We Are Orphans Looking for Surrogate Mothers and Fathers: Our Difficulty with Bill Cosby

cosby-show-1024I was not going to comment about Bill Cosby.  In full honestly, I withheld my insights or thoughts due to a disbelief of what I was hearing in regards to the sexual assault allegations while cradling questions about how or why we placed Bill Cosby on such a pedestal.

My path of disbelief and disenchantment with Bill Cosby began many months ago as many of the victims started to speak out.  While buzz continued to question the credibility and validity these women,  my questions remained internal.  Occasionally, one of my questions would find its way into one of my phone conversations with a friend, “Do you believe what is coming out about Bill Cosby?”  Often my questions were met with a pause or a response “I don’t know…” as we had a short discussion about the fact that so many women were coming forward so it must be true.

indexThese questions co-mingled with fond fuzzy memories of The Cosby show.  Most weeknights for many years, my family and I planned our evenings around seeing Bill and Claire Huxtable with their children appear in their Brooklyn Brownstone on Primetime television.  The Huxtables were an upper middle class family allowing an ease and escape from my own family dysfunction as I fantasized myself into their lives.   I remained hopeful that perhaps they would one day extend a hand into our living room to invite me to be a part of their family.  Perhaps I could replace Rudy Huxtable or enjoy many of the perks of being one of the Cosby kids.  Despite the lack of reality and the smooth manner in which family issues were resolved within the record time of 30 minutes (as with most shows then), the life of the Huxtables was idyllic especially the role of Bill Cosby who was a gentle, firm, comical and lovable father.

What I longed for while gazing through a screen was the dynamic of family as presented by the Huxtables but Cosby was not necessarily a surrogate father figure.  In fact, my father was present in my home but that was not the situation for many of my peers.   For many in the black community, it was (and still is) key to see positive representations of black family especially favorable images of fathers. But our societal disenchantment with Bill Cosby extends beyond that. In his later years, the jokes stopped as he used his celebrity status to address some of the issues within the black community. Cosby refashioned himself from being one of America’s favorite dads/Jello-man to the tough love father who wanted better for his community.

Given the these nostalgic images, it is easy to see why we are all in shock.  We all seem to be undergoing a serious mourning of the image of the Bill Cosby we thought we knew and loved.  At the same time, I’ve previously written commentary on the fact that we have foolishly placed these celebrities upon unrealistic pedestals only to realize that they are human and fallible. But perhaps we are having such a hard time about Bill Cosby because so many of our fathers and mothers have physically and emotionally gone missing, especially in communities of color.  We have become orphans who’ve set out to look for replacements in the form of celebrities a.k.a. strangers who devastate us with as much ease as our familiar loved ones. And of course the only cure from such a thing comes from the wise advice of Eve Ensler in her recent article “Eve Ensler on Bill Cosby: Let the Mythical Daddy Die” it is time to stop infantilizing ourselves and break ties with our father figure fantasies.

 

 

Social Media–Perhaps Our Way of Handing Each Other Hope

Thumbs up, like button on white background.

In the past I’ve talked at length about our misuses and abuses of social media.  In one of my latest segments, I talked at length about the public shame game.  While I still feel that social media is in many ways allowing us to put on a show of somewhat manufactured lives, there are other other moments that I witness something a bit different about what social media offers.   I will share with a brief story.

Last week, I was scrolling through all of the pictures, status updates and announcements made by various acquaintances and friends on Facebook but one in particular caught my eye.  It was a relationship announcement in which my friend’s new beau gave her a shout-out that landed on her page for all of us to see.  The announcement was a collage of thoughtful words and visuals basically stating how filled with gratitude he was to stumble upon her.  I read the update, looked through the pictures and of course had to leave a comment of congratulations.

