By Mark Naison, professor of history and African American history at Fordham University.
Anyone who thinks immigrants from Muslim countries are here to wage war on Christianity, or that Islam is a “terrorist religion,” would have left yesterday’s “Young African Immigrant Voices” panel at Fordham, organized by the Bronx African American History Project, with their belief system shaken to the core.
On the outside, the panel looked like White Conservative America’s worst nightmare. Five of the seven young women on the panel wore hijabs and both of the men–and one of the women–had “Muhammed” in their names.
But once they started speaking, every stereotype started to shatter. One young woman, a recent immigrant from Ghana who attended Kappa International High School across the street from Fordham, wore an Army ROTC sweatshirt along with her hijab, and spoke how much she loved the military and of her plans to pursue a career in the United States Armed Forces.
One of the men on the panel, an artist and teacher whose work promoting peace and gender equality has taken him all over the world, spoke of how his father, an Imam in Ghana, sent him to a Catholic boarding school, allowing him to sing all the same songs as his Christian friends and endowing him with a lifelong commitment to bringing people of different nationalities and faiths together.
A young women recently arrived from from Nigeria, now a student leader at Lehman College in the Bronx, spoke of how her Muslim faith did not separate her from her Christian siblings and spoke proudly of her family as a model of mutual understanding between people of different faiths.
And finally, three of the elders in the group–two Muslim, one Christian, who had worked for groups ranging from the Mayor’s Office to the City Commission on Human Rights to the offices of Bronx City Council members and Congressman Serrano, spoke of how you could not work effectively in the African Immigrant communities of the Bronx by dividing people along religious lines. They said Christians and Muslims faced the same issues and lived and worked in harmony.
On a panel that was diverse in age and experience as well as religion, there was not a single moment where anyone spoke critically of people of other faiths. And when people spoke of their own religious background, they invoked that tradition as something which promoted peace and the building of strong families and communities.
At a time when fear of immigrants, and Muslims, is being promoted in the highest places, the Bronx African American History Project provided an extremely valuable counterweight to misinformation and hysteria.
Special thanks must be given to the organizer of this panel, Jane Edward, Ph.D., a brilliant scholar brought up Christian in South Sudan, who has worked closely with the African Islamic Community of the Bronx since her arrival at Fordham ten years ago, and who has won their respect through her writing, speaking and advocacy.
The young people she brought together exemplified, for all who wanted to see it, the promise of an American future where people of all faiths, and nations and values live together in harmony and mutual understanding.
- Mark Naison blogs regularly at With a Brooklyn Accent.
Two pieces of writing I’ve come across as I continue to wonder what happened to my friend and, at times, still not believing it.
First, NBA player Kevin Love, a forward with the Cleveland Caveliers. He wrote a very personal piece for The Players Tribune about experiencing a panic attack earlier this season, and more importantly, on how it’s tough for men to talk about mental health issues because of the ways masculinity is imposed on boys while growing up:
“Growing up, you figure out really quickly how a boy is supposed to act. You learn what it takes to ‘be a man.’ It’s like a playbook: Be strong. Don’t talk about your feelings. Get through it on your own. So for 29 years of my life, I followed that playbook. And look, I’m probably not telling you anything new here. These values about men and toughness are so ordinary that they’re everywhere … and invisible at the same time, surrounding us like air or water. They’re a lot like depression or anxiety in that way.
“So for 29 years, I thought about mental health as someone else’s problem. Sure, I knew on some level that some people benefited from asking for help or opening up. I just never thought it was for me. To me, it was form of weakness that could derail my success in sports or make me seem weird or different.”
This part, in which Love talks about getting a therapist and digging deep into his past, uncovering a trauma he never properly processed, reminded me of my friend Tomas, who witnessed the heart attack of his grandfather as a young teen. I remember Tomas tearing up telling me about it. I got the sense he never properly grieved or understood why he had to witness that event that led to the death of his absolute favorite relative.
