Love Is a Battlefield: Why I Am Reflecting on the State of America Rather Than My Baby Girl on the Eve of Her 10th Birthday

What doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God? 
From the Book of Micah

Ten years ago today, I gave birth to a 6 lb. 15 oz. baby girl that her father and I rather casually named Micaiah. This is the whole name of the Jewish prophet Micah. Her father and I didn’t choose it for cultural or religious purposes; I wanted to name her “Kai,” but Dad said that was a nickname, not a first name, so we compromised.

Today, though, with Charlottesville and Trump’s pathetic response to it, the name has become uncannily coincidental.

Micah, in his time (737 — 696 BCE), predicted the downfall of Jerusalem because its leaders had used dishonest business practices to build up and beautify the city and impoverished its citizens in the process. Micah told the leaders of Jerusalem that if they didn’t abandon their corrupt ways, the city would be destroyed. It took 150 years, apparently, but his prophecy came true in 586 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem.

Trump got elected by pandering to poor whites that held a grudge against the political establishment for failing to rescue them from the hardships created by the 2008 Recession and the growth of globalization and the green economy; One Percenters that wanted to reapportion any wealth they lost during Obama’s administration back to their pockets; political conservatives that wanted to topple anyone whose social ascension during the Obama administration threatened their hegemony; and white supremacists that wanted to see Obama’s legacy desecrated and the infinitesimal social gains made by people of color and members of the LGBTQIA+ community during his time in office snatched back from us like we are thieves.

He lied about building a wall to block Mexican immigration. He lied about instituting a ban to block Muslim immigration. He lied about establishing a federal healthcare program that would work more effectively than Obamacare. He lied about providing “safe neighborhoods, secure borders, and protection from terrorism” for all Americans.

Yes, these are actual words he uttered during his Republican Convention speech last summer.

He built a new, re-energized America over the one left by Obama, but he used lies as his figurative bricks and hatred (the conjoined twin of fear) as his figurative mortar. And now it looks as if America is about to be destroyed. From the inside out.

I say this because a mob of alt-right identifiers, white nationalists, and Neo-Nazis — and I am using this term correctly in this case, unlike racist reporters that use it when they want to vilify peaceful protestors of color — converged for a series of “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, VA on Friday (August 11) to be carried out in broad fucking daylight.

Ostensibly, the protests were aimed at the Democratic-voting city’s decision to remove a statue of Confederate military leader Robert E. Lee and change the name of the park where the statue is located from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. But, when you consider the amplifying effect Trump’s election has had on racist violence among American civilians, and the increasing number of news reports that the public is growing dissatisfied with Trump’s ineptitude, I think the protestors were really making an emboldened preemptive strike at Trump dissenters.

I think they were trying to quash the birth of a solidified movement against his re-election in 2020 before it can start.

The New York Times even reported that “[David] Duke, a former imperial wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, told reporters on Saturday that the protesters were ‘going to fulfill the promises of Donald Trump’ to ‘take our country back.'”

Dr. Cornel West has said that the “crypto-fascists, the neo[-]fascists, the neo-Nazis . . . feel . . . empowered, not just by Trump but by the whole shift in the nation towards scapegoats,” which makes it even easier to read the “Unite the Right” gathering as more of a rally than a protest — rally as in “recover or cause to recover in health, spirits, or poise.”

Trump has been taking hits in the press for allegedly colluding with Putin to influence the outcome of last year’s election; continuing to play political “footsie” with Putin under the proverbial political table, even though the intelligence community has confirmed that Russia did interfere in the election, whether with or without Trump’s aiding and/or abetting; and making serious yet heedless threats at North Korea and Venezuela, of all fucking places.

His supporters may be myopic, but they’re not blind, and they can see that he’s losing ground in the so-called “battle” against the political establishment and the Democrats, liberals, progressives, and social justice activists they scornfully refer to as “snowflakes.”

That is why they went so hard in what is realistically a small battle on a relatively inconsequential ground. They used Charlottesville to make a splashy statement about their unwillingness to crawl back into the metaphoric hole that is American white supremacist subculture now that Trump has made it acceptable for them to be out and slithering about.

On Friday, a group of 100 of these white nationalists marched across the campus of the University of Virginia — over a mile from Lee Park — leveling tiki torches, giving the Nazi salute, and yelling “blood and soil,” “white lives matter,” and “you will not replace us” at students and activists gathered in opposition to “Unite the Right.”

Dara Lind of Vox writes that “a brawl broke out when [the nationalists] — nearly all white men — surrounded a small group of counter[-]protesters [that] were peacefully surrounding a statue of Thomas Jefferson at the center of campus.”

“Counter-protesters reported being hit with pepper spray by marchers,” she claims.

Local activist Emily Gorcenski told the Guardian that the nationalist marchers blocked the counter-protesters from leaving the site where the nationalists were harassing them, but the police did not intervene in the situation until “long after the [nationalists] had struck out” at the counter-protestors.

“I am safe. I am not fine,” she tweeted after the confrontation. “What I just witnessed was the end of America.”

