Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense | Black Agenda Report

 

Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense

by Lindsey E. Jones

Recent scholarship in the history of black women and the carceral state illustrates the extent to which systems of criminal justice and law enforcement have both historically failed to protect black female victims of domestic violence and criminalized black women who rise up in their own defense.

Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense

by Lindsey E. Jones

This article previously appeared in the blog of the African American Intellectual History Society.

Legal systems in this country explicitly and implicitly render black women defenseless against intra- and interracial violence.”

The case of Bresha Meadows, an African American teenage girl in Ohio, is a sad commentary on the failure of the state to protect victims of domestic violence. After a lifetime of watching him physically and psychologically abuse her mother—and of being subjected to threats and verbal abuse, along with her siblings—Bresha allegedly shot her father to death while he slept on July 28, 2016. While her mother’s family and her attorney consider her actions to have been in self-defense, the county prosecutor has charged Bresha with aggravated murder. It remains to be seen whether she will be tried as a juvenile or as an adult. At stake is the possibility that Bresha, who marked her fifteenth birthday in juvenile hall just weeks after her arrest, could spend the rest of her life in prison if convicted as an adult.

While the case is making its way through the courts and the families of Brandi Meadows (Bresha’s mother) and Jonathan Meadows (Bresha’s deceased father) share conflicting stories with news media about the latter’s personality and propensity toward violence, as well as their conflicting opinions about premeditation versus self-defense, it is important to note that this case is neither isolated nor entirely new. Recent scholarship in the history of black women and the carceral state illustrates the extent to which systems of criminal justice and law enforcement have both historically failed to protect black female victims of domestic violence and criminalized black women who rise up in their own defense.

“Survivors of intimate partner violence dramatically overrepresented among incarcerated black women.”

Historian Kali Gross, in providing historical context to the case of Marissa Alexander, argues that the state’s willingness to condemn this woman for defending herself against an abusive husband points back through centuries of American history to “the legacies of an exclusionary politics of protection whereby black women were not entitled to the law’s protection, though they could not escape its punishment.” Gross traces the ways in which “racialized, gendered notions of protection” have, from the seventeenth century on, shaped legal systems in this country that explicitly and implicitly render black women defenseless against intra- and interracial violence. She argues that this exclusionary politics of protection fuels the current mass incarceration crisis, with survivors of intimate partner violence dramatically overrepresented among incarcerated black women.1

Bresha Meadows’s case exemplifies Gross’s concept of the exclusionary politics of protection. This past May, Bresha ran away from home to the home of an aunt, Martina Latessa. Latessa, a police officer working in a domestic violence unit in Cleveland, was forced to return Bresha to her father, who had reported the girl as having been kidnapped by her aunt. Latessa reported her brother-in-law to Family Services, which resulted in an agent interviewing Brandi Meadows about the allegations of abuse—as Jonathan Meadows sat beside her. Neither law enforcement nor the state bureaucracy could protect Brandi Meadows and her children from this abuse, which she and her family assert intensified after this incident. As a result of the state’s failure to end the cycle of trauma in her family, Bresha Meadows took matters into her own hands—and was charged with aggravated murder, for which she could potentially spend the rest of her life in prison.

Gross’s essay compellingly reveals the intersections of race, gender, and class in black women’s hyper-vulnerability to domestic violence; state failure to prevent or put a stop to said violence; and the too-common outcome of black women being incarcerated for offenses resulting from attempting to defend themselves against domestic violence. However, as the case of Bresha Meadows illustrates, there is another vector of identity that often doesn’t appear in our historical analyses of black females and the carceral state: that is, age.2

“For black women in the Jim Crow South—as in antebellum times—domestic violence was constitutive of domestic labor.”

Where race, gender, and class have worked together to create the conditions discussed above, the erasure of age difference has historically created disadvantages for black girl victims of domestic violence. One prominent example recently provided by historian LaShawn Harris is that of Virginia Christian. Often referred to as the first woman to be executed by the Commonwealth of Virginia, Christian was in reality a seventeen-year-old girl when she was killed by electric chair in 1912—a fact that her advocates hoped would persuade the state to show her mercy.3

Virginia Christian belonged to a working-class black family in Hampton, Virginia, and needed to work in order to contribute to her household, including her disabled mother. From the age of thirteen, she served as a laundress for a middle-class white family named Belote in Hampton. During a dispute about missing jewelry that turned physical, Virginia killed the matriarch of the family—a crime she confessed to committing in self-defense. Harris argues that “Christian’s act of self-defense delineated working-class African American women’s impetuous ways of protecting their bodies and their often last attempts to seek and secure long-awaited personal justice—especially when legal protection seemed beyond their reach.” While there is no archival evidence that Ida Belote had laid hands upon Virginia Christian prior to this altercation, there is plenty of evidence to demonstrate that for black women in the Jim Crow South—as in antebellum times—domestic violence was constitutive of domestic labor, the racially prescribed set of occupations for black women and girls.4

Christian’s response was most immediately triggered by Belote’s accusations of theft and subsequent physical assault on March 18, 1912, but it is conceivable that she was also responding to other physical and psychological traumas accumulated over three years of working in the Belote household.

The analogy from Virginia Christian in 1912 to Bresha Meadows in 2016 is imperfect, but these cases both illustrate the extent to which the state has failed to consider age in evaluating black girls’ actions in self-defense from domestic violence. Sadly, over a century later, Bresha’s advocates find themselves making very similar demands of a system that hasn’t changed enough since Virginia’s trial, and employing very similar tactics in their pursuit of mercy for this abused adolescent girl.

“In the minds of whites, the accused, regardless of her age, was a deviant and vulgar black murderess that had to be punished for her crime.”

In the case of Virginia Christian, the Commonwealth of Virginia ignored evidence that Christian committed the crime at sixteen years of age in order to prevent her minority status from impeding its plan to execute her. Harris argues that, “in the minds of whites, the accused, regardless of her age, was a deviant and vulgar black murderess that had to be punished for her crime; essentially, Christians’ race trumped her gender and age. By denying Christian of her adolescent status, the State of Virginia sought to punish her to the full extent of the law.”5

Black and white Americans wrote letters and circulated petitions pleading with the Commonwealth to consider Christian’s youth as a factor in her crime and her punishment and to commute her sentence from execution to life in prison. In the end, neither Christian’s appeal to self-defense, nor her advocates’ appeal to adolescence, could spare her from the lethal retribution of the state.

In a throwback to the campaign to spare Virginia Christian’s life in 1912, advocates of Bresha Meadows are writing letters and circulating petitions in the hope that local prosecutors take into account her age and her status as a survivor of domestic violence as they proceed with charges against her. Because of the Supreme Court’s 2005 decision in Roper v. Simmons that it is unconstitutional to execute a person for a crime committed under eighteen years of age, the death penalty is not on the table for Bresha. However, because prosecutors could decide to try her in adult court, it is a real possibility that she could be sentenced to life in prison.

A century after Virginia Christian’s advocates passionately and strategically petitioned the Commonwealth of Virginia for life imprisonment, Bresha’s advocates argue that no adolescent should spend life in prison—especially not a girl pushed toward drastic action by a lifetime of trauma and abuse. There is thankfully still time for the prosecutors of Trumbull County to give real weight to Bresha Meadows’ traumatic life history, and to the fact that it spans fifteen short years, as they decide what action to pursue.