“Telling a stranger about my grandma made me see how much pain it was still causing me. Digging into it, I realized that what hurt most was not being able to say a proper goodbye. I’d never had a chance to really grieve, and I felt terrible that I hadn’t been in better touch with her in her last years. But I had buried those emotions since her passing and said to myself, I have to focus on basketball. I’ll deal with it later. Be a man.
“The reason I’m telling you about my grandma isn’t really even about her. I still miss her a ton and I’m probably still grieving in a way, but I wanted to share that story because of how eye-opening it was to talk about it.”
Love ends with an important point:
“Mental health isn’t just an athlete thing. What you do for a living doesn’t have to define who you are. This is an everyone thing. No matter what our circumstances, we’re all carrying around things that hurt — and they can hurt us if we keep them buried inside. Not talking about our inner lives robs us of really getting to know ourselves and robs us of the chance to reach out to others in need. So if you’re reading this and you’re having a hard time, no matter how big or small it seems to you, I want to remind you that you’re not weird or different for sharing what you’re going through.”
Read his whole piece here.
Was Writing About Suicide Cathartic?
So, I’ve been given a lot of feedback about my tribute (?) piece/obit for Tomas, as well as questions on how I’m doing. How am I doing? Not entirely sure. I get the concern, but I also want to scream: “This isn’t about me!” This shouldn’t have happened. Can we go back in time, please?
It’s still so unbelievable. I’m unable to sleep well wondering if there’s any way I could’ve known he was headed down this route.
Yet, for me, the writing made me feel like I’d done something for him, in letting folks know about what a great person he was. But I hate that this is what it is: I hate that he is no longer. It’s unfair. And I recently talked to one of his best friends in the world and that person also feels robbed. It’s just so tragic.
So I googled “Best writings on suicide” and found a great piece in The New Yorker by writer Philip Connors, author of a book about his younger brother, who took his life more than 20 years ago.
He says he’s often asked if writing the book was cathartic for him. As a published author, he said he gets annoyed at the question because “… it annexes the territory of literature under the flag of therapy. As anyone who has written a book knows, there are a thousand other, easier ways to make oneself feel better: alcohol, masturbation, adopting a dog. For ‘survivors of suicide,’ as we’re known—a phrase that I’ve always found most peculiar, as if we’d tried it ourselves but the noose slipped, the cartridge jammed—closure is little more than a neat idea.
“This is not to deny that there are private reasons, in addition to public ones, to write such a book. The private reasons involve an impulse to describe a portion of one’s experience in language that has a ring of truth, to see one’s actions given meaning and form. They involve an impulse to transfigure the horrific, the chaotic, and the merely dismal aspects of one’s experience into a compelling story with a pleasing symmetry and shapely beauty—in other words, a work of art.”
But what most touched me is this kicker on the topic in itself. I will be getting his book, All the Wrong Places: A Life Lost and Found (W.W. Norton, 2015):
“… let’s face it: that’s why people shrink from the topic of suicide. It bespeaks a misery beyond words. We don’t have the capacity to imagine our way into it. We don’t want to hear how the suicide of a loved one elicits suicidal thoughts in those left behind, either from despair or from a desire to achieve a perverse intimacy with the dead. But most of all we’re baffled by an act that scrambles our categories of justice. It offends our sensibilities in a way that almost nothing does anymore. A crime has been committed, but the victim and the perpetrator are one and the same. That is the essential conundrum of suicide, and a good part of what makes it so hard to discuss.”
Via Mark Naison, professor of history and African American history at Fordham University:
Had to share this blog post via Yoga with Jaimee as it resonated deeply with me for a few reasons:
A few weeks ago I snapped this photo outside of my sister’s house, and shared it on social media.
I captioned it with this quote: “the trees are about to show us how lovely it is to let dead things go.”
The phrase “let it go” used to really irritate me because I didn’t know what it meant or exactly how to do it. And there are times when I still struggle with it a lot.
As an analytical person, I need visual aids and practical steps to help me understand and accomplish things. It’s the virgo in me. I prefer finding ways to compare those lofty ideas with things I can really wrap my head around. In my mind, I connect the act of letting go to that time I was finally able to release both hands from my handlebars while riding my bike. And yes, “letting go” is what happens when I frantically drop a hot pan on the stove after realizing one of the oven mitts has a hole in it. That’s some serious let go if you’ve never experienced it.
