Friday, January 1, 2016

New Year, Same Problems

For most of my life I have been in charge of managing my brother's life.  Anytime he got in trouble or couldn't handle the stresses of life it was my job to make sure that he didn't hurt himself or someone else.  This became exhausting pretty quickly.  I started to resent my brother for always needing attention.  For not being responsible for his actions.  For needing the rest of us to tailor our lives to making sure he was okay. 

As he has gotten older my brother has been less destructive to himself physically but has not made any progress towards managing his life as an adult.  On Christmas Eve I found out that my brother is in yet another financial crisis created by him being careless and assuming that the rules of the world don't apply to him.  It has been less than a year since I saved him from the last financial crisis. 

Part of me wants to step away.  He's in his mid thirties.  He lives in another state.  At some point he has to step up to the plate and take care of himself.  But then I think of the other times that I have stepped back and I worry about things becoming worse.  As unfair as it is, this seems to be my burden in life. 

I have never had any desire to have children.  But I feel like raising my brother is a job that I got when he was born that will never go away.  It would be so much easier if my brother had a disability that was visible.  People would understand.  But with mental illness people can appear completely normal to friends and co-workers and be a complete mess inside. 

You can't force an adult man to see a therapist and go back on meds when he isn't a danger to himself physically.  And honestly, even if you could, I don't have fond memories of his time in therapy.  Weekly office visits and lots of drugs but no real progress.  Violent episodes.  Suicide attempts.  Jail time.  I am grateful that those days are over but still hopeful that there is a better alternative. 

Monday, December 21, 2015

BET Takes A Giant Step Backward

On the season finale of Being Mary Jane, Mary Jane ended her relationship with "The White Boy".  Not really a surprise since all of her relationships are unhealthy and end in a ball of fire.  Fans expect at least one new love interest per season and, subsequently, one epic breakup.  Usually the relationships have a honeymoon period and the viewers get sucked into thinking this one might last before the hammer drops.  But the difference between the other break ups and this one is that nothing actually happened this time. 

There was no argument that lead to this breakup.  Just Mary Jane deciding one day that she was black and could not maintain her blackness if she dated a white boy.  She spouted off all kinds of BS about how black men got her in a way that white men never could and that she couldn't date a white man because of this because it was some sort of betrayal to her race.  WTF.

So all black marriages have a 100% success rate because they just get each other?  Or 0% of interracial marriages last because they don't?  Shame on BET for this sort of ignorant 1950's mindset.  Black people and white people are different and they shouldn't be together.  Stay with your race.  Never stray from what society tells you is best for you. 

Relationships work when people listen to each other, respect each other and let their guard down enough to open themselves up.  For all the single women out their who cheered when Mary Jane ended the relationship and in the next breath complained to their girlfriends about how hard it is to find a good (black) man shame on you too.  I'm so over media telling me who I'm supposed to be.  The last place I expected to see racism promoted was on a network that is supposed to make me feel good about being black.  

Friday, December 4, 2015

Weak Women in Print

It feels like every book that I have read lately revolves around a collection of weak women.  They are either victims of some sort of abuse or completely dependent on men for every aspect of their lives. This is the narrative:

My husband doesn't respect or treat me well but I'd be lost without a man to do everything for me.  I don't know how to navigate this world without my big strong husband to make me feel safe.  I am of course the mother of daughters who are somehow strong and independent despite not having a strong female role model (like their mother).  I am resentful and bitter.  But when I am left alone (husband leaves me either tragically or voluntarily) I must learn to survive without him guiding me.  I went to college and had a career but I left all that behind to support my man.  Now I've been out of the work force for a decade and am not qualified to do anything but whine and lament the loss of my rock.   How much is our mortgage? Who is the insurance company? Oh woe is me how to deal with all these things alone.  No, I didn't work or pay attention to household finances.  I was planning parties or hanging out with the other PTA moms at the gym/ Target/Starbucks.  Gimme a break.

I'm so over the weak female lead in every novel.  The supporting female characters are generally catty, hateful bitches who are just as weak and inept as the main character, making it impossible for them to be a good friend to them.  The worst of it is that most of these novels are written by women.  Seriously, is that how you view women or worse yet yourself?  Is this the image of women that you want to put out into the world?  Are these the only type of women that you think people will find interesting or believable?  This weakness is rarely important to the story.  But yet it is always there.

