Dr. Joy was honored to once again be a guest of Gil Noble’s on Like It Is. Original air date: May 1st, 2011.

 

Isn’t it interesting how people tend to come together during a tragedy? Even enemies will relax their grievances and render assistance in times of trouble. I remember when the events of 9/11 occurred my neighbors suddenly introduced themselves to me because on that day we were all “Americans.” They were no longer pulling their curious children away from the unwelcomed Black family that bought the house on the corner.  One tragedy had somehow forged a bond albeit ‘temporary’ that somehow changed our status from stranger to “frienemy.”

It would seem that the most intelligent creatures on earth would realize the essential need to at some point come together for the over-all greater good. The truth is we seem to be getting farther away from such a notion and in many respects we seem to be actually going backwards.  We are creating a system of segregation far more grievous and intractable than the Jim Crow era of yesterday and fear continues to fuel the whole business.  In the past, political figures warned of the eminent dangers of educating people and prohibited certain groups from coming together;

South Carolina passed the first laws prohibiting slave education in 1740. While there were no limitations on reading, (for religious purposes only) it became illegal to teach slaves to write.

The ignorance of the slaves was considered necessary to the security of the slaveholders (Albanese 1976). Not only did owners fear the spread of specifically abolitionist materials, they did not want slaves to question their lot; thus, reading and reflection were to be prevented at any cost.

For this reason, the State Assembly enacted the following:

Be it therefore Enacted by the Authority aforesaid, That all and every Person and Persons whatsoever, who shall hereafter teach or cause any Slave to be taught to write, or shall use or employ any slave as a Scribe in any Manner of Writing whatsoever hereafter taught to write, every such offense forfeit the Sum of One Hundred Pounds current Money.

Samuel Thurston was a delegate to the United States Congress from the Oregon Territory.  Speaking before Congress in 1850 in defense of the Oregon Territory’s Exclusionary Acts he argued the following:

. . .The negroes associate with the Indians and intermarry, and, if their free ingress is encouraged or allowed, there would a relationship spring up between them and the different tribes, and mixed race would ensue inimical to the whites; and the Indians being led by the Negro who is better acquainted with the customs, language, and manners of the whites, than the Indian, these savages would become much more formidable than they otherwise would, and long and bloody wars would be the fruits of the commingling of the races.  It is the principle of self preservation that justifies the action of the Oregon legislature.

The fanatical delusion of superiority that lead to blatant acts of discrimination in the past has been replaced by a more sophisticated and rigorous form today.  Attorney, Michelle Alexander in her 2010 book entitled “The New Jim Crow’’ writes:

In the era of colorblindness, it is no longer socially permissible to use race, explicitly, as a justification for discrimination, exclusion, and social contempt. So we don’t. Rather than rely on race, we use our criminal justice system to label people of color “criminals” and then engage in all the practices we supposedly left behind. Today it is perfectly legal to discriminate against criminals in nearly all the ways that it was once legal to discriminate against African Americans. Once you’re labeled a felon, the old forms of discrimination, denial of the right to vote, denial of educational opportunity, denial of food stamps and other public benefits, and exclusion from jury service—are suddenly legal. As a criminal, you have scarcely more rights, arguably less respect, than a black man living in Alabama at the height of Jim Crow. We have not ended racial caste in America; we have merely redesigned it.

But aren’t those people of color responsible for all of the crime? Isn’t it ‘the blacks, Mexican illegals, and Asian gangs that are responsible for the drugs and its attending mayhem?  (NOT)  Again, Michelle Alexander reveals the fallacy of a “post racial America” by exposing the racial dimension of mass incarceration today.

In some states black men have been admitted to prison on drug charges at rates fifty times greater than those of white men.  And in major cities wracked by the drug war, as many as 80 percent of young African American men now have criminal records and are thus subject to legalized discrimination for the rest of their lives. These young men are part of a growing under caste, permanently locked up and out of mainstream society.

