Where’s “There”?

Had a great talk with the folks at the dentist office the other day, really nice people. We usually talk about a lot. Wait, I should say they talk a lot as I usually have fingers, drills and cleaning tools stuck in my mouth. I usually nod, grunt, and use my hands to agree, shrug, or finger wag disapproval at whatever they’re discussing with me. But that day was different, I had cracked a crown and they had to take a good look at it, deem it still usable, smooth the jagged edges, and then talked about eventually replacing it.

But if I was in the chair dealing with the tooth for ten minutes the rest of the hour was about The College Kid’s first visit there…finally after all this time at the pediatric dentist. They wondered how he fit in the chair there and marveled at how nice, polite, and mature he is. Many kudos were tossed my way and I told them that yes, they were right to offer praise, but most of it was due to his mother and his own efforts…then, of course, I proceeded to take the lion’s share of the credit. I kid. I’m proud as fuck about that kid. At 18 he is fast becoming the man I’d always hoped to be.

But then we talked about is how parenting changes us over the life of our children. And how parenting, and the relationships we have with our children can change us. At first, parenting mellowed me. Now, being the parent of two children of dual racial identity, it has me as riled me up like I was as a younger man in the sixties and seventies and as a professional, working as a diversity training facilitator and as a corporate leadership coach from the early 80’s onward.

Both of my children have a white mom (Yes Virginia, I married a white girl!) and they have been raised being exposed to both their  Irish/Scotch Irish heritage as well as my family’s African/Creole bloodlines. Our College Freshman identifies himself as “Black” even though to all outward appearances he looks white. Our daughter looks the same and occasionally drops the “You know my dad’s a Black man!” on children and/or adults in her presence who stray over the line of racial propriety in her opinion.

We’ve always been open with our kids about the important subjects; religion, race, economics, politics, fairness, acceptance of differences, etc. While there are many that may call us very liberal (we let our son pierce his ear when he was nine, for example) we have been very demanding that they finish what they start, get the best grades they can in school, do their chores, and always be respectful of other people. Our son, on hearing what he considered some erroneous commentary from a social studies teacher on the Civil Rights movement corrected what was said and pointed out that not only did he have a seminar on race and this country’s efforts towards social justice just about every night at the dinner table but that it was headed by a father that marched in the sixties and was a student leader of the movement on his college campus.

My daughter has twice had me in to give an oral history of the Civil Rights Movement in her elementary and middle school social science classes. I still run into children from both of those classes, and their parents, who thank me for giving them a ground level perspective on the history of the movement.

My kids have always been shown the dream, they always heard me talk about what a just place I have worked for this country to be, always looking forward to arriving closer to “there”.

“There” was always a decolonized place, some might say a utopia, a dream land where race, gender identity, religion (or no religion), sexual orientation, age, and ability weren’t markers. “There” was the country I wanted my children and grandchildren to grow and thrive in, for them to become the fruitful and contributing citizens of the ever widening world. “There” is a place where my fourteen year old daughter wouldn’t come home wondering why her religious peers seem so bigoted against those other kids who had a different religion, or why they had so many rules that didn’t seem to include treating ‘others’ fairly.

“There” was where everyone wasn’t mean to people just because they were different. It wasn’t where people claimed colorblindness as a virtue. It wasn’t a place where people recognizing their white privilege was enough to level the playing field. It wasn’t a place where ‘having a conversation about racial justice’ was a good place to start.

No, that conversation has been happening on these shores for fucking centuries.

“There” was where actual progress was made and people regardless of political leaning, regardless of race or national origin recognized how differently they perceived the world but made a concerted effort to actually talk, and LISTEN, to the ‘other’. It was where dialogue occurred between left and right, or Black and white and problems were looked upon as something to be solved as opposed to something to come up with sound bites and bumper sticker slogans to ‘win’ people over to your side of the argument.

I’m floored that while people get jacked up about symbolic change (see the removal of the Confederate battle flag from license plates and state capital grounds); yet so many more of them ask me and mine to be less militant about red lining, rapacious mortgage practices, queer baiting politicians, extra judicial killing of Black folks, religious intolerance, dog whistle racist comments, and lip serving political correctness when it comes time to make the world a more accessible place for other abled citizens.

Nope, I’m done. Having my kids face essentially the same bullshit I did just isn’t sitting well with me and while I realize this post is more rant than I’d care for it to be I don’t feel any better for having ranted. No, it hasn’t accomplished anything except to tell you dear readers what I’m asking for by this blog’s title.

It’s a journey, not a destination. It’s a life’s work which I clearly see will not be accomplished in my life time. Regardless I’m on it, I’m doing the work and will infuse as much of my creative endeavors with my wish to get, no, create, that “There” with or without you. But it would be so much better with you. We all remember the quotes and the misuse of Martin King’s phrase “I have a dream”. It wrapped his fiery radicalism in a neat, acceptable to white people package that a lot of folks refuse to unwrap to get to the core of it, to understand the hard work of dismantling privilege and the vast inequalities in our society.

That’s alright. Imagination has power and in spite of what confronts us I can still imagine a just country in a fair and equal world.