UVA student Ian Ware provided an even more harrowing narration of the events on Friday to MTV News:

Those were all of my friends that were gathered around the statue. I was filming them. It was supposed to be a secret protest; the information was leaked to organizers yesterday morning. There was a pretty quick scramble to try to do something, to counter-protest. What it ended up being was a group of UVA students, groups from around the community, and anti-fascist leaders just literally trying to blockade the Jefferson statue in front of the rotunda, which is of course the most iconic image of Charlottesville and UVA. We were all standing there, waiting, and we heard them, and they just started pouring over the steps of the rotunda, just hundreds of literal Nazis. They were doing the Nazi salute. They were calling everyone slurs. They were pushing people off the stairs of the rotunda. They came down and surrounded our crew of people who were all just trying to keep their faces down and stay safe. A fight broke out, and I could see what was happening, but not who started it; at one point, Nazis were waving their torches at our people and swinging them at us. They threw torches on the ground. There was fire everywhere. Someone had either tear gas or some mace [substance] that a bunch of people got on their faces. Afterwards, they finally started dispersing, but it was really, really terrifying, especially seeing Nazis come over the crest of the most important place at our university, the place you go when you first get into UVA, the place you see every day when you go to class. The pictures of them walking around the grounds were just stunning in the worst way.

The Washington Post reported that a counter-protester used some chemical agent on quite a few nationalist marchers as well.

Though it might seem impossible, things got worse in Charlottesville on Saturday. Protestors that supported the decision to remove the statue — mind, with the same right to assemble and free speech that the white nationalists have — faced off with the mob, and violence unfortunately — and maybe even inevitably — ensued.

According to The New York Times, there was “shoving and outright brawling,” though the reporter doesn’t specify whether it was instigated by the white nationalist or anti-Confederate protestors. Either way, the governor of Virginia declared a state of emergency in the city, he called in the National Guard, and, as the white nationalists were dispersing, and some anti-Confederate protestors were rejoicing, a 20-year-old white man (not boy) named James Alex Fields, Jr. from Maumee, (it fucking had to be) Ohio (didn’t it?) allegedly ran his car into a throng of anti-Confederate protestors gathered in a downtown mall area.

Fields — or the undiscovered assailant if Fields is proven to be innocent of the crime — killed one 32-year-old woman and injured 19 other people, according to reports by CNN, The New York Times, The LA Times, and The Washington Post.

To cap off this recount, I’ll just paraphrase Charlottesville City Manager Maurice Jones: Hate came to Virginia in a way most Americans had hoped we would never see again, but knew could be easily stirred up by granting someone like Trump presidential power.

If you haven’t already connected the dots, this Charlottesville tragedy reads to me like the second stage of the destruction of the American republic. The first stage was Trump’s election. I fear the next stage will be our entrance into a war with North Korea that will be a horrifying repeat of Vietnam.

It reads to me like the fulfillment of a prophecy made collectively by Trump’s dissenters in the days and weeks after he took office. They saw, like Micah saw with Jerusalem, that Trump had won the election by corrupt means, he would govern the country by corrupt means, and America would pay for allowing him to gain power that it was obvious he would misuse and abuse.

I have tied Micah in with Charlottesville here, or Charlottesville in with Micah, because, as I said at the opening of this post, ten years ago today, I gave birth to my first and only child, Micaiah. Today is her day. Her first “double digit” birthday. I should be all about her today.

And I was at first.

Her celebratory weekend actually started out very sweetly and sentimentally for me.

As I tucked her into bed on Friday, I kissed her and began crying when I saw how far her legs stretched out over her mattress beneath her butterfly comforter. I realized that she is nearly five-feet tall – just five inches shorter than me — she is not a baby anymore.

I rejoiced that she is still here with me. That she is healthy and seems to be happy.

I always wanted to be a mother, and I always wanted a daughter. I thought, when I got pregnant, that Micaiah would be a boy because her father has a lot of boys in his family, but there they were – those three tell-tale lines on the sonogram that told us the Eatman-Valentine family was ushering a sixth generation of women.

(My maternal great-grandmother had one girl; that girl (my grandmother) had three girls; the oldest of those girls (my mother) had two girls (her sisters had no children); and I have Micaiah, who will not have a sibling by me, but may get a cat or dog in the next couple of years if she proves to be responsible enough to handle it.)

I was ecstatic to be having a girl child. Yes, I wanted to dress her in the cute little dresses and tie bows in her hair, but I also wanted to teach her everything I know about being a black woman in America. I wanted to learn all of the things that motherhood, and she, would undoubtedly teach me, and I wanted to watch her manifest the dreams of my great-grandmother and grandmother even more splendidly than my mother, aunts, sister, and me.

I wanted to love her. I wanted to experience the sort of divine giving and sharing and communing that parents do. I wanted to grow in the way that parenting – and in particular mothering – grows you. I wanted to be a part of a miracle. I wanted those nine months to witness the wonder of my body doing what it was reproductively designed to do. I wanted to go through labor and finally understand — at perhaps the deepest level — the work my mother did to bring me into this world. I wanted to be able to connect with my mother as a fellow mother and have our friendship deepen. I wanted to connect with my then-boyfriend, now-husband as a co-parent and have our partnership deepen as well.

But, mostly, I wanted to meet my daughter. I wanted to know her. I had a feeling she would be someone whose existence would completely alter mine. And I was righter than I’ve ever been about anything. I am a different person because I had her, and she is in my life. I can barely remember who I was before, and I only miss her in rare instances when I feel especially challenged to do the right thing as Micaiah’s Mama (I’m Mama, not Mommy).

