Signs and protesters at “Families Belong Together March,” Los Angeles, June 14, 2018. (Robyn Beck/AFP/Getty Images).

With all this history of breaking up families to control African slaves, free Blacks, Native Americans, and poor people, why would the sudden ramping up of separating children from their parents at the US-Mexico border surprise anyone? It doesn’t surprise me. ICE has been brazen in their modern-day execution of its Fugitive-Slave-Act-esque charge to “round up all the illegals.” The White House has 45 and an army of minions who spend every waking moment of every day figuring out ways to quash dissent and foment support for policies that would make the US a Whites-only country.

But for all this to work, there have to be millions of Americans willing to help them. And there are. Some out of pure ignorance, some out of willful ignorance and denial, and some because they are racist sociopaths. All, though, are fully steeped in the idea that America would be better off if Whites remain the majority, if White men and White women sire most of America’s kids, and if all the Black and Brown people submit to their rule and oppression with bright smiles.

People, America isn’t becoming a fascist state. For so many of us, America has always hung in the balance between freedom and fascism. Fascism for Americans of color, and freedom for good, Christian-as-racism White folks. This. Is. America.

Mrs. Bryant and the Beginning of Donald 1.5

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A bright blue sky, just before the long storm, February 19, 2011. (http://www.photos-public-domain.com). In public domain.

We’ve reached the end of yet another school year, number 32 for me overall, between my twenty-two years between kindergarten and doctorate and my son’s ten years of K-9 (this doesn’t included the 13 years of overlap, in which my primary job has been as an instructor, or my wife’s two years of grad school). The end of sixth grade was not particularly violent. But it was a rough transition to nearly eight years of bumps, bruises, grinding poverty and psychological torture, and a constant struggle for my true self.

The one strong and calming influence in the midst of this gathering storm system was my sixth grade teacher at William H. Holmes ES, Mrs. Della Bryant. She was the fourth of my four Black teachers between first grade and middle school. Mrs. Bryant was as important to me on the cusp of becoming a teenager as Ms. Griffin was to my grounding as a student in first grade, and the crush I had on Mrs. Shannon in third. Because Mrs. Bryant didn’t just aspire for us to do well and get A’s. She wanted us to think big picture, and not just about high school or college. Mrs. Bryant encouraged us to think in larger, worldly terms, to take politics and religion and literature and the stuff of intellectuals seriously.

She indulged us, especially me and my then best friend Starling. So many times that year, Mrs. Bryant allowed us to debate current event topics in class, whether we had sufficient facts or not. The Iran hostage crisis, the 1980 election cycle and why Ronald Reagan would be worse than President Jimmy Carter (no one in our class played devil’s advocate), the legality of Israel unilaterally bombing an Iraqi nuclear weapons centrifuge site.

Those were among the moments I lived for in Mrs. Bryant’s class that school year. I lived for them not just because I liked showing off my knowledge. I already knew I was smart. I spent the following year saying “I am the smartest kid in the whole world!” to myself, and occasionally, to Humanities classmates who made me feel inferior.

No, those debates weren’t about my raw analytic power and great ability to remember. They were about discovering what I thought I knew about a topic, understanding what I didn’t know, and being able to articulate it all without losing my thoughts in the ether. And in all that, I discovered parts of myself. My forthrightness. My New York-style sarcasm. My sense of righteous anger. My ability to summarize a situation in order to derive or intuit possible responses, even solutions.

That was what Mrs. Bryant with her light but steady touch helped me get to in sixth grade. A sense of enlightenment that could survive the false gods of Hebrew-Israelite-ism, the false father of my then idiot stepfather “Judah ben Israel” née Maurice Washington, and the fallacy that I had any control over my world.

But that wasn’t all Mrs. Bryant helped me do that year. She encouraged me to take on other projects, especially contests. Like posters for Dental Health Month, or participating in Election 1980 activities, and journaling and writing down my thoughts about virtually everything. Mrs. Bryant did me the honor of having me introduce our graduation speaker at the end of sixth grade, nearly 37 years ago. It was a two-minute speech, but it was also in front of a couple hundred people. I don’t think I’ve even been as nervous being on radio or television. Most of that stuck with me for years, somehow surviving through years of crumpled neglect.

Mrs. Bryant was the one who shepherded me into the Humanities Program, something that I’d only heard about once before, inadvertently through Brandie Weston (who was a student at Pennington-Grimes) the year before. With my grades and test scores, I probably could’ve made into the Grimes Center a year or two earlier. That is, if my teachers Ms. Pierce and Mrs. O’Daniel had thought of me that way. But in the big scheme, it wasn’t that important. Mrs. Bryant did think of me that way, and went out of her way to say as much. “Mrs. Bryant’s encouragement, her insistence that I was ‘one of the best students’ she ‘ever had,’ made sixth grade a joyful time,” I wrote in my memoir.

Now, despite Mrs. Bryant, I wasn’t prepared for going to school every day with 150 other know-it-all’s, many of whom would never have to worry about Con Edison bills being overdue or having no food to eat for three or four days at time. Or, the constant threat of domestic violence and abuse at home. Heck, between Humanities’ decided demographic affluence and ideological Whiteness, I doubt that most of my eventual classmates worried about anything other than getting A’s until puberty took full hold.

