What Are You Afraid Of? Remember It’s A Choice.
by Randall Rogers, Reprinted with Permission
I’ll tell you now, before you’re in too deep, there’s genuine ugliness in this article. I am writing for myself, and, to paint a picture of growing up in innocent Minneapolis, Minnesota in the 60’s. A place that according to Governor Dayton, this past week, “might have to accept that there still is ‘racism’.”
I was raised by a man who was a bigot, a racist, a misogynist and a homophobe – and he had a hell of a smile. He died just a few years ago at the age of 87. He was 10 during the Great Depression. He served in the military and was stationed in Japan during the Korean War, he was a carpenter who did amazing work with humble tools and a high school education. He died a bitter, angry man convinced that God had betrayed him (if there was a God) and that life had given him the short end of the stick.
I mention some of these specifics because, well, they are true; but more than that, because they are reflected in the choices and words of this man and formed his reality as well as the messages I received growing up.
As a father figure he taught me, by means of sharing his viewpoints and life experience, many things about navigating the world. For example: I had a couple of bi-racial buddies in High School but, they couldn’t come to the house because my sister might ‘like’ them and that would be disastrous. He generally did not trust ‘niggers’, they were the ones always gaming the system. He often closed his blinds so they couldn’t see into his home. But, it was not just white/black racism. He was more egalitarian than that.
Serving in the U.S. Army gave him powerful anecdotal stories and support for his fear about others as well. His stories included the Jewish bunk mate who never paid back the money he loaned him, the Italian with the longest dick he ever saw who always got the girls, the black woman at the pub that all the men in his group took turns with to her delight.
That brings me to dating. He was a specialist in this area as well. At 16, he often told me, “if women didn’t have a hole they’d be totally worthless’, and ‘if you’re not fucking her, you’re out of your mind’. He was a fan of the “C” word and for years I foolishly expressed my disgust when ever he would use it. These were invitations for him to double down, I was for sure a “pussy”. I eventually stopped saying anything.
Less overt and offensive but, equally destructive was his advice on enduring relationships with women. “Women can’t be trusted”, “You should never be completely honest with your wife”, “Men and women just really don’t understand one another”. Or, more simply, “You just don’t understand me”. The primary offense and place to hide.
At 56, I am pretty clear most days on the abusiveness of this primary relationship in my life. I think, most of the time, that he was exceptional in his bitterness and fear of others – his fear that he would not “measure up”. And, when I see the hatred and the fear-mongering in the social media today, the name calling, the intolerance, the vitriol. When I hear the rhetoric of Trump sold as fact, the crimes of the “other” always the root of my problems, then I wonder just how exceptional. Maybe its more mainstream than I want to believe.
After years of therapy, counseling and working with other men on issues of honesty, authenticity and integrity, I look at my father and see the projections, judgements and the way fear formed his popular narrative. In various ways he believed to be real, he was a ‘victim’ of these other groups, including women. His own Fear of inadequacy made much of this more real and framed the view of the world he handed to me. Did anyone hand you their view of the world?
So, it is with humility that I acknowledge I have Fear. I Fear being like my father. I have fear, that in the quiet moments, despite the work I have done, that underneath, I still have these default positions lying dormant in my very cells. It is because of that Fear I resolve every day to be curious and inquisitive and tolerant of others. I host monthly conversations to get real about both the big and little twists in this human tale. I resolve to look in the mirror daily to take stock of the man I have become and what I do with the information that comes my way. It is a daily choice, after all.
I have another fear. A fear of being so damn honest. Of using the word “nigger”, even to make a point. It sits right next to the belief that if we, as a society, can’t get honest about the ugly stuff, we aren’t really ready to do anything about it.
I have anger. Anger that after watching so much systemic racism and bigotry in our daily culture – both subtle and glaring. Anger that in the face of countless police shootings, after decades of policy choices that preserve and ensure systemic racism and inequality – that someone has the nerve to suggest that, well, yes there might be an issue with a few bad police regarding racism.
And relief that someone in a publicly elected position finally said, “we might have to accept that there still is ‘racism’.” Maybe there is hope.