Micaiah is so many wonderful things. She is bright. She is goofy. She is funny. She is affectionate. She is compassionate. She is mischievous. She is moody. She has a very stable sense of identity. She is content with who she is. She is independent and single-minded. She can be vain, but she can also be generous in giving respect and admiration to others. She speaks and takes up for herself. She has a fiery temper and smart mouth, but she also has a tender heart and humble spirit.

Micaiah can admit she is wrong and say she is sorry — something I consider to be a major signifier of decent character. She says “thank you” to me for doing the most mundane things for her, like packing her lunch, and she asks for dozens of kisses from me everyday. She has her own taste, and she isn’t shaken when she realizes that what she is thinking, feeling, or doing is different than the status quo. She takes pleasure and pride in being her own person.

Micaiah follows me around the house all day, talking incessantly about Pokémon, boring me half to death, but, God, I miss her when she’s not there. She is everything to me, and even when I am furious with her, I can still find something in what she’s done to make me proud.

So tell me why — as we shopped for her new Nintendo Switch at Target, picked out a dress for her birthday dinner at Longhorn, had a cake decorated for her gift-opening after dinner — as we sat at dinner and talked about her entering fifth grade and teased her about being able to devour a 10-ounce ribeye all on her own — I should have had to have what was happening in Charlottesville hunkering in the back of my mind?

Toni Morrison — one of my favorite writers and creative role models — attempts to illustrate in her novels not just how institutional racism shapes and thwarts the lives of black people in America, but how its emotional and psychological effects can poison our most intimate experiences and dealings with each other.

In Beloved, she tells a fictionalized version of actual fugitive slave Margaret Garner’s life story.

In 1856, Garner, a probable product of the rape of her mother by her mother’s master, just twenty-one-years-old, pregnant, along with her husband and four children, escaped the Maplewood Plantation in Boone County, Kentucky, where Garner had been used as a “sexual stand-in” by her white owner during his wife’s pregnancies and borne three children — Samuel, Mary, and Priscilla — from his serial raping.

Garner and her family, with 11 others, crossed a frozen section of the Ohio River near Covington, Kentucky and fled to Mill Creek, near Cincinnati, Ohio, where Garner and her family joined with her uncle, Joe Kite.

Kite hid Garner and her family while he met with abolitionist Levi Coffin to discuss the best options for settlement for the Garners, and Coffin agreed to help the Garners travel to Canada, where they would not be subject to the provisions of the Fugitive Slave Law.

Before Coffin could help Garner and her family escape further North, however, a group of slave catchers and US marshals found them barricaded in Kite’s home. These men surrounded then stormed the house, so, in order that they wouldn’t be returned to slavery, Garner stabbed her two-year-old daughter to death with a butcher knife and attempted to kill her other children.

Thankfully, she was subdued by members of the posse that had invaded her uncle’s home before she could do more than injure any of her other three children.

Garner was put in jail then she was put on trial, during which the presiding judge ruled that the Fugitive Slave Law had supervening authority over state murder laws, nullifying the prosecutors’ criminal charges against Garner. And rather than being convicted of murder, Garner was returned to enslavement in Kentucky. She toiled as a slave in Kentucky, Louisiana, and Tennessee for another two years before dying of typhoid fever in 1858.

Anti-black racists might say about this tragedy that Garner merely demonstrated the moral depravity and savagery that is intrinsic in black people’s nature when she killed her daughter, and I would never say that what she did was sane or “right,” but I will say that PTSD is a significant predictor of psychotic disorder, and it is not a stretch in the least to assume that after being repeatedly raped over months-long stretches, and giving birth to three children that were products of that rape, Garner was suffering from PTSD and very probably psychosis when she attacked her children.

She may even have been experiencing dissociation in the form of hallucinations, paranoia, flashbacks, extreme detachment, or thought disorder since researchers have not convincingly ruled out the possibility that chronic stress and repeated trauma may cause disorders that are not unlike schizophrenia in their sufferers.

The science of her situation, however, is not the point.

The point is the effects of the abuse she suffered as a slave — while at the extreme of the continuum of racist violence — bled — literally and figuratively — all over her parenting dynamic.

Even at the time of Garner’s trial, white abolitionist Lucy Stone was able to recognize the horrific logic in what Garner had done.

“The faded faces of the Negro children tell too plainly to what degradation the female slaves submit,” she reportedly said when called to the stand during Garner’s trial.

“Rather than give her daughter to that life, she killed [her],” Stone argued.

“If in her deep maternal love she felt the impulse to send her child back to God, to save [her] from coming woe, who shall say she had no right not to do so.”

The point is that Garner was pushed to the brink of sanity by the realization that she couldn’t create a physical or ontological (metaphysical) safe space in which she could mother her children with emotional or psychological purity or clarity.

And Charlottesville happening on my baby’s tenth birthday has reminded me that neither can I.

Even in 2017, as a mother, I still have the threat of harm coming to my child, her father, or me just because we are black in America — lumped on to — mind you — the universal fear of every human being that something bad will happen to someone they love that runs courses through our brains as naturally as serotonin, dopamine, or GABA — dogging my every fucking second of interaction. Shit, my every fucking second of existence.

It’s a heavier load than white mothers have to bear — flat-out. And it feels even more oppressive because it is baseless — it is bottomless — it is edgeless — it is seemingly endless. It is so extremely unfair that thinking about it too intently for too long can make me cry from frustration and helplessness.

