For me, the broad strokes go something like this: first there was James Baldwin, then Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and then there was Oprah Winfrey—pop culture paradigms that embrace harmonious insights into the ways of folks, braving the psychological terrain, the seeming polarity of opposites, unafraid of emotional vulnerabilities.
But somewhere in between, at the nether, where Hip Hop inflects from the conscious brand to the New Age, ingrained with the continuum of words that heal, there has been Professor Michael Datcher. His 2002 New York Times bestseller “Raising Fences,” aptly sub-titled “A Black Man’s Love Story,” provided the rare opus magnum into the souls of folks, suggesting that emotional famines and towering ambitions are somehow one:
I’ve been obsessed with being a husband and father since I was seven years old. Quiet as it’s kept, many young Black men have the same obsession. Picket-fence dreams.
Datcher is a soul man on a mission impolitic to the ideology of racism but soaked in our collective humanity:
“The homes looked like houses on TV. They were big and brand new,” he wrote in his memoir. “They had large, grassy front yards with basketballs, Big Wheels, bats, and bikes just lying out there…. I realized it wasn’t just me who was excited about the whole scene. The bus was filled with mostly black kids who’d never seen an environment like this.”
I remember courting my wife and reading passages like these, particularly the poetic interludes. They were affirmation that our dreams were not some negative exposure to mainstream America but in fact our destination. “That’s beautiful,” she would say with characteristic brevity, her eyes moist.
Yes. Datcher’s words form a metaphysical drift that oscillates between gentle emotion and encouragement, brutal honesty, jagged psychology and corrective vision; the pages are crowded with warm memories, iced hopes, renewed convictions and insistent dreams—all with a characteristic knowing and confidence. Benignity is the underpinning. It suggests we are all connected. All family.
The first time I sat down with Michael Datcher in Culver City in 2005, I was a contributing writer for the Black Book Review (www.qbr.com). Even back then, he was working on “Americus,” set in East St. Louis, thirteen miles, ironically, from Ferguson. The story traces our literal and metaphorical roots to Egyptian civilization and the American story of initiation, intersecting at the vertices of race and violence.
I recall in our hour-long conversation big brother Datcher’s spirituality mapping the internal struggles that define the real world strife soaking our world. I am anticipating a holiday reading, meditation and the possibilities within Professor Datcher’s “Americus,” particularly in light of the grand jury decisions in Ferguson and New York, no less than a month before the film “Selma” commemorates our struggle and triumphs, even as our American nightmares are televised for a worldwide audience.
The co-editor of 1996’s “Tough Love: Cultural Criticism & Familial Observations On the Life and Death of Tupac Shakur (Black Words Series),” Professor Datcher deftly observed in a recent interview with Los Angeles’ Peter Bowes and on the radio show Audio Boom, that “Black bodies have a way of effecting and affecting people around them. We have this power to affect people in ways that seem to make them respond in irrational ways. Especially folks who carry guns and who wear badges. So even when people are unarmed, it seems that the embodied black subject has a way of frightening people.”
Continued Datcher: “That was much of my experience as a young man. Just walking the streets, going to school. Although I was a very educated man, a good student—I went to Berkeley eventually as an undergraduate in the Bay Area—I found that my education did not shine through my epidermis.”
Yes, from Emmett Till to Trayvon Martin to Mike Brown, from Tamir, Michael, Eric, and Jonathan to Sean, Amadou, Oscar, Edward and Anthony, our Black sons and genius has been gunned down in cities from Montgomery to LA to Ferguson. We are all embroiled in the inferno. I’m searching for insights and grasping for my own perspective on Ferguson and fallen son Mike Brown.
This strikes to the very heart of “Americus”: as vitiligo begins to set identical twins Asar and Set Americus apart from one another, is there symbolism for the American metaphorical twins, Black and White? How does the brand of racism in St. Louis differ from racism plaguing the nation ad nauseam? Can a heartfelt and human approach to the loaded issues of race and racism create a different outcome hereto un-experienced in American history? Can we listen to one another? Can we feel one another? Will we heal? Heal correctly? What happens when circumstances don’t change and violence escalates, when we consistently refuse to learn from our history (definition of damnation)? As Michael Datcher approaches another coming of age story, how much of his story is America’s collective story as we reach for the future in the 21st Century?
If the Loyola Marymount professor’s former work is any true indicator, his novel “Americus” will supply unflinching insights, I hope like those Professor Datcher shared on KCET radio in 2007, when he thoughtfully took an interviewer to task:
“You raised the question: ‘Do black people really want to have families?’ That is typical of how black people are perceived,” he reflected. “You know, black people are human as well. [That question helps in the] demonizing of black people or the lack of an honest reflection of what black people are like.”
Until that institutional racism is burned to the ground, we must, he insists, love ourselves.
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Patrick A. Howell is an award-winning banker, business leader, entrepreneur and writer who lives with his wife and son in Carlsbad, Calif. He is a frequent contributing writer to MyBrownBaby, TheGoodmenProject, Magnanimity, The Black Book Review, Opportunist Magazine and other topical blogs and e-zines, and has co-authored the concept “Global I AAM” as representative of the Global International African Arts Movement. Both Howell’s book, “Yes, We Be,” and his magazine, Jicho.co, will be published by Howell Media Inc. in 2015. Check him out on Facebook, Pinterest or Tweet him at @PatrickAnthony.
Mom. NY Times bestselling author. Pop culture ninja. Unapologetic lover of shoes, bacon and babies. Nice with the verbs. Founder of the top black parenting website, MyBrownBaby.