“Shut up play!” That’s what the average White-bred American wants. Not just from Colin Kaepernick. They want that from all vulnerable Americans, especially those of us Black, Brown, and female. Like the chain-smoking, beer-drinking, and buffalo-wing-eating archetypes many are, these average Joes have been going after Kaepernick since Saturday afternoon, attempting to do to him virtually what their great-grandfathers would’ve done to him in the town square. These folk should know that they know nothing of the flag, the national anthem, or the Constitution they claim to believe in so forthrightly. They have proven beyond any shadow of a doubt that the racism and oppression that motivated Kaepernick to take his stand by sitting is alive and well, both in American institutions and in the hearts and minds of average Joes.
But so are the rules of racial standing, or race rules, for that matter (to quote both Derrick Bell and Michael Eric Dyson). In the past two days, eloquent Black ex-NFL players Hines Ward, Jerry Rice, Rodney Harrison, and Tiki Barber have all weighed in, saying dumb and racist crap in the process. “All lives matter?” “Can’t we just all get along?” Kaepernick “isn’t Black?” Who are these dumb asses? And why is the media searching for anti-Kaepernick perspectives harder than Shell is searching for Arctic oil?
Because Americans demand it. Americans want a society with a permanent underclass, where even the few who somehow “make it” swear their allegiance to the status quo. Americans want to believe that racism is a mere boogieman that can be kept in the closet and will rarely see the light of day. And, most of all, Americans want their Black and Brown athletes, especially in football, to not have brains, mouths, or a conscious. Americans wants to be entertained, not educated.
As a couple of lines from Live’s “White, Discussion” (1994) go,
I talk of freedom
You talk of the flag
I talk of revolution
You’d much rather brag
That is America in a nutshell. Nothing’s wrong with the country, but everything is wrong with those Black and Brown who are willing to say that there is. The flag and the national anthem are sacred, but the lives of those Black, Brown, and female are cheaper than sewer water. Any sweeping changes to policing, foreign and economic policies, or other aspects of American culture are met with “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!,” as if everyone Black and Brown must prove their patriotism in order to confront oppression.
So I say this. The only people who need to “shut up and play” are the ones with a Bud in one hand and three buffalo wings in the other. Shut up and play ball with America’s reality, and not with America’s symbols. Shut up and play the real game of understanding whyKaepernick is protesting and why the ideals of the flag and the anthem are daggers in the hearts of millions. Otherwise, you’re part of the problem. Period.
I wrote about this in the context of rap and popular music three years ago. Yet, most of us have not learned this lesson. That great artists and the works that they produce often do not equate in any way to the person they are outside of their artistry in their daily lives. It is so rare as to be almost a godsend when a wonderful cultural producer can also be a forthright and social justice-oriented person who has few blemishes on their record. It is so rare, in fact, that it is more likely I find a briefcase with a $2 million in $100-bills next to my car this morning than find successful cultural producers with deep waters’ worth of goodness and doing good as their record.
Twitter and Facebook folk have been up in arms about the discovery that actor/director/producer Nate Parker allegedly raped a women in ’99 along with one of his co-producers, was acquitted a year later, and the woman subsequently committed suicide in 2012. Keep in mind, this information has been out here about Parker for a number of years. Keep in mind, this act occurred when Parker was nineteen years old. Keep in mind, this vile act and the acquittal he received for it may well be the reason Parker had the opportunity to become an actor and a movie producer in the first place.
As a survivor of sexual assault myself (it still reads strange for me to write this), it makes me ill right down to my bowels, having read some of the details about what happened. Especially since I also know women to whom this happened and the impact it had on some for years afterward. I almost wish I didn’t know that Nate Parker might have gotten away with rape seventeen years ago.