I did nothing to make my skin black or myself American. Yet, I have inherited a birthright that denies me not just an astounding array of basic human rights but the unencumbered experience of a gut-wrenching range of basic human emotions and experiences as well.

My love is a battlefield because I have to fight through the skein of my blackness — in my head and my heart — to give it.

My literal home may be the only place where I can peel back the coiled threads of racial consciousness that bind my being for even just a minute and mentally and emotionally breathe, but, even there, hatred creeps in — through the soundtrack of a news report playing on my television, reading of a post on social media, residual impact of some nasty interaction in the street, or lingering depression over occurrences like the one in Charlottesville.

My love is a battlefield, too, because I will never stop fighting to love — to be loving — to be loved — despite all of the hateful things that happen in America and to me because racism and bigotry are allowed to thrive, and liberty and justice are seemingly dying of something akin to sociopolitical cancer.

I fought to give my baby a happy birthday. I fight to make sure my baby has a happy childhood. I will keep fighting to do everything possible to help her grow up to have happy life.

The Right won’t stop me with all their egregious wrongs.

Micaiah doesn’t read my blog — even though she tells me all the time that she is proud that I am a writer — but I will put this message here anyway.

It’s for her, but it’s also for me. Proof that in the fight to retain all the dimensions of my humanity, I am still winning.

Happy Birthday, Micaiah, my Little Moo. I cannot think of any privilege greater than being able to aid in and witness your growth and development into a woman.

You are the sun to my moon. The source of so much of my pride and joy. One of the best reasons I get out of bed in the morning. My proof of God’s grace. 

I have a lot of words, Heaven knows, but none that can truly express how much I love you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Fathers, Fairy Tales, and Lies: Why We Can & Should Hold Black Male Celebrities Accountable for Their Crimes

I wrote this back in May of last year, but all the Bishop Eddie Long apologists I’m reading on Facebook brought it back to my mind and renewed its relevancy, at least to my thinking.

I will say the same thing here that I said on Facebook about some people’s refusal to be silent about the sexual abuse allegations against Bishop Long in the event of his death:

You recount the mistakes to distill the lesson.

The black community should’ve held Eddie Long accountable for the wrongs he committed while he was still alive if so many of its members find it distasteful to indict a dead man.

But what the black community shouldn’t do–through its parochial responses to Long’s accusers–is continue to make the black community unlivable for sexual abuse victims or make it a safe space for sexual predators.

That–if you ask me–is a sin.

MRS

Even though I grew up in a household that was an approximation of the black middle class ideal, I still wanted to be a Huxtable.

I wanted more siblings than my one baby sister, who, at eight years younger, could do nothing but annoy the hell out of me; I wanted to live in a brownstone in the biggest and busiest city in the world; I wanted to have all four of my grandparents within walking distance and visit with them regularly; I wanted a mother who allowed my friends to come and visit our home every day after school; and I wanted a father just like Heathcliff.

When I was young, my father was a workaholic with ambitions of becoming the next Johnny Cochrane; he was gone most of the time, and, when he was home, he was still busy with work. He had his own father’s heirloom sarcasm. He wanted his daughters to be ladies even though our mother was raising us to be women. His expectations could loom higher than a Detroit skyscraper at times, but his temper could be as ugly as the Detroit River. He never spanked me once in my life, but he did smack me up a time or two with doctrine—the proxy hand of God—when he thought I was getting too out-of-control with my damned independent thinking and insistence on eking out my own identity.

He was a lot more complicated than Heathcliff Huxtable–less fun and way more demanding–and, since I had that TV image with which to compare him, I often found myself wishing my dad was less himself and more like a sitcom character.

I would fantasize about him reacting to me in the warm, goofy way that Heathcliff reacted to his kids, and I would feel a bit cheated because it was work being his daughter, and no one applauded for me as I did it.

Now, at 39, I realize that work was some of the most valuable that I’ve ever don–that he–my father–and I were building me into a decent, hard-working, and responsible person (with a wicked sense of humor, enviable taste in music, an elegant sense of style, and a deeply-rooted notion of fairness).

I understand now that navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up, and I wouldn’t be anyone close to the thinker, writer, teacher, mother, sister, or friend I am if I hadn’t been my father’s daughter–and mother’s daughter–first.

I also see–in thinking through why Heathcliff Huxtable was such an appealing character to me–what a juvenile concept of the “father” most of black people retain throughout our lives.

This is important to point out because I think it has a lot to do with why so many us, who love(d) Heathcliff Huxtable, are having such a difficult time accepting that Bill Cosby is a rapist that deserves to be punished for his crimes.

Rather than an angel on one shoulder and a devil on the other, whispering to black people about what fathers are and are not, we have a fairy tale weighing on one shoulder and a pack of racist lies weighing on the other.

These two false images make it difficult for us to be realistic or real about our fathers and father figures.

The fairy tale is of the white father–a romanticized figure that is an amalgam of the Judeo-Christian God and Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird. This man–because of his social privilege and inherent moral superiority and intelligence–conferred by his whiteness–is the perfect father. He is always there for his kids; he always has to proper solution for their problems; he can provide for his children’s every need; and he never fails them. He is the polar opposite, conceptually, of the paradigmatic black father.

