There’s a classic experiment in the 1940s that unmasked the true depth of racism in America. Two psychologists, Kenneth and Mamie Clark, gave black children in New York City four baby dolls, two with dark skin and two with light skin. Then the researchers asked the kids to pick the “good” dolls and the “bad” dolls. The black children generally saw the white dolls as good and black dolls as bad. The experiment was later used to convince the Supreme Court to hear the Brown vs. Board of Education case in 1951.
The black doll experiment has been repeated numerous times, well into the 21st century, and still results in gut-wrenching displays of the internalized white supremacy in black children. (Just watch a few on YouTube.) The demonstration has an added value as our attention returns to the Supreme Court and the issue of race, and the coming vacancy of Justice Stephen Breyer. President Biden has said he would nominate a black women to the bench. That means something to the little black girls in Harlem that picked the white doll.
Racism takes many forms. We easily associate it with cross-burning Klansmen and “Whites Only” signs from the Jim Crow days. But it can be a slight as a clutched purse when a black man steps on an elevator, or as insidious as predatory lending from banks who prey on black and brown people. We see it in the causal commentary about “Mexican immigrants” and the bloody tally as hate crimes rise.
But it is also present in absence. For every black boy who has never seen a male teacher who looked like him, or for every Asian girl who as never seen an Asian woman in the media portrayed as anything other than “exotic,” representation is a game changer. We white people never notice this because, quite literally, there are people who look like this in every filed we can imagine. A white fish doesn’t know it’s in water until you take it out of the damn water.
That gets coded as “white is normal,” and every other race is the exception. You don’t have to say, “white person.” You can just say “person,” because their whiteness is assumed (as is their maleness). In the nearly 233 years of the U.S. Supreme Court, it’s pretty much been a nonstop sea of white people. That changed in 1967, when President Johnson swore in Thurgood Marshall, who was on the bench until 1991, when he was succeeded by Clarence Thomas and his Pepsi can. Thomas, hasn’t exactly been a civil rights lion, not even offering an opinion until the 2003 Virginia v. Black cross-burning case.
But race is not gender and blackness is not femaleness. Representation is an intersectional matter. Just like there are no actual afro-Caribbeans in Lin-Manuel’s film,In the Heights, (a musical about an afro-Caribbean neighborhood in New York), there have been no black women on the high court. While you might find plenty of black female judges in local courtrooms, 80% of federal judges are white and black women magistrates make up a tiny sliver of the remaining 20%. The addition of a black woman would not only be meaningful to those little black girls (and the thousands of black female attorneys), but it would make a difference to the non-black people, too.
The subtle prejudice of absence is in the lack of affirmation. People thought blacks could never be faster than whites, until Jesse Owens was. People thought a black man could never win the presidency, until Barak Obama did. People thought that a black person could never become a billionaire, until BET founder Robert L. Johnson made it. The Supreme Court is the brain trust of our democracy. The absence of black women sends a subtle message about they capabilities.
The white supremacists over at Fox News are already having a field day, playing the “reverse racism” card to their elderly white audience. The rhetoric goes like this; If Biden picks a black woman for the court, he’s screwing a capable white man out of a job. I wonder how many capable black women have been screwed out that job so a white person and/or a man could be hired. But the white snowflakes are apoplectic over the thought that a black women might have an informed opinion on constitutional matters more rooted in reality than something they heard spewed by Tucker Carlson, Joe Rogan, Ted Cruz or any of the other white men who, in the words of James Brown, are talking loud and saying nothing.
As we head into Black History Month we can underestimate the power of firsts. The first black airline pilot (Marlon Green, 1964). The first black pole vaulter to medal at the Olympics (LoJo Johnson, 2000). The first black woman in space (Mae Jamison, 1992). Second and thirds are equally important. Like the court was made up of all white men from 1789 to 1967, there may be a future court where all nine justices are black women. Until then, whoever President Biden picks, will be a reminder to those little black girls to pick the doll that looks like them.
My first album was a four-record set called, #1 Hits of the ‘60s. I ordered it C.O.D. in 1973 after I saw Mickey Dolenz, of the Monkees, hawking it on our local UHF channel (WTCG). My mom had to pay for it when it arrived, but I immediately chose Lulu’s “To Sir, With Love” as my favorite track of the 52 songs. So when the 1967 movie of the same name was scheduled to play on the 4 O’clock movie, I knew this latchkey kid would be parked in front of the TV.