Lindsey E. Jones is a PhD Candidate in History of Education at the University of Virginia’s Curry School of Education and a 2016-2018 Pre-doctoral Fellow at the Carter G. Woodson Institute for African-American and African Studies at the University of Virginia. Her dissertation project, “‘Not a Place of Punishment’: the Virginia Industrial School for Colored Girls, 1915-1940,” historicizes the education and incarceration of black girls by examining Virginia’s only reformatory for delinquent African American girls. Follow her on Twitter @noumenal_woman.

NOTES:

1. Kali N. Gross, “African American Women, Mass Incarceration, and the Politics of Protection,” Journal of American History 102, no.1 (2015), 25–33.

2. For a contemporary examination of black girls, interpersonal violence, and the carceral state, see Jody Miller, Getting Played: African American Girls, Urban Inequality, and Gendered Violence (New York: NYU Press, 2008).

3. Lashawn Harris, “The ‘Commonwealth of Virginia vs. Virginia Christian’: Southern Black Women, Crime & Punishment in Progressive Era Virginia,” Journal of Social History 47, no.4 (2014), 922–42.

4. See, for instance: Tera W. Hunter, To ’Joy My Freedom: Southern Black Women’s Lives and Labors after the Civil War (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997); Thavolia Glymph, Out of the House of Bondage: The Transformation of the Plantation Household (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2003); Sarah Haley, “‘Like I Was a Man’: Chain Gangs, Gender, and the Domestic Carceral Sphere in Jim Crow Georgia,” Signs 39 (Autumn 2013).

5. Harris cites “a 1910 Virginia statue prohibiting death to ‘any child under seventeen years of age who is charged with any felony, and never having been heretofore convicted in any court of a misdemeanor’” (931).

Source: Black Girls, Domestic Violence, and the Limits of Self-Defense | Black Agenda Report

Respectability politics are making black Americans sick — Quartz

Pull up your pants. Straighten your hair. Stop using the n-word.

blackamericans1
Black Americans have long been told that there is a “right” way to act in order to secure racial equality and individual promotion in the United States. Often, these recommendations are made by other black Americans attempting to mute certain cultural aesthetics in order to make white Americans feel comfortable in their presence. I recently attended a lecture where a middle-aged black American man explained that he yearned for the days when black men “had grace.” He posted a picture of black men circa 1940 in Tuskegee, Alabama, standing in a cotton field wearing pressed white shirts and suspenders.
As journalist Aurin Squire explains, black respectability presumes that “systematic oppression can be overcome if we’re clean, mild, moderate, and economically successful.” Yet in a time when black men are nine times more likely to be shot and killed by the police and people still protest those who point out police brutality, policing the appearance of black Americans is, at best, beside the point.
But the issue isn’t just that respectability is irrelevant. New evidence suggests that the beliefs that inform respectability politics are bad for black Americans’ health.

According to the Journal of Behavioral Medicine, attributing success to personal characteristics instead of biased structural systems may negatively impact black Americans’ health. Nao Hagiwara and her colleagues at Virginia Commonwealth University explored whether the “just world” belief—the belief that the world is a just place where people get what they deserve—would influence the relationship between perceived discrimination and health consequences for 130 black adults.
The psychologists found that participants who both strongly believed that the world was a just place and reported experiencing high levels of discrimination were more likely than other blacks to suffer from chronic illnesses and increased blood pressure. Why? Because respectability politics tells black Americans that what is happening to them in this country is our fault. In other words, we’re to blame for the 9.5% unemployment rate among black Americans, the police who fatally shoot unarmed black men, and the teachers who expect less academic success from black students. If we just pulled our pants up a little higher and turned our music down, the systematic discrimination that informs nearly every sector of American life would disappear. If the world is just, then the injustice we experience in it is on us.
This thought is literally making people sick.
Health care and mental health practitioners should work to educate themselves on the current status of racial issues in the United States. And they should encourage their black patients to reframe how they look at their experiences. An understanding of individual accountability must be supplemented with a more contextual assessment of negative events. This reframing could alleviate the stress that’s associated with the belief that our behavior determines all of our experiences–even in a deeply racist and unjust society.
By seriously considering the social systems and racist encounters experienced by black Americans, health practitioners may help their patients better assess their experiences and select tailored methods for health improvement. Those charged with caring for black lives should be among the first acknowledge that they matter.
You can follow Veronica Womack on Twitter at @vwomackphd. This piece was originally published in New America’s digital magazine, The New America Weekly. We welcome your comments at ideas@qz.com.

Source: Respectability politics are making black Americans sick — Quartz

How Tobacco Companies Led A Devastating 50-Year Infiltration Into Black Communities

A college student’s film project reveals the targeted effort to push menthols onto the black populace.

 

Lincoln Mondy’s asthma is probably the only reason why he’s never smoked a cigarette.

Doctors warned his parents about the dangerous effects their smoking habit could have on their son, but it was almost impossible to stop because in Farmersville, Texas, “tobacco is everything,” according to Mondy. At the age of 14, Mondy took matters into his own hands when he made a PowerPoint presentation for his mom, whom he lived with, which warned her about tobacco’s adverse effects. With the support of Mondy and other family members, his mother eventually quit smoking by the time he was 15. But getting his father to quit was a different beast to tackle.

My black family all smoked menthol,” Mondy, who is biracial, told The Huffington Post about a pattern he noticed on his paternal family’s side. “Like why do they smoke menthol but my white side dips and smokes cigarettes that aren’t menthol?”

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN TOBACCO CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL

Menthol is a flavoring additive that makes it easier to inhale smoke which makes it more addictive than non-menthol cigarettes, according to the Center for Disease Control. More than 70 percent of black smokers prefer menthol, as shown in the infographics (above and below) by the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council. After learning that black people are more likely to die from smoking-related diseases than whites, Mondy realized his father’s affinity for menthol wasn’t a coincidence.

The now 22-year-old senior at George Washington University, started to research the campaigns big tobacco companies used to target black communities for his film project,“Black Lives/Black Lungs.” The film was published in March in conjunction with Truth Initiative, and he found some very disturbing facts.

Check out “Black Lives/Black Lungs” in the video below and keep scrolling to continue the story.

Mondy searched for keywords within the Truth Tobacco Industry Documents database like “ethnic,” “ghetto,” “lower income” and “negro.” He found countless documents that outlined tobacco companies’ strategies in its campaigns which were aimed specifically at black people. He said the latter three search terms yielded results that surprised him, but it was a document from Lorlliard Tobacco that said “negroes” smoke menthol to “mask a real/mythical odor,” which he said disturbed him the most.

They started really seeing [that] saying menthols would make people think ‘fresh breath,’” Mondy said of his findings. “So in like the ‘60s they started targeting on that. They really started going really hard on ‘hey, smoke this, it’s healthier, fresh breath, minty,’ those kind of buzz words that would make people feel like its healthier than a regular cigarette.”

In addition to the language used in advertisements, these tobacco companies would buy a disproportionate amount of ad space in black publications like Ebony, Jet and Essence in comparison to mainstream magazines like Life, Vanity Fair and Elle. In 1962, Ebony carried twice as many cigarette ad pages as Life. These ads showed black men and women with cool and even empowering demeanors as they held a cigarette.

Many tobacco companies were ordered in 2014 by U.S. District Judge Gladys Kessler to run corrective statements in many publications about their overall misleading messages about the negative health effects of smoking in ads, but black media outlets were completely ignored.

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN TOBACCO CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL

Mondy also found that businessmen from tobaccos companies would take “ethnic field trips” to neighborhoods highly populated with black people in the ‘60s where they would stay for hours and give away menthol cigarettes.

