"Parish, you're fulla shit!"

The above is a direct quote, spoken by Jay to Parish during a race relations class at Tennessee Tech. Jay was white, Parish was black. The topic of the conversation, of course, was race. There were eight of us in that class. Two white women, two black women, two white men, two black men. Alison and i were among those numbers.

The reason those words stick out to me is because they came at such an important moment in that class--for me, and i think for the rest of us. It wasn't exactly a "pivotal" moment. After all, we'd been in there for probably two thirds of a semester at that point and the only thing left to pivot on at that point would have been to say "okay, screw it. All us white folks are just going back to bein' racist." No, we had to keep moving foward. But we were at an impasse in the discussion. I don't remember exactly what it was--Parish, i think, was probably on one of his conspiratorial rants--but we'd reached a point where something new had to happen and we didn't know what that was. And then Jay hauls off and says "Parish, you're full of shit."

I don't have space here to fill you in on all of the details that led up to this event. That would take a book. It would require you to take a class like the one we were in for yourself (or at least to watch a new show on the television called White/Black--there's a similar situation on that show revolving around the comment "yo! bitch!".) But the crux of what i want to get here is this: sometimes openly calling someone else on their bullshit is the healthiest thing for both parties.
Prior to this moment in the race relations class we'd all been walking on eggshells. We were scared of each other. Now: the equation is always unbalanced--white folks are always sicker than black folks. WE, after all, haven't had to spend our lives living in two worlds, so black folks most always have a head start. Nonetheless, something in that class had to give.

And give it did. Like a fault line that has built up enormous tension, and then suddenly shifts...except with no resulting destructive earthquake. The big deal about this was that Jay had told Parish he was full of it...not because he was black, but because Parish, at that moment, genuinely was full of shit. In that moment, Parish became a real person to the white people in the room. He wasn't a collection of racial sterotypes to us anymore, or "the other," but was a real person capable of being right and wrong, of being filled with both contradictions and wisdom.

This is all on my mind right now because i've been attending, as part of my work here, a meeting on Tuesday nights whose topic is ostensibly the mental health of family members of homocide victims. (And race plays a big part in this). I say "ostensibly" (and hope that i've spelled it correctly) because that meeting doesn't appear to be functioning that way. Instead of using the meeting as a place of healing, the people running it use it to weekly invite some member of the community responsible for law and order, or prosecution of crimes, or of helping the community and the victim's families cope with their loss, and then proceed to call them on the carpet for doing such a shitty job.

For five weeks now i've comiserated with the victims. Truly, the city has done a terrible job. The DA won't prosecute cases, the services available are poorly advertised, the help is slow, or never, in coming. However, last night i realized that these people have no intention of "getting better." They are not ready to heal yet. They have yet to stop being angry, to move beyond finger pointing, and move into a place of grief and understanding. My heart goes out to them.

As a person who has benefitted a lot from the concept of "tough love"--and hence uses it himself--i wanted to say something last night. I sat there holding a pamphlet--one that's been on the table at those meetings for five weeks--that explained about a program called SHARE, gave a phone number, said it was a free service for people grieving the loss of a family member--and i listened to yet another person point out that "no one has yet to come into this meeting and give us a single piece of concrete information about where to go for support."

i didn't say anything, though. i just quietly walked out, feeling useless and guilty.

1 comment:

christiemckaskle said...

To me, there really is a difference between the (usually mobilizing) anger that occurs as a part of grief and the stagnant anger that (as you pointed out) serves to delay grief. I think in this case (ie, if this case is like situations I know of), the anger is a way of hiding from ourselves (if we're the family members... and we are) that the responsible parties don't have the power to give the victims back to their families, even if they take full responsibility. My observation is that finger-pointing comes from a very unconscious idea that you could shame someone into giving you back what they took from you. But here's the thing, if anyone had courage to take responsibility for their part, it could be a healing thing, because it brings that fact (that their loved ones are not coming back) into sharp focus. So, even though I wasn't thinking this when I began this paragraph, this apparently pointless exercise may in fact have some usefulness in the long run.