What that 9-year-old living in a Georgia Klan town got was his first introduction to Mr. Sydney Poitier. I loved the story of American who tamed the rowdy British kids by breaking the traditional rules of the classroom. He was dignity and respectful control in the face of youthful chaos. Perhaps I craved that. The fact that that he was black man corralling white kids added to the juxtaposition. But he didn’t treat them as children, and they transitioned into young adulthood under the guidance of “Sir.” There was nothing in my Georgia schools like this. This white boy immediately thought, I want to be like Sydney Poitier.
The film itself, directed and written by James Clavell, is overly sentimental and plagued with real gender problems, but it tackled British racial politics the same season that the Beatles were singing, “All Your Need is Love.” To my young mind, it was all about Pointier’s poise and composure as he deconstructed the politics of the public school, literally throwing out the book (into the classroom trashcan) to take the students to museums and other London adventures. I’d had a taste of Montessori under my belt from the second half of second grade (the first half was wasted in Bible school), and I craved that educational freedom.
So I became a teacher. The first classes I taught were as a young graduate student at Emory University. In one sociology class, taught on the second floor of the Candler Library, I had my own Mark Thackery moment. (Thackery was Poitier’s character in the film.) Instead of working class hoodlums, my students were the privileged children of wealth. It was clear that students weren’t invested in the curriculum I had created for my Youth Subculture class, so I went into a monologue about the corrosive nature of privilege and the opportunity of youth to define itself in its own historical moment. Then I threw the three required texts out of the library window and told them we would never meet in that classroom again. I channeled Sydney as we took the class out into the world. (I later went and retrieved those books from the bushes below the window.)
That dignified grace was a hallmark of so many of Poitier’s roles, including favorites like The Defiant Ones (1958), A Raisin in the Sun (1961), and Guess Who is Coming to Dinner (1967). His seminal role as Virgil Tibbs in In the Heat of the Night (1967) was a pretty accurate picture of policing in my rural Georgia town and planted the seed police reform in my young brain. I became obsessed with his films, never missing them on the 4 O’Clock movie or when I’d sneak downstairs into the recroom to watch Paris Blues (1961) on the late movie. When I learned about his civil rights work, I had permission to question the racism of my peer culture. Other kids had their role models, this was mine. Sydney and I had the same birthday (February 20) and I knew that the best thing I could be was to be like Sydney Poitier.
There will never be anyone like him, but I carry his Mark Thackery with me into the classroom every time, with love.
Like most people who survived the epic disaster film that was 2020, I had high hopes for 2021. I kept singing that Who song from Tommy; “I got a feeling ’21 is gonna be a good year.” Trump was defeated, the COVID vaccine was coming, and things seemed to be great on the home front. Man, I was wrong on all counts.
January 6 was the first day of winter classes at PCC, Andi’s 31st birthday, and the day Donald Trump staged a coup to flush American democracy down the toilet. As I Zoomed with my sociology students, we split screened in realtime the assault on the capitol, while my wife realized that the folks who have their birthdays on September 11 now had some fellow travelers.
Then the Delta variant busted through the vaccine barricades destroying any hope of kicking off the new Roaring 20s. It took me down in August, as I spent ten days flat on my back, hoping I wouldn’t cough a lung out. I survived thanks to Andi and Cozy dropping food and medicine into the basement. And that wasn’t even my worst moment of 2021.
Much of this early part of this year, this blog was dedicated to thoughtful policy pieces responding to the January 6th insurrection but then it turned personal. Over the summer my bad habits hit a low point, leading to the realization of the impact of a sexual assault that happened to me when I was just four years old. I tried to make sense of how that explained my narcissistic tendencies but it just made things more unstable in my relationship. In October, Andi moved out to rescue her sense of self. It was exactly what I needed to put the pieces together and leave that 4-year-old boy back in 1968. The time we spend together now is more meaningful than ever. You can’t say you love someone and take them for granted year after year. The personal growth the last third of this year has been so exciting, thanks to good reading, great therapists, and a loving wife who lives just down the street.
There were plenty of great moments this year, including our cross country, Atlanta to Portland, road trip. The meandering journey took us to the Arizona-Mexico border where Andi crossed when she was 8, and leading to one of my favorite blog posts of the year. This year I also joined the faculty at the University of Oregon, returning to the physical classroom to discuss racism twice a week with 150 students in Eugene. I read a lot of self-help books, listened to newly released Beatles songs, watched Cozy turn 7, sweeping into second grade (after over a year in remote), and had a hundred amazing dates with Andi. My meditation and mindfulness practices help me navigate even the hardest of moments.