I often find myself running a Bechdel test in my head.  Can two female characters have a dialogue without talking about a man?  In my own personal take on the Bechdel test I also look for conversations between women that don't revolve around their children.  Enough already.  Women are not weak, baby-making waifs whose can't tie their shoes without a Xanax and a man.  I like my characters likable, maybe even relatable.  What I don't like is hating a character and celebrating all the bad things that are happening to her.  Hoping the next book I read breaks this trend. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

Inequalities in Prison Terms in the U.S.

I was excited to read about the 25th anniversary of Friday Night Lights in the 8/3/15 issue of Sports Illustrated.  The book, movie and TV series are all held up as some of the best of all time.  But, almost as a side note, the article highlighted the inequalities of he criminal justice system.  Either the author didn't notice it or didn't want to turn his nostalgic article into a political article. Sports Illustrated missed a key opportunity to address an issue that society is struggling with right now. 

Person A- Abused by relatives.  Spent time in foster care.  High school football star.  School helped him cheat in high school so he could stay eligible to play football.  The help stopped once he was injured and couldn't play.  Flunked out of college. Charged with aggravated assault after hitting someone with a beer bottle during a fight.  No prior felony record.  Misdemeanors for driving without a license and failure to pay child support.  Given 10 years probation.  Stopped making regular visits to his parole officer.  Sentenced to 10 years in prison.

Person B- Family law firm.  High school football star.  Attended Harvard.  Joined family law firm.  Admitted starting a fight with his girlfriend and her ex-husband that escalated into a brawl.  B and two friends entered the ex-husband's house uninvited and continued fighting with the 8 people inside.  Charged with burglary with intent to commit assault- a serious felony.  Placed on 5 years probation and had his law license suspended for 5 years.

There is big difference here.  Why was one given 10 years probation and the other 5 years?  Was person A told that if he violated his parole he would then have an equal amount of jail time?  Did person A ever receive therapy to deal with his childhood hardships?  Person A didn't have the family support or resources that person B had.  Person B not only had a family of lawyers supporting him but the personal knowledge of the law to know what would happen if he didn't follow the rules.   

I am not advocating violating parole but there are too many people spending years in prison for non-violent offenses.  And more often than not, they aren't given therapy or skills in prison to cope with the real world once they get out so a lot of them end up coming back. 

It is hard to believe that race and economic status didn't play a role in the unequal treatment of the two men.  Person A is black and poor.  When he was injured and could no longer play for the football team, he was subjected to racism from the football staff and community.  The football team provided him with the support that he never had from his family.  Once that was gone, he was on his own again.

Person B is Hispanic and comes from a family that is prominent in the community.  I'd like to believe that person B would have been sentenced to prison if he violated his parole but it seems unlikely.  And if he was sentenced it probably wouldn't have been for 10 years. 

No matter what your background, there should be a set list of rules for offenses so that judges don't sentence poor, black people to longer sentences.  A good lawyer or a bad judge shouldn't decide someone's fate.  At some point the criminal justice system needs to stop solving everything with a trip to prison.  Rehabilitation will have to be a key part of  treatment.  The reason we have more people in prison than any other developed country is because people are in jail for non-violent offenses.  We put all of our money into building new prisons and very little on programs to prevent people from going into prison in the first place. 

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Learning to Let it Go

My brother and I were rarely spanked when we were kids.  We were frequently beaten.  My mother didn't know how to cope with having 2 young children with minimal support so she took it out on us.  Sometimes it would be an overreaction to something that one of us had done wrong.  Usually, we were just in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Sometimes being in the room, minding your own business was enough to warrant a beating. 

It took me a long time to forgive my mother for this abuse.  For years I would inappropriately hit my friends and boyfriends and overreact violently to situations that other people would just brush off.  I still struggle with controlling my temper and letting things go.  I know that I get this from my mother.

The most difficult thing to deal with is my mother's complete change of opinion on corporal punishment.  At least a couple times a year there is a video of a parent beating their child in a grocery store parking lot or a famous person putting their child in the hospital after a routine spanking.  My mother is the first one to express her outrage at these parents.  She is careful to say that yes, that sort of thing was okay when she was a kid but it's not okay now.  But she never admits that it is the sort of thing that she did as a parent.  That she was wrong.  It is always them.  It is never her.

I don't expect her to have this epiphany.  I know she won't ever apologize or admit that she was wrong.  But it still bothers me.  I don't know if I will ever be able to let things go but at least I'm only screaming at her inside my head.   

