It must be pure hell for most Black men in America. Certainly not all. Just most. And, I really have no right to be passing judgement where it concerns that hell because my race caused it. I'm Caucasian.
The thoughts about race in the U.S. - about Blacks and whites - came to mind (yet again) over the weekend. Kathy and I took our almost-four-year-old Molly to a Scottish Highland Festival in the north Georgia mountains. It was a gorgeous day; clear air, bright sunshine, warm breezes, the mountain laurel in full bloom.
In a green and shady valley near Blairsville, Ga., the descendants of the various clans of Scotland - men and women whose ancestors migrated to America generations ago - had set up their booths and were displaying the tartans of their respective clans; maps of their home counties in the Old Country; photographs of castles and villages; and if asked, they gladly would tell you their history.
There were seemingly dozens of pipe and drum bands and the mountain air was filled with the keening of Scottish music, music that is forever melancholy and absolutely defiant at the same time, in the same melody. The music coming from the (William) Wallace clan was especially so.
We passed most of the afternoon there. The games and the music, the food and the dances, all were steeped in Scottish tradition and Scotland itself. The English language - spoken by a Scotsman - has a certain sound, a definite brogue and by the time we left the valley, both Kathy and I had adopted a slight burring of our R's, a broadening of our vowels. Hugging her new toy unicorn and sedated by the mountain air, Molly fell fast asleep on the drive home.
This morning, I read in the NY Times of Barack Obama's Father's Day address yesterday at one of Chicago's largest Black churches. As did the Scottish folk at the festival in the Georgia mountains, Obama spoke also of family and tradition and culture. The tradition and responsibility of Black folk. But, Obama's words - according to the Times - were pointed and insistent. "Too many fathers are M.I.A., too many fathers are AWOL, missing from too many lives and too many homes," Mr. Obama said to a chorus of approving murmurs from the audience. "They have abandoned their responsibilities, acting like boys instead of men. And the foundations of our families are weaker because of it."
So, there it was again. That familiar warning from a prominent Black man that Black families are failing, struggling, disintegrating, fooling themselves. Obama focused on the missing fathers, and how that is at the core of the nearly intractable problems inundating Black families.
And, where are these fathers? For so many of them - a majority? - a state or federal penitentiary is where. And why are they there and not with their kids, their families? Because they violated the law. (Or didn't, but wound up in prison nonetheless.) And why did they violate the law? And what laws did they violate? Were the laws violated those against robbery? Murder? Burglary? Illegal use, sale or possession of drugs?
Did they violate those laws for the hell of it? Because they were ganstas or punks? Or, were they trying to exist? To support a family by any means necessary or available? Why didn't they turn to family for help? Why didn't they use the stability of years of passed-down wealth - even moderate wealth, like property or a farm or a small business - or scholastic tradition to deter the lawbreaking? Weren't those resources available? Why not?
The questions are endless and work back, eventually (always) to slavery and the Middle Passage and the denial of humanity, and no right to define one's own sovereignty, and no hope for freedom, and no continuity of family, and no generational memory of home. These are among the reasons there are missing fathers and disintegrating familes.
No? Think not? Yesterday in the north Georgia mountains I met dozens of descendants of Scottish immigrants. They would argue otherwise.