I’m not going to make any predictions about 2022. It could go either way. Andi and I have tickets for a much-needed trip to Paris in March (as spouses, lovers, or just friends, we’ll see) so I hope the Omicron variant doesn’t lead to a global shutdown this spring. I do know I will continue to work on the hard issues and the hardest issue of all is myself.
Looking back at this entry from a year ago, I thought 2021 was going to kick off the new “Roaring 20’s.” Instead the year was hammered by Delta and Omicron variants, record inflation, and a broken supply chain. There was still a ton of great music that slipped out, and a return of live music. (Favorite show: The Monkee’s Mickey Dolenz and Mike Nesmith shortly before Nesmith’s sad death on December 10.)
Most of my musical consumption this year came from making playlists on Spotify, especially when I was laid low by COVID in August. (The fever sent me on a Steely Dan bender for some reason.) Spotify gave me a great musical project source thanks to my University of Oregon students. As an extra credit assignment, I created a “Race & Ethnicity Mix Tape” playlist. They submitted songs of racial consciousness and healing and we ended up with 229 tunes. Thanks to my Gen Z students, several artists were new to me. (Joey Bada$$ was popular in the mix.)
The musical highlight of the year was definitely the long-awaited release of Peter Jackson’s 8-hour Beatle documentary, Get Back, airing on Disney+ over the Thanksgiving holiday. Insight into the Beatles’ process and a chance to re-write the Let It Be record made it endlessly engrossing. Filmed the same year, 1969, Summer of Soul (on Netflix) gave a brilliant look at a Harlem black music festival that was overlooked by history as Woodstock hogged the limelight.
This year’s top album pics are not necessarily the best selling or most critically-acclaimed releases of 2021. I’m sure Tyler, The Creator’s Call Me If You Get Lost is amazing and I’ll dive into Adele’s 30 and Kasey Musgraves’ Star-Crossed when I’m not quite as melancholy (i.e., living it). These are the albums that brought me joy and repeated listenings in ’21. I recognize that three of these artists, Wanda Jackson, Charles Lloyd, and Ringo Starr, are in their 80s. Paul McCartney turns 80 in June and Tony Allen would be 80 but died last year at 79. They demonstrate the longevity of creativity, and are balanced out by teenagers Olivia Rodrigo and Young Thug (who recently turned 20).
The top spot is reserved for The Beatles (surprise, surprise). The 5-disc “Super Deluxe” release of 1970’s Let It Be(remixed by Beatles producer George Martin’s son Giles) provided endless moments of Beatle discovery from the vaults, including a Fab Four version of George Harrison’s “All Things Must Pass.” The packaging was stellar and stood as likely the last gift of unheard Beatle music for fans. The “in the room” outtakes served as a perfect soundtrack to the Get Back film.
There are a lot of well-meaning people who’s well-meaning actions just make things worse. I’ve certainly been one of those people. Portland is filled with self-proclaimed anti-racists who believe that by smashing windows and setting trashcans on fire, they are somehow making black lives matter. Have they bothered even asking any of these black lives if this is a good strategy? The people of color that I’ve talked to see is it as purely white performance. Now working on policies that help people of color buy homes and operate local businesses, that helps. A lot.
My challenge to anti-racist activists, of which I am one, is to take a break from chasing down neo-Nazis and Proud Boys, and take a look in the mirror. Until we start on the long process to undo our own internalized white supremacy, we will be blind to the racial trauma we cause while we’re chanting “Black lives matter!” There is a simple sociological formula that goes like this:
Internalized white supremacy
In 2021, still, we all learn various versions of “white is normal and better” lessons. That seeps into our subconscious where it lives as implicit bias and then emerges as micro-aggresions (a clutched purse, an off-handed comment, a joke that shouldn’t have been told). And that small thing lands as another wounding message to people of color that they are still not full members in this society. And the endless barrage of those “micro-assaults” become cumulative trauma. And that’s why BIPOC folks were in the streets in 2020, because enough was enough.
As I’ve written in this blog, 2021 has provided a great opportunity to move inwards from the barricades as Delta, and now Omicron, send us back into our shelters. Mindfulness and meditation give us strategies to interrupt our hard-learned tendencies to act in racist ways, even while we lecture others against their racism. I had a great week training with the Center for Equity and Inclusion here and Portland and consumed Mindful of Race by Ruth King. Both had huge impacts on how I move through the world as a white person.