These stark racial disparities cannot be explained by rates of drug crime. Studies show that people of all colors use and sell illegal drugs at remarkably similar rates.  If there are significant differences in the surveys to be found, they frequently suggest that whites, particularly white youth are more likely to engage in drug crime than people of color.

Then there’s the new Arizona immigration laws:

Arizona Governor, Jan Brewer’s immigration law is said to be the “broadest and strictest immigration measure in generations, would make the failure  to carry immigration documents a crime  and give the police broad power to detain anyone suspected of being in the country illegally.

Additionally, a new law has been signed in Tucson to eliminate ethnic studies from  the Tucson unified school District  which offers specialized courses in African American, Mexican American, and Native American studies.“State Schools Chief Tom Horne, said he believes the Mexican American studies program teaches Latino students that they are oppressed by white people.”  Well Duh!

As the material conditions in the world worsen we can expect even more desperate attempts to find scapegoats (usually people of color) to blame for everything from the deteriorating economic plight of the country, drugs and crime, to moral bankruptcy. And we can certainly anticipate the proliferation of elaborate schemes designed to scare the masses into spending their money to protect their shrinking possessions while unwittingly guaranteeing more benefits and advantage for the wealthy and elite few. 

The real question is how those who still possess a modicum of integrity move forward in spite of it all.  I remember having a conversation with my older brother years ago who told me that women possess unique abilities of intuition and compassion and that one of the most common cons is to try to convince women that they are confused and mistaken when they are not.  (I must admit it took me a while to figure that one out!)

Similarly, all of us can sometimes fall prey to media hype and mass hysteria when we are unclear about whom and what we are.  I was asked recently by a friend about how I managed stress in my life and I told her that some days are better than others but that mostly, I walk myself through a worst case scenario and sit with it until whatever remnants of my irrational fear subsides and the realization that I can survive it emerges, knowing that like everything else, ‘it too shall pass.’  

Holding on to our sanity means being sure about what is most important in our lives, it means reaching out to help others but never forgetting to seek out help for ourselves as well.  At the risk of sounding a bit pessimistic, I believe that it is becoming increasingly evident that things are likely to get worse before they get better, but rest assured that like in past ages we will endure, we will be humbled and we will learn to do and be better. 

So take a deep breath, you’re gonna’ need it!

“Happy in the Trenches”

Your Sister

Joy

I asked the students in my course on PTSS to fill out the study guide page which asks them to list significant individuals.  I was particularly interested in how large a role that extended family and fictive kinship played in their lives.  As I had anticipated, the students of color had more extended family connections and kinship patterns than their white counterparts.

When each student shared their list with the class there was a sense of respect even reverence given to the process.  I did not share my list but I felt fortunate to know that I have a broad and extensive list of people who have been major supports and influences in my life. I also felt good knowing that my children are not only connected to my network but have all established significant relationships of their own thereby passing along a well-rounded ‘village of people’ to my grandchildren.

Some of these important figures in my life had a strong impact on me not because of their success and achievements but, because of their personal challenges and failures.  The importance of failure was brilliantly illustrated in a conversation I had some years ago with a friend about eagles.  He told me about how often an eagle will swoop down in an attempt to capture its prey but, despite its strength, skill, and agility, frequently fails to actually catch anything.  In fact, their repeated failures might suggest to some that eagles are pretty poor hunters as birds of prey go.  But then my friend shared something quite spectacular about these birds.  He said that eagles are one of the only birds in the world that can fly straight up and through the most powerful and violent storm without being harmed and that this phenomenal ability was the direct result of the strength they gained from their constant failures.

I probably have grown and learned more about myself from my failures and hardships than from my achievements.  I would suspect that much of the guidance that we receive from those important members of our family stems from what they too have learned from life’s tumultuous twists and turns.  The sentient gleam of assurance from their eyes as they give counsel seems to tell a deeper story about their struggles and their triumphs.  We, the recipients of these chronicles are spared the pain, and the emotional labor they suffered during their trials; trials which gave birth to the wisdom that they choose to convey to us.

