By L Parker Brown on February 17, 2019
By L Parker Brown on February 3, 2019
Youthful indiscretions – is there no forgiveness for them? Who among us hasn’t done something in our youth that we regret when looking back on the misbehavior as a mature adult?
On Friday, the right-wing blog Big League Politics published a racist photo from the 1984 medical school yearbook of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. One of the photos on a page titled with Northam’s name depicts two people, one in a blackface costume and another wearing a Klan outfit.
On the day that news outlets broadcast that photo, there was swift prejudgment and immediate demands for the Democratic governor’s resignation. He issued an immediate apology for the photos but seemed to waver on whether he was one of the two people in the picture. The next day he asserted that he was not in that photo and added that since he had not purchased the yearbook, it was his first time seeing the picture. Only he, the persons in the photo, and God know whether he is truthful.
Flipping the script for a moment – the Me Too movement brought out numerous women making sexual misconduct allegations, some that occurred decades ago, against prominent men. To be fair, some male victims have made similar accusations against women.
The point is whether the issue is sexual misconduct or racist behavior, how far back is too far back to drag up someone’s past and use it against them?
Before I incur a backlash of criticism let me clearly state that I am not making prejudgments against Me Too victims or people who are accused of or guilty of racial injustices. I merely want to emphasize that people do stupid and irresponsible things when they are young (and sometimes not so young) that they might not repeat when they are more mature.
I know that all transgressions are not attributable to youthful ignorance. The arrogance to make sexual powerplays or blatantly or subtly display racial hatred is sometimes deep-seated. But the purpose of this post is not to judge the alleged perpetrators; I am simply wondering how long is too long to hold something that happened decades ago against someone without examining or considering their track record going forward. If a person has a continuous, unrelenting record of wrongdoing that is one thing, but if the accused shows by his (or her) actions over the years that he or she has changed their wayward behavior why continue to drag up the past? When is long ago long enough?
My cousin, Renate Jones recently said this about the Gov. Northam controversy. “While I agree that this was horrific, this was over 30 years ago, and as a young man, he did what a host of many young people do…stupid stuff. We cannot judge this man by what he did so long ago. In the eighties, racism existed, and still will [sic]. How is the man now living his life? Ultimately judge him by his behavior now. I am black and do not feel he should resign. In 1984, I was militant as [could] be…need I say more? Imagine if you guys have some of your behavior come back to haunt you [from] 30 years ago”
After apologizing for appearing in the disturbing photo, the governor said the next day that he wasn’t in the picture. He insisted that neither figure wearing a racist costume was him. He also said that he never bought a copy of the yearbook and that Friday, when the story broke, was his first time seeing the photo. Some people hearing that were left wondering was it an attempt at damage control to save his reputation and job or is he sincere?
I agree with Renate, how far back in the past is too far to go to hold something against someone? (Let me add that I am excluding and find unforgivable certain hideous crimes like kidnapping, child trafficking, rape, and cold-blooded murder.)
So, a young teacher observes a toddler smacking a pacifier out of the mouth of another child in a daycare center. Will that act of aggressiveness be held against the child 40 years later when he is nominated for the position of let’s say, US Surgeon General because the teacher remembered the incident and publicized it during the confirmation period? Sounds laughable, doesn’t it?
What about the high school cheerleader who purposely trips-up a competitor during tryouts. A few decades in the future when the tripper becomes, perhaps, Secretary of Education or even President of the U.S. will she be forced to resign from her position because the tripping act was exposed? Ridiculous!
I am not trying to make light of serious situations, but if every one of us is required to give full disclosure about every racist or mean-spirited thing we’ve said during our lifetime when does the line get drawn? Is redemption or forgiveness possible?
Images of hurtful things can remain seared in people’s minds. I retain a clear vision of an act of sexual misconduct committed on me by a former manager in the workplace. I also recall instances of blatant racism that I experienced at the hands of at least two CEOs at different workplaces while others in the office were aware of it, but pretended not to see. Some people change; others don’t. Such is life.
If someone spends years of their adult life on the straight and narrow, trying to live down previous insensitive conduct is there no tolerance for evaluating that person’s behavior going forward?
Since the Northam incident, and numerous times in recent years, I’ve heard many talking heads on TV say, “There is no place for racism” in our government or our society. There isn’t – but it exists, and it rolls downhill.
When people obviously and blatantly continue to perpetuate evil throughout their lifetime, that is one thing, but when people show by their actions that they are trying to do better because they know better, then I say give them a chance.