But the kind of letting go that involves a conscious choice versus a physical action, can be extremely challenging and scary. It can also be painful as hell if it’s not something you’re ready to do: especially if your heart and mind are singing two different songs. Letting go in this sense is releasing all doubt, worry, and fear about a situation, person or outcome. It’s releasing anything that disrupts your happiness and no longer serves you on your journey.
Letting go is a choice to decide that you will no longer ruminate on things that are out of your control, and focus on what you can control, instead.
Letting go creates space for fresh beginnings: stripping you of what happened yesterday, and enabling the doors of brand new opportunities to open today.
Letting go is about accepting what is happening right now and not worrying about what will come up tomorrow.
It involves much more than just saying you have let go. It’s an internal process that must happen for you to truly feel better and get on with life in a healthy way.
Throughout this year, I’ve been having lots of conversations with people and reading an assortment of spiritual books on exactly how to let go. I’ve come up with these five steps that helps me better understand how to do this thing and could possibly help you too:
As a gentle reminder, it’s important that we honor where we are on our individual journeys of letting go. This is a process that may be more challenging for some than others. Know that wherever you are right now, is okay.
1) Mind control–The human mind is the most complex tool we own and can either be our biggest ally or worst enemy. Having the power to let things go starts there. Making an intentional choice to no longer let past issues and people who hurt us control the mind is what can break the cycle of unhealthy rumination on these thoughts, ideas and feelings.
For me, what ends up happening when I let my mind go down the dark road of rehearsing painful experiences is I began to create a story about myself that typically follows the lines of “I’m not good enough”, “I’m unlovable” and “no one cares about me”. The more I think about it, the more my mind creates space to allow feelings of hurt, anger and frustration to fester and completely ruin my mood.
Although I’m still working on this, it’s important to constantly be in observance of your thoughts without attaching yourself to what it is you’re thinking. The reality is your thoughts don’t define your value. You are not the summation of your past experiences. Just because something doesn’t work out, doesn’t mean you are now labeled as a failure or you’re incapable of receiving what you desire in life.
The more we can simply watch our thoughts come and go without attaching our identity to them, the easier letting go becomes.
Thoughts are nothing more than thoughts. What we decide to do with them is what can either make or break us.
2) Getting it all out–Having the ability to express your emotions in a healthy way is another step to processing things before deciding to let them go. As a writer, this is also a must for me because it serves as a form of catharsis and creative release. I like to spend time journaling out my thoughts and emotions. While obsessing over the details of what happened in the past is never the healthy route to take (we all do it), it’s important to analyze why you’re feeling a certain way, and how you can show up differently the next time.
There are so many breakthroughs to uncover through self reflection. Other ways to express yourself include talking to a trusted friend, family member or therapist. I have discovered that seeking out counseling is one of the best ways to receive objective advice and support throughout my journey of healing and learning to let go.
Sometimes, friends and family sit so close to a particular situation that they’re unable to provide unbiased support the way in which you need it. And, sometimes they don’t always offer the best advice. Sometimes it’s not always that easy to let something go. Especially if there are old narratives that are lodged somewhere in your subconscious mind from previous experiences.
When we continue holding on to grief, anxiety, pain, and resentment from the past without fully working through each situation, all of these experiences, patterns, and narratives accumulate inside the heart, making it even more difficult to let things go. When this is the case, it’s so important to seek out therapy to help you work through and heal from the inside out.
3) Acceptance–We all want to know why something ended the way it did or how someone could end up hurting us so badly without having any concern about how it negatively impacted us. We believe that we deserve the right to these answers. We want some level of understanding. The painful truth is, we don’t always get that “closure” we think we ought to have.
Not everyone will explain why they did something or even apologize when they are at fault. And I know firsthand that this reality stings a lot. Like someone pouring salt in an open wound. Not getting solid answers and having to move on with life without closure is no fun, but it’s something many of us have to do at one point or another.