“You’re getting them hooked for free,” Mondy said of the these “disturbing” marketing tactics by the tobacco companies. “So they’d go and take really impressive research to kind of pinpoint the culture and see what people like, what people don’t like. And then, maybe like three months later, after that one ethnic field trip, there’d be an ad targeted specifically to that population.”

Phillip Gardiner, public health activist and co-chair of the African American Tobacco Control Leadership Council, wrote in his 2002 study “The African Americanization of menthol cigarette use in the United States” — which Mondy refers to often in his research — that tobacco companies saw the distinct traits of the black community, philanthropy included, and adjusted their marketing accordingly to build the community’s trust:

“Because the industry was based in the South, and the majority of black people lived and worked in the South, even as many migrated to urban centers, it was to the advantage of the tobacco industry to develop a strategic relationship with the African-American community. Moreover, the tobacco industry was one of the first major corporate employers to hire and promote African-Americans, not just in the processing of tobacco but also as executives (Gardiner, 2001; Robinson & Sutton, 1994).”

Mondy called the tobacco industry’s infiltration into the black community “strategic.” Tobacco companies like Altria have donated millions of dollars to black institutions — including the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, historically black colleges and universities, and the NAACP — over the years. In 2014, Altria donated one million dollars to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture which opens this year. Mondy said these institutions would risk vital funding which could ultimately help them to have a positive impact on the black community if they spoke up against the tobacco companies.

They have no choice,” he told HuffPost. “In the ‘70s when the NAACP needed funding for meetings, the tobacco industry was there, no one else was there. The tobacco industry was there to give money to them so they couldn’t say smoking is bad.”

Today, menthol is the only tobacco additive that is not banned, despite a 2009 law which banned other flavor additives like cherry and bubblegum. Yet, as shown in the graphic below, the Tobacco Control Legal Consortium found that if menthol was banned that 44.5 percent of black smokers would quit smoking tobacco.

THE AFRICAN AMERICAN TOBACCO CENTRAL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL

Mondy said he believes the reason it hasn’t been banned is due to political reasons — Lorillard, the company which produces Newports, has donated to more than half of the black democrats in Congress compared to just under 3 percent of non-black Democrats in 2014.

In 2015, Lorillard, whose sales depended on menthols for roughly 85 percent of sales the year prior, merged with Reynolds American Inc. — the company that owns R.J, Reynolds Tobacco Company. Jacob McConnico, a spokesperson for the R.J, Reynolds Tobacco Company, provided a statement to HuffPost in regards to claims about marketing practices that specifically targeted the black community in the past few decades and today:

“I am not able to provide any insight to claims related to alleged marketing activities of up to 50 years ago. I can tell you, as it relates to our marketing today, our marketing efforts are designed to reach a wide and diverse audience of adult tobacco consumers. Those efforts are designed to include elements of interest for all adult smokers, regardless of their ethnicity or gender. Adult African-Americans, Hispanics, and other minorities have the same ability and right as the rest of the population to evaluate and make informed decisions about whether or not they want to use tobacco or any other consumer product. It would not be appropriate to exclude minority audiences or media from our brand communications.”

Steve Callahan, a representative for Altria Client Services, the company which owns Philip Morris USA brands such as Marlboro, Virginia Slims, among others, also said that he couldn’t speak on marketing campaigns from the past in a statement to HuffPost. He said there has been tighter regulation on tobacco companies due to the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement which changed the way brands market tobacco and the 2009 Tobacco Control Act in which the Food and Drug Administration began regulating the manufacture, distribution and marketing of these products.

Also, Callahan said to HuffPost that Philip Morris USA is “committed to marketing our products responsibly by building relationships between our brands and adult smokers while taking steps designed to limit reach to unintended audiences.” He added, “Philip Morris USA markets its menthol cigarette brands using the same marketing approaches it uses for its non-menthol cigarette brands.”

Advocates like Gardiner, however, aren’t convinced that tobacco companies shouldn’t be held accountable.

The bottom line is that African-Americans prefer menthol cigarettes because the tobacco industry pushed these products on and created the demand among this population,” Gardiner wrote in his study. “Did the industry do this on purpose? The answer to this question is an unequivocal yes.”

Despite tobacco’s deep impact on the black community, Mondy said he’s using his “Black Lives/Black Lungs” project as a vehicle of hope. With the help of Truth Initiative, he plans on interviewing key players in the fight to ban menthol and turn his findings into a documentary which he intends to premiere this summer. His efforts aren’t to shame smokers because quitting tobacco can be a hard feat, especially, if a person may have smoked his or her entire life. Instead, he said he wants to educate people on the issue.

AFRICAN AMERICAN TOBACCO CONTROL LEADERSHIP COUNCIL

Mondy’s approach to informing others has even made his father take quitting more seriously. He said his dad texted him in February to tell him that he had gone 30 days without smoking a cigarette, the longest in Mondy’s lifetime.

“This is like so engorged into our community,” he said. “I think it’s important to equip people with the education and information and so like, I’m not going around saying ‘smoking is bad, stop smoking.’”

Instead, Mondy said he hopes the research he provides will lead people to make an informed decision on whether they want to quit smoking or “keep buying from these companies that benefit from black death.”

Learn more about the tobacco industry’s targeted campaign on the black community with “Black Lives/Black Lungs” and watch the video above.

Source: How Tobacco Companies Led A Devastating 50-Year Infiltration Into Black Communities

North Carolina’s shocking history of sterilization

North Carolina’s shocking history of sterilization

Forced sterilization was the law in 32 U.S. states, and actually inspired the Nazis. We’re just learning the truth

North Carolina's shocking history of sterilization(Credit: Provided by Willis Lynch)
Adapted from “For the Public Good” from The New New South

People generally have two reactions when they hear about American eugenics programs for the first time: the first is shock, and the second is distancing. How could those people have done that to them?

Most have heard of the program in Nazi Germany, in which more than 400,000 people considered unworthy of life — those with hereditary illnesses, but also the dissident, the idle, the homosexual, and the weak — were targeted for forced sterilization beginning in the 1930s. Few realize that the some of the inspiration for Germany’s eugenics program, and even the language for the Nuremberg racial hygiene laws, which among other restrictions banned sexual intercourse between Jewish and non-Jewish Germans, came from eugenicists who had been practicing for years in the United States. Some 60,000 American citizens were sterilized, often under coercion or without consent.

Returning from my first visit with Willis Lynch, I met my in-laws, in town from Northern Virginia, for dinner in Durham, N.C. Lynch was sterilized at age 14 on the recommendation of North Carolina’s Eugenics Board, which determined that he was unfit to father children. When I told them about all he had been through, they were outraged. They had never heard of forced sterilizations taking place in the United States, but blamed their ignorance on where they grew up. “I’m from the North,” said my mother-in-law, who had assumed that Lynch, now 80, is black (he is white). “We didn’t have things like that there.”

I went home and looked it up. Pennsylvania, her home state, never passed a eugenics law, but managed to sterilize 270 people anyway, and also to perform the first known eugenics-motivated castration, in 1889. The first state to enact a eugenics-based sterilization law was Indiana, in 1907; it was followed two years later by Washington and California. Eventually 32 states would pass such legislation. Internationally, the list of countries with a history of forced sterilization includes Canada, Czechoslovakia and the Czech Republic, Denmark, Japan, Iceland, India, Finland, Estonia, China, Peru, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland, and Uzbekistan.