But, as I also know all too well, if the idea is to not see his, et al’s The Birth of a Nation revamped to be about Nat Turner/Nat Turner’s Rebellion, good luck with that. Ultimately, to see or not to see the film is a choice that any of us can make. One can decide to see it and still feel like vomiting over Parker’s real-life rape case. One can decide not to see the film and claim that Parker is a reformed man. It is not as simple an equation as, “if you see The Birth of a Nation, you are pouring money into a rapist’s pockets.”
My biggest issue, though, is with all the outrage has come the American penchant for hypocritical moralizations, one that is in part based on race. That is, that we only have the choice of supporting Nate Parker and his revolutionary work or not, that the middle ground of seeing cultural production while reviling the man who helped produce it isn’t an available option. Sorry, but we Americans, we obese consumers and appropriators of all things cultural, do this every day. People have not stopped seeing Woody Allen or Roman Polanski films, though one is likely a child molester and the other one committed rape. We haven’t returned or burned Bill Withers’ tapes, albums, and CDs, though he’s had domestic violence issues in his past. Nor do we think about the poetry we read, the paintings and sculptures we peruse, the TV shows we watch, in which an artist of one kind or another has committed a crime, has killed, stolen from, and destroyed people’s lives along the way. The problem is, if one swings a stick at any cultural production, you will hit a thief, a mugger, an abuser, a rapist, a molester, maybe even a Nazi.
As for me, like with most movies, I will not go to see The Birth of a Nation in a movie theater. I will wait the six months or a year it takes for it to come out on premium cable. I wouldn’t have gone to see it before social media caught wind of Parker’s past. I certainly will not get sucked in to see it, to be part some moralistic wave of cultural immediacy, now.
This issue should not be about Nate Parker at all. It should be about the system that allows for rapists to get no jail time or to be acquitted. It should be about universities like Penn State that allow these crimes to go unpunished, places that punish the victims of sexual violence much more often than they do the perpetrators. It should be about a society where both fathers and mothers do nothing to teach their sons to not rape. Instead, we’re focused on one individual, as if the problem of American rape culture will be solved by going after alleged rapists years after their crimes.
I would be a pretty terrible son and historian to not discuss the fact that this July and August marks fifty years since my mother moved to New York from little ol’ Bradley, Arkansas. For those who think fifty years on anything revolving around race and class is “a long time ago” or “ancient history,” consider the following. At the time Mom moved across the country to Gotham, the Civil Rights Movement had entered its northern, splintered phase, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was barely a year old, and the very first episode of Star Trek with William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy would air that September.
Bus route my mother took from Bradley, Arkansas to New York City in late-July 1966 (highlighted in blue with yellow dots), August 23, 2016. (http://maps.google.com).
On balance, with any neutral but fair eye at all, I’d have to say that Mom’s transition has been more failure than success. Five decades of crisis after crisis, of having a handful of fleeting moments of peace and progress followed by years of abuse, misery, poverty, and sorrow. That could be the summary I’d write about Mom’s fifty years of post-migration experiences in New York and in Mount Vernon.
But, let’s start from the top, through Boy @ The Window:
After drifting a bit after her high school graduation, one of Mom’s first cousins came for a visit to Arkansas in the summer of ’66 and told her that there was good-paying work in New York City. Her cousin lived in the [170s, the Tremont section of the] Bronx, a hotbed of Black migration and West Indian immigration in those years. Without much thought, Mom took a four-day bus trip from Texarkana to New York to what she hoped would be a new life. Given the alternative of tenant farming and generational poverty, New York must’ve seemed like going to heaven.
Mom had it rough long before my father and my older brother Darren and I had come along to be a burden. She lived with her cousin for nearly a year in the Bronx, paying $15 a week for a one-bedroom flat, before good luck turned to bad and then back to wonderful. They had both lost jobs at some factory, but had heard through the other late Black arrivals in the Bronx and Mount Vernon about good paying jobs at Mount Vernon Hospital. When Mount Vernon Hospital hired Mom to be a cook in their dietary department, she and her first cousin went their separate ways living-together-wise. They’d stay in touch until ’78, when Mom’s first cousin moved to Virginia, presumably for work with the Navy.