Mind you, this was not a close friend nor a regular tea partner.  Yet, that news, their smiling faces and what seemed to be their bliss was inspiring and it encouraged this post.  For many moments after seeing that particular post, I saw something a little more redeeming about the possibility of social media.  Perhaps in the middle of the chaos and the crazy of our lives, it is a way we can hand each other hope.  For many of us, maybe it is our desire or want to pierce the distance through a screen and touch another human being through a picture we post that might illustrate a smiling face or intimate moment of enjoyment with our loved ones;
through a kind word of encouragement, a short story, or some other many intended to brighten some known or unknown reader’s day;
though a goofy video, a joke, or a myriad of other seemingly innocuous gestures conveyed in a status update;
or through other ways conveying our need to connect, share, and feel like we are not the only ones riding a particular train.

All of these things just might be the flame that each of us are seeking on the other end of the screen amidst any level of darkness we are facing in our current lives.  While it is true that most may not have it in the ways we are seeing it, perhaps the amalgamation of words and faces is a way encouraging someone else to live that reality.

I Am a Northern Girl Who Grew Up with Images of the Confederate Flag

Let me explain.  Each week as a little girl I watched General Lee fly across my television screen in the famous television series Dukes of Hazzard.  For many years, all I recalled about General Lee (which was the bright orange 69’ Dodge Charger) were the drivers, Luke Duke (Tom Wopat) and Bo Duke (John Schneider).  As the familiar images of this show debuted in our living room each week, my mother would go on ad noseum (as she did with most television shows) about how handsome the main stars of the show were.  The main premise involved Bo and Luke maneuvering their way out of trouble with the local Sheriff and police.  Of course these episodes always included the famous  getaway chases  in which Bo and Luck successfully evaded the law.

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So why am I taking a stroll down memory lane about a show that aired over 30 years ago?  It indeed is connected to the recent debates about the Confederate Flag.  Many feel that it represents a dark time in our history that upheld certain beliefs and values specifically around race relations.   Others argue that it is a representation of pride and heritage.  As I watched various news sources over the weekend report on the debate about the flag I piped up during one of these mornings exclaiming as if coming out of a fog, “I grew up with the Confederate Flag coming through my television set!  General Lee on Dukes of Hazzard had the flag stamped across its rooftop.”   My friend responded with a casual “Yeah” barely awake from his slumber as I went on to question aloud “Why didn’t anyone ever explain what the flag stood for?  That was a teachable moment?!”

My friend remained a bit placid despite the Kabuki Theatre that was taking place right before him on this particular morning.  He remained still on the floral couch as he continued to sip coffee from his mug while the warmth of my tea was disappearing into the air.  I sat in some puzzlement and astonishment while he remained calm as if the outburst never occurred equipped with a poker face.   We continued to watch the news while I intermittently interrupted asking him questions about his thoughts about the Confederate Flag, but I had many more questions that remained for my parents.

Please understand that even as I write this, I still grapple with the implications of banning a piece of the country’s ugly history.   The remnants of our history as a country no matter how gruesome, shaming, disturbing and many times ugly should continue to be a part of our narrative if it is the truth we wish to seek.  I am not saying that I want to grant people the right to fly that flag high in public space.  In fact, whenever I see the Confederate Flag waving on a vehicle (almost always a truck) unspoken fear wells up inside.  At the same time, I do question censorship, banning and hiding anything that is now out of the context/time/and space from its original meaning.  In other words, if we make it disappear, does this mean that we can pretend that it never existed?  Is the ban an attempt to retell our history and erase the existence of the flag?  Where are the lines of right to free speech and its affect and impact of the community or general public?  In fact these were some of the same questions posted by my friend that day as we watched the news.

