Fruitvale Station & Ma Rainey: Recent workouts for my whiteness

Fruitvale Station
Fruitvale Station

Fruitvale Station is an emotionally wrenching cinematic foray into the last twenty four hours of the true story of Oscar Grant, the young man who was “accidentally” killed by a BART transit worker on New Year’s Day in Oakland, California in 2008. After the movie my mother of Black sons heart left the film on a stretcher writhing in uncomfortable whiteness. Wrenching in it’s realism the viewer experiences an unshakeable journey as she/he becomes easily enamored and charmed by Oscar, and woven into the life of his daughter, his family, his relationships, and the consequences both good and bad of all of his choices.

In the opening minutes of the movie the viewer sees the actual cell phone footage of the real Oscar’s last few minutes alive. (It was this montage of footage from other passengers that was instrumental in bringing so called “justice” to the situation.) I went to the movie with my dear friend Edwige, a woman of color and a sister to two brothers Oscar’s age. I sobbed through much of the last thirty minutes of the film. Sobbed. After, I found myself feeling oddly apologetic about all the crying and shaking I was doing. She reassured me, saying it was even a relief to have me crying next to her. We sat in a cafe for a few hours after talking about Oscar’s life, and unpacking the experience of watching it unfold, and ultimately end in front of us.

For the next several days and weeks after seeing a film like this, or a play, or reading a book by and about people of color is when I find myself riding my own internalized racism merry go round from one scene to another. For example, on New Year’s Eve Oscar is at his mother’s house for her birthday dinner. The house is cozy, and filled with relatives and friends, food and festivities. In my head I noticed that I expected to see a house that didn’t look so much like the one I grew up in. The next question I ask myself is what did I expect to see? Where were the drugs? The yelling? The things that can explain why this could have happened. In that moment is where my race and class assumptions come floating to the top, like dead things on a lake. If I can stand my own current assumptions and truths, I accept an invitation to change.

Where this used to be a very painful process, now it is unpleasant, and reassuring at the same time. Reassuring that I am opening up more and more to these dark and recessed places where my assumptions, prejudices, and ignorance still hides. Unpleasant because there seems to be no end to the socialization, the conditioning, and the privilege.

One of the hardest moments was when I realized that if Oscar had been on my subway car that night with all of his friends, and I had been alone on the car with them I KNOW I would have felt threatened by their very presence. This man, who will be my son in nine years looked scary to me. Without seeing Fruitvale Station I would not have had the opportunity to have lived with that moment, followed by wanting to fight my way into the ambulance with him and insist every step of the way that MY SON get the BEST CARE EVER RIGHT NOW. Watching I was aching to be able to insert myself into the film, and work every ounce of power and privilege that I had to make sure he lived. If I was there, would things have been different?

Ma Rainey's Big Black Bottom
Ma Rainey’s Big Black Bottom

Seeing a play that is set almost one hundred years ago, might seem at first to have a little less potential for cathartic exploration in the white mind and race department. Not true. In this case the opportunity to witness the “hidden under world” of the Black experience in this historically rich play by August Wilson (who was biracial, which I never knew) was uncomfortable for the viewer for an entirely different set of reasons. When the band members are downstairs  in the windowless cold basement, waiting for Ma Rainey to arrive for the recording session, their story telling safely out of the gaze of the white man, paints a very real picture of past and present institutionalized racism.  The anger, humor, defeat and passion of the play all combine into a surprise ending that left this the white viewer with a cataclysmic sense of both shame and enlightenment.

Readers of this blog, and participants of presentations often want tangible next steps on their own journey to racial justice. Reading a book by an author of color (alone or in a book group) or going to a film or play written by a person of color, about people of color is a great start. Not only are you are giving an important message to the publishing, film and theater industry with your financial vote, but by bringing along a few friends you are creating a space for a shared inquiry into your experiences as viewer of any race. Herein lies the potential for expanding your edges, and shedding light into your personal and shared racism. This, in my experience is when shift on a much larger scale is allowed to happen.


I would like to “dedicate” this post to the students in the graduate counseling program at the University of Maine, who I recently had the opportunity to work with on the topic of racial justice, counseling, and white privilege. I was so struck by their honesty, and openness in class, and in their pre and post evaluations of my presentation there. Our shared experience was transformative.

After grinding comes goofing in our dictionary

Almost every day of the fall includes a visit to this particular location. Sam has explained that skateboarding actually helps him feel calm in his body. I believe it.

Bragging rights here: the kid is good. Goofing rights here: the little brother is a little bored with #1’s celebrity status at the skatepark. The rain momentarily spooked off the other thirty lads (not a gender neutral sport around these parts) leaving us the rare opportunity for the mamarazzi to get right up in there and film.

At about thirty five seconds you might lose your ability to sip, or chew. Be warned.

All about who? He’s amazing and it has (almost) nothing to do with me!

Grand Slammy!

Sam is at bat. Two outs. Two strikes. Three balls. Bases loaded. Sam’s team is losing 2-0. It is the bottom of the 2nd to last inning.

For this potentially final pitch I scrambled off the bleachers, and hid behind the storage shed.  I couldn’t watch.

Just writing about it makes my heart rate climb.

The crack of the bat, followed by the rapturous screams (and not the dreaded sighs) signaled that it was OK to look, to race around the corner and see his powerful hit bounce squarely in the outfield. To watch him clear first, second and miraculously arrive at third was exhilarating. My son had hit a triple.

His team was now winning 3-2.  The next player hit him home.

The game was over ten minutes later.

They won their first game of the season.

My son. My son was the hero.