In the interim, Mom met my father at a juke joint on Mount Vernon’s South Side. It was a place where only Southern Black migrants would be comfortable. They didn’t have to pretend to like the grime, the hustle, the noise, and the taunts that New York and New Yawkers threw at them every day. They could be themselves. They could be shy, apprehensive, even, about their time in a place where everyone joked about their Southern accents and their slow ways. I think that’s what made my father attractive to Mom. Here was someone who made Mom sound much less Southern by comparison. At the same time, my father worked in the city, had a job as a janitor with the Federal Reserve Bank, and knew the Subway better than she knew the route from her one-room flat on Adams Street to Mount Vernon Hospital.
My Mom at 48 years old, Yonkers, NY, December 23, 1995. (Donald Earl Collins).
Within a year of meeting, Mom gave birth to my older brother Darren. Mom often said that she “wasn’t a teenager” when Darren was born in December ’67, as she had turned twenty six weeks earlier. Yet as I finally pointed out during the intervention fourteen years ago, “But you got pregnant when you were nineteen,” all to let Mom know that the stigma of teenage pregnancy was more about her and her insecurities than it was about what White folks thought, especially back then.
I came along two years later, Mom married my father in ’70, and things started falling apart soon after. Mom never gave herself a chance to live the city, and not just work in it. Mom never gave herself time to grow beyond her insecurities and her vanity about her looks. She never really tried to make her aspirations for joining the Navy or going to college happen. The latter, at least until after I went off to the University of Pittsburgh in ’87.
As I wrote about Mom’s/our family’s fall into welfare poverty by ’83 in Boy @ The Window,
Sixteen years, a dead-end job and two abusive husbands later, Mom must’ve been thinking that Mount Vernon was a hellish pit that got hotter every time she tried to make her and our lives better. With a fourteen-year-old kid in a school for the retarded, a twelve-year-old getting beat up by the second husband, a three-year-old who all but refused to speak because of his abuse, a one-year-old and another one on its way, it was little wonder that she showed about as much affection as an NYPD police officer. The ‘I love you, Donald’ faucet, which was an occasional drip prior to the summer of ’82, was pretty much turned off after that.
Yes, this is all truly sad. There was way too much too soon for Mom. Family, marriage, abuse, poverty, and internalized issues around race, sexism, misogyny, Black masculinity, evangelical Christianity (and the whole Hebrew-Israelite debacle), and all in New York. It would’ve been overwhelming for anyone whose income never saw $20,000 in any year prior to temp work in ’99, and $30,000 until working for Westchester County Medical Center in 2003.
There are so many mistakes Mom made, with me, my siblings older and younger, in choosing mates, and with work. I’ve written about roughly half of them. But, awful or awesome, without Mom’s momentary hope and courage — often the very definition of Black migration, especially to New York — I wouldn’t be here to tell the tale.
The famous and often loopy sports writer Frank Deford wrote this about America’s narcissistic display of celebration in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles. Despite the changes in location, the change in networks, and the shifts in coverage over the years, the ability of the US to celebrate its greatness as if the nation was an underdog every four years knows no bounds. Americans moralize, spin stories of wholesome athletes, and frame the games as if the rest of the world is a bunch of losers. Chuck a few words like “The Soviets,” “2.5 billion,” and “Rick Carey,” and substitute “The Chinese,” “5 billion,” and “Lilly King” or “Michael Phelps.” That, and the locale being Rio de Janeiro, are the main differences.
NBC’s coverage has been narcissistic jingoism to the extreme. If you want to see Olympians from other countries who competed but didn’t win gold — or Olympians who won gold but don’t speak English — you can pretty much forget about seeing them on NBC. BBC News has provided more of this global coverage, even in the midst of its British/British Commonwealth bias. NBC can say that it’s giving Americans what they want. Really? Primetime coverage on the mothership and spotty and often tape-delayed coverage on its other channels, with a few clips online? Wow, Americans must only care about America so much that they are willing to miss hours of inspirational stories and exemplary athletic performances. Yet apparently Americans do want the dozens of mentions of Maya DiRado’s recent marriage and new house in Atlanta, where she’ll apparently settle down like June Cleaver after The Games. That, and that most Americans expect to win, like the way L.A. Lakers fans have been at home games assuming twenty-point blowouts night after night for the better part of 60 years.
