“You’re One of The Good Ones”-My Son, Black Men, and Abuse

 

     In a conversation I had the other day with my African-American son, he expressed some real chagrin and disgust that it falls yet again, through a combination of actual events as well as media’s chosen focus…it yet again falls to the vast majority of African-American men to feel as if they must in some perverse way answer for all African-American men collectively.  

And he’s of course right:  no white guy would think he would be asked to answer for four or five white men who were, say, domestic abusers. 

No innocent white guy feels nailed, no white guy feels automatically labeled, no white guy feels he has to claw out from under a lousy rep created by other white guys when some distant white men beat, rape, brutalize anyone. 

Black men in all social classes and everywhere, given our culture and history, given our present pass, do feel that and it isn’t paranoia. 

We live, my family, in a racially, culturally diverse, educated, and economically robust region and yet, after, for example, that half-decade-old Baltimore Ravens news, my son was told, in passing, out of the blue, by a white man he barely knows, a man who barely broke his stride, “You’re One Of The Good Ones”. 

You’re One Of The Good Ones. 

Of course the guy wasn’t intending to be as sickeningly offensive as he was, but that’s the point:  racism remains active at the most unexpected, unintended strata and moments.

And it brought home to my son, again, just how heavy and unequally assumed are the unwitting burdens of race in this crazy place.  

And as to domestic abuse itself, we can say it’s not racial and that’s right, but only in the sense that it does not predominate in one or another race regardless of some white people’s sense of it.

 Yet it is racial in the sense that African Americans in slave days were routinely forced by threats of additional beatings or worse were they to disobey the order to whip their own kids, generation after generation, all at a master’s whim lest the child be sold off; and we know that even horrid behaviors can become culturally adopted when they become learned-survival.  

We know that this can happen to any people trapped in wholly evil environments. And it doesn’t need generations for the oppressed to reflect the evil of perpetrators. Under some circumstances it can occur in just a few years as it sometimes did during the Holocaust.  

We know this because while there were great acts of courage during that evil era, there was collaboration with Evil by both non-Jewish and even some Jewish citizens of nations the Nazis overran. 

The historian Hannah Arendt showed convincingly that while some Jewish town council leaders in France told the Germans to go to hell when asked to make out and hand over death camp transport lists, saving thousands of Jews who then had time to flee, many more Jewish councils cooperated with the Gestapo.  

Evil environments beget evil, and the longer a people live in evil environments the longer the evil can last well after the environment is eased. 

And lest anyone imagine I write this to excuse in any way child-beaters, woman-beaters, of any race, I don’t. There is no justification; none, no matter who does it and the guilty must pay. 

Yet grasping our collective cultural heritage, all of it, is critical to our moving forward honestly and together, even in this particularly fraught moment. 

My son and I agree:  history must be part of what we grasp as we all confront this because it’s about our shared responsibility, our common world as well as poor parenting is, as well as violence toward women is, regardless of the race of the person doing the smacking, whipping, hitting, thrashing.

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