But my genetics were not involved. And something about that makes it all the more glorious. Seeing a child you have raised, you have nurtured, you love deeply whack the crap-a-lap-a-ding-dong out of a ball is a moment of concentrated joy-pride-glory. When that child is not your biological offspring that moment, I would argue, might be even closer to pure magnificence-because your own ego is one tiny step removed from the event. He didn’t “get that arm from Grandpa Joe” or at least not my Grandpa Joe.  He just did it, and it is ALL HIM.

That is another amazing gift of adoption–you are creating opportunities for a child to realize their potential unencumbered (in a general way) by familial expectations for specifically chosen traits of excellence. (Or the opposite! There is also no worry that he’ll “turn out just like Grandpa Joe did after his arm gave out.”) I do know that Sam’s birth father played basketball really well.  But I have no idea if anyone played baseball. He might discover that story someday, or he might never know.

He will always know that feeling of marvel at his OWN skills, strength and glory that he achieved at the plate this week.  Perhaps it is just another way to look at the story of adoption, open or not. That there maybe something very freeing, on occasion, for a child to discover their talents by accident? Of course biological offspring do this all the time too. I am just suggesting that as a biological parent of Marcel, I know that I really think he should be good at, and love soccer like me. Sammy is OK at soccer, and not nearly as interested in it as I was. Of course I understand that by taking him to baseball, soccer, and basketball practices, and teams etc, I am helping to select which parts of his genetic story is being awakened and nurtured. He is also teaching himself the ukulele. I couldn’t even spell the word until three weeks ago. I have less musical inclination than s butter knife. Sam is clearly gifted there too. Marcel has shown little inclination at this point.

As adoptive parents, or adoptees, or birth parents–what is your take on this piece? How connected is pride and joy  for your kids connected or not connected to biology? As adoptees did you ever have that experience of success as unencumbered joy, or did it often have a “I wonder if my biological mom also loves to dance too.” component?  As birth parents/ first parents in an open adoption–what is it like to witness your child discovering a skill or talent you both share verses one you have no connection to what so ever? As always I look forward to your thoughts!

A whole lot of good going on around here

Hair night is a breeze–lots of conditioner is the secret to the ease
Marcel is quite a joy and checker playing  force. Playing WITH the kids, and not just entertaining them : a new era
Brotherhood, and swag runs deep
The Uncle Sam Marcel GO KART has it’s grand debut!
A first trophy, a successful season of cheer, new friends, and athleticism in his own right for #2
This amazing action shot caught by Uncle earlier in the week

Add to the list a very strong finish for Sam in his new school (he transferred in January), a preschool graduation right around the corner, and smooth sailing with Shrek for almost four seasons and you find an awful lot to relish in Mama C ville. We’ve felt some some big bumps recently too, but all in all the focus remains on all these stellar moments- trying to keep it simple today.


Speaking of simplicity, I’m taking a summer hiatus from Facebook. Although not much of a distraction, I’m looking more and more towards how to shift the time resources that I do have into the creative writing and the race and work. I hope to continue to blog weekly, and have a list of topics I am eager to explore. I’m always open to suggestions for a post, and guest posts if you are looking for a forum to share your story.

Mama C and the Boys +1. Single mama dating found her Shrek (in a pink boa)

My very fine fellar with a boa

I am in a relationship with an amazingly generous, gentle, funny, socially conscious, caring, reliable and goofy man. He is pictured above. He wore that mask to meet me on a playground and be able to hug me in public. I said I wouldn’t hug in front of my students. I was being weird. He was being funny.OK, so the mask might seem weird to you. To me it was magic. It was about meeting somewhere in the middle, and laughing along the way. Continue reading “Mama C and the Boys +1. Single mama dating found her Shrek (in a pink boa)”

A magical 36

After that big week, the family was due a little Maine magic. Although there was no “real” snow, we were able to check one of Sam’s bucket list items off in grand fashion this weekend–his first snowboarding lesson. As a way of getting more folks interested in the sport, “Free Snowboarding Week” was introduced. A friend managed to snag Sam this two hour lesson, complete with gear and lift ticket for free. We just had to get there. And get there we did!  When I stopped thinking about the fact that we were probably one of the only mixed race families to stay at this amazing old Camden Inn  (could you please stop starring at US?!?) I could accept that the boys loved having the pool to themselves and found my way to this very restful and joyful place too. Continue reading “A magical 36”

A spontaneous brotherhood jam and Friendsgiving

I pulled off a spontaneous dinner party and jam for seven the other night. OK, so I had help prepping and the easiest guests ever. BUT the point is that spontaneous is not in my vocabulary. It is a goal of mine to not need to plan everything, and leave room for surprises. I want to model that to the kids too. In this case a spontaneous invite to one, turned into two because Hassan’s most amazing brother Malik was in town from Los Angeles. They asked me to make sure Eddie could come, and before you know it, we had a big ole party at my house.

Brotherhood of goofy faces/ Mama C and the Boys 2011
this is serious work/ Mama C and the Boys 2011
Malik's glasses -the prize of the night/ Mama C and the Boys 2011

Marcel went around the table asking everyone what they were thankful for that night. The answers:

1. Feet to walk around and skip and dance with

2. Buses and planes that bring you to your brother

3. Everyone in the whole wide world

4. Spontaneity

5. This great dinner mommy made

6. Music

7. Having a family of choice in Portland

Have any Friendsgivings in your plans in the next few weeks? Are you inclined to the planned jam–or the spontaneous flavor? What are you looking forward to?


Just one quick resource to share with you that the fabulous Nancy shared with me yesterday: 30 Adoption Portraits in 30 Days from Chicago Now. I haven’t read them all–but by the looks of it a real range of stories from the triad and beyond.  Come back tomorrow to meet my interview partner for the Adoption Blogger Interview Project 2011 unveiling!