02 August 2012

race based rant...or why i have no family coming to my wedding...

Well, I'll be getting married in the next 48 hours. Sorry ladies, have to keep those vaginas locked up and save them for some other man. But seriously, it seems like there should be some time I should be nervous about this, but if it hasn't happened yet, i'm pretty sure the nervousness is not going to happen. But even though i'm not nervous, the specter of a wedding does have its ability to weigh heavy on the heart. But for me, it's for a very different reason.

My parents are both from very large families from the deep south- this background is at the core of almost all of their decisions and thus at the core of my values as well. Being from Hope, Arkansas would not be a very big deal: except it's the home of the former President of the United States, Bill Clinton, who happened to be the same age as my mother (this led to many times when people would ask if my mom and President Clinton were classmates, to which the answer was always "Hope was segregated. We never met.). The segregation of Hope is at the core of the rift in my family that never seemed to heal...

...my parents both felt that Hope, as a name of a town, couldn't have been more of a misnomer. My dad viewed the town as pretty hopeless, and left town as soon as he could (as many others had before him, but usually in the military and would return after duty to take their rightful place in Hope- a laborer), except he left to attend the University of California, Berkeley. My father was an exceptional student and I'm sure he was absolutely brilliant and could have just skated by on intellect, but nobody will ever know, as he was the most driven, focused and hard working person I ever met (I sometimes wonder whether that gene just skipped me entirely).  He would have preferred to attend The University of Arkansas, but was not admitted to the engineering department (as the engineering department weren't readily accepting Black students), which forced his hand. The decision to leave Arkansas to attend college (and to not attend a Historically Black College and Universities) was frowned upon, and viewed as a way to distance himself from Hope-which they read as distancing from Black People. It meant that for choosing to pursue an education and make himself a better person, he was evaluated as less black by some and as not black by others. Knowing what i know about my dad, this must have killed him inside, as I have never met a more proud Black man, but also knowing The Man, I know he did what he felt he needed to do to make himself a better person. He moved to CA, got his BS, MS and PhD and carved out a nice life for himself, and was able to provide for himself and his family....my mother knew of my dad in the way you know of the older siblings of your friends. My mom and dad grew up in the same town, and my dad is friends with a couple of my mothers older brothers, through school and sports and general tom-foolery. My mom was absolutely brilliant and, from the words of her siblings, was just bored intellectually (as most of my family was apparently- grandma had granddad leave her when my mom was really young, yet grandma had 8/9 kids with Masters Degrees, PhD's, JD's or MD's, so clearly she did that shit right). There has been no precedent of people leaving to get their education from the area, and the only story my mom knew about leaving was that of my Dad leaving, so she just figured out what he did and followed his footsteps- literally- same classes, same extra curricular activities, similar subjects on the application letter (obviously). And it led to the same result. Except this time, residents of Hope had some empirical evidence to indicate the decision to distance oneself from Hope (my dad hadn't been back but once in 4 years- nobody ever though about how expensive it might be to get from Berkeley to Hope to get home to visit, and the fact that NOBODY came to his graduation from Cal (or from grad school at Stanford) should be indicative of the effort being made on the other end). So when my mom decided to move to Berkeley, they straight up called her a sellout and proclaimed "she'd marry a white man."

My parents met while at Cal, fell in love and the rest ended up history. Their claims of becoming white-washed were dead in the water. Two intelligent, articulate and capable Black people, married and raising a family. You'd think this would be a good thing. But then you'd be "thinking" again, and look at all the problems that's caused in the history of time and man. The family just figured if they didn't become white-washed, then it would be their kids that would become white-washed. Their kids, for whom I am the sole survivor.

I have spent my whole life being treated like i didn't belong by members of my own family. For the most part, my parents DIDN'T go back to Hope. The bitterness felt by both of my parents for their attempts to make themselves better people made the town a place they generally tried to avoid. However, when your parents (mom's mom and dad had both parents) still live in Hope, as does most of your extended family, you have to make your periodic visits. Which meant I had to take visits to Hope, which was a different world from where I grew up and was living at the time (Minnesota), I would be constantly reminded that i was "different" than the other kids in my family (I "talk white", i "play stupid games" (soccer), i'm "always reading", etc.). These are things that I'd always done, and they made me different than most of the "people" i was around. It never made any sense that these issues were, pardon the pun, Black and White. It also meant that, at least once while I was in Hope, someone would make fun of me, pick a fight with me and find out that, despite me being small and "talking white" i wasn't about to let you lay hands on me, and I was more than adept at the art of self-defense (and sometimes opponent attack)- it meant i got to kick the shit out of someone, once a trip, for thinking they could pick on the kid not like them. My parents felt it was a bad influence on me, so at one point we just stopped going, and I haven't been back to Hope in over 20 years. But it does mean that, for the last 20 years, my extended family has been using ME as an example of what happens when you leave Hope. You talk white, you act white and you marry a white woman. Which is at the core for why my family and I are at this point estranged.

I will have no family at my wedding. My immediate family is all deceased, with both my parents being gone for well over a decade. There isn't a time when I don't miss them. But at this particular time, I REALLY REALLY miss them. I'd like my mom to be here to be able to hug Carol, to tell her how happy she was for her and for us and, selfishly, to hug her myself and have her tell me how happy she is for me. I'd just love to see her smile again. I'd love to have my dad here, as it seems that one of the things Dad's want to do most is to talk to their sons the day before they're married. I'd love to take in the wisdom of what it takes to have a happy marriage. I know I have other resources that can offer me this information- I work at a Catholic school and can talk to a priest. Carol's parents have been married some obnoxiously long time. I have many many friends I could lean onto about this. But it seems that your DAD is the person who is supposed to tell you how to do this, in the same way he's supposed to teach you how to be a man....i don't have a lot of extended family I'd even be willing to invite to my wedding, but the only one I did invite won't come. He's in the school of thought that "I shouldn't marry a White woman. I won't object to it, but I won't support it. It'll just have to be one of those things we'll have to agree to disagree about." His distrust of White people, in general, makes it so that, even though he recognizes that I love Carol and that she makes me happy, he can't put aside his disdain for the race, in general, to believe that I could love someone of that race. This is my Dad's twin brother, a man that has played the role of surrogate father for me since my dad died. And he won't come. When push came to shove, and I asked him to explain why, he said this "You can never take the Hope out of you."

Which is why my parents left Hope.  Which is why I am the way I am. Which is why I have no family coming to my wedding.

Totally. Worth. It.

1 comment:

  1. Hey. Not sure when you gave me the link to your blog, but I've had it in my list of ones to read ever since...

    This was an amazing post and I'm glad I was able to read it.

    Congratulations to you and Carol, and I wish you two all the best and an AMAZING celebration!