Though North Carolina did not sterilize the greatest number of people (that distinction belongs to California, where 20,000 were sterilized), the state’s Eugenics Board was notorious for its aggressiveness. While many states confined their sterilization programs to institutions, North Carolina allowed social workers to make recommendations based on observations of “unwholesome” home environments or poor school performance. The state’s program was also one of the longest lasting, increasing its number of sterilizations while others were winding down. Between 1929 and 1974, more than 7,600 North Carolinians were sterilized. Like Willis Lynch, many of the victims were children, and consent was provided by relatives or guardians who feared the loss of welfare benefits or other consequences if they refused.

Over more than a decade, sterilization victims waited for North Carolina to make things right. Lynch, for his part, testified at state hearings, gave interviews to newspapers and magazines, and talked regularly by phone with other victims. For years, not much materialized: an apology from Democratic Gov. Mike Easley, expressions of regret and sympathy from his successor, Beverly Perdue, also a Democrat.

Then in 2012, something remarkable happened: A Perdue-appointed task force that had been listening to testimonies from Lynch and others like him for almost two years recommended a package of compensation for the victims of eugenics, and the state’s Republican-led and oft-divided House of Representatives supported the measure in a bipartisan effort. The plan included equal monetary payments to victims, access to mental health resources, and a program of public recognition and education that would ensure that no one would ever forget what happened to them. It began to look like North Carolina would be the first in the nation to address the legacy of eugenics, and victims imagined what they might do with the restitution: pay bills, fix up their homes, visit distant relatives.

The members of the task force were united in their recommendation, but the journey to a proposal that satisfied the victims had not been easy. They’d listened to many hours of painful testimony from sterilized men and women and their families, and had reviewed thousands of pages of supporting documents: medical records, reports from the Eugenics Board, propaganda in favor of eugenics-based sterilization. They’d looked at the faulty science behind eugenics, as well as North Carolina’s unequal targeting of poor, vulnerable, and minority citizens. They’d considered actuarial data to estimate the number of living victims, and calculated the potential total cost of compensation. Though they acknowledged that no amount of money can pay for the harm done by compulsory sterilization, they did, in fact, put a number on the line: $50,000 for each living victim, $50 million total.

But some wondered: Can you put a price on reproductive ability? And is it appropriate, in a time of austerity, to make such large monetary payments, especially when it won’t right the wrongs? Should today’s taxpayers be responsible for something that happened decades ago? Though the effort to include the task force’s recommendations in the House budget had been bipartisan, the measure faced more dissent from the G.O.P.-controlled Senate: The state can’t afford to pay for something that won’t fix any problems, and it was a long time ago, anyway. It wasn’t us.

It is human nature to distance oneself from what now seems cruel, violent, reprehensible. We tell ourselves that we would not have done that, that our country is better than that now. But that same distance — I am not like that, I am better — is what motivated the first eugenicists and their followers.

Like Willis Lynch, Francis Galton was born into a family of seven children, though more than 90 years earlier and thousands of miles away. The circumstances of his early childhood in England were quite different: His father was a wealthy banker, his mother the daughter of physician Erasmus Darwin, making Francis Galton a cousin to the father of the theory of evolution. The Galton family also included a number of prominent gunsmiths, iron mongers, athletes, and Quakers.

Under the tutelage of a doting older sister, Galton showed exceptional intellectual promise even before he was school-aged. He knew his capital letters by 12 months, could read at 2-and-a-half, and could sign his own name by 3. The day before he turned 5, Galton boasted in a letter to his sister: “I am four years old and can read any English book. I can say all the Latin Substantives and Adjectives and active verbs besides 52 lines of Latin poetry. I can cast up any sum in addition and multiply by 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10. I can also say the pence table. I read French a little and I know the Clock.” When he finally entered school, he was surprised and disappointed that his classmates did not share his enthusiasm or facility for reciting the “Iliad” or Walter Scott’s “Marmion.” He was sent to a French boarding school at age 8, and at 16, left secondary school to study medicine (a pursuit he later abandoned).

As an adult, Galton had a varied and peripatetic career. He traveled to Africa for anthropological work, discovered the anticyclone, created the first weather map, pioneered the first system of fingerprinting, and developed a “Beauty-map” of the British Isles that compared the relative attractiveness of women. (London had the most beautiful women, according to his research, Aberdeen the ugliest.) He is best known, however, as the father of modern eugenics, an area of study partially inspired by cousin Charles Darwin’s work. Less than a month after the publication of “On the Origin of Species,” Galton wrote, in an admiring letter to his cousin: “I have laid it down in the full enjoyment of a feeling that one rarely experiences after boyish days, of having been initiated into an entirely new province of knowledge, which, nevertheless, connects itself with other things in a thousand ways.” Galton was interested in the potential implications of Darwin’s work on heredity and evolution: Could these principles be used, through selective breeding, to enhance the human gene pool? Likely influenced by the achievements of his own illustrious family, Galton believed that talent and ability are transferred genetically rather than by environment. To Galton’s mind, his particular aptitude for geography, language, and the sciences came not so much from his education and privilege as from his eminent forebears.

Improving human societies through selective breeding was not a new idea, even in the 1800s. In ancient Greece, deformed babies were killed at birth, unwanted ones abandoned to the elements. Spartan elders inspected every newborn for potential contribution to the state — weak babies were dropped into a chasm — and the strongest men and women were encouraged to procreate (including outside of marriage). In the “Republic,” Plato argued that “the best of either sex should be united with the best as often as possible, and the inferior with the inferior as seldom as possible.” The goal was the collective good. If only the strongest and smartest reproduced, then their offspring would, over time, benefit everyone through their industry, bravery, creativity, and strength.

But the term eugenics was not coined until 1883, when Galton published his fifth book, “Inquiries into Human Faculty and Development.” In it, he combined the Greek word eu, meaning good, with the suffix -genes, meaning born, and defined eugenics as “the study of all agencies under human control which can improve or impair the racial quality of future generations.” He identified both positive eugenics (encouraging the breeding of the best) as well as negative eugenics (discouraging and even preventing the unfit from procreation), though he found the former more practical and socially palatable. Arguing that religion and custom had always strongly influenced breeding and marriage, Galton proposed that eugenics, with its ultimate goal of improving human societies, could be introduced to the general public as a new and compelling religion.

With his amateur background in anthropology, Galton classified humans along a line of “Mediocrity,” or average talents. Those above average, especially the most talented, should be encouraged to procreate within their classes, early and often. Those below average, especially the lowest-ranking, should be encouraged to abstain or, at the very least, refrain from tainting the bloodlines of their superiors. He had only a few vague suggestions about how this could be accomplished: intelligent and well-born women should be encouraged to marry at 21 or 22, promising couples provided with inexpensive housing, social inferiors encouraged to regard celibacy as noble self-sacrifice, and habitual criminals segregated, monitored, and denied the opportunity to produce offspring. “What nature does blindly, slowly, and ruthlessly, man may do providently, quickly, and kindly,” he asserted. His vision was Utopian; the English race, after a few generations, would be “less foolish, less excitable, and politically more provident.” Men of special ability, like himself and his cousin, would be less rare, and would be able to contribute more than their fair share to the general population.