Fully accepting the situation as it is without constantly wishing it would be different is really the only way to getting on the road to being okay. And this isn’t only about accepting situations. We have to start accepting people for who they are as well and believing them when they show us their true character. Because they aren’t lying.
4) Forgiveness–To truly let go and move on, sometimes you have to forgive people who aren’t even sorry. Sometimes you have to accept an apology you’ll never receive. That takes so much strength and courage and humility. While it may seem unfair and backwards, sometimes, that’s how the chips will fall. There’s nothing worse than holding onto resentment about someone or something for years, while they happily move on with life.
And the reality is, doing this only hurts you.
The most important thing is that we also have to learn to forgive ourselves. This can be done by writing a letter to yourself, replacing self-loathing with compassion, and deciding to make better choices next time.
5) Stay present–The present is all we have. We can’t go back and fix the past, and what happens in the future isn’t here yet. We must make an effort everyday to remember that and allow ourselves to open up and enjoy what is unfolding right in front of us: all parts of the journey both easy and hard, good and bad.
A friend of mine once said to me “you are right where you are supposed to be”, in the midst of a very rough season. My initial reaction back to that was filled with frustration and confusion. I didn’t want to accept the fact that he was probably right. Because life is full of so many teachers and lessons. Sometimes you will be the teacher, and other times you will be forced to learn a hard lesson. This year has found me in the role of the student on so many occasions: pushing and encouraging me to let go of old narratives and painful pasts.
This year has inspired me to work harder at letting go of self-loathing, insecurities, hurtful people, unrealistic expectations and timelines, comparing myself to others, and obsessively worrying about things far beyond my control.
I owe it to myself to be more kind to me.
Everyday, I am consistently reminded to embrace the present and all it has to offer: a new opportunity to begin again. No matter how much I may stumble on this journey of letting go, the present is always here to remind me that I don’t have to stay stuck on yesterday, or worry about what will happen tomorrow.
I trust that this opportunity is open for you to receive it too.
Everyday we have a choice to keep holding on just a little bit longer, or conclude that today is the day we will finally let go.
*If you were inspired by this post, please share it with a friend who could also benefit from it.*
P.S. What is something you are working to let go of this season?
I’m fascinated with the topic of toxic masculinity and how it can lead to partner violence and/or murder. In fact, the two deadliest mass shootings in the United States so far this year involved men allegedly targeting their estranged wives as the women attempted to move on.
So when I saw this #longread about loneliness and how it seems to affect men more than women, I wondered, could there be a connection? Were these men who killed their partners afraid to lose their confidants? The women they considered to be their only friends?
Here are the paragraphs I found most interesting in the piece:
It starts young: One avenue into understanding men’s loneliness is to consider how children are socialized. In an interview, Niobe Way, a professor of developmental psychology at New York University who has been doing research with adolescent boys for almost three decades, talked about how we are failing boys. “The social and emotional skills necessary for boys to thrive are just not being fostered,” she said in an interview. Indeed, when you look at the research, men do not start life as the stereotypes we become. Six-month-old boys are likely to “cry more than girls,” more likely to express joy at the sight of our mother’s faces, and more likely to match our expressions to theirs. In general, before the age of four or five, research shows that boys are more emotive than girls.
The change begins around the time we start school: at that age—about five—boys become worse than girls at “changing our facial expressions to foster social relationships.” This is the beginning of a socialization process in “a culture that supports emotional development for girls and discourages it for boys,” according to Dan Kindlon and Michael Thompson. This begins to affect our friendships early—in a study in New Haven, Connecticut, boys aged 10-18 were significantly worse than girls at knowing who their friends were: “over a two-week period, the boys changed their nomination of who their best friend was more frequently than girls, and their nomination was less likely to be reciprocated.”