The lies on the other end of the binary are that black men are inherently bad fathers. That slavery stole the ability to parent permanently from them. That institutional racism bars them–across the board–financially, emotionally, and spiritually–from adequately supporting their children. That being the victims of oppression, suppression, deprivation, and violence makes them ineffective and even damaging.

Charles Blow of The New York Times does an excellent job of describing this manifold misconception: “[We believe],” he writes, ” . . . there is something fundamental, and intrinsic about black men that is flawed, that black fathers are pathologically prone to desertion of their offspring and therefore largely responsible for black community ‘dysfunction.’”

Both of these mythoi–of the good white father and bad black father–conveniently–or inconveniently for black men–ignore the facts–which must be considered in order for black people to gain a more realistic–and serviceable–concept of the “father.”

The first is that, historically, many white men have failed spectacularly at parenting. See Joseph Kennedy, who had his daughter Rosemary lobotomized at age 23 without his wife’s knowledge or agreement, or Woody Allen, who had an affair with the adopted daughter—Soon-Yi Previn—of his long-time girlfriend Mia Farrow. They have proven, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that white men in general are not automatically “better equipped” for parenting.

On the other hand, black men are more than just the “serial impregnators” portrayed in the racist mainstream media.

Though 72% of black women having babies are single mothers, this doesn’t mean that they don’t live with the fathers of their children. It actually means they aren’t married to them. Many still live with the fathers of their children. Only 55% of black children live in single mother households.

And even though a lot of black fathers don’t live with their children, about 2.5 million black fathers do live with at least one of their children.

Too, according to the CDC, black fathers–in and out of the home–provide more actual child care than white or Hispanic fathers. Yes–black men regularly feed their children their meals (78.2% black>73.9% white>63.9% Hispanic), dress their children (70.4% black>60% white>45% Hispanic), and read to their children every day (34.9% black>30.2% white>21.9% Hispanic). They are not all flailing or failing to fulfill their parental duties, despite what even a large segment of the black community maintains.

It is fair to acknowledge, too, that many of the black fathers that are missing from their children’s lives are missing because of factors related to institutionalization.

As reported in The Washington Post, “Incarceration [is an]  overwhelming [driver] of the gap [in the number of black women and men in the free population].

“Of the 1.5 million missing black men [out of 8 million] from 25 to 54 [the prime age span for fatherhood]–higher imprisonment rates account for almost 600,000. Almost one in 12 black men . . . is behind bars, compared with one in 60 nonblack men . . .”

These numbers prove that black men are not pathologically neglectful of their children.

Black fathers are still more absent from black homes than white fathers, but their patterns of abandonment can be linked to the historical legacy of slavery–how it has shaped today’s law enforcement and justice system, created genetic pitfalls for black people in terms of their health (which result in earlier deaths), and facilitated the demonization of black men in order to justify its reprehensibility.

Often, it is their internalized self-hatred–their own belief in their badness–that impels black men to leave their children alone–in the wrongheaded attempt to protect them.

Because black men struggle on a lot of levels to be present for their children at the same rates as nonblack men, and black people as a whole have a lot of misconceptions about how structural racism impedes parenting, the absences of black fathers lead many black people to cling to idealized father figures like Heathcliff Huxtable.

They set these father figures, usually found in entertainment, on pedestals because these men seem to have overcome whatever obstacles they needed to overcome in order to “get it right” for their children and co-parents (which are more often than not their wives).

Those that actually are or that just feel fatherless worship these figures in a sense, and this may be because one of the predominant figures in this improvised pantheon of imaginary surrogates is, in fact, the Judeo-Christian God.

Just listen to the way that many black religious leaders speak about God. They very liberally and munificently humanize Him. They do this because they know that so many black people suffer from an acute psychological sense of fatherlessness. They want to fix it, so they offer their congregants a God that is an eternal, omnipotent father.

They take that Biblical address, that ancient, enduring metaphor—“Our Father”—and literalize it–to effect some sort of spiritual healing from parental abandonment. They create a model of fatherhood that–while it may not shape the way that real black fathers do their jobs–shapes the way that the fatherless envision the role of the father. Then, celebrities, cultural icons, and imaginary characters like Heathcliff Huxtable do the same thing, but on a lesser level.

These famous “fathers” provide the fatherless with an unrealistic ideal that they attach to as “theirs” to fill the absence of an actual father. These “fathers” give the fatherless ridiculously high standards for what a father is, but, since they appear to meet these standards, they also inspire immense amounts of love and loyalty. It is this love and loyalty–and the painful prospect of losing yet another “parent”–that make it so difficult for people to accept it when father (or maybe it’s more apt to say “fatherly”) figures like Bill Cosby commit terrible acts.

Since so many black people do suffer from fatherlessness–or even from the idea that their “regular” black fathers are inferior–they do not want to give up their adoptive fatherly figures.

They do not want to face the fact that a character like Heathcliff Huxtable is a personage and not a person.

They want their fatherly figure to be innocent, or, if he cannot be innocent, they want him to be exempt.

So when their fatherly figure is put on public trial, these “children” argue that his positive contributions to society or culture or the black community must outweigh his crimes. They vilify his victims in order to lessen his culpability and depravity. They deny that his behavior is actually harmful, or, worse, they say that his victims are the ones doing the harm, by ruining the fatherly figure’s so-called legacy.