Galton soon realized a problem with positive eugenics: Eminence generally appeared later in life, often after the opportunity to marry and produce children. To address this problem, he established London’s Anthropometric Laboratory, the world’s first mental testing center, which sought not only to provide individuals with information about their own abilities, but also to serve as a collection of data for Galton and other scientists. These early tests, offered for three pence each to subjects ranging in age from 5 to 80, were unlike the written test Willis Lynch would take, years later, though their goal was the same: determination of ability or potential. Galton’s tests involved a variety of largely physical measurements: grip strength, head size, tactile sensitivity, breathing capacity, and visual and auditory acuity. His Anthropometric Laboratory collected data on more than 9,000 people, and although there is little evidence that they found much use in the information cards they received, his studies of the data eventually produced the statistical concepts of standard deviation and percentile ranking.

Negative eugenics — preventing those deemed unfit from reproducing — was considerably more challenging, at least as envisioned by Galton. It was not reasonable to expect most people to live a celibate life simply for the betterment of the gene pool, and monitoring ex-cons and other undesirables  was equally daunting. Though the British Eugenics Education Society, founded in 1907, campaigned for sterilization and marriage restrictions for mentally ill citizens, negative eugenics remained mostly the subject of political debate in Britain, and legislation enforcing sterilization of the unfit was never passed. Galton died in 1911 without seeing his “new religion” realized. Despite the genetic promise of his intellectual gifts, he also died childless.

**

The American eugenics movement is often characterized as a progressive folly for its faith in science and its big-government intrusiveness, but the truth is somewhat more complicated. The American Eugenics Society counted among its members some of the country’s most influential Progressive Era businesspeople, philanthropists, and activists, including J.P. Morgan Jr., Mary Duke Biddle, and Margaret Sanger, but the group of scientists and eugenicists who founded it also included well-known racists and anti-Semites. Early outreach efforts often included a mix of public health education and racist, anti-immigration messages.

The Fitter Families for Future Firesides competitions, sponsored by the Eugenics Society starting in 1924, provided one way of reaching out to rural white Americans. Held in state fairs across the country, the contests originated as Better Babies competitions and exhibitions that were meant to educate the public about infant health and mortality. Fitter Families contests, with the goals of collecting data on hereditary traits and spreading the message of eugenics to a wider population, invited entire families to submit to screenings for health, character, and intelligence. Those scoring highest received awards and medals bearing the inscription, “Yea, I have a goodly heritage” and had their photographs taken for the local papers. Following an examination, a family might listen to a Galtonesque lecture on the importance of mating the best with the best; browse an exhibit about comparative literacy rates of foreign, African-American, and native-born white Americans; or read about the social costs of incarcerating the mentally deficient.

At the 1926 Sesqui-Centennial International Exposition in Philadelphia, a poster equipped with flashing lights informed fairgoers that “every 48 seconds someone is born in America who will never grow up beyond the mental age of 8” and that “crime costs America $100,000 every second.” The poster also claimed that  “few normal persons go to jail.” The message received by the “Fittest Families?” You are carrying the burden of the least fit, who should not be having so many children. In one way or another, you will pay for the children of undesirable parents: to feed and clothe them when their parents cannot, to care for them in institutions, and later, to imprison them.

Outside of state fairs and exhibitions, this fear of social dependency had already primed the culture for an embrace of negative eugenics. Large-scale asylums for the homeless and mentally ill, built in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, raised fears that increasing numbers of handicapped citizens were a drain on public resources. The country’s first major immigration law, the Immigration Act of 1882, specifically prohibited entry by any “lunatic, idiot, or any person unable to take care of himself or herself without becoming a public charge.” American eugenicists believed, as Galton did, that people could be bred, like livestock, for desirable traits. Those with undesirable traits, which included everything from alcoholism to criminal recidivism to poverty, could be sterilized.

Indiana passed the first law allowing eugenics-based sterilization in 1907. Thirty-one other states would follow. After constitutional challenges, many employed language and structure from the Model Eugenical Sterilization Law written by Harry Laughlin, one of the founders of the American Eugenics Society. (Laughlin’s law later became the model for Nazi Germany’s Law for the Prevention of Hereditarily Diseased Offspring, and he would receive an honorary degree from the University of Heidelberg for his support of “the science of racial cleansing.”)

Laughlin proposed a position of state eugenicist, whose function was “to protect the state against the procreation of persons socially inadequate from degenerate or defective physical, physiological or psychological inheritance.” He defined a socially inadequate person as one who, in comparison with “normal” persons, fails to maintain himself as a useful member of the state, and he set out the socially inadequate classes: the feeble-minded, the insane, the criminalistic, the epileptic, the inebriate, the diseased, the blind, the deaf, the deformed, the crippled, and the dependent (including “orphans, ne’er-do-wells, the homeless, tramps and paupers”). Twenty years later, Virginia’s Sterilization Act, patterned after Laughlin’s, was found constitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court in the Buck v. Bell case, in which Chief Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes famously wrote, about the family of 19-year-old Carrie Buck, “three generations of imbeciles are enough.”

North Carolina’s first sterilization law was recorded in 1919, but sterilizations did not begin until 1929, after the passage of Buck v. Bell, when one vasectomy, one castration, and one ovariectomy were performed (the state’s law was unusual in allowing castrations for “therapeutic treatment”). In 1933, the law was declared unconstitutional by the state’s Supreme Court on the basis of a deficient appeals process, and a second law was passed that year, ostensibly providing for due process for the individuals recommended for surgery. Sterilizations could be petitioned by the superintendent of public welfare, the heads of prisons or other institutions housing potential patients, or their next of kin or legal guardians. Despite the ability of individuals to appeal such recommendations, the statute was broad, allowing the Eugenics Board to overrule objections and authorize sterilizations in the best interest of the individual, for the public good, or if the individual was suspected to produce children with “a tendency to serious physical, mental or nervous disease or deficiency.”

By July 1935, the state had sterilized 223 men and women, most of them residents of state-run institutions. Though it would take another decade for public opinion to begin turning away from eugenics, “Eugenical Sterilization in North Carolina,” a report published by the state that year, envisioned a public that still needed convincing. The report argued, among other things, that sterilization was protection that benefitted both society and the sterilized individual:

There is no discovery vitally affecting the life, happiness and well being of the human race in the last quarter of a century about which intelligent people know so little, as modern sterilization. The operation is simple, it removes no organ or tissue of the body. It has no effect on the patient except to prevent parenthood. Under conservative laws, sanely and diplomatically administered, as they have been in California, these discoveries developed by the medical profession now offer to these classes the greatest relief possible and the greatest protection to the defenseless child of the future. It offers one, humane, practical protection against threatened race degeneracy.

Adapted from “For the Public Good” by Belle Boggs. Copyright 2013 The New New South. All rights reserved.

 

Belle Boggs is the author of the story collection “Mattaponi Queen,” which won the Bakeless Prize and the Library of Virginia Award.

By Comparing Obamacare to Slavery, Dr. Ben Carson Has Become a Jim Crow Caricature

By Comparing Obamacare to Slavery, Dr. Ben Carson Has Become a Jim Crow Caricature

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Dr. Ben Carson “Jumps Jim Crow”

By  Dr. Wilmer J. Leon, III

“You know Obamacare is really I think the worst thing that has happened in this nation since slavery…it is slavery in a way, because it is making all of us subservient to the government, and it was never about health care. It was about control.”                                                                                                                         Dr. Ben Carson October 11, 2013

Dr. Ben Carson is a world renowned American neurosurgeon. He is a brilliant physician with an incredibly compelling and motivational story. Born into poverty in Detroit in 1951 and raised by a single mother with a third-grade education, Carson became the first surgeon to separate conjoined twins and the youngest to head a surgical department. His focus, work ethic and commitment to excellence should be emulated by as many as possible.