And the teenage years are when it gets sad, IMO:
However, for many boys—Way calls it “near-universal”—a shift occurs in late adolescence, roughly from the ages of 15-20. In a phase of life we often think of in optimistic terms—self-discovery, coming of age—boys’ trust in each other shatters like glass. Three years after his first interview, Jason, asked if he had any close friends, said no, “and immediately adds that while he has nothing against gay people, he himself is not gay.” Another boy interviewed by Way in the eleventh grade who up until the year before had maintained a best friendship for ten years said he now had no friends because “you can’t trust nobody these days.” In interviews with thousands of boys, Way saw a tight correlation between confiding in close friends and mental health, and she observed that, across all ethnic groups and income brackets, three quarters of the boys she spoke to “grow fearful of betrayal by and distrustful of their male peers” in late adolescence, and “begin to speak increasingly of feeling lonely and depressed.”
Making matters worse, in the middle of this estrangement from other boys, as we’re becoming young men, we’re governed more than ever by a new set of rules about what behaviour we’re allowed to show. Psychologists call them display rules. “Expressions of hurt and worry and of care and concern for others,” according to white high schools boys, are “gay” or “girly.” Black and Hispanic boys, according to Way’s interviews, feel pressure to conform to even stricter rules. Men who break the rules, and express “sadness, depression, fear, and dysphoric self-conscious emotions such as shame and embarrassment” are viewed as “unmanly” and are comforted less than women. Way told me when she speaks in public, she often quotes a 16-year-old boy who said, “It might be nice to be a girl, ‘cause then I wouldn’t have to be emotionless.”
What about young adulthood? Young guys hang out a lot? Can’t be so bad, right?
And yes, entering adulthood, and up to the age of 25, men and women do have approximately the same number of friends. For the outsider looking in, then, and even for the man himself, it may appear that nothing’s amiss. But to paraphrase University of Missouri researchers Barbara Bank and Suzanne Hansford, men have power, but are not well. In the UK, suicide rates among men are steadily rising. In the US, so is unemployment among men, often coupled with opioid abuse. In a 2006 paper addressed to psychiatric practitioners, William S. Pollack of Harvard Medical School wrote, “present socialization systems are dangerous to boys’ physical and mental health and to those around them, leading to increased school failure, depression, suicide, lonely isolation, and, in extremis, violence.” In a study Pollack did of boys age 12-18, only 15 percent of them projected “positive, forward-looking sentiment regarding their futures as men.”
Women keep being intimate with their friends into adulthood, and men, generally, do not: “Despite efforts to dismiss it, the finding that men’s same-sex friendships are less intimate and supportive than women’s is robust and widely documented.”
How homophobia plays a role:
“What is wrong with men,” Bank and Hansford asked, “that they can’t or won’t do what they enjoy to the same extent as women do?” In a study of 565 undergraduates, they investigated. Six possible reasons why men shut each other out were measured by questions like “how often [the subject] and their best friend showed affection for each other, had a strong influence on the other, confided in the other, and depended on the other for help.” The worst offenders? Homophobia, and something they called “emotional restraint,” which they measured by responses to statements like “A man should never reveal worries to others.”
From the vantage point of adulthood, especially in progressive circles, it’s easy to forget the ubiquitous and often quasi-ironic homophobia of teen boys, which circulated among my guy friends. That’s why it was amazing to read Dude, You’re a Fag by C. J. Pascoe,1 who spent a year embedded in an American high school divining and taxonomizing the structures of teen male identity in intricate and systemic detail. She concluded that “achieving a masculine identity entails the repeated repudiation of the specter of failed masculinity”—in other words, boys must earn their gender over and over again, often by “lobbing homophobic epithets at one another.”
What about married life?
Though less lonely, married men are more socially isolated. Compared to single men, and even unmarried men cohabiting with a partner, married men in a 2015 British study were significantly more likely to say that they had “no friends to turn to in a serious situation.” This seemed to capture the situation of Roger, 53, in Indianapolis, who’s been married for 24 years. “The friendships I had in college and post-college have kind of dissipated,” he said. “My wife and I have a few friends in couples, but I don’t really see friends outside of that.” He confides in no one other than his wife. “There’s very little need to,” he said. Roger is typical: married men “generally get their emotional needs met by their spouses/partners.” Why, then, would Roger need to keep up with anyone else?
Read “The Legion Lonely” here.