As I wrote in Boy @ The Window, “Mrs. Bryant never warned me that Humanities would be overwhelming because my social skills outside of Holmes were as well developed as a spoiled seven-year old’s.” I simply didn’t handle the transition from a 98-percent-Black elementary school to the mostly White Humanities program very well. Then again, with so much going wrong at home, I didn’t handle much of anything well in the 16 months after sixth grade.

But one thing I carried from my year with Mrs. Bryant was that I could survive and succeed despite it all. To observe and listen, and not just speak off the cuff. To be patient, and keep working. Frankly, it was likely because of teachers like Mrs. Bryant that I discovered my first superpower, my ability to think, remember, and write. And in that discovery, bury the pains of earlier abuses that would’ve surely killed me (or at least, led to a successful suicide) by the time I turned fourteen. Mrs. Bryant, wherever you are, and whatever you’re up to, I say, with love, many, many thanks!

“Sweet Christmas”

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Luke Cage, as played by Mike Colter (cropped), August 29, 2017. (https://refinery29.com; Myles Aronowitz/Netflix.

For the past eleven years, I’ve worked on this blog (albeit, not so much the past couple of years) to talk about my past and how it made me, well me, warts, lesions, and all. That has meant putting as many aspects of my upbringing under an electron microscope as I could bear. Everything from physical and sexual assault to ostracism and bullying. It has meant looking at my friends, acquaintances, enemies, classmates, my mother, father, idiot ex-stepfather, my older brother, and my younger siblings and trying to understand them. Most important, it has meant me constantly interrogating myself, my motivations, my challenges, my -isms, and my other bullshit. I’ve taken nothing for granted since my first post in June 2007, and for as long as I continue to blog and write, I hope that this attitude remains.

But since my blog’s second month, one group of people have consistently poo-pooed my blog and the experiences I’ve talked about here. Mount Vernonites, especially the ones who saw me, but from a distance, during my Boy @ The Window years. Not necessarily my immediate classmates or family (although I know a couple of siblings have had issues with a post here or there). Mostly, it’s been folks who grew up around me, ones who obviously saw me as strange, and used that as an excuse for never attempting to get to know me.

I accepted long ago that this group of Mount Vernonites would be a group I could never placate. But it’s been surprising over the past eleven years how so many have come out of the woodwork to complain about me publicly airing my experiences. About two-dozen in all have found fault with my blog. Their complaints have come in several forms:

1. “Mount Vernon’s a great city with a rich history — how dare YOU (of all people) ever type a word that shows us in a negative light!”

2. “You should never say anything bad about [so-and-so]. He/she was a great person to me — how dare you!”

3. “Donald, it wasn’t that bad. You wouldn’t be the person you are today without Mount Vernon and Denzel Washington.”

4. “You have no right to talk about [x-person]! You should never say anything in public about your experiences with them!”

As I noted in talking about my blog’s tenth anniversary last June, the first missive I ever received was from someone about how I “deserved” my stepfather beating me up. Given the specificity with which the person spoke about my “defiance,” it was likely my late ex-stepfather Maurice responding to my first post about his abuse of me. Too bad I never saved that comment!

This week I received a new comment on an eight-year-old blog post about the man from one of his other kids (from one of his other unions). I won’t post the comment, because her complaint doesn’t really deserve a full airing. “What ever you have with my father should be kept private…No one should be exploited like this. It’s unethical and childish. Seek therapy and consult God for your pain and issues,” she wrote. I guess she doesn’t get that I mostly write non-fiction. At 48, I’m also too old to be told what to do by someone who’s a stranger to me.

But that’s not my main point here. Silence kills people from the inside out, often long before the blood stops pumping through our veins. Bringing abuse to the light of day isn’t exploitation, it’s necessary. Especially if it helps us move on. If a writer like me cannot be honest about the people who were in my life growing up, why bother writing at all?

For the Mount Vernonites who’ve expressed their issues with my blog, let me say this one last time. This blog has never been for you. In so many ways, this blog hasn’t been for me, either. It hasn’t been cathartic, nor has it helped me exact revenge or a pound of righteous vindication. It’s been about the hundreds of comments and emails I’ve received over the years from people I don’t know and will likely never meet. The ones who’ve had similar experiences with abuse, poverty, systemic racism, not fitting in, graduate school, their parents, and in their marriages and parenting. The kids who decided to give college another try. The adults who’ve found their way to a career, or who’ve worked out some problem in their life. The ones who’ve occasionally found their way to God, or conversely, decided that God wasn’t for them.

After nearly 300,000 views and 970 posts, I’m secure in the fact that whatever I’ve said here over the years, my words have done far more good than harm. Or, at least, they have made folks think about a variety of issues differently than they would have otherwise.

It would be all too easy for me to wish that life at 616, in Mount Vernon, and in New York had treated me much more gently between 1969 and 1989. But it didn’t. It would’ve been easier to write everything I’ve typed here over the years as mystery novels or horror graphic novels. But that’s not me (at least, not yet). I don’t regret a single word. On the other hand, I do regret my dropped words (and dropped “s”s) and other grammatical errors.