Over the past year Dr. Carson has emerged on the political scene as a spokesperson for conservative interests.  Most recently he addressed the 2013 Values Voter Summit in Washington, D.C., making the remarks referenced above.

“Obamacare” or more accurately the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is the worst thing in this nation since slavery?  Really?  I understand political diatribes and hyperbole but the worst thing in America since slavery?  How can reducing the number of uninsured Americans through an expansion of Medicaid and the creation of new health insurance exchange marketplaces be worse than slavery?

The 13th Amendment abolished slavery in America except as punishment for a crime in 1865. Since then, African Americans have been lynched, had their farms confiscated, been denied the right to vote and have had limited or no access to public and private facilities. For an African American of Dr. Carson’s intellect and stature to publically make such assertions is historically inaccurate, irresponsible and promotes many of the racist stereotypes that are being used to garner support to overturn the law.

Does Dr. Carson really believe that the ACA is worse than the Tuskegee syphilis experiment of 1932?  This infamous clinical study was conducted by the U.S. Public Health Service on 399 African American men from 1932 to 1972 to trace the natural progression of untreated syphilis.  These human “laboratory animals” thought they were receiving free health care from the U.S. government.  By the end of the experiment, 28 of the men had died directly of syphilis, 100 were d**d of related complications, 40 of their wives had been infected and 19 of their children had been born with congenital syphilis.

Would Dr. Carson have us believe that the ACA is worse than the government sanctioned, racially motivated attack on the Greenwood district of TulsaOklahoma in 1921?  The Greenwood district of Tulsa, also know as Black Wall Street, was the wealthiest African American community in America. During a 16 hour period from May 31 and June 1, 1921 whites rioted, attacked the community and b****d it to the ground based upon the rumor that an African American shoeshiner named d**k Roland touched a white female elevator operator named Sarah Page.

An estimated 10,000 African American residents were left homeless and 35 city blocks composed of 1,256 residences were destroyed by fire. The official d***h count by the Oklahoma Department of Vital Statistics was 39, but other estimates of African American fatalities have been up to about 300.

From 1920 – 1970 the state of North Carolina forcibly sterilized more than 7,600 women.  Most of these women were poor and African American.  This eugenics program began as a means to control the birth rates of poor white woman and quickly expanded as an attack on African American woman. Woman were being sterilized like cats and dogs are spayed and neutered. Dr. Carson wants us to believe that the ACA is worse than this?

As Carson is being promoted in conservative political circles as an informed spokesman on the talk circuit he has quickly become a political minstrel show.  He’s jumping Jim Crow. Jump Jim Crow is a song and dance that was performed in blackface by a white comedian named Thomas Dartmouth around 1830, the early minstrel era of American entertainment.  It made a mockery of African Americans; lampooning them as dim-witted, lazy, and buffoonish.  The expression to Jump Jim Crow came to mean “to act like a stereotyped stage caricature of a black person” usually by a white person.

Dr. Carson has once again put his black face on political ideology that is contrary to the interests of the African American community and validates denigrating stereotypes perpetuated by its enemies. Earlier this year Carson told a CPAC audience that “Nobody is starving on the streets (of America). We have always taken care of them. We have churches which actually are much better mechanisms for taking care of the poor because they are right there with them. This is one of the reasons we give tax breaks to churches…”

He is lending his voice and using his personal narrative to validate the conservative “blame the poor” political agenda and undermine the social safety net in America.

. The argument is that the Carson’s of the world have overachieved in spite of the odds; therefore, the inability of the poor (stereotypically the “Black poor”) in America to rise into the middle class or beyond is due to personal failure, lack of drive, initiative, and dependence upon the government. Carson made it; why can’t they?

The ACA is far from perfect.  The flaws in the legislation will be flushed out and addressed over time or it will die a natural d***h.  How the Obama administration allowed the government web site to go live without beta testing, anticipating the problems and without immediate fixes for them is at least irresponsible.  These issues should not invalidate the reality that providing access to health care coverage for more Americans is a good thing.

As a physician Dr. Ben Carson should know better.  If he has problems with the ACA he should present his issues using accurate data and facts; not baseless political ideology and foolish hyperbole.

Dr Carson’s stature in the medical community makes his comments even more reckless. Even reasonable but uninformed people might try to find truth in his words. He is allowing the reputation that he has earned based upon his stellar professional accomplishments, focus, work ethic, and commitment to excellence as a surgeon to be used as a front by white ultra-conservatives. He is attempting to undermine greater access to health care and other social programs; the social safety net that is needed now more than ever before.

He’s a pitiful one-man minstrel show.  He’s Jumpin’ Jim Crow.

Dr. Wilmer Leon, an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice,  is the Producer/ Host of the Sirisu/XM Satellite radio channel 110 call-in talk radio program “Inside the Issues with Wilmer Leon” Go to www.wilmerleon.com or email:wjl3us@yahoo.comwww.twitter.com/drwleon and Dr. Leon’s Prescription at Facebook.com  © 2013 InfoWave Communications, LLC

‘Boys Have Deep Emotional Lives’

‘Boys Have Deep Emotional Lives’

 

How parents, teachers, and schools can better understand young men: a conversation with Rosalind Wiseman about her new book, Masterminds and Wingmen.
SEP 04 2013

The Atlantic


Jim Young/Reuters

Before Rosalind Wiseman’s 2002 book Queen Bees and Wannabes was published, her agent asked if she would talk to a woman named Tina Fey. Wiseman, a new mother, “had no idea who she was,” but after a short conversation agreed to sell Fey the film rights to her book, which dissected the complex social world of teenage girls. Two years later, Mean Girls hit theaters, an entertaining and spot-on illustration of the capacity of high school girls to inflict emotional pain on each other. With the success of the film, Wiseman became known as an expert on children, giving lectures to parents and educators on bullying, parenting, and ethical leadership around the world.

Her latest book, Masterminds and Wingmen: Helping Our Boys Cope with Schoolyard Power, Locker-Room Tests, Girlfriends, and the New Rules of Boy World tackles Boy World. With two sons of her own, Wiseman began to notice ways that adults would ignore or reinforce stereotypes about teenage boys’ social world. Her new book was written with the help of more than 200 teenage boys who vetted her information and contributed their own experiences. (The Guide: Managing Douchebags, Recruiting Wingmen, and Attracting Who You Want is her companion manual, written specifically for the boys). I spoke with Wiseman about the best way for parents and teachers to communicate with boys, what the biggest myths are about popular boys, and why all boys are so often misunderstood.


After the popularity of Mean Girls, a lot of attention has gone toward the dynamics of Girl World. Why is Boy World less understood?

We have a very hard time seeing the signs of how and when boys want to talk to us. We also have a hard time–even though we think we don’t–acknowledging that boys have deep emotional lives. We believe that because we can’t see it, it’s not there.

How do parents and teachers perpetuate the negative aspects of Boy World?

In so many different ways, we box boys in. We’re not aware of it. Boys say it’s good to have a female friend–if something bad happens with a girl, or if you break up with your girlfriend, it’s much easier to talk to a girl about it than even your closest male friends. I just talked to a high school boy about how important it is to have girls that are friends. He broke up with his girlfriend, was overwhelmed, and realized it was a terrible mistake. His heart was broken and he didn’t know what to do. He was a football player and wanted to talk to his closest friends, but he said that they just wanted to talk about hooking up. They didn’t talk about their relationship problems. So he made evening plans to go to dinner with a very close female friend. As he walked out the door, his mother barraged him with questions about it. She assumed he wanted to hook up with this other girl. She thought he didn’t care about his girlfriend, that he wants a hookup.