What’s that? You may say I’m a dreamer…

I know I’m not the only one!

 

 

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Who is The Rootman?

 

Rootman

“If you listen when you quiet you can always hear a drum beat. And it always tells you what you need to know.”

The Rootman

Who do you talk to when you need someone to talk to?

Who gives you inspiration? Who helps you figure shit out? Who makes the world a clearer place for you?

When you talk to yourself and ask yourself questions, whose voice(s) answer you?

My daughter has pointed out that I have several verbal ‘ticks’ that randomly come whispering out of my mouth at the oddest times. Like when I’m cleaning the kitchen, putting plates, pots and pans away, or storing utensils I’ll utter “cha-cha-cha” for example. I have no idea I’m saying it and can’t for the life of me remember where I might have picked it up. But it reminds me that I have a lot of voices in my head, a lot of influences that impact me and I don’t always recognize them. But I treasure them. They’ve reflected both real life experience and informed my intuition. They are guides and gifts. And I suppose they might even be musically inclined. Certainly they help keep me grounded and connected to experiences I’ve had over the years.

Years ago I wrote an old post about a storyteller I met at a very crucial time in my life.

His answers to my questions gave me a firm understanding of how I make choices. Sometimes I use simplistic, rational methods, like the Ben Franklin ledger and other times (hell, most times) I use that little voice in my head. While I can’t say either method has consistently guided me to a perfect life I know I am exactly where I’m supposed to be. And I’m pretty happy about it too.

So, this whole Conversations with The Rootman thing…

Root is a melange, sometimes very noisy, sometimes babble-like, sometimes very clear. But always a voice in my head. He ain’t heavy, he ain’t me, he’s more Anansi in how he looks and sounds most times but sometimes he’s a former lover talking to me in soft whispers, admonishing me to listen as passionately as I speak.

I never have to call him, he just shows up, sometimes actually writing a post on my facebook page, sometimes telling me what to post. He hovers a lot, but never fact checks (“Facts is liars’s lies!”) and when I feel a need for him he’s nowhere in earshot. Those times I just have to imagine what he’d say. When that happens I remember what it was like talking to Clifton (see ‘an old post’ above), or one of my several wise uncles.

Or my mom, or her mother, my grandmother…

Or I remember those long days and nights with my drum brothers, carrying ourselves back to the bush, to where our African spirits were born, beating rhythms back to our true hearts.

What fonts of wisdom are there for you? Are they real people, existing now, or spirits of those long gone?

I’m so very fortunate to have wise friends I can text, IM, or call.

And I love my ghosts too. All of them are The Rootman.

Stuck Chuck

It took me weeks to write this year’s family holiday letter. You know, that piece of fluff some people slip inside the Christmas/Seasonal card that Hallmark makes to give everybody some sort of lift at winter solstice. It took me awhile to recognize why I had no desire to be glib about my family’s accomplishments during the year even though we certainly enjoyed a classic period of transition and success. There was cloudy weather obscuring it for me. There was anger and sadness. There was a desire to yell and march. And there was so much frustration, exhaustion and ennui. But most of all while I was being pulled by all sorts of emotions I was afraid to write.

This in spite of my promise to post once a week to my blog, I couldn’t think of a single thing that would hold my attention.

Then this morning as I woke up I thought maybe this first post on my blog shouldn’t be about anything specific. No, it should be a promise, a nudge to myself and a ‘warning’ to any readers I might have about my intention. If you’ve ever spent any time on my Facebook page you already know I post about my family and all the wide ranging things that impact me socially, racially, intellectually, and artistically.

I’ll write about those things but more importantly I’ll heed the advice of a dear friend who today posted this on Facebook:

“Today, consider facing the conversations, revelations, and facts you fear the most. Be kind to yourself and others along the way. You’ll be glad you did.”

I have enough faith in that last sentence to believe the effort to confront fear will be worthwhile. I’ve said that before. I’ve even started writing in this blog as you might note it’s been some time since my last post and the reason why is because while I’ve faced my fears myself, in quiet conversations with therapists, family members and a few close friends I’ve never really opened them up in a space like this.

My biggest fear is writing will really expose me. When I write, even just the scribbles in my journals, I expose myself…so I stopped writing in my journals except when it feels like I’ll burst if I don’t get the thought or feeling down on paper. I wanted to always show some version of myself that was happy; content with the life I’m living, sitting at the best seat at the table while the part of me that was angry, or more importantly, the part of me that was sad, stayed far in the background.

Not that I want to make this just about me. I wouldn’t necessarily find that at interesting to write about, nor would I want to consistently read it. I don’t think I’m that clever or entertaining nor would I want to waste that much time navel gazing. But I do want to provoke thought and feeling, mine and yours. I want to promote healing (see previous post) and continue being of service in some way.

And I want to grow as a writer, I want to master the skill and the best way to do that is to write more and to leave myself open to comments about both the content and the way I express it. Hopefully it will not take as long to write a weekly post as it did to write my holiday letter.

PS I’ll be working on making this site a little more attractive, too. I want to include some photos, maybe even some new poetry!