King, a Buddhist woman of color, offers useful strategies to manage those situations that can cause racial distress. It could be finding yourself in an uncomfortable conversation with a Trump-loving uncle who wants to make America white again, or, on the other side, those white fragility moments when a person of color is taking apart your liberalness as just a vacant act of wokeness. One of her mindfulness strategies, that goes by the acronym “RAIN,” has been helpful for me in not only navigating my racial interactions, but also being more present in my relationship with my wife. It works like this:
The “R” stands for recognize. A big part mindfulness is paying attention to our emotional states as things to be observed. When you have an uncomfortable feeling, where is it? Is it a sick feeling in the pit of your stomach or an angry tension in the middle of your forehead. Recognize it. “There’s that feeling. Hello again. I see you there.”
A is for allow. Buddhists teach us that everything is temporary, especially our emotions. Instead of letting them control us, let them float past, like a cloud. Accepting impermanence (“anitya” in Sanskrit) allows us to not, as U2 once perfectly sang, get stuck in a moment that we can’t get out of. So in those racially tense moments, we can see it and then remind ourselves that they will be in the rearview mirror shortly, so hold off on any emotionally driven impulses (including micro-aggressions).
I is for Investigate. Mindfulness teaches us to be curious about our thoughts. Where did this discomfort come from? Could it be projection, or due to a lack of true reflection? Could it be rooted in mis-learned lessons from our childhood? Maybe it’s those implicit biases we all hold.
And finally, the “N” is for nurture. What do you need right now to pass through this moment without adding to the racial harm? And what do others need to address their harm? It could be developing a strategy to address a problematic policy or person, or it could be a hug and a short walk around the block to calm down.
At the root of King’s teaching is kindness. Kindness to ourselves and to those traumatized by racism, and, yes, kindness to those who perpetrate racism in the world. They, like us and as us, are products of this racist society and capable of becoming forces for racial healing themselves. The Buddhist principles of racial mindfulness might be a tough sell to a black clad 20-year-old who thinks vandalizing a police station somehow helps black people, but that 20-year-old has the capacity for personal transformation and the ability to participate in stopping the harm so there can be true racial healing.
Like pretty much every Beatle fan, I’ve been waiting on Peter Jackson’s epic recut of the the Beatles’ 1970 Let It Be film. I first saw it as a midnight movie in Stone Mountain, Georgia in 1978, wincing when the rednecks hissed at Yoko Ono’s first appearance on the screen. The 1970 film was a sad document of a fabled band breaking up. Get Back, the new film, culled from 60 hours of unseen footage from those sessions, promised to rewrite the narrative of January 1969, which George Harrison had branded, “the winter of our discontent.”
I geared up for the Thanksgiving event by buying the 5 disc Let It Be “Super Deluxe” box set and reviewing it on my YouTube channel. I’d read everything about the sessions in the previous 40+ years, so I wasn’t expecting any surprises. And yet, all I got were surprises. It wasn’t just the insight into the working process of the band (Ringo’s farting not withstanding). It was the psychological dissection of what happens when strong personalities stifle equally strong personalities.
Thanksgiving morning Andrea and Cozy came over so we could make this viewing a family event. Andi and I curled up on the couch together and fell into the first part of the eight-hour three-day fab fest the world had been waiting for. Besides the brilliant ’69 fashions and endless smoking, which made us both briefly made us consider taking up the habit, was the revelation of the psychodynamic between John, Paul, George, and Ringo. In the first episode, there’s a moment when Paul discusses and accepts that he is losing his lifelong best friend to Yoko. Paul, looking old at 26, mourns the man who had been his musical partner since he was 14. There’s a long silent shot and you can see his eyes dampen. The realization that closeness is not locked in for life is shattering. John was now “John and Yoko.” No wonder Paul McCartney fell into a deep depression a year later.
But the great story is George Harrison’s rebellion. The Beatles were Lennon and McCartney’s band, both in camera time and musical direction. The quiet Beatle was lucky to get a few of his own tunes on each album. By 1969 he’d been hanging out with Eric Clapton, Bob Dylan and The Band but was still relegated to sideman in his own group. The songs he was bringing into the band were equal to Paul’s and even better than the ones John was bringing in. (John was checked out, on Yoko and on smack.) Just listen to the Beatles’ version of George’s “All Things Must Pass” and you can see how the understudy had become the master.