It is their ‘knowing’ that captivates me, not simply the imparting of information but, a soul-stirring ‘knowing’ often leaving me speechless, aware that I dare not question or pry further.  It is as if they transmit the very feeling of their experience like a bolt of electricity and then it is gone, vanquished most often by the brief flash of a smile.  They purposefully pull the shade and shield us from the part of their past that remains in the “saved file” only opened on rare occasions to shed light but never to blind us.

Towards the end of the class, one of my students raised her hand and paused before she spoke.  She reluctantly shared that one of the most significant people in her life was a grandmother that had died years before.  She listed this grandmother as someone who continues to guide and assist her.  I asked the rest of the class if they had included in their list, family members that had passed away and that they believe continue to assist them. Nearly everyone in the class raised their hand.  I thanked the one student for her disclosure, because I understood that a graduate social work class was not a place where such feelings are usually openly shared.  Everyone seemed relieved, as though their lack of acknowledgement had somehow dishonored their loved ones.  There was no discussion of the “how” just a collective ‘knowing.’

The future of every generation lies in its progeny.  Prepared or, unready they are the unwitting guarantors of familial memory, living time capsules filled with stories that define and sculpt family identity, culture and history.  All of us are both mirrors and windows reflecting what has been and apertures allowing a brief and narrow look into the limitless potentialities of what can be.

If we listen we will hear family living or dead, speaking to us, inspiring us, our music and art, our poetry and this very piece that you are now reading. I hope I got it right!

In memory of Oscar and Nellie DeGruy

Joy

I was driving along Memorial Blvd in Atlanta, and I couldn’t help noticing the number of fast food places I passed; Churches Chicken, Wendy’s, Burger King and of course the granddaddy of ‘crack burgers’ McDonalds.  This same pattern was repeated from coast to coast.  In Oregon, Washington, California, New York, New Jersey, etc.  It is an American phenomenon, and while the level of restaurant will differ as the neighborhood becomes wealthier by replacing the usual burger and chicken joints with food places that at least sound like they might be better for you like the occasional Olive Garden and Red Lobster, none of it is really good food.

I am particularly concerned with how much of this stuff African-Americans are consuming and more specifically, black children and youth.  Poverty no doubt plays a significant role however, as a child growing up surrounded by poverty; people back then seemed to get on without a proliferation of fast food.  Families actually cooked meals and ate together.  I am told by some young black adults that “a lot of people just don’t know how to cook or, simply don’t have the time to cook.” And why bother when fast food restaurants are offering a complete dinner for 99¢.

So what is the toll on African-American men, women and children? The result is increased levels of obesity, hypertension, diabetes, stroke, heart attacks, cancer, and depression.  In fact, experts say many Americans do not even know what true hunger is.  Consider this, the brain and body signal to you when you are full or satiated.  When we consume nutrient rich foods, like fruits and vegetables, legumes and nuts we become fuller faster because a healthy amount of nutrients have been ingested.  However; when we eat foods lacking in nutrients like fried meats and heavy starches like potatoes, white rice and corn, the body does not register that adequate nutrients have been consumed and while lots of food is being taken in, the hunger continues.  Overeating is the unfortunate and dangerous result.

A few months ago I was visiting friends in Brooklyn, New York.  We were stopped at a light and on our left waiting for the light to change was a family.  There was a woman who looked to be in her fifties that was morbidly obese riding a scooter, a younger woman (perhaps her daughter) who stood at her side who was equally as obese, with an adolescent girl standing next to her, also morbidly obese who was pushing a toddler in a stroller and the child in the stroller was already clearly obese.  I cannot imagine what it would take for this family or, anyone struggling with severe obesity to overcome such a physically challenging problem.  But, I do know how to prevent it!