I have no answers as my mind is still wrapping around the ongoing debates we have had about the Confederate Flag (this of course is certainly not the first time we are discussing this issue).  There are also are many times that I have often wondered about when or if we will ever have an honest discussion about the American flag and some of the challenges it still poses as a symbol of freedom.   While I sit with questions without easy answers, I have the bigger more personal piece I am un-peeling in all of this which involves deconstructing what I saw as a child and viewing the experience as an adult with the question of parental responsibility.  I am not sure what my parents would say now or how my mother would respond to my main question, why didn’t she explain or tell me about the emblem on top of the car?  Why did she choose to comment the appearance of the actors as opposed to taking this teachable moment to explain that symbol?  Was it because I did not ask?  Was the issue too complicated?  Was it not important because it was not a main part of the storyline?  In other words, would it have been different if Bo and Luke had the flag affixed to the outside of the car as opposed to it being painted upon the roof?

National debate about it continues on like a wildfire, yet I am still overwhelmed by memories of my family cheering and chanting for General Lee to escape the Sheriff.  As Youtube provides the ability for me to step back in time with an illustration of one of these well known Bo, Luke and General Lee/Police chases, I am asking if I should feel guilty for the way the image still inspires a want to chant for them to escape even as images of the Confederate Flag appears as big as day atop the airborne and famous getaway car?  For a short time there was also a Dukes of Hazzard cartoon that I watched from time to time as a child.

The fact still stands that images of the flag made regular appearances in my house with the help of our television which makes it one of many pieces of my dysfunctional childhood.  As a child, I thought of it as nothing more than a giant blue “X” across the roof as an embellishment more than anything else. As an adult, I have questions about the silence of my parents, my unconscious participation, and the overall pop culture celebration of this image.  I can’t believe that everyone else just thought of it as a random giant blue “X” with stars in its design.  But perhaps, maybe they really did.

A Message to Moms According to New Study: A New Round of Shaming Mothers

Maybe she is not good enough because she does not co-sleep with her infant;
Maybe she is not good enough because she chose formula over breastfeeding;
Maybe she is not good enough because she uses a play-pen as opposed to carrying her baby around for hours within the first year;
Maybe she is not good enough because she has not yet become chauffeur for all of her child’s activities;
She is not good enough because she chose public school as opposed to another form of education;
She is not good enough because she has isolated her child through home schooling

And now, she may not be good enough for not carrying the weight of motherhood in addition to a career.

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The “she” of this piece goes by the name we all know…..Mother, mama, ma, or any other term we use to refer to the larger than life figure in our lives responsible for birthing us.   Someone I once talked with aptly stated, “Everyone has a story about Mother….she is where it all begins.” In addition to the inherent challenges of mothering, an article by Gabriel Fisher shares new research from a Harvard Business School working paper from a study linking adult success (or failure) to mothers. But not just any moms, the article, “Working moms have more successful daughters and more caring sons, Harvard Business School study says” is presenting the idea that children of working mothers have better outcomes. Specifically, based on information gathered form several countries, Fisher’s article shares,

“..daughters of working mothers are more likely to be employed, hold supervisory positions, and earn more money than the daughters of women who don’t work outside the home. The researchers also found a statistically significant effect on the sons of working women, who are likely to spend more time caring for family members and doing household chores than are the sons of stay-at-home mothers.

Even after controlling for gender attitudes—to take beliefs regarding gender roles out of the equation—the researchers found that 33% of daughters of working mothers held supervisory roles, compared to only 25% of daughters of stay-at-home moms. “What I take away is that employed mothers create an environment in which their children’s attitudes on what is appropriate for girls to do and what is appropriate for boys to do is affected,” McGinn says.”

While I don’t think the aim of the article was to shame mothers (working or non) I can’t help but to yet again observe the enduring battle that has taken place throughout my lifetime. This war on mothering has included everything from play dates to breastfeeding and education or discipline choices. In addition to decisions about parenting, the tough questions raised about balancing work, home, and relationship always seem to have woman at the center. In 2012, a few highly successful career women shared their personal experiences in the The Atlantic article, “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All,” of struggling with motherhood and their career life. Over the years, others have grumbled that women with good educations were ditching their careers in favor of family.

