The anguish of “Pat” and “bob

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     Meet two good people – “Pat,” a Black grandmother and “Bob,” a White dad. This is a story about how they ended upon opposite sides of still another racial quagmire – name-calling to be exact – and answers they both struggled to find. I begin with a promise I made to “Pat,” that I would get back to her with advice. She wanted to know how to help her grandsondeal with the trauma from being called the “N-word” by a passing truckload of young White boys.  “When I finally got him to open up, he told me that this was the second time happened to him in the past two weeks,” she shared after a pause. “He’s having a difficult getting past this and cannot understand why theywould do such a thing.” Hold “Pat” for a moment while I switch to the other side, to “Bob.”  Five years ago, I met with him, the father of a college sophomore. He requested to meet with me to talk through his embarrassment and pain. You see, his son got kicked out of college after being filmed with others shouting the “N-Word” and singing racist songs. The video went viral and soon protesters and the media showed up in front of his house in aritzy neighborhood consisting of million-dollar homes. “Terry, I’m in shock over this. I mean I raised my kids to respect people from all races. My family is embarrassed and devasted. What could I have done as a parent to avoid this?” Back now to “Pat.”  As a Black father with first-hand experience with sons being called the “N-word” in school, I was unsure of myability to be objective enough to come up with an answer. Lacking the cool headedness to deal with theseincidents, I wisely handled them off to my wife. A week slipped by and I still had not gotten back to “Pat” with any advice. So I “outsourced” the dilemma to “Lisa,” an Asian-American whose views I greatly value: “I recommend that he seek professional help. The fact he told his grandmother that he is having a difficult time and she does not feel equipped to help makes me think a referral to a trusted Black therapist, counselor, or pastor might be helpful.  How can we use this story to help others increase their awareness of the hurt and pain from behavior like this?The sad thing is that a lot of hate is learned at home and I wonder if their parents would accept any responsibility or have any idea how they may have contributed to what happened. In some ways, parents are unconscious contributors to  their offspring’s bad behavior.” Humm, “unconscious contributors”! Hold that as we step back to “Bob” – and other parents – who may struggle trying to figure out why their young ones may go astray. As parents, we like to believe that our kids can do no wrong, and because of that truthful answers may not be what we want to hear. So “Bob” and the rest, I have an answer and will try to say it a mildly as I can – you have blind spots (we all do) that may hide uncomfortable truths about those you raise. 

One undeniable truth is that your “Little Bobby, or “Little Jenny,” come from homes in which they hear and see stuff you do or not do. They watch the same TV programs and read the same magazines you watch or don’t watch. Should you make a disparaging comment about “those people,” they’re within earshot, taking it all in. They see who are in your social circles and who are not. So based on what they have observed from an early age mixed with power of peer pressure, they may become the “stranger” you didn’t see coming. 

So what can you do? “Lisa” suggests parents take preventive steps early at home. 

“For Bob, I suggest they watch “What would you do?” episodes with John Quinones and debrief. Talk about what is not ok and what to do when you are the only one who stands up and says “Stop that’s not cool” when everyone else is doing what you know is wrong. Understand that peer pressure is real. 

I taught my daughter to say “My mom won’t let me do that” which made me the bad guy as an excuse to extract her from bad situations. I would rather be the Mean Tiger Mom than my kid getting put into a situation she could not get out of because she was afraid to speak up. Blaming mom was a good excuse that worked every time.  

Kids in that truck could have been taught to say “My parents won’t let me participate in this kind of stuff, so let me out of this truck now. Some other kid who may feel the same way will be relieved too and will say, “yes, me too!”

In the end, I wish I could find more definitive answers for both “Pat” and “Bob.” But in the absence of any, “Pat,” you have your work cut for you in repairing your grandbaby’s confidence and self-esteem. “Lisa’s” advice may help. And “Bob,” although the episode is behind you, hopefully your experience will encourage other parents to come to grips with their blind spots before embarrassment comes knocking and the protestors and story-hungry media show up.

And God Bless you both!

© Terry Howard is an award-winning writer and storyteller. He is also a contributing writer with the Chattanooga News Chronicle, BlackMarket.com, The American Diversity Report, The Douglas County Sentinel, The Atlanta Business Journal, The Echo World, co-founder of the “26 Tiny Paint Brushes” writers’ guild, recipient of the 2019 Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award and author of the book “Through The Years, the storied history of Black Augusta County Athletes from 1912 to the present.” He can be reached at wwhoward3@gmail.com

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