The Commonwealth

“The Commonwealth”

November 25th, 2013

 

We talk about the lovers of fathers who chose them over us.  About the 1960s and 1970s. War, black men, and the sense of sexual liberation of those times.  “Black men were getting lynched all over for acts of ‘deviance’ against white women.  Like looking at them or whistling.  But nobody talks about the other side of that coin.”  She says, sitting on a bed of crisp white sheets sipping apple juice from a white wine glass. 

“You’re right!” I say. “ No one talks about the fact that women were also feeling liberated at that time and white women also wanted to fuck black men.” 

“Yes.  And even darker yet, no one talks about the fetishizing of black men by white women at the time. “  She says, taking a sip. “Or even now.”  She is looking away and by the way she sighs, I know she is thinking of her father and his many white lovers.  The photo she’s shown me of him is of a strapping, muscled, handsome man with a distinct widow’s peak.  “For instance in the Caribbean, where older white women tourists…” and I know it.  She doesn’t have to say the rest.

“The same thing is happening in West African nations.”  I add. “Old European women travel to Africa and find younger poor black men to seduce.”  There is a term for this.  I know it, but cannot remember.  Critical theory has taken me to this place before.  I have read articles about this.  But somehow, my brain decided the facts were more important than the language of it all.

“It’s something that amounts to sexual slavery.” I manage. The men follow the women to their home countries to escape poverty and end up being totally controlled by the women.

 

In the silence that follows, I know what we are both thinking.  If that is what it is now; what was it then?  In the 1960s and 1970s?  What was it like for our young handsome fathers in those decades?  In that time before our conception.  Suddenly, I wish we had wine instead of apple juice.  I can always imagine things better after a glass of wine.  I think about my father.  He was the same.  We speak then about alcohol and it’s historic role in traumatizing black families.  It all seems a tired cliché if it weren’t still traumatizing.  Men who fall to the bottom of the bottle from peering too hard and long at the world through the glass.  The too-young–too-vulnerable children left behind to pick up the pieces.  The bloodiness of it all, and the scars that run for generations.  The hardest part being the inability to understand it all.  The desire to objectify it, for a moment even, just to be able to take a breath.  One desperate gasp of understanding.

“I want to show you something.” She tells me and we watch an episode of Minute Man by Black and Sexy TV.  Then an episode of Black is the New Orange.  Or was it White is the new Black? Probably, Black is still Black and White is the New Orange.  “Black and Sexy TV is really doing it.” I say.  She agrees.

 

I confide in her that my husband has reached the moment.  “His blackness is catching up to him. “  I say. “In all our time together, we lived in a college town in Illinois where we were surrounded by friends and academics.  We then lived together in San Francisco, which, well, you know San Francisco.”  She nods. “But, Boston is a beast of another kind.”

“How is it so different?” She wants to know.

“Well,” I hesitate, not knowing what incident to begin with. “We’ve faced more blatant uninhibited racism here than all the other cities.”  I tell her of the snide comments, judgmental stares, the crossing of the street.  Of the fellow dog walkers whose pulling, tail-wagging dogs are kept away from ours when they notice her owner.  Of the man on a motorcycle who snarled at me ‘What are you looking at nigger?!’ and then sped away in shock as my enraged husband confronted him with a violence uncommon to his demeanor.

“I knew this day would come.” I say.  “But now that it’s here, I have to be careful about it.”

“How so?” She asks, finishing her apple juice.

“Well, I have had all my life to contemplate racism.  I have spent a lot of time objectifying and compartmentalizing it.  I’ve read so much theory on it that I don a welcome cloak of cynicism in these situations.”  I set my glass down to hide my shaking hands. “But, he is just beginning on this journey.”  This man that I love.  “Racism isn’t just a term anymore for him.  He is living it now.  With me.”  I tell her my recently realized responsibility.  “No matter how jaded I may be about all of this, I can’t be flippant to his frustrations.”  We really want to have children, and they are going to be black, no matter how Japanese their father is.  “I have to learn to speak to him about all of this so I can speak to them about it too.”

 

We take a moment and call the man of her life, and his father.  On a video chat screen, we see the elder first.  Grey with tired eyes.  Nestled under his arm, the younger, glowing with bright eyes.  At first happy to see his mother, he quickly becomes shy by my intrusion into this very intimate moment between them.  The love between the two is clear and they speak an unspoken language as fluid as water.  A secret current runs between them and as his father prods him to speak up for me, “Say something.  Why are you being so quiet?” I know he cannot say what can not be spoken.  After taking us on a dizzying abstract-expressionist tour of their home, he hands the phone back over to his father and disappears from screen.  In the interim, I check in with the elder.  “Is LA treating you well?” I ask.  This leads to an intense conversation on ‘work’, ‘job’ and navigating the thorny chasm between.  “This conversation is becoming too deep for me.” Says the elder.  Just in time, the younger appears on screen.  He has donned an Iron Man mask and a pair of Hulk fists that roar every time he punches them together.  Which he does over and over.

“Try to communicate.” His father tells him. 

“I am communicating!”  He responds.

We say our goodbyes.  Mother and son say more that we cannot hear or know.  I feel intrusive, but I love this boy so, and am grateful for the experience.

 

We go back to being two black women sitting on a bed, trying to understand our men.