My Black History
Note to the reader: To tell my story in the way I want it heard, this piece contains explicit accounts of physical abuse.
I wasn’t born hating black men; it wasn’t something I learned from my parents either – in fact my father always taught me to ‘love everybody’. It’s a belief I created from years of abuse and my uncanny ability to project my wounds from that abuse onto every black man I met. I’m jumping the gun here – let me start from some sort of beginning.
I grew up in white suburbia in a half of a double in a small town where the largest real threat I faced was probably the neighborhood dog – or the elderly woman who always screamed at us for riding our bikes on her sidewalk. I hardly knew anything of other cultures that existed in our world – particularly the black culture. My only true exposure to any of it was found hanging out with my African-American cousin who would stop by to visit every once in a while.
As I was growing up, things seemed normal and simple. It wasn’t until I was around 9 or 10 that I realized my family was different than others – perhaps I matured into it. Why were the cops showing up at the house on what seemed to be every other weekend? Why was my dad’s car parked in the front yard? Why was my mom wearing more and more eye makeup – to cover up those dark purple circles under her eyes?
It wasn’t long I became acutely aware of my parents love of alcohol and their inability to control their anger towards one another. It was the abusive dance – he’d go out to drink and she’d stay home to drink and wait. When he’d get home, she’d inquire and after a short while, she’d end up with a black eye. If we interjected, we’d feel the sting of the slap or wake up with some hair missing from the back of our head. This, however is not the crux of the story – we all have stories – we all have pasts.
When I was around 12 I believe, my parents split – my father moved to Atlantic City to pursue a dream of working in the casino and my mother moved into Allentown to stay near the people she grew up with. I decided to stay with her for a while – I mean really my choices weren’t that great.
I don’t even remember knowing my mom’s new boyfriend was black. It really wasn’t that important to me. His chances of getting me to like him were pretty slim since he was the dude my mom left my father for (at least that’s the story I was telling myself).
It wasn’t long until I witnessed the cycle of alcoholic abuse repeat itself; this time, through him. He was a hard drunk. He found enlightenment in vodka – straight up – by the gallon. Man could he drink. I would come home to a nights’ long binge and minutes after, there he was, yelling, screaming, slapping. Just like old times.
There were two times I won’t forget (or maybe can’t) – both unforgettably painful. He was notorious for asking me and my brother to do completely oddball things. One day he asked us to write. Write? Write what? He wanted us to write how we didn’t like him. Hmmm. I said no. The next thing I remember was the sting on the small of my back as I was getting smacked with a belt – not the leather mind you, the buckle. Yeah. Ouch.
The second time is the one that left me scarred. I came home from a friend’s house and he and my mother were arguing. I asked him to leave and he refused. I asked him again, politely and he refused harder and said this was ‘his house’. After a sharp escalation, and moments of explosive anger, I called him a nigger. Yep. I said it. I believed I meant it (whatever the hell that means). The next moment happened so fast yet it felt like time slowed down. He picked up a carpenters hammer, swung it and hit me in the side of my head. I was in shock as I put my hand to where the steel met my skull. I felt the blood run down my face and watched it run between my fingers when I pulled my hand away. I didn’t know what to do other than look at my mother and say ‘help me’.
Something happened to me that day – something deeper than the wound left on my head. After that day I hated black men – all black men. They all reminded me of him; his power, his fierceness, his anger, his hate and most of all his ability to hurt me. Every time I would see a man of color walk down the street I found myself holding my breath for a moment – waiting. I wondered if I would need to find a way to defend myself or run. I projected my deep fear and anger of one man onto an entire race. Did that make me a racist? Hard question.
I spent way too many years of my life that way – judging black men based on the actions of one. I can tell you one thing for sure, it poisons the soul. It wasn’t until I was in my early twenties I took a deep look inside and found the root of my projections unto black men; and finding it was just the beginning of a long healing process. Recently (and I mean months ago recently) I came to a place of peace and what I consider deep healing to that horrible wound. The irony – healing came through my interactions with a black man – several, actually.
My journey into personal healing led me to an organization called The ManKind Project and a weekend-long training they offer called The New Warrior Training adventure. This is not an advertisement for the organization and I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge their presence and extremely positive effect on my life. Through the organization and years of my own work, I was offered the opportunity to staff a weekend training. My most recent experience brought an opportunity of a lifetime; a good number of men both coming through the weekend and staffing alongside me were men of color – black men.
I remember first hearing the news and feeling my heart start to pound out of my chest. The old fear and anger was reignited and my walls starting coming up everywhere. ‘No more!’ I said. I will not continue to live this way. I had a thought to invite the men into a group, then sit in the middle of that group and tell them all my story – asking them to listen, hear me and help me heal this piece once and for all. I reached out to a friend of mine and talked through what I was feeling and what I wanted to do. What he told me caught me off guard, he said ‘Black men are not responsible for healing your wound. You are.’
Think about that for a second.
I expected ‘they’ would heal me. I expected ‘they’ would offer me the road to freedom. Nah! Sorry. Wrong answer. Thanks for playin. The healing needed to come through me. These men simply provided me another opportunity to see that.
As I walked into the training, I saw these men – I mean really saw them for who they were – alongside my wounds of the past. I listened to their stories, their struggles, their wounds. I witnessed their celebration, their joys and their beauty. These men were me. Sure we have differences and sure we do things our own way; our hearts, our pains, our joys – all the same. As a matter of fact, I took a walk with a man, a black man, who represented for me, the projections I once had for all black men. I told him my story and he listened and empathized with me. He then told me a story of his own – not unlike mine. Our brief sharing of truth lead us both to a moment of healing. Let that settle in for a bit.
I learned if I take the time to get to know men, to talk to them and really listen to what they’re saying to me, I can come to a deeper understanding of how similar we really are.
Why am I telling you this? Well, it’s my story and the one I know best and to be completely open about it, I find writing cathartic. More importantly though, I figure if I could hate an entire race of people because of the actions of one person of that race, then someone else can too; and if I could come to an understanding that it’s not ‘them’ but me, then someone else can to; finally if I could come to a place of healing and live alongside all men of color, someone else can too. This is my experience to share and yours to digest. If any of what I write finds a place in your heart, I’d be honored and grateful for the opportunity to serve as a catalyst into your healing.
It’s not easy. It takes courage, trust and a willingness to grow. Believe me though, you can do it.
As my father once said, ‘love everybody’.