If we – individually – are to be held responsible for every wrongful thing we said or did in our distant past, whether it is attributable to youthful imprudence or adult ignorance – who among us would be able to cast the first stone?
By L Parker Brown on January 15, 2019
Each year, a local TV station sponsors a Health and Fitness Expo where no-cost wellness classes and health screenings are available to attendees. There are also hands-on activities including endurance events to challenge health enthusiasts like me.
In years past, I have participated in exercises from aerobic to yoga; but the thing that beckons me most is the rock wall. You might think that a card-carrying AARP member might shy away from something so rigorous. No so, I enjoy a challenge. So upon arriving in the exhibit hall early Saturday morning, I headed straight for the rock wall. Game on!
Before a participant is strapped into the safety harness and allowed to climb the wall, we are required to sign a waiver. It warns that if I should fall and break a bone, sustain some other bodily injury, or worse yet, drop dead – while not acting my age – the contract absolves the promoter of any liability. After signing the waiver, a red, one-inch wide band, similar to the band you receive in a hospital emergency room, was placed around my wrist indicating that I had signed my life over to Divine Providence. Also, in case I wanted to try the climb again later or attempt some other age-defying stunt, I would simply show the band to the staff person.
A previous attempt and failure to scale the wall two years ago made me more determined to try again. With true grit, I was able to propel myself a few stones higher this time. The Lat Pulldown and other strength building gym machines had helped me build my upper body strength, but it wasn’t enough. I was about four feet off the ground when my calves started cramping forcing me to end my quest and indicating that I should have spent more time stretching.
As I walked away from the wall, feeling defeated but not dejected, I glanced back to see a young boy who looked to be about ten years old ascending that wall like Spider-Man on a mission.
Geared up for another challenge I went in search of the Spartan exhibit. Days earlier I had watched a young reporter on TV demonstrate the Spartan race and I told myself “I can do that.”
Unlike the real 3-4 mile Spartan race with its many obstacles and competitors, the Spartan course at the expo is a scaled-down, mini-version. The first thing a contestant does is warm up by running 30 seconds on a curved treadmill. Then, the objective is to go through each obstacle on the course as fast as you can. Since I wasn’t competing against anyone but myself, time didn’t concern me. My goal was simply to conquer each obstacle.
After getting off the treadmill, I walked (did not run) to the first wooden wall, it was approximate four-feet high. The struggle to climb over it took me approximately 5 minutes. (I could have walked around it, but that would have defeated the purpose, would it not?) Next came the bear crawl. That was easy. I scooted beneath the mock-barbed wire fence in about 60 seconds. After exiting the bear crawl, I was supposed to run to and climb over a higher, inclined wall. That wall was twice my height, at least 10 feet. After two earnest attempts, I walked around and found myself facing another wall. It was 7 feet. Pass! The final task was to pull myself up on a rope mounted to a post and ring the bell at the top. Sound easy? It wasn’t.
The two young men on the staff, who shadowed me along the course probably had a good laugh about my senior version of the Spartan crawl, er, I mean race after I left, but throughout my effort, they were encouraging and even gave me a high-five as I strolled across the finished line.
I’m not dismayed that I failed to complete the Spartan course. Completing two out of five obstacles wasn’t bad. I enjoyed every challenging minute. Later that Saturday evening I had some muscle aches, and pains in places that I didn’t know could have aches and pains, proof that I had pushed my body. I think I’m hooked now on the Spartan course.
My cousin, Rai, told me that she is planning to do the real Spartan race. She’s athletic and half my age. I know she will finish the course. I’ll just wait until next year’s expo and try the mini version again.
By L Parker Brown on January 6, 2019
My personal journal has 786 pages, 319,829 words, so far. I know that because the status bar in my Microsoft Word document tells me so. Experts will tell you that there are some differences in a diary and a journal, for this purpose I’ll use both words interchangeably.
Sometime around the late 1970s, I began journaling. Like many people who write diaries I used a pen and paper, and in the years that followed, I dutifully filled three, thick loose-leaf binders with almost daily entries. And then one day, I shredded every single page from each of those volumes.
Thinking about it now, I realize that it was not the first – nor last – regrettable thing I have done in my lifetime. But on that day, some years ago, when I destroyed my journals it was because I had a flashback to when I was around 12 or 13 years old.