So which is it? If you are Super Woman balancing your career, kids and relationship the new study says that your kids will be better off for it.  Given the economic climate that requires multiple incomes, parenting is a luxury. In other words, given our over-busy and over-packed schedules, the actual time to be present without the deadline of rushing off to another activity or to work is almost non-existent in American society.

The headline of this article did catch my attention and caused me to wonder when or if we will stop shaming women into (or against) being Super Woman? Can a mom NOT work and still have successful daughters and caring sons? Can a mom have her main job/career be her children and not face social pressure of not having other accomplishments on the table?

Again, while I don’t feel the aim of the article is the diss stay at home moms, however, there is always an under and in-between tone to a lot of things that are written. Let’s have a judgement free zone for any type of parent that you are, working on not……

Relationships Are Their Own Cultures & We Are Just Mere Observers

Relationships-are-a-lotI was having a conversation last week with someone and we were talking about relationships.   I shared that my parents have been married for over 30 years and she commented that her folks were also involved in a long-term marriage.  “Are they happy?”  I asked, she immediately answered with quick wit, “Oh them, they are not happy. They just stay together because they have nothing else better to do!”  I chuckled and mentioned that I observe most people doing that.  Of course I had to get her permission to share this quote which encouraged some commentary in the realm of social media.

This comment my friend made inspired some responses including someone who did rightly observe that we really don’t know the details of the levels of happy or unhappy in someone else’s intimate relationship.  The brief conversation around this on my Facebook page reminded me of a quote I penned years ago about the observed and unobserved life of relationships.  Relationships are a lot like visiting another culture.  You can eat the food, you can learn the language, you can adapt to learning the customs and become immersed in the overall experience.  However, you will never understand the reality or nuances of existence of the individuals within that culture because you are very much a visitor or observer.
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Photography by Shanta Lee 2012. Storieswetellphotography.com

I will further explain using the example of my time in India.  I was in India for five months in 2011-12.  I observed the culture and participated in some of the mannerisms, including the Indian head nod which is a quick shake of your head from right to left (it will feel like you temporarily have a bobble head).   I was immersed in the language, music, food, wore some of the traditional Indian clothing, and became entranced by many things about the culture.  Upon returning, I can’t say I truly know or understand the nuances and fine detail of Indian life or culture.  Though I have some knowledge as a result of my time there, I was merely an observer and passerby.

This is what we should keep in mind about relationships–whether they are moments we observe between parents and their children or the intimate details that are sometimes shared with us from loveships, we are just observers.  We are not truly able to understand the tensions, the joys, the highs or the lows of such entanglements even if we are intermittently invited to be minor participants or passengers upon those rides.

The Truth about Tough Skin: How many of us are just managing our wounds underneath scabs that we call our armor?

thI lie when I say that my skin is tough especially because I have the blessing and curse of strong intuition along with the ability to read the white space (the space in between written lines).  The truth is I manage a certain level of numbness to navigate the world after walking in a field of thorns most of my life.  This also includes learning how to navigate the pain or hurt of others that you can sense beyond what they are telling you. After a while, one becomes numb as a coping mechanism or the toughening one is experiencing is really a scab that is covering the real wound. There is a lot that most of us will never admit to in terms of what causes our hurt so instead, our “armor” is worn. 

Over the past couple of weeks I pondered this thinking about how all of us are just trying to chart a path among and/or out of our sources of pain, trauma and many other mishaps in life.  This is what came to mind sort of like a reminder for what most of us may be dealing with in our lives:

Maybe it might be helpful to keep in mind that many of us are really wearing scabs not armor;
Maybe we might keep the vision of the false armor in mind when we engage with one another as we sometimes get lost in our wants, needs, or desires;
Maybe just maybe all of this might encourage all of us to be a little kinder.

As I always share about my pondering, I don’t have answers but offering something for us to consider.  My list of maybe’s or my hope for how we engage with each other are lessons that I am still learning and I sometimes forget.