So his mom reinforced the stereotype about guys just going after sex.

Right. Even his own mother doesn’t realize that her son needs a strong relationship with a girl–and that he’s going out with this girl to bare his soul, to get relationship advice. We are allowing these stereotypes to shape the way we look at boys and their relationships with other people.

Fathers can also contribute to a macho culture.

The thing that really disturbs me is that there are so many wonderful dads, who want the best for their sons, who aren’t having conversations with their sons about healthy relationships or acknowledging that they will fall in love. Falling in love in high school is a huge adrenaline rush–it’s got intense highs and lows. Your heart can break, you can be betrayed. It’s horrible, and you don’t know what to do, or you wonder if you’ll ever have a girlfriend. These are things that all boys struggle with, but even really good dads don’t have conversations that acknowledge that experience.

And then there are a lot of other fathers whose relationship advice is limited to this type of scenario (told to me by the boys themselves):  A very attractive 18-year-old woman walks by and the dad nudges his son and says, “Go get that.”

Great young men want to have rich emotional lives, but everywhere they turn, people are forcing them to live the stereotype of being a sexist, not-caring, emotionally disengaged, superficial guy. It’s amazing because we turn around and get angry with them when they go over the line, without acknowledging what we do as adults that stifles and silences and shuts boys up from being emotionally engaged people.

What about schools? What role do they play in all this?

It’s such an enormous question. But enough to say that much of how our educational system is structured–from the way boys are taught academics, to the lack of training we give teachers to be ethical competent authority figures who not only know their subject matter but are engaging educators, to the way the minority of boys who do abuse power so often regularly get away or are disciplined in a way that only shows how powerless the adults are to truly hold them accountable, all too often schools are the place boys learn that the overall culture they will grow up in restricts their creativity and makes it as difficult as possible to come into their masculinity in healthy ways.

What are the rules that govern Boy World and how are they different from Girl World?

The similarity is that verbal power is held high in both groups. If you can put someone down really fast or defend yourself verbally, that’s a commodity, a real value. What boys do is they’re much ruder about it. They do it more directly.

You talk about how boys are often at a loss when they’re faced with highly verbal girls.

They pretend they don’t mind it. They learn from an early age that whatever is going on around them isn’t a problem. After years of convincing themselves that everything’s fine, it’s really difficult for them to recognize when things are not fine, when things are over the line. It goes right from young boys unable to say, “What’s happening is not fine” to boys at a party seeing a girl who’s drunk with four guys around her, and the boys conditioned to not acknowledge the potential danger that’s in front of them. They don’t see what they need to do to stop it until it’s too late. If we’re constantly dismissing or ridiculing their right to have emotional lives, why would they want to do it? At a certain point they shut down.

interviewed Donna Freitas for The Atlantic earlier this year, and she says that in campus hookup culture “our most at-risk population seems to be young men”–specifically because they aren’t encouraged to communicate their feelings about relationships.

I completely agree.

But while it’s important to have conversations with boys about their relationships, you think it’s a bit misguided for adults to sit boys down to talk about their feelings. So what’s the best way to get them to open up?

This is where people jump down my back, saying, “Oh, you want boys to sit in a circle and talk about their feelings?” Anybody who works with boys knows that’s a stupid way to spend your time. Crickets chirp, it’s horrible. Instead, it’s about role modeling healthy relationships with whoever you’re in intimate relationships with. We are so hypocritical in the way we live versus what we say to boys. We lack credibility. The most important thing is to have arguments well. To treat people with dignity when you’re angry with them. And not trying to control people when you’re angry. Boys are extremely sensitive to that. They know which people in their lives use power and dominance to control people when they’re angry. The best that you can hope for is that the boy experiences that and thinks, “I’m not going to be like that.” It’s like the anti-mentor.

You write about a hypothetical scenario where a mother is chauffeuring a group of boys who begin to tease each other. One of them refers to another guy as “retarded.” What’s your advice for parents in this situation?

Boys tease and use put-downs as an important part of their social glue. It’s not always negative–if you take it away, they have very few ways to interact with each other. So it’s about differentiating. It’s totally fine for boys to tease, to give each other crap, but it’s not okay for them to use particular words to get someone to shut up. “Gay,” “faggot,” and “pussy” are the shorthand ways to do this. It’s the way to marginalize someone. Even with advances in gay rights, it’s still the way they do it.

So this just happened: I was driving a group of 10-year-old boys who started using these words. I had to practice what I preach–I turned and said, “You are not going to use those words to put people down.” They got crazy uncomfortable, my son didn’t like it. I asked, “Are we good?” It took 15 seconds and we went back to listening to the radio.

Boys often hear these jokes and know they’re wrong but don’t know how to stand up to their friends.

It’s not a fight that they can fight. It’s too difficult for them. The power imbalance is so strong, so intense in that moment. The boy eventually needs to learn how to do that, but most adults can’t even do it. How many times have adults been to a party where someone says some racist or sexist joke and no one says anything? So to expect a 10-year-old to do it is a little much.

You write from the perspective of a mother and your book includes advice specific to mothers and fathers. What advice do you have for single-parent households?

There are a lot of different types of parents today. It’s a complex issue. I’ve seen parents who are married but the mother or father is so undermined by the spouse that it’s so much worse. To have a single parent who lays down the rules and expectations is way better than to have a parent who is undermined by the other parent. I’m not saying that being a single parent is easy. But we don’t credit how dysfunctional married relationships sometimes are.

What are the most critical challenges parents and teachers face now as opposed to 10 or 20 years ago?

It’s easy to be overwhelmed with the technology that boys are interacting with all the time. I totally understand that. But I think the conversations we should be having with boys are the same: Conflict is inevitable, you’re going to need to speak your truth when it’s really uncomfortable, you’re going to see somebody abuse power. Reacting to someone who grabs your tricycle when you’re five is different from when you’re at a party and have to speak out against your friend who’s about to rape a drunk girl–but those are the moments. Those are the moments when who you are as a man counts.

Can you debunk any myths about popular boys?

We have stereotypes that the highest social status boys are having the most sex. And that they’re having a particular kind of hookup–that they don’t have heartbreak and only have random hookups, that they use girls. And that’s not the case. Nor is it the case that lower social-status boys are sitting there hoping a girl hooks up with them. Adults make assumptions that, for example, the theater people are geeky, and they’re not getting it on. In my experience, that’s 100 percent not the case. Those people are very active, shall we say.

I brought this up with a male friend in his 30s, who completely disagreed. He still says the popular guys got all the girls.

No, they don’t. Ask him if the guy in high school who played his acoustic guitar got any hookups. Really, the theater and band people are spending all their time together. It’s a tight-knit group. Some of them will be good friends and some of them will hook up. The athletes, on the other hand, are spending much less time together. When the football team goes to an away game four hours away on the bus, that’s a single-sex activity. When the band goes, it’s co-ed.

As a mother of two boys, what have been your biggest surprises?

There’s something every day. Here’s one from this morning. My boys love to play hard-to-get with me. When I say “Come here and kiss me before you go to school!” my 10-year-old will run away to his bike, as fast as he can, laughing the whole time. For me, in that moment, I wonder: Why can’t I just have a kid who wants to kiss me goodbye? But I have to realize that from the boys’ perspective, that was the bonding. The bonding wasn’t the kiss; it was “I’m going to run away from Mommy.”

So we need to be more attuned to the ways they express themselves?