They make that same tired argument every time–that if Guilty Black Fatherly Figure were white, he wouldn’t be held nearly as accountable for his transgressions, as if that somehow justifies his transgressions. But the truth remains.

Despite how prevalent fatherlessness is in the black community, or how painful it is, we—the collective—cannot use it as an excuse to dismiss the crimes of our famous black men. Our imaginary “fathers” are no less responsible for their actions than our actual fathers. Fame, wealth, and talent–while they are rare–impressive–enchanting–still do not cancel out brutality, cruelty, perversity, or decidedly unchecked psychopathy.

The ugly truth is, then, that Bill Cosby is somnophiliac that–because he prefers to secretly drug women rather than gain their consent to have unconscious sex–has allowed the pursuit of his paraphilia to make him a rapist.

He has admitted on the record to drugging women and raping them. He has paid these women–by order of the court and on his own—as his atonement for raping them.

He has exploited his image as a fatherly figure, his power, and sexist stereotypes like that of the female groupie or gold digger to ruthlessly cover for his crimes.

He has been allowed and–yes–encouraged–by his wife, entourage, the Hollywood establishment, the legal system, the patriarchy, and, yes, the black community–that deifies him–to violate a group of 50 women–that we know of–between 1965 and 2008–without suffering any losses to his fame, wealth, reputation, or freedom.

And before any of you reading can make the reflexive argument that erroneously links the veracity of their accusations to how long it took certain of his victims to come forward on the record, let me let you know–

American culture and the nation’s justice system are criminally inhospitable to female rape victims, and this has a profound effect on their willingness to report their attacks.

In fact, the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that only 15.8 to 35 percent of all sexual assaults are reported to police.

This is because when women are assaulted by a friend or acquaintance (neighbor, classmate, coworker, boss), they fear they will not be believed.

They fear retaliation from the accused, other people finding out they’ve been assaulted, being branded as a rape victim, and/or being disrespected and/or mistreated during the trial process.

They believe that the police will not do anything to help them.

They believe that they have a lack of adequate proof or evidence.

They have their own misconceptions about what actually constitutes rape and do not actually know or believe that they have been raped.

Men may not be able to relate to these reasons–or they might refute them in order to abstain from inverting and being implicated by them–but women–if we’re being honest–know that they are very real.

Too many of us have either been raped or molested and experienced these paralyzing fears or doubts firsthand, or we have imagined being raped or molested and projected these fears and doubts onto our imaginary selves and into our possible futures.

Another reason not listed by the Bureau of Justice Statistics that women don’t report sexual assaults is the terrible lack of credibility attributed to them by certain principles of rape culture.

Patriarchal notions that men hold–about how desperately women want to please them, how deserving “promiscuous” women are of punishment, and how important maintaining a “good girl” image is to women–make it easy for men to believe that women are lying when women say they’ve been raped.

Men like this think women are so universally “afraid” of being typed as sluts that any and all of them would lie about having consensual sex–call it rape–to avoid retribution or requital for exercising their sexual freedom.

And these men hold to the unfortunate truth that some women have lied about being assaulted—they have falsely accused men to avoid shame, exact revenge, or hide infidelity.

In the case of Cosby’s accusers, we must also concede they were up against the unlikelihood that a woman that is a “nobody” would be believed over a cultural icon.

Look baldly at how his accusers have been treated, and it’s easy to see why so many of Cosby’s victims felt for so long that reporting him to the authorities would be pointless.

People conflate Cosby with Heathcliff Huxtable. They think Bill Cosby is Heathcliff Huxtable. And, as devotees of the character, it is impossible for them to imagine Heathcliff raping a woman. So they struggle with believing that Cosby is a rapist. Still, the numbers of victims—as well as Cosby’s own accounts of his encounters with them and court settlements to which he has agreed—make it impossible to ignore that Cosby is guilty of a pattern of illegal behavior for which he deserves to be punished.

It looks as if the same thing, unfortunately, can be said about legendary hip hop culturalist Afrika Bambaataa, who has been accused in the last couple of months by four men of sexually abusing them during the 1980s.

Allegedly, he showed them—as boys—pornographic materials then performed oral sex on them.

Along with assaulting them, he gave them shelter, food, and money when they needed it, and he maintained a “father-son” relationship with at least one of them into adulthood. That is—in fact—what the boys called him: “Poppy.”

It’s reasonable to assume that fatherlessness, shame, machismo, and a distorted sense of loyalty are what kept them from reporting their abuse until now.

Again, before those of you that are inclined start doing that victim-blaming “thing” we so often do when we hear that victims of sexual assault have waited to name their accusers, I want to go back to one really significant concept I brought up previously, and that’s loyalty.

I honestly believe that malformed and misdirected loyalty are what keep a lot of black people silent about the terrible things that other black people do to them or in their presence.

We have such a profound mistrust of law enforcement and the courts that we do not want to turn a supposed “brother” or “sister” over to them if we can help it.

So many of we black people refuse to report crimes committed against us by other black people—and we uphold our own abusers in a lot of instances—in order to show our racial awareness and solidarity.

We romanticize our victimization as a sacrifice of sorts, and we shame those that don’t adhere to this dysfunctional “code” of honor and silence. But this behavior is a throwback to the plantation and the inhumane treatment our ancestors often suffered when they didn’t cover and/or lie for each other.