This isn’t to say that Americans haven’t achieved greatness during the Rio Games. Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky, Lilly King, Maya DiRado, Simone Biles, Simone Manuel, Laurie Hernandez, Michelle Carter, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Aly Raisman, Gabby Douglas, Corey Cogdell-Unrein, Allyson Felix, among so many others, have had great, even historic, times. Yet Americans celebrated Ledecky’s 11-second win in the 800m final as if it was preordained magic and proof of American imperial superiority at the same time. Swimming is a resources-dependent sport, requiring Olympic-sized pools, investments in coaching, and thousands of hours of training. That Ledecky won by such a huge margin isn’t just an indication of superior athletic talent and training. It’s a reflection of a serious financial commitment by parents and public/private funds from the richest nation in the world to making gold medals in swimming a priority. It’s an example of haves versus have-nots, an unfairness baked into the cake of the Social Darwinist modern Olympics from the time they began in 1896.
Lilly King and others have moralized about their achievements being done without the enhancements of PEDs. As if American athletes are always clean. As if American Olympians haven’t been caught doping in the recent past. As if the advantages of living in a wealthy nation committed to winning above all else doesn’t translate into maximizing athletic talents in every Olympic sport. King’s bravado might have been seen as cute or wonderful by some, especially over her Russian competitor Yuliya Efimova. But it’s no different from Donald Trump bragging about how much money he has to a room full of ex-cons who served time for shop lifting or stealing a few dollars.
There’s a racial component to all of this as well. It’s okay for wholesome folks like Phelps to make Chad Le Clos look stupid, or for King to moralize about doping. Not so much in the Black-dominated track and field, or in men’s basketball, or for Blacks in swimming and gymnastics. There, Americans not only expect their Olympians to win. They expect them to know their place, not discuss race, and have their hand over their heart when the National Anthem’s playing.
U2 in “Crumbs From Your Table” (2004) asked the question — in regard to rich countries like the US — “Would you deny for others what you demand for yourself?” In the case of the US, the answer is, “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!,” or “Y-E-S! Y-E-S! Y-E-S!” Americans already do it to each other, through racism, misogyny, homophobia, xenophobia, and plutocracy. Why would it be different for the US regarding the rest of the world?
Well, some of my music, anyway. About a third of all the music I own, like, or have access to was produced at least thirty years ago, as of this month. I guess I shouldn’t be bothered with the fact that everything from Johann Sebastian Bach, Blind Willie Johnson, and John Coltrane to Anita Baker, Steve Winwood, and Pet Shop Boys are all ancient in the mind of my teenage son. In a way, though, I am. Not so much that my music collection is an indication that I am no longer physically young. That happens to all of us. But whether this is a sign that my mind is no longer plastic enough to absorb new music, new styles, new ways of delivering a form of entertainment and escapism.
The fact that I’m still catching up with music released between 2011 and 2014 is troubling. I mean, it’s only been a year and a half since I picked up Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, MAAD City (2012). I have Nneka and Maverick Sabre on my playlists only because my wife keeps up with music through YouTube, Spotify, and Pandora. I still haven’t heard or seen the video for Beyoncé’s “Lemonade,” have yet to hear a Nicki Minaj or Rihanna song that I truly like, and think that Drake and Meek Mill are pretty weak. Am I getting so old that I don’t understand what is or isn’t good music anymore? Or, did I ever have a handle on what was and is good music when I was sixteen, and am more discerning or snobbish now? Or, am I just a goofball who wouldn’t know good music if it bit me in the ass?