Sugar: The Original Sin

Many of us are unaware that the African slave trade and the ensuing colonization of Africans and other people of color was precipitated among other things, by the European’s addiction to sugar!  The demand for sugar in medieval Western Europe eventually led to the Portuguese planting sugar along the coast of Africa and in the Caribbean thus began the unholy union of sugar and later tobacco with slavery.  And today, slavery’s children are finding themselves increasingly addicted to the very substance that was an impetus for forced servitude and slavery.  Sugar is in nearly everything we eat, just read the list of ingredients on canned vegetables, sauces, soups, condiments, bread, cereal, even baby foods. And after looking at the added sugar look how much salt or fat is added.  These seemingly harmless substances are over time as addictive as crack cocaine and we swallow them daily without thought or hesitation.

Change is difficult and requires courage and commitment. I am concerned about myself and my family which includes those who may read this.  Even if some of us may not desire to change our eating habits to include more of the nutritious foods that I mentioned earlier, even if many of us lack the personal will power to make changes for ourselves, please consider the children.  They look to us to guide and protect them, most often from themselves. And the best way to teach is by example!

Again, let’s go Together!

Your Sister in the Struggle. . .

Joy

How much of our healing is in knowing that we can re-fashion ourselves?

Like the impetuosity of youth, once fully grown, we recklessly squander our potential with fruitless attempts to avoid looking at ourselves as beings fully capable of self transformation.  Our mistakes haunt us so; we flee from them and thus ourselves through mindless activities or, occasionally more meaningful distractions.  Yet, all we have is now and what we choose to make of it.  Every day I think about what I want to do with my life because everyday I am faced with a new opportunity, a choice about who I will be.

The words “I can’t” are not an admission of failure or even a statement of fear; it is perhaps the most brazen example of ego.  I can’t, is more akin to, I choose not to.  The truth is most of us have everything we need to accomplish the tasks and challenges that we are confronted with.  We only lack the willingness to grow, to alter a habit and to sometimes change our course midstream. 

Each new day presents an opportunity for us to be who we want to be.  I remember working at my first job as a teenager.  I quickly earned a reputation for being a day dreamer and a bit disorganized.  I disliked the ‘tag’ my fellow young co-workers had placed on me, but I didn’t know at the time how, or what to do to change things.  A week or so later we got a new manager, a typical occurrence in the particular line of work I happened to be in at the time, (fast food).  The manager introduced himself by meeting with each employee privately and when my turn came up I saw the chance to at least change the perception that he would have of me.  I decided to not just describe myself as organized and focused, but also, to describe qualities and characteristics that I had not yet, but hoped to achieve. Not only did the manager see and treat me like the person that I had described myself to be, everyone else at my job did as well, with the exception of one guy that had a crush on me, (my big brother had to put him in check). 

What was most enlightening about my experience was not the positive changed response that I had received from my manager and co-workers, but rather the change that happened in me.  I had actually become the person that I’d described even the skills and abilities that I hadn’t yet acquired became evident.  It felt like magic at the time however, there was nothing extraordinary about it.  We are so much greater than we believe ourselves to be. 

I remember many years ago going to bed with knots in my stomach, horrified by a prior decision I had made.  I worried about how I would be judged and wondered how I could escape the potential negative critiques from others.  I awoke thinking about how irrational, ineffectual and arrogant a preoccupation I had engaged in the day before.  I showered and put on a new clean set of clothes and with them, a new me.  I had to find center again and get a grip on myself, regain a clearer perspective of reality.  The key to mastering the self is often to simply let go of the self.  So much of the quality of our lives lies in what we perceive ourselves to be in the first place.

Each day provides us with the necessary skills for building the most important work of all, ourselves.  Through the years I have refashioned my self over and over again understanding that life is the clay but I am the sculptor.  I often see flaws and I go about fixing them and sometimes I just leave them be . . . I still day dream!

“Man is a divine experiment”

Dr. Joy DeGruy

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