Exactly.

This conversation was edited for length and clarity.

HOPE REESE is a freelance writer and editor based in Louisville, Kentucky. Her website ishopereese.com.

Aaron Alexis was someone’s son: Our brothers are crying out and nobody’s listening

Aaron Alexis was someone’s son: Our brothers are crying out and nobody’s listening

Opinion

by Terrie Williams and Dawn M. Porter | September 19, 2013 at 12:02 PM

Bishops Gerald Seabrooks, right, and Willie Billips stand in front of the home of Cathleen Alexis, mother of Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis, who made a statement at her home in New York's Brooklyn borough on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. The bishops are part of a Brooklyn Clergy-NYPD Task Force. Cathleen Alexis said that she does not know why her son did what he did and she will never be able to ask him. Aaron Alexis opened fire Monday, killing 12 people, before he was killed in a shootout with police. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Bishops Gerald Seabrooks, right, and Willie Billips stand in front of the home of Cathleen Alexis, mother of Washington Navy Yard gunman Aaron Alexis, who made a statement at her home in New York’s Brooklyn borough on Wednesday, Sept. 18, 2013. The bishops are part of a Brooklyn Clergy-NYPD Task Force. Cathleen Alexis said that she does not know why her son did what he did and she will never be able to ask him. Aaron Alexis opened fire Monday, killing 12 people, before he was killed in a shootout with police. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Renowned educator and author Geoffrey Canada put it this way:

There was a time when we were little that we could tell our mother about the pain, but then our mother, like lots of women raising boys, began to worry that we would be soft, that we wouldn’t grow up to be men, that we had to toughen up.  It was rough out there and she couldn’t protect us.  She knew one of the first things used to taunt boys is to say, ‘oh, you’re a mama’s boy.’ ‘go tell your mother.’ So after a while, we began to say “oh I can’t tell mommy anything,” and we stopped telling.  Once we stopped telling her, it was easier not to tell anybody anything.

With this, the beginning of the pain and suffering, the mask, and the slow death, began.

In an environment where we teach our black son’s to be strong and self-sufficient, we often forget to teach them how to ask for help.  And in an era where stigma continues to shackle African-Americans with mental health issues, we see the tragic aftermath in our homes, our neighborhoods, in our communities and in our world.

In the African-American community, the perception of weakness is an overwhelming fear that has plagued our existence since slavery.  We had to be strong to survive and that message has been passed down from generation to generation.

Don’t get me wrong, this is not necessarily a black thing it’s an “every living animal thing…”  Darwin’s theory of natural selection tells us this.  But in the black community it takes on greater meaning, because we know as African-Americans, we have to be twice as strong, twice as fast and twice as smart to even get noticed, so showing any sign of perceived weakness can result in our demise.  This was the world that Aaron Alexis was likely raised in.  In the beginning of the pain and suffering, the mask and the slow death begins.

Regardless of the issue, there is an unwillingness to ask for or seek help, and there is an unwillingness  for others to get involved.  As with many recent tragic stories, Lee Thompson YoungDon Cornelius, and others, we see the effects of a society that has been paralyzed by mental health issues and the unwillingness to ask for help or get involved.

Aaron Alexis is just another example of how our society [the system] is failing our black men.  We don’t know much about the “Navy Yard Suspect.”  We really don’t know who he was…only what the media wants us to know.  But Aaron Alexis was someone’s son…we know this because his mother has spoken out about her sorrow for this tragedy.  But did he have any friends who may have noticed a change in his behavior?  Was there not a system in place to see the kinks in his armor as his mask began to falter.  “Our brothers are crying out…nobody’s listening…” as Ken Braswell, founder of Fathers, Inc. has passionately declared.

We do know that he had two incidents that involved the police.  In 2004, he was reportedly arrested for “malicious mischief” and in again in 2010 for “discharging a firearm into the ceiling of his apartment.”  Although the first incident is truly unclear, the second seemingly should have raised some serious red flags.  Are we too busy with our own lives to see those around us falling apart or are we too scared to get involved?  Or is it simply, we just don’t know what to do or how to help so we stand by feeling helpless and do nothing.

Aaron Alexis was a man who served his country in the Navy Reserves from 2007 to 2011 and was honorably discharged.   As a service member, we do not know what he endured or what challenges he may have faced or feared.  All we do know is that he reportedly “held it together at work,” but seemed to fall apart in the evenings—as many of us do.

According to news reports, just weeks before the shooting, he called the police.  He expressed paranoid thoughts of people following him and complained of hearing “voices speaking to him through the wall, flooring and ceiling.”  Although there could be a number of reasons for someone experiencing paranoia and auditory hallucinations, there is a definite indication for assessment and intervention.

Unfortunately, with limited resources, on all fronts, police departments, emergency psychiatric facilities and veterans administration systems, people often fall through the cracks.

One agency may make a call and assume the other will get the message and do what is necessary. In a perfect world, Mr. Alexis would have been sent for an evaluation, likely hospitalized and engaged in medication management to address the overt symptoms while trying to sort out the underlying cause for the behavior.  Again, we are dealing with a flawed system and we are continually seeing the fallout from this.

The tragedy is not only in the lives lost on September 16th, but in the reality that with all of the rhetoric and power plays in our government, we still can’t find a solution to this problem.  It makes you wonder if this complacency is due to a lack of understanding or just plain old apathy.

When will we address the way we are raising our young black men?  When will we take time to talk to our friends and neighbors?  When will we stop being scared and get involved?  When will we become the village it takes to raise a child?  Can we stop saying when and start saying now.

Can we stop spending hours on Facebook and Twitter and start talking to with our children, our neighbors and strangers who are “friends” we just haven’t met yet? Can we stop burying ourselves in our work and start talking with our spouses and our coworkers ? Can we start getting to know the people around us?

We challenge you to get involved. Get to know someone…really know someone. Many times we are complacent with the people we know…we may politely ask if they are OK, but we really don’t want to know the answer, and subconsciously give off the vibe that we really don’t want to hear it.  If you really want to do something, stand up and be present.  Don’t let this life pass you by — be present in your life and in the life of someone else who you care about. Show them you care by asking — really asking.  Get involved.  You may need just take a break and disconnect from this new technologically advanced social media thing that is leaving people emotionally disconnected from others and get involved. If you really care, you will take the time and effort to truly to get know someone. People know if you really care or if you are just being polite.

Who knows? If someone would have really taken the time to get to know Aaron Alexis or countless others, who knows what lives might have been spared.

Today is the day that we must make a difference.  We must raise our collective voices—if you see something, say something–do something.  Edmund Burke tells us, “All that is required for the triumph of evil [or pain] is that good men remain silent and do nothing.”  Every single day, most of walk past one another without a nod, a word, or a smile that says “you matter.”  There are way too many who don’t even know how to smile or genuinely return one—because society has made them feel, in every way, they do not matter.

If you don’t know where to start, be inspired by one promising moment a few months ago.  Antoinette Tuff, an Atlanta school staff member, with love, humanity and God in her spirit, calmed and talked to a young man whom she described as a “hurting soul” who was planning to “shoot up” the school.  She took the time and made the difference, and in this instance, countless lives were saved.

“We must do the very thing we think we cannot do.”

Dare to make a difference!

 

Terrie Williams, an OUR COMMON GROUND Voice, is author of Black Pain: It Just Looks Like We are Not Hurting and Dawn M. Porter is a MD Board Certified Child, Adolescent and Adult Psychiatrist

Terrie Williams

Terrie Williams