Maybe it’s all of the above. Below is a sample of my list of song that I described as theme music for Boy @ The Window. This is all music that came out in ’86.
There are some amazing songs on this list. Anita Baker’s “Sweet Love.” Simply Red’s “Holding Back The Years.” Sade’s “Never As Good As The First Time.” Who could argue with these? If anyone does, they just hate the whole genre of ’80 pop and R&B, and refuse to appreciate the music on any level.
Now there are other where I will concede the quality is questionable, but I like anyway. Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls,” Michael McDonald’s “Sweet Freedom,” and Falco’s “Rock Me Amadeus” all fit into all kinds of questionable tastes here. But compare “Sweet Freedom” to Prince’s “Raspberry Beret” and its syrupy goofiness. Or, really, Michael McDonald’s super-popular duet with Patti LaBelle in “On My Own.” I hated that song as much as I could hate any music, but I was apparently in a small minority three decades ago. Baby Boomers – gotta love ’em!
There’s also Steve Winwood’s “Higher Love” with Chaka Khan doing background vocals. You take Chaka Khan out of this song, and it’s an ’80s display of synthesizer prowess with pretty decent lyrics. Bruce Hornsby and The Range’s “The Way It Is” was and remains a simplistic “hearts and minds” analysis of American racism, but it was at least a self-consciously effort to address a social issue. Even when folks fall short, I can appreciate their music.
There are plenty of songs from thirty years ago that I either thought were silly, didn’t represent my mood from that time, or were a reflection of my need to escape my life. Anything by Chicago or Starship from ’86 would fit. I heard Starship’s “Nothing’s Going To Stop Us” at the local Trader Joe’s, a few days ago, and my stomach started cramping up. I actually got nauseous over a song! Grace Slick’s voice remains scary, I guess.
The thread between the music I listened to three decades ago and the music I have on my iPod, iPhone, and computers is clear, to me, if no one else. With the exception of country music as Whiteness affirming, I generally don’t care what genre it’s from. The lyrics are more important than the quality of vocals, and the vocals and music are way more important than any video made with the song. That probably makes me a bit old-fashioned. But it’s also why I still have music in my collection that predates my birth.
It took me until three weeks after the sex assault on the Nathan Hale ES playground before I told my parents. Those three weeks are a blur, but not the blur that the incident with the light-skinned teenager and his three friends would become until three weeks before my forty-fifth birthday
At the beginning of August ’76, my Mom and my dad Jimme were having another one of their vicious arguments. It was that Saturday afternoon when I finally learned that my Mom had filed for a divorce the month before. Anyway, I somehow managed to get myself in the middle of that argument. I complained that Darren’s bigger butt had been the final straw for my Big Wheel. It had broken in half after he tried to ride it earlier that week.
“I told him, it says ‘90-lb limit’,” I said to my Mom (which I pronounced as “ninety lebs”) while pointing at the inscribed warning label on my now broken Big Wheel, crying.
“You broke that shit weeks ago!,” my Mom yelled.
“I didn’t break it. A bunch of kids did,” I said.
“And you didn’t try to stop ‘em?,” Mom asked.
“I did try to stop ‘em. But they took it and one of them stuck a pee-pee in my mouth,” I explained.
“I done told you not to leave the house when I’m not here! That’s what you get for not listenin’!,” my Mom screamed.
I was so shocked by how angry she was. I was mad, too. I didn’t think. I just ran out the house and out into the middle of the street. I saw a tan Chevy Malibu coming down the street and I just stood there.
The older, salt-and-pepper bearded and balding Black man didn’t slow down until he realized I wasn’t planning to move. He slammed on the brakes and came to a stop about three feet in front of me. The man put his car in park and got out. He then slammed his driver’s side door really hard, and yelled, “Boy, what’s wrong with you? Are you tryin’ to get yourself killed? Where’s your mama?”