George could have just taken it all on the chin, the price of being a Beatle. But on January 10th, George stood up for himself and quit The Beatles. After seven days of rehearsing mostly Paul’s songs in a dank soundstage, George walked out saying, “See you ‘round the clubs,” and that was it. The Beatles were now a trio. Years later, in The Beatles Anthology (1995), George recalled his thinking at the time. “What’s the point of this? I’m quite capable of being relatively happy on my own and I’m not able to be happy in this situation. I’m getting out of here.” Certainly there’s more we don’t see on the screen in Get Back, including financial headaches at Apple and George’s crumbling marriage (apparently he was shacked up with Clapton’s ex-girlfriend at the time), but we see the youngest Beatle take a stand for his own sanity.
We also see John, Paul, and Ringo sink into a mild panic at George’s departure. John suggest recruiting Clapton, who had played on 1968’s Beatle classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” They end up heading off on a visit (and then a second) to their young friend’s house to cajole him back into Beatledom. End of episode one.
Andrea and I reconvened on the couch the following day for Episode Two as the Beatles reconvened at Apple headquarters. Watching the Fabs, George included, enter the white office building on 3 Saville Row gave us a kick has we had been in the building on our trip to London in 2018. It’s now an Abercrombie Kids store. And yes they sell Beatles shirts. In 1982, I actually snuck onto the roof of the then empty building but we were seeing the reunited quartet walk in the same door we had. Turns out that one of George’s conditions to return was that the band move to the warmer Apple studio in the basement of 3 Saville Row.
The sweet spot occurs on January 11th, George’s second day back when he brings in old friend of the band, Billy Preston. Billy sits in on keyboards on tunes like “I’ve Got a Feeling” and “Don’t Let Me Down” and the chemistry is instant. These much labored-over songs now sound like album tracks. The look on George’s face was ecstatic, like you assholes downplayed my creative input and I just saved this imploding band. Oh, the satisfaction he must have felt.
Andi and I had a long conversation afterwards about how stifling a person’s true self just doles out misery around the circle. But when you honor their whole potential everyone benefits. There certainly were parallels in our situation as just a few weeks prior she had told me, “See you ‘round the clubs.” Without knowing it, I had been Paul McCartney, trying to make “our band” my band. I thought I was doing her a favor “letting her” have a few songs when she had a triple album’s worth of material ready to go that was far superior to my silly love songs.
We stayed up until midnight to catch the premiere of Episode Three, that took the band up to the roof of Apple, where I would stand 12 years later. On that cold January 30th day nearly 53 years ago, the lads were in their true element, full of joy as a cohesive creative unit, blasting out “Get Back” to the curious listeners below. “I want to look at you the way Paul looks at John,” Andi said. I just want her to have the smile that George Harrison had on that rooftop. As we prepared to step back into our separate lives, feeling finally fully present with her true self, I thanked her for three of the best days I’d had in my life, spent with her, our daughter, and the Beatles. And I hope I passed the audition.
Blogs are ultimately about personal journeys. I began this blog on November 24, 2014 as a daily chronicle of my life as stay-at-home dad. I intended it to be me channelling the porto-feminism of pioneering house-husband John Lennon. That lasted exactly one day. By November 25th, I was writing about the uprising in Ferguson, Missouri in what would be the first in a long line of posts about the Black Lives Matter movement. In those seven years, my writing has ranged from family life stories to global gender politics and everything in between.
There have been two pillars in this writing. The first is the firm belief that we are all works in progress, never fully complete. We can’t make the world a better place if we are not willing to make ourselves better people. And mistakes will be made. That’s part of the process. The second pillar has been how I’ve benefitted from the input from my wife, Andrea. Her patience, strength, and wisdom have pushed me to be that better man. And her experience as a member of a few different marginalized populations has allowed me to confront my own privileges head on. If I could only give her as much as she’s given me.
So here’s one of those entries about the need to evolve.
It’s been clear in this year of revelations that I still have a lot of work to do on myself. Uncovering my abuse story has helped me see the roots of some of my narcissistic personality traits, but that doesn’t automatically cure them. So Andrea has moved out so I could focus on that work. She got a studio apartment nearby and I helped her move in. The three of us had dinner there that first night as I let this separation settle in. We talk constantly and she’s endlessly encouraging. We have dates planned and I bring her coffee in the morning. But this is time set aside for me to make my mindfulness practices my natural way of being and for her to figure out if the woman she’s become fits with the man I’m becoming.