In those early teen years, I had a little diary with a pink cover that I had purchased from Murphy’s five and dime store. The diary had a flimsy key lock that one could easily open with a hairpin. I kept the book hidden from my family – so I thought – between the mattress and box-spring on my twin-sized bed. Teenagers today are much savvier. They know that of all the places to hide something, beneath your mattress is the last place. That’s the first place your mother looks for your stash of anything.
Before I tell you, I’m sure that you’ve already figured out that my mother found my diary and even worse, she read it. There were no shocking revelations in there, just the age-appropriate thoughts, emotions, observations, and dreams of a young teenage girl growing up in the early sixties.
Back then, I was no different from many teenagers today who feel that they cannot talk to their parents. I found comfort in writing in my diary. It gave me someone to “talk” to and confide in. When one day mother’s teasing and censuring let me know that she had read my diary, I felt hurt and violated. I ran to my bedroom, grabbed the diary from beneath the mattress, and tore out every page that had anything written on it, and then I ripped those torn-out pages to slivers. When I finished, the floor around my small wastebasket looked like a confetti bomb had exploded. I picked up the paper that had missed the wastebasket, tore it some more, and then tossed it and the diary cover with its flimsy lock and remaining empty pages into the trash.
Fifteen years after I destroyed that first diary, I purged the journals that I had begun writing after I left home. Purge two was also unplanned and happened unexpectedly. I was distressed over something that occurred earlier in the day. After I recorded the incident in my journal, I spent some time sitting on my bed, reading some of the pages that I had written weeks, months, even years earlier. It wasn’t all bad, but the unpleasant things brought back pain and raw emotions as if it had happened yesterday. I realized that if I suddenly dropped dead, it was likely that my mother would eventually get my journals and once again read my private thoughts. She would not understand the anguish I had endured in the years following my broken marriage because I had never discussed it with her; nor would she comprehend my struggle to overcome the life-altering, ongoing effort to raise my children solely on meager salaries from low-income jobs. But because she had tried to persuade me to stay in a marriage that I felt was doomed, she would say, “Didn’t I tell you?” My journals would have been contemporary fodder for a teasing tongue.
Had she read those old, tear-stained journals they would not have revealed that the broken-spirited young girl expressing herself on those pages, the one determined not to be beaten down by the struggle and liabilities of single-motherhood would eventually mature into a strong-willed woman. But in time she would see and become proud of the finished product.
When I turned on my shredder and began destroying those journals, I thought there go years of memories. But my hesitancy didn’t last. It only took me to imagine my mother’s face as she had mocked my young teenaged self, for me to resume feeding pages into the shredder. Don’t misunderstand, I loved my mother, but she had her faults, as do I, and as do you. If I could reveal why I destroyed those journals without bringing mother into the equation, I would, but I can’t.
Unfortunately, I never imaged that one day I would be writing a blog and even a book or two and I sometimes regret my spontaneous decision to destroy those journals. Life wasn’t all bad. There were many pleasant days and events that I recorded in those pages, especially times spent doing fun things with my children, but as age would have it, many memories of my past are now mere shadows in my mind.
Aside from the fact that writing is therapeutic, the desire to write burns in me like an eternal flame. So of course, I eventually began journaling again. But now, instead of writing everything down, I use my computer. My journal is password protected. My dear mother, God rest her soul, is dead and my children are grown. Anyone who gains access to my journal now or after I’m gone won’t find it so accessible. And if they do happen to learn the password and read my private thoughts, they may decide that it wasn’t worth the effort to try and pry and perhaps judge.
I often write about my life on my blog, and some of my narratives come from my journal. Of course, I only reveal publicly what I want to share and I suppose that’s one reason I keep procrastinating while writing my second book. There is so much more that I want to disclose than was shared in the first book.
Book two will be a memoir picking up where book one ended. It won’t have the historical value of say, The Diary of Anne Frank, or the comedic impact of The Diary of Bridget Jones, but it could possibly read like the Diary of a Mad Black Woman. It will be introspective. It will be me.
By L Parker Brown on December 31, 2018
Every year while ambitious people are making New Year’s Resolutions I am not. IF I were to make resolutions, one would be to practice having more tolerance for intolerant people. Since I am an admitted procrastinator, maybe I’d resolve to postpone saying or writing things that other people think, but wouldn’t dare say aloud or publish.
Since people sometimes take offense at my attempt at humor, I suppose I could resolve to write strictly serious content without trying to make folks smile or laugh out loud, but that would be like having the Times Square ball get stuck mid-way during its descent on New Year’s Eve. Imagine if that big, glossy ball suddenly stops while lowering on the pole during the countdown to midnight. Would all of the revelers collectively hold their breath and freeze? Heads upturned, mouths gaping, not a single eye blinking, all movement halted mid-motion, the only souls stirring would be city officials scrambling frantically to get the ball moving again? Perish the thought.