As a people, we have to start moving past our past, in this sense. We either have to abandon this anti-“snitching” ethic and turn the offenders in our community over to the law, or we have to figure out our own ways to hold them accountable for their choices to damage others and refuse to seek help for their sicknesses.

I said it before—navigating one’s relationship with one’s parent(s) is one of the most influential parts of growing up. James Baldwin even said that loving someone—that act in itself—is a growing up.

It’s a process of shedding the pretty, pretend ideas we get from fairy tales, and the hyperbolic or fantastical ideas we get from lies, and embracing new ideas about ourselves—bolder concepts of ourselves—that protect and empower us, female and male.

And here are a few—

We can love Heathcliff Huxtable—what he represents—the will to father black children lovingly and joyfully—without reifying him.

We can admire Bill Cosby as an entertainer, philanthropist, actor, and producer without deifying him.

We can condemn Bill Cosby for raping those women without killing the image of Healthcliff Huxtable.

We can support a conviction of Bill Cosby’s guilt and maintain a sense of our highest and not our basest form of integrity.

We can condemn Afrika Bambaataa without indicting hip hop culture or erasing his contributions to the culture from its history.

We can support a conviction of his guilt.

We must.

Nothing can justifiably counterbalance wrongs like the ones Cosby or Eddie Long committed except confession, contrition, reparation, and rehabilitation.

So we cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood—this concept that black men cannot answer for their actions—if we want black men that ultimately inspire more than pity, mistrust, resentment, or fear in us. Or that can only truly be great when they are standing framed in our blind spots.

We cannot keep perpetuating this cult of fragile black manhood if we want to evolve into a culture that is characterized by more than its pathologies.

In order to grow out of the desperation of fatherlessness and demand what is actually attainable from our famous men–decency–we have to leave the childish notion that fathers are faultless behind us, once and for all.

We have to process the ugly truths about our fatherly figures. Topple them from their pedestals. Let them shatter and clean up the messes they’ve made.

This will help us to not only heal from their abuses, but it will help us to better appreciate our real fathers.

It will open us up to accepting that many of them are bending over backward, being their best for us.

 

Being the Change: Ryan Lochte, Bresha Meadows, and What Black Parents Need to Do for Their Own Kids

All the clamor over Ryan Lochte has passed, but I still have some lingering resentment of it, so I’m writing this weeks after it may seem relevant.

Please forgive me, though. I’m actually talking about something bigger and more important than Ryan Lochte; I’m just using his bullshit antics as an entryway into the conversation.

Ryan Lochte went to Rio last month to compete in the 2016 Summer Olympics, didn’t medal, very probably started feeling sorry for himself, and decided he needed to “blow off some steam”–all good, nothing wrong with any of that, whatever, good for Ryan.

Where he fucked up is he got drunk, tore up a gas station, got caught by Brazilian security, caught an attitude, and tried to get the security in trouble by claiming they were crooked and robbed him.

His horrible, entitled decision making throughout the night of August 14 took him from international idol to international asshole in record time, and the media had a field day reporting on “poor” Ryan as, first, the victim of a fabricated robbery and then the victim of a fabricated developmental delay.

Now, this is where the media fucked up–in its collective decision to portray Lochte as an overgrown adolescent that should be let off the hook without any accountability rather than a grown man that willingly vandalized public property and deliberately lied about it.

By discussing Lochte like an overgrown adolescent, the media exposed just how real and deeply entrenched the racial bias in the portrayal of black males in American news reporting is.

Because when Trayvon Martin (17-years-old), Mike Brown (18-years-old), and Tamir Rice (12-years-old) were discussed in the news, they were habitually called “males” or “young men,” not “kids” or “boys,” and regarded adults, capable of making more “appropriate” decisions in response to Zimmerman (28 at the time he murdered Trayvon), Wilson (28 at the time he murdered Mike and a trained police officer), and Loehmann (26 at the time he murdered Tamir and a trained officer as well).

Ryan Lochte was older than even Zimmerman, Wilson, and Loehmann–he was 32–when he went into that Brazilian gas station, broke the soap holder and a mirror, ripped up flooring, tore down a sign, and urinated all over the property with his teammates.

He was definitely too old to be called a “kid” or extended the forbearance we give children for being relatively unformed in terms of decency, morality, integrity, and responsibility.

And black people all over Twitter and the rest of the world spoke up about this fact. They dragged the American media for the routinely discrepant way it portrays black boys–as intrinsically violent or anti-social rather than age appropriately defiant or immature.

But what I have to say is–black people–we need to watch the ways in which we adultify and parentify our own children because we do, even though I hate to admit it.

We need to be vigilant about our own tendency to regard grown black men as “kids” that cannot make responsible decisions and cover for their lapses in judgment or into dysfunction, which puts a rubber stamp on head games like the one the media tried to play in its defense of Ryan Lochte.

I say this because at the same time that Ryan Lochte was touring the morning talk shows, trying to slip out of giving a proper apology for what he had done, a 14-year-old black girl named Bresha Meadows was being peripherally discussed; she was standing accused of having killed her father for being abusive toward her mother.

Her father was a 41-year-old man that had reportedly battered her mother for years.

After years of witnessing this, and some say being abused herself, on July 28, Bresha allegedly shot her father with a gun he routinely used to threaten the family–a girl with no history of personal violence.