Monday, June 29, 2015

Young Bigots

I am always shocked when young people are ignorant.  When I see anyone under the age of 40 smoking I want to shake them.  Don't you know the risks?  Don't you know how awful you smell?  How your habit affects innocent people around you.  It's the same with all the "isms". 

I remember this stupid game that we would play where we would say who we would marry if you had to marry someone in the room.  In high school it was all very innocent.  Everyone named each other and giggled.  Maybe revealing secret crushes.  But it all changed in college. 

In my circle of friends I am almost always the only black face.  It's never an issue until someone makes it an issue.  I would live my life like everyone else and then WHAM, out of nowhere, racism.  During my first Habitat for Humanity spring break we were playing the who would you marry game.  A couple of guys said me which was nice.  But both of them immediately said "But not really.  My family or the people where I grew up wouldn't approve of that" or something similar.  It was a stupid game.  It wasn't a commitment.  But they had to make sure to declare that there was no possibility of marrying me, their friend, solely because I was black.  I will never forget that.

Or my former co-worker who whispered to me that his brother hated that he listened to rap music and called it n*gger music.  I don't even no where that comes from.  I don't know why he felt like he should tell me that or why he wasn't disgusted by his brother's use of the word.  But I know that I trusted him less after that.  If he was willing to tell me that to my face what sort of racism took place in that house, in his life outside of work.

As I watch all the posts on social media from people regarding police brutality and racial profiling, gay marriage and the president, I am shocked on a daily basis by how many young ignorant people there are in my life.  Some of these people hide behind the bible or some ridiculous claims from a right wing organization that say the president is taking away guns, the kids are going to be taught how to be gay in school and other completely insane things.  The worst of it is they believe what they are saying.  They believe that they are right.  That they are justified in this hatred or justification for hatred.  It is depressing. 

With every news report or documentary that I watch it is clear that we have a long way to go as a country.  The sad part is that these people have children that they are teaching to be ignorant.  That this hate will continue on for generations to come.  Maybe these people aren't directly responsible for all the tragedies that happen in this country but the people who are don't think that different from them.  Instead of just saying how much they hate a group of people they are going out and attacking those people.  Trying to eliminate them.  All it takes is one unstable person in a group of angry people to create a tragedy. 

For now all I can do is hide those people from my feed.  There is no reason to subject myself to their hate.  I can only hope that things do not get too much worse before they start to get better.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

My Love Hate Relationship with Road Races

When I first started running in road races, I was quite the loner.  I was often the only black person there and I was in the back of the pack.  Every once in a while I would make friends during the race.  People who ran around my pace and struck up a conversation during the race or in the recovery tent.  But generally I kept to myself.  I drove to races by myself.  I ran by myself.  After the race I ate my snacks alone, stretched alone and then drove home.

As my confidence increased and I noticed a lot more runners who looked like me and/or ran my pace or slower I loosened up.  I hung out longer after races.  I initiated conversations with people.   I even ran with other people every once in a while.  Occasionally,  I would choose the wrong person to talk to.   Some pseudo-elite runner would bristle at the nerve of someone like me to make a comment about the race or a suggestion about something he was complaining about.  But more often than not my experiences were positive.

For me running is meditation.   It is my time to clear my head, to fantasize, to work through my problems.   I have been told by people that they waved to me or yelled my name during a race but I ignored them.  I am so much in my head during a race that I often don't notice other people, landmarks and course markers.  Luckily I have only gotten lost twice!

Lately running has been less therapeutic and more stressful.  The local 5ks have become a place for families to gather.  For people to sight see and take pictures.  For large herds of inexperienced and rude people to block the paths of runners and turn a leisurely run into an obstacle race.

I find myself running off road to avoid people that are running 5-people across or swerving to avoid people who come to a dead stop in the middle of the road.  I waste energy passing these people or being angry at them.  I find myself tense and relieved when the race is over.

One solution is to line up closer to the front.  But then I risk making myself an obstacle for the faster runners.  I don't want to ruin anyone else's race.  A better solution is to take the local 5ks out of my rotation.  To only participate in longer or more difficult races that will not attract those people. 

This will take  me back to my loner days.  There will be more elite runners.  There will be less people that look like me.  I will be in the back if not last.  But I will have peace again.   I will be able to run my race with my shoulders relaxed and my head cleared.  It will be worth it.  I just hope my self esteem is strong enough to take it in stride.