Why should I make New Year’s resolutions? If I’m planning to do something, I’ll do it anyway and if I’m not I won’t. Some optimists busy themselves jotting down resolutions days before the New Year; others do it moments after midnight on New Year’s Eve, while I’m usually sipping sparkling cider and reminiscing about bygone years. I know that change is inevitable, but that doesn’t stop me from longing for some days past – let me repeat, some days – and wishing for a return to the way things used to be. If I could turn back the hands of time, I might make resolutions, and these would be my top six priorities:
Number 6. A return to normalcy. A definition I once read describes normalcy as “being usual, typical, or expected.” If that’s the case, it seems like hardly anything is normal anymore. Normal was unobtrusively replaced over the years by the so-called new norm. The new norm is a no holds barred, say anything, show anything, do anything, be anything, anything goes – insane world. The younger generation won’t get my point because they are used to the insanity. They were born into it and grew up with it. But many people of my generation get it. I’d like to see a return to normalcy as it used to be generally understood by the average intelligent person. I am not a person who follows everyone else over the cliff, meaning I cannot be persuaded to believe what I perceive to be abnormalities. You will never convince me that up is now down, black is white, left is right, and a natural born woman is now a man or vice versa because of a surgical procedure.
Number 5. Common sense supersedes political correctness. Granted the principle of political correctness is not entirely bad, but it’s not all good either. PC is intended to put boundaries on offensive speech and behavior, but when imposing one’s personal or a group’s belief on others, there is always the risk that someone’s rights will be infringed upon. One example of this is the use of the n-word. I hate that word and never use it. However, some black hip-hoppers and other black people use it freely, yet they are offended when members of different racial or cultural groups do the same. In a Vox.com article, author, educator, and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates expressed his opinion – contrary to mine — about the use of that word.
Number 4. Disciplining unruly children. There was a time when parents, teachers, or other well-intentioned adults could discipline their children or someone else’s minors without fear of being arrested. Back in the day, the worse reaction a non-relative adult would get when scolding a child for wrong-doing was for the brat to say, “You ain’t my mama.” or “You’re not the boss of me.” Today it is not unusual for some children to call the cops on their parent if the parent physically punishes them for wrongdoing. Go get my belt. I’m gonna whip your behind. It is not uncommon for a well-meaning school teacher attempting to discipline an unruly student to be attacked by a juvenile and sometimes even that child’s parent will come to the school with a bad attitude and clenched fists (especially when the parent is as immature as the child). Is it any wonder that there are so many rude and disrespectful youths wreaking havoc in the community and running wild through the streets?
Number 3. Privacy. Ripley’s Believe It or Not stories of strange or unusual facts or occurrences had nothing on today’s world. Before the Internet, Google, people search engines, hackers, and social media one could expect to have some privacy. Anonymity was much easier to achieve a few decades ago; you could hide in plain sight. Not anymore. Today, if you want total anonymity you almost have to commit a deed that will get you placed in the witness protection program – and even then you may be discovered. Just about anyone from Internet snoops and sleuths to busybodies can obtain your social security number, address, phone number, banking info, medical records, police, court and credit records. They can even identify every one of your baby daddy or baby mamas you’ve ever known.
Number 2. Telephones. A non-published or unlisted telephone number once freed you from bombardment by unwanted phone calls. Now, telemarketers and robocallers are relentless. I block more calls on my phones than offensive tackle, Trent Williams does on the football field; but they keep calling. And while we’re on the subject of phones, I long for the days of one phone number per home. A good old landline. I could call the home of a relative or friend and if the person I was calling weren’t there someone would usually answer the phone and tell me that. Now, if I phone someone, it’s likely the call goes to a cell phone. If I reach voicemail or get no answer, and urgently need to speak with someone else – anyone else – in the household I have to call a second, third, or sometimes a fourth number before someone answers their phone. That’s because everyone in the household who is out of diapers has a phone and each of them has a different number.
I have no choice but to live with the issues I’ve cited above. But if there is anything that makes me hope that when the New Year rolls in at midnight, I will awaken to discover that like Rip Van Winkle I had been asleep for a long time and it was all nightmares, it is the Number 1 item on my if-I-could-turn-back-the-hands-of-time list.
Number 1. There was a different outcome to the 2016 presidential election.
Happy New Year!