I have a pretty heavy lecture in my criminology class about domestic violence and about how battered women who flee abuse are as likely to be killed by their male partners as they are by staying with them. (Then I tell them to watch Sleeping with the Enemy and listen to “Goodbye Earl” by the Dixie Chicks.) Research on wife-killers shows these man can’t handle that “their” women have been rejected and just snap. It’s the ultimate act of patriarchal control.
While the thought of violence has never crossed my mind, I’ve never been very good at break-ups, centering my emotional pain instead of what’s best for my (former) partners. Just ask my first girlfriend who ended our relationship so she could spend a year studying in Paris. I got to Paris a few weeks before her and spray-painted her name all over the city, including on a stature of Moliére at the Sorbonne, where she would be enrolled. I thought I was being wildly romantic, but I was just being wildly creepy, inserting myself into her post-Randy life in the City of Light.
So the evolved version of me has kicked that version of masculinity to the curb. This is about what Andi needs right now and how I can listen and deliver. Certainly 2021 has been filled with examples of me not doing that, including plenty of mad examples of me freaking out as I fell down the rabbit hole of panic and defensiveness that were shaped by a lifetime of acting out the patterns created by my childhood abuse. Putting in the work is under way. I finally feel like an adult and instead of a petulant child and it feels good. I enter this phase with respect, grace, a mountain of admiration for this woman who I will get to know in a completely new way.
My great hope is this process won’t take long. Apartments in Portland are not cheap and it’s coming out of her pocket. We have a trip to Paris planned for this spring and that spray-paint will have long faded away. I’m committed to making that the case for the version of me that took her for granted. Faded away like a lovelorn teenager’s graffiti.
I think there was a naive hope that when the Orange Führur was banished from the White House (and Twitter) that the levels of toxic masculinity would ease off a bit. But this is patriarchal America and misogyny is our most hallowed value. Brittney Spears might be free, but the alt-right regularly refers to our vice-president as “Cum-Allah” and continues to plot its boogaloo boy revolution. Nothing triggers fragile men like ending middle eastern wars and a new Adele album.
I was reminded of this one night when the three of us were chomping on burritos while watching the produced-in-Atlanta game show Family Feud. I’ve enjoyed it since the Richard Dawson seventies and Steve Harvey does some pretty hilarious adlib comedy. It seemed like some harmless family entertainment since we’d burned through every episode of the capitalist propaganda-fest that is Shark Tank.
I’d noticed the “survey says” answers on the show’s gameboard occasionally went a little “off color” to go for the cheap laugh, but the Feud really showed its true colors one November night. The question was, “What is one thing a man could do that would cause his wife not to stand up for him.” Of course, the top answer was “cheat,” but when it flipped up on the gameboard what the oh-so-sophisticated writers had for the winning answer was, “CHEAT/GET A HO PREGGO.” I looked at Andi and she looked at me and then we both looked at our 7-year-old daughter. And then we shut the TV off.
Steve Harvey didn’t say anything about it and neither did anyone else as far as I can tell. This is how normalized sexism still is in 2021. If a woman gets pregnant with a married man, she must be a whore. And the chorus of “It was a joke! Get over it!” comes in to make the degradation of women just part of the normal background noise. Nothing to get upset about. Imagine if the “joke” about the “ho” had been about a “coon” or some other racist slur. We’d have heard about it then. Racism gets a rally and sexism get a yawn. That’s because patriarchy goes back a lot farther than white supremacy. And white supremacy goes way back.
This was playing out the same time that Arizona Republican Paul Gosar (who is a dentist and sits in the United State Congress) was joking about violently murdering Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on Twitter. And this complete psycho (visit his Twitter feed if you want a glimpse of the current state of Idiocracy) is still seated in the House of Representatives. This is how little we value women and girls in our country. Afghanistan, hold my beer.
I was reminded of how far we hadn’t come, babe, when we were shopping for our daughter’s Halloween costume. The costume store had segregated the costumes by gender (separate but definitely not equal). In the kids section, the boys costumes were various superheroes, serial killers, and Mindcraft stuff. The girls section was primarily, sexy nurse, sexy zombie, and sexy schoolgirl. These were the costumes for second grade girls. Cozy picked out a “sexy devil” costume that we figured we could modify to not catch the eyes of the Jeffrey Epsteins in the neighborhood. The sexualization of elementary school girls is not new but when it’s your second grader, you want to burn the costume store, Spirit Halloween, to the fucking ground.