He grabbed me by the back of my chocolate-brown t-shirt and made me show him where I lived. We marched upstairs to the second-floor, where he proceeded to explain my suicidal actions. My Mom then took the older man’s belt and beat me with it in front of him, with Darren and Jimme watching. Afterwards, she said “Thank you” to the older man, and then sent me to bed without dinner. “Don’t you EVER do that again!,” she screamed.
Nine months after that bicentennial summer, we moved across town to 616 East Lincoln, a three-in-one, five-story Tudor-style apartment complex. After a summer camp at Darren’s Clear View School in Dobbs Ferry, we went outside on 616’s grounds for the first time, in August ’77. The kids at 616 and 630 East Lincoln chased us around the vast two-building complex while throwing rocks at us. Scared, we hid behind the big, wooden, dark-brown front door and huddled, hoping that the kids wouldn’t find us.
Instead, a couple of young Black Turks saw us and took us upstairs to my Mom and my eventual stepfather Maurice. The two young men said that they saw us doing “the dukey.” I had no idea what they were talking about. All I knew was that my Mom and stepfather proceeded to whip us as if we’d gone to the grocery store and stolen $100 worth of candy and soda. Both “dukey” and “faggot” were part of my vocabulary — again.
The mind of a child is a strange place. Mine was no different. For years afterward, I’d managed to forget these most painful memories. I managed to bury them without burying all of my other memories, so many memories that I have for the last forty-one out of my forty-five years. I somehow didn’t remember the connections between my Big Wheel, the light-skinned teenager and standing in the middle of South Sixth, waiting to be run over. I didn’t remember my Mom’s response to finding out that her six-year-old son had been sexually assaulted.
It’s ironic. Ironic because I’ve already written my coming-of-age memoir in Boy @ The Window. I spent the better part of a decade researching, writing and revising it before self-publishing it in 2013. I included excruciating details about my family, my Mom, my father Jimme. I included as many relevant and embarrassing events as I could about how I became the person I always wanted to be. And with all that work, I never remembered the moment a teenager forced his penis tip into my mouth.
I only remembered during the holidays in 2014. One night in early December, I had a really bad trying-to-escape dream — again. This time, though, I remembered the taste of a penis in my mouth, and then I saw the light-skinned teenager. Even in my dream, I said, “That’s him. That’s it.”
After I woke up, a flood of images erupted in my brain. The Chevy Malibu and me standing in the street. Seeing the light-skinned kid who assaulted me on the playground at 616 on the same day the other kids chased Darren and me around the building while pelting us with pebbles and rocks. The wall of fear that my Mom had on her face when the neighbors told her that they thought Darren and me were “faggots” because we were standing so close to each other that we looked like we were “doing the dukey.”
The now-remembered incident explained so much. My Mom’s constant fear that I’d turn out gay. My father Jimme constantly calling me a “faggat” (as he pronounced it when he was drunk) whenever I stepped out of line or looked at people the wrong way. My Mom giving my one-time idiot stepfather Maurice carte blanche to “turn” me and Darren “into men” through Isshin-ryu karate and draconian physical abuse. Me being terrified at times when around Black guys on the basketball courts or in other social setting. My looking at young women from afar, attainable and yet all but unattainable for me. The sheer desire to save the people in my life from violence and destruction, especially my Mom and Darren, but the inability to do either.
My family’s fear of the mere possibility that I or my brother Darren could be gay drove many of their measures of physical, verbal and emotional abuse. So much so that they ignored all the signs of my actual abuse. Like standing in middle of the street to get run over by a car, were just considered “defiant” or “weird.” Or with me constantly chewing my fingernails right down to nail bed. Or me constantly stuffing sandwiches and other food down into the recesses of my winter coats, having already ripped out the pockets, and leaving the food there. Or the day I stood on Nathan Hale’s playground during recess in May ’77, when I took some string from my red and blue-striped t-shirt, gradually unraveled it, and swallowed nearly a third of it. My Mom figured she could beat the “something’s wrong with you, fool” out of me. My father calling me a “faggat” from the time I turned fourteen was just tough love, not a form of abuse piled on top of abuse.
