Life On The B Side

Taking all that life throws at us one moment at a time

Representation Matters February 16, 2018

I remember sharing some of my stories with a friend several years ago – After she had poured out her heart to me about her father and his failings.

 

I haven’t spoken with my father in over 10 years.  At 10 and 11 years old, my children don’t know him.

The last time I saw my father I walked past him as he was standing in a line at the airport.  I said hi.  He said hi.  The end.  Later that same day, still at the airport, he went to the bathroom at the same time as my son – (I waited at the entrance since it was a male restroom) – They both exited at about the same time.  He went one way and my son and I went the other.  My son had no idea his grandfather had just been standing next to him at the urinal.

One year, back when we did have a relationship, he forgot my birthday and then called me to let me know that he had forgotten my birthday.  Thanks.

Years ago, I had stopped by his job one day to visit.  He introduced me to a coworker who was shocked to meet me.  The coworker had no idea that I existed.  At the time there was a picture of my 2 younger sisters sitting on my fathers desk.

The coworker: How many kids DO you have?

The father: Two.

The coworker: You mean three.

The father: Oh, you mean including this one?  Then yes, three.

 

I shared a few more with her, but you guys don’t need to hear them.  I’m not trying to put my father on blast here by sharing these things.  I am getting to a point.

My friend, upon hearing my stories responded with … “You wanna know something?  I never thought things like that happened in white families.  I always thought they lived perfect lives and didn’t have the same issues as black families.  The whole time I was growing up, I told myself that I either would never have children or I would only have children with a white man.”

Sorry to burst your bubble friend.

 

In her book, radio personality Danni Starr shares a story that includes the following passage:

 

I remember as a kid I would pretend I was invisible when black men were around me.  I would hold my breath, squeeze my eyes shut, and will myself invisible.  They scared me.  I wasn’t afraid of white men, and why would I be?  I saw them rescue people on Rescue 911, save lives on ER, report on the news …  The only times I ever saw black men were if they were wanted for committing a crime.  Representation matters!

 

There’s a reason that Davina Bennett became an international sensation when she was crowned Miss Jamaica Universe last year and then made it to the top 3 in the Miss Universe pageant.

Little black girls with tight curls had never seen someone like her being called the most beautiful woman in the world.  The goal for many of us has always been longer, straighter hair with fairer skin.  I was asked recently to send pictures of myself with my curls in full effect so that someone I know could show them to her daughter who was struggling with accepting her curly hair as being beautiful.  She’s 9 years old and already questioning her own gorgeousness.

 

I hear a lot of people saying things like … “Why do gay people have to be so open about their orientation; so public about their relationships?  No-one cares who you are sleeping with.

I know you’ve heard them.  “Just play your sport, perform in your show, manufacture our cell phones and be quiet.”

There are many reasons why those are flawed questions or statements.  But one of the main ones is that people DO care.  It’s still being argued whether or not gay people should be humans worthy of having all the same rights as straight people.  In many families, gay kids are still being kicked out onto the street.  Gay people face hurdles trying to get employment, adopt children, heck even trying to get a wedding cake that straight people do not have to face.  To young people, that matters.  If you spend your entire life hearing your family say how evil gayness is, or how hard of a life it is, that affects you and you begin to hate your very self.  This is not acceptable.  Self hate is a particularly cruel kind of hate because there is no escape from it.  It follows you everywhere in your mind, even in your dreams.

Just today, I read the blog post of a mom whose heart is breaking for her child – because his heart is broken.  As she says, “He’s not yet a sexual or romantic being”, yet she wrote a post titled “My 11 year old was just dumped by his best friend because he’s gay.”  It’s every bit as sad as you can imagine.  She’s not wrong to worry about him – And he is fortunate enough to have a loving and supportive family.

 

At times, C.J. was inconsolable. I watched him shivering on the couch and struggling to catch his breath between sobs. This is one of the reasons why some LGBTQ and gender expansive kids kill themselves. This is why some of them sink into depression, turn to drugs, drop out of school and participate in unsafe sexual situations. This is why some mothers with children like mine find their arms empty one day.

I worry that C.J. can’t take this kind of pain and rejection for years on end. He can’t have nights like this multiplied by seven more years of school and an infinite number of classmates who will hate him for who he loves and what he wears.

 

Seeing gay people just go about their normal lives is important.  It takes away the “scariness”.  Seeing happily married and monogamous same sex couples matters.  Seeing the Olympic figure skater, Adam Rippon be unapologetic about who he is, matters.  Seeing CEO’s be out and proud and still successful in their careers makes a difference and portraying gay TV characters in a way that is positive helps to shape young minds.  It  gives them permission to believe in themselves.  To believe that they too can one day can be something of value to their community.  They are not doomed to a life of drugs and prostitution and abuse.

 

I saw an interview recently in which Chadwick Boseman of the Black Panther movie was talking about the affect the movie was having on black children and how surprised he was by the reaction.  He choked up when he spoke about 2 little boys he met who had terminal cancer and who both said they just wanted to live long enough to watch the movie.

But it’s just a movie, he thought at first.  How could it possibly be that important to these kids and their families?  But then they told him it’s not just a movie.  It’s a movie, made by people who look like them, starring people who look like them, telling a story about people who look like them in a strong and powerful way.  The same was true of the importance of the movie Hidden Figures.  Seeing black girls overcome all the hatred that was thrown at them to still shine bright in their science and math fields changes the narrative in the minds of other young black girls about what’s possible for their own futures.

 

This weekend Black Panther opens up in the theaters and there’s been a lot of hype about it.  I have no reason to believe it does anything other than depict black people as being magnificent – No cussing, no naked women, no drug dealers or baby mommas.  You can bet I’ll be taking my boys to see it.  Because while you can find examples to support why a lot of the negative ideas about our community are true – It sure as hell is also true that we are smart and brave and good at science and articulate and those things need to be highlighted.

I don’t want my sons to ever have any self hate.  There will be enough of it coming from outside.  If one or both of them are gay, I don’t want them to ever feel badly about it or wonder if they are in fact evil or broken or worth less.  I don’t want them to have any doubts about their value as a friend or their ability to be valedictorian or a boss or an artist or an astronaut because of their brown skin.  I will expose them to as many different kinds of people as I can who are doing amazing things, so they can see that it’s what’s on the inside that counts the most.

 

 

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