I know this giant tanker of sexism takes time around. More women are now graduating from college than men. And women have outnumbered men in the workforce since 2010. But it’s the everyday sexism that cuts women and girls off at the knees. And it will continue to sabotage their deserved equity unit men say this must stop. (I zipped off a fervent Tweet to Steve Harvey and his show which we will no longer watch). I can only shield my daughter from so much sexist bullshit. I’m gonna need some help from my brothers in arms.
When I wrote my little “coming out” piece about my experience with sexual abuse a few weeks ago, I wrote it for an audience of two. I wrote if for myself, because I needed to say these things out loud so I could start the healing. And I wrote it for my wife because I was desperate to mend the damage my behavior had caused in our relationship. I had already discussed it with my parents who were surprisingly tranquil about the news that their four-year-old son had been sexually abused. My mother seemed to separate herself from any of the events and my father thought it was a good explanation for how I treated my little brother. Now, as then, they didn’t seem concerned for my emotional well being.
Who did care about me were many of my friends. When I posted the link to the story on my Facebook page I got so many wonderful messages, including friends coming out about their own victimization stories, some leading to failed marriages and life-long challenges. It meant so much and also let me know how many of us are struggling with the adult effects of childhood trauma. We are a statistic (1 in 7), but we are also pieces of the story of humanity. The narcissist in me could be seen as saying, “Hey, look at me! I’m an abuse victim, too!” I thought about that before I posted it. But I think it just needed to be said and I’m glad I did. It was like taking a breath.
The hard part about this is the realization of brokenness. I was pretty cool before, just bopping along, blaming all my problems on other people. I had a poem called “Psycho Chick Magnet” that I’d perform at readings in the 90s to laughter and a lot of dudes saying, “Me, too!” I now see that I was the psycho. My fucked-up defense mechanisms gas lit them. They were crazy. But they weren’t crazy. I was deeply damaged.
Now that I know this, it’s endlessly frustrating. I know what the problem patterns are. I know what the root cause is. I know the behavioral shift to make everything work like it should. Sounds super simple, right? This pattern is fucking up your life, so just stop doing it. This the part where I tell you that I am so completely broken that I’m not sure I can fix it. These patterns have evolved over a half century and I was a fool to think I could snap my fingers and be a different person. That the wirings of my brain that were the result of trauma in a 4-year old boy could just be switched off and I would forever be in the green zone.
Since I posted my story, I’ve fallen off the “Grown Up Randy” train a dozen times. Here’s just the latest example. I thought it would be fun to spend a rainy Sunday at the movies, so Cozy, Andi, and I went to go see Addam’s Family 2 at the Kennedy School. Cozy had her popcorn and lemonade. Andi and I had our beer and held hands and cuddled during the movie, which meant a lot because there had been some me-caused tension (surprise!) earlier in the day. After the film, Andi commented that it would have been nice if I would have put my arm around her. I should have just listened and said I would next time. But instead the four-year old me, who was stuck defending against endless attacks, popped up and ruined everything. I got defensive and felt like nothing I did was enough. I became the asshole that I swore I wouldn’t.
Our therapist warned against expecting immediate results. That changing patterns was like a snake shedding its skin and that old skin was sticky. That makes sense but tell it to my wife who is past her tolerance level fo sticky snake skin. But the feeling sinks in. That I will never break the patterns that were created in me by an entitled babysitter in 1968. It’s nearly unbearable because I see the harm it causes. I should be smart enough to figure this out.
I’ve been doing some research on Polyvagal Theory and how trauma rewires the nervous system. I now understand the my reactive nature is pretty much baked into my body. More great information but still doesn’t get me out of this loop I’m stuck in. All the enlightenment in the world doesn’t carry you out of the darkness.
The only point to this blogpost is to report on how hard this work is. There’s a good chance I will have to do it on my own, but I do it for that little kid who I was and the man I hope to become. You can only shoot yourself in the foot so many times.
Afterthought: I was listening to the news of the world leaders in Glasgow trying to kick the can on the global climate crisis. We know what the problem is. We know what the cause is. We know what behavior change is required to fix things. You can only shoot yourself in foot so many times, earth people. (I am the world. I am the inner children.)