Now that I remember everything about the physical and the sexual abuse, what do I do next? It’s been forty years since I found out how horrible life could be. It’s not as if I’ll be able to track down and then beat up the light-skinned teenager, who’s now in his early fifties, assuming he’s still alive.
I could start by revising Boy @ The Window. I wasn’t just weird because I wore a kufi, spoke too slowly, or grew up with weird people. I wasn’t just a child of poverty, abuse, and divorce. I was also a sexual abuse victim, all but completely unacknowledged, and yet such a major part of the story.
Forgiving my abuser could be at the top of the list. It would be difficult to be angry at someone whom I’d forgotten about for nearly four decades. But you know what? If I could just punch him in the throat and then knee him in the balls until one fell out and rolled down the street, that would give me some satisfaction.
Mostly, I’m just satisfied that I know my past in full. I already paid the bill. Now that I know what I paid for, I can move forward. I can look at my past, present, and future with more sanity than I thought possible.
Male lion eating carcass (the equivalent of fun times with Maurice), August 3, 2016. (Aljameen Alston via http://pinterest.com).
Today would be my idiot ex-stepfather’s Maurice Eugene Washington’s sixty-sixth birthday. Maurice died almost four years ago, after a twenty-year losing battle with Type-2 diabetes, kidney failure, hypertension, heart disease, limbs lost, and a host of other ailments included. That, after years of abusing his body with food, much more often than he laid a fist or kick on me or my Mom.
Most of the time these days, I feel far more pity for Maurice than anger. Forgiveness does come with the benefit of some empathy. If only because I know that Maurice had less maturity and more confusion in his heart than a sociopathic misogynist in the middle of puberty. Which, in point of fact, would pretty much describe my ex-stepfather from the time his was fifteen until his death in 2012.
So in the spirit of macabre humor, below are some of Maurice’s favorite stock phrases from my being forced to grow up around him between ’81 and ’89. Most of these made it to Boy @ The Window:
“You and your brother [Darren] are gonna be my brown-skinned servants.”
“Take that base outta ya voice, boy, before I cave yo’ chest in!”
Maurice would sometimes sing his threats, bellowing
‘I’m gonna beat yo’ ass, jus’ like a car burns gas,’ adding, ‘And ya KNOW that!’ at the end
It was something he pulled from the disco group known as the The Jammers.
Whenever I reminded him that he wasn’t my father or whenever I told him that I’d never call him “Dad” again, Maurice would yell
Don’t you EVER say that again, muthafucka! I’ll kill you next time!
Sometimes, he’d threatened to kick me out of 616.
That boy’s defiant. I won’t tolerant it in my house!
Once I passed fourteen, I knew this was an idle threat. Boy, he loved calling me “boy” or “it” when I stood my ground. Maurice had colorism issues long before I ever knew what colorism was.
Or, Maurice would get all Hebrew-Israelite on me and quote from Exodus 20.
Honour thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Even in the midst of busted lips, bruised ribs, and knots on my forehead, I found that last one absolutely preposterous. We owned nothing. This irrational abusive asshole wasn’t my father, and had beaten up my Mom in front of me. Only a god in cahoots with the devil him or herself — or my idiot ex-stepfather — would think that Exodus 20 applied to my situation with this shell of a human being. Mind you, the fool kept quoting this verse to me as late as the week before he broke up with my Mom in ’89!
There is some humor to glean from these, as much as you can find alcohol content in a fresh slice of bacon. I just hope I never say things even in the same galaxy of stupid, demeaning, or threatening to my own son as this idiot said to me growing up.
Sometimes, though, when my son asks, I tell him what it would be like to have an abusive father in the form of Maurice. Sometimes I’ve even imitated how the fool would’ve sounded, and my son will then start to laugh. Luckily, he sees my stories as stories, not the hellish nightmare that my life had once been.