The family immediately rushed to her defense, justifying her actions by corroborating reports of her father’s abusive behavior, and her mother made sure to tell reporters, however sincerely and/or strategically that Bresha was “[her] hero.”

“I wasn’t strong enough to get out and she helped me,” Mom said. With tears in her eyes and sorrow written all over her face, I’m sure.

And this is where I want to insert my argument–right in this place where Mom allowed circumstances to become such that Bresha–a kid–had to step up, stand in, and do a woman’s job.

Or a man’s job if we buy into the concept that as someone with an obvious problem, Dad, too, could’ve and should’ve sought help. Which I do.

Either way you want to look at it, the bottom-line is Bresha Meadows is not an adult. She isn’t a woman. She’s a little girl.

And so she shouldn’t have had to end her father’s abuse; she should’ve been cloistered from it by the other adults in her life.

Her father, on the other end of it, wasn’t a child; he should’ve been held accountable by his wife and other adult family members for his unwillingness to seek help for his obvious issues with violence.

It’s important that black people take time to reflect on these concepts because if we do not want white people or people in authority positions to adultify our children, then we can’t adultify our children. We have to acknowledge, protect, preserve, and respect their childhood just like we want other to do.

Black kids are often perceived as less “child-like” because they are physiologically more developed than their white counterparts, yes–they are heavier and undergo puberty much earlier–but a lot of the time they signify as older through psycho-social cues–the way they talk, the way they act, the way they appear to think.

This is because too many black kids are made to deal with situations that are “older” than they are or than the situations with which they should be rightfully dealing at their age.

I’m not talking about having to go without the new Pokemon game for your Nintendo 3DS because the electric bill was higher than usual this month, and the discretionary or miscellaneous budget for the house is smaller. No. That sort of thing is understandable, minor aspect of life for working or poor families with limited resources.

I’m talking about having to take care of your younger siblings because of your mother’s incessant dating and/or partying or adamant refusal to use birth control.

I’m talking about being made to get on the phone and ask your father about his child support payments because your mother refuses to do it.

I’m talking about having to fend off your parent’s predatory lover because he or she doesn’t have high enough self-esteem or a high enough level of self-reliance to separate from this person and put you out of their reach.

I’m talking about having to shoot your father to protect your mother because she won’t get help to grow mentally strong enough to leave her abusive marriage, your father won’t get help to stop battering your mother, and the other adults in the family won’t intervene and take you and/or your siblings out of the household in which the abuse is taking place out of some misguided notion of “respecting” your parents’ rights.

If those of us that actually walk the walk of adulthood know one thing, it’s that being an adult necessitates that we make tough decisions and deal with painful circumstances as a matter of course.

But if we have decided to take on parenting or the custodianship or guardianship of a child or multiple children–if we have adduced our status as “adults” in that way–in order to “qualify” for that level of responsibility–then we have to be women and men about it.

We have to be the adults that we claim to be.

Black people love to talk about how “grown” they are. That’s a favorite phrase of ours. “I’m a grown-ass woman/I’m a grown-ass man.”

But being a grown person is more than a matter of standing in the middle of the floor and making declarations.

And claiming to be an adult then displacing responsibility for a situation onto a child, or simply leaving a problem for a child to solve, because you don’t have the guts to do it yourself is unfair and actually somewhat unsavory.

If you create a problem using the autonomy and agency that adulthood affords you, then you should solve it, not leave it up to your kids to solve.

Because I believe that when we adultify and parentify our kids in this way, it makes it that much easier for white people to do it–to propagate a concept of black children as pathological that they can then use to frame them.

The reason Zimmerman was able to get off in his trial is because it was easy for the jury to believe that a 17-year-old black boy can pose a lethal threat to a 28-year-old man.

It was easy for the jury to believe this because so many 17-year-old black boys are forced by their home situations to act like men–to physically defend their mothers and siblings against older men, to physically care for their siblings like a father, to work full-time rather than go to school so they can earn enough money to pay bills, to fend for themselves in the streets for survival because they were kicked out by frustrated or overwhelmed parents–I can go on and on.

This isn’t exclusive to our boys, and it isn’t exclusive to our kids, either, but I do think that adultifying and parentifying our children may have more dangerous ramifications than we like to entertain as we go about our day-to-day lives. Serious cultural ramifications.

This is why we as actual black adults should do everything we can to allow our kids to live as kids while they are kids and develop into adults at the natural, appropriate pace, in as much as we can do so.

Whether we want to admit it or not, when we don’t slay our own dragons, we are inviting our children to do it for us out of love and loyalty, and this isn’t conducive to anything but causing them undue damage most of the time.

Let me say that more plainly: It’s not our children’s place to be our heroes, rather it’s our obligation to protect and take holistic care of them.

That’s what raising kids is. Bracing their backs and picking them up when they fall. Bandaging their wounds and kissing away their tears.

Ryan Lochte is not a kid, but Bresha Meadows is, and, now, she’s being charged with aggravated murder.

There is no lie that can get her out of this, and the truth, though moving, might not acquit her either.

She doesn’t belong in prison for what she’s done, but it’s very likely that she might end up there, considering how little anyone seems to believe in black innocence or value black lives these days.

And I’m guessing one of the arguments the prosecutor will make against her–to get her there–is she should be punished as an adult since she acted as one.