Ignorance is a Self-Esteem Killer
Why I wrote Folsom on Fire
Why did I write the novel Folsom on Fire? Well frankly, that is actually an easy question to answer. As a black gay male, I know what it is to be one of the faces at the “bottom of the well,” to borrow a quote from the late Harvard professor, Derrick Bell. And for how long have those who are black, women or gay been relegated to the lower level of society's well? Who shall tell their stories? Who shall give them a voice? Who shall try and dispel such demeaning stereotypes all too often associated with them and reinforced by us . . . the very ones at the bottom of the well?
I dare start this dialogue with a part of America’s own holocaust that is lynching.
You see . . . the dark and horrifying history of lynching in America has always disturbed me. But even more distressing than the act itself are people trying to make us forget that it even occurred. As much as they can, they have tried to expunge such vile acts from our history books. They tell blacks to stop talking about the past . . . just get over it! But my brothers and sisters—you who are black, gay, white, Hispanic and any other willing to hold my hand in common humanity—to see murderers proudly posing next to the mutilated corpse of another human being is an act that I still to this day cannot wrap my mind around or so easily dismiss.
Lynchings in some places had transformed into macabre town celebrations. Schools and businesses shuttered their doors for the day. Parents brought their children and packed picnic baskets so they could have something to snack on while a human being was first stripped naked, castrated, burned, hanged or tethered hands and feet to horses and then pulled apart. Yes . . . these are grisly acts, and hearing about them may have your stomach spinning at the moment. But imagine you are the one this is being done to. Or maybe it is your husband . . . wife . . . daughter or son. And yes . . . they did lynch entire families also. So what is a black woman to do when such evil comes looking for you, like it does with Mary Cole in my novel, Folsom on Fire?
Imagine you are Mary. You’re black . . . a woman . . . a niggah . . . just one of many faces pushed to the lowest recess of society’s well. You’ve been told all of your life that your worth is only within your brawn and capacity to endure hard labor. Your privates are not yours, but the property of whites, for it produces a steady supply of black men whose imprisonment, fortitude in the fields or foundries, and ease in being a scapegoat for white rage is beyond priceless. Your word as a black woman means nothing. Your opinion is neither listened to nor asked for. Your life, other than what you can produce for others, is disposable. Iron shackles may no longer bind you into servitude. But make no mistake; you are still a slave nonetheless.
Though in this year of the Lord 2012, I see many of my black sisters and daughters still held prisoner in their own mind. Yes . . . I say my sisters. Yes . . . I say my daughters. I say what I say at this time that I say it, for you are a part of me and I a part of you. Just as I say these are my great-mothers . . . Davis, Morrison, Tubman, Angelou, Wells, Hurston, Simone, Truth and so many more. Ahhh . . . but there are so many more without faces and without famous names and legacies that have been buried, hidden and silenced from us. Ignorance of our history has become our self-esteem killer. Lies about who we were, who we have been and can be, keep us imprisoned and left to rot. Great-mothers . . . you have spoken and continue to speak to us . . . and I, your son, hearken to your words.
My dear family, it is very crowded at the bottom of the well indeed.
Hispanics, gays, women, blacks, and the poor of all colors . . . we fight amongst one another to rise just a little higher than each other. The great question is . . . who is telling us to fight amongst one another? Is it the others at the bottom of the well with us, or the ones from the top who are goading us into complicity with them? It is but a simple question with a most profound answer. It is the first key to the first of many locks that keeps that chain of inferiority tightly bound around your neck. Said chain is the one Mary Cole from my novel struggles to take off and cast at her feet.
My Mary is almost as tall as her giant of a husband, Lar. She’s nearly as broad as he. She’s as black as coal mined from the belly of a mountain and as strong as the roots from the immortal black tree in the center of Folsom. And yet . . . she’s still a woman . . . a human . . . a fellow creature of the universe to which we all belong and have a claim.
Mary struggles to rid herself of her chains, yet still holds her head up. As she lies in bed next to her handsome husband, she is unconvinced that she is worthy of his affection, because society tells her that a big, black and ugly woman deserves nothing but scorn and a lash. When her ‘adoptive’ gay son is abused and bullied by his family and society, instead of pushing him further down the well, she holds him even closer to her heart and loves him even more.
Is my reason for writing this novel not yet clear to you? I wrote Folsom on Fire for women like Mary Cole . . . for girls like my daughter . . . for women like my sisters, and to pay homage to my great-Fathers and great-Mothers who have walked and still walk the Earth. Further I say, ignorance is a self-esteem killer, because it truly is. So, if you don’t already know some of these things below—you should.
*New voter I.D. laws will disenfranchise millions of minority voters this coming election in November.
* HIV rates among African-American women are now equal to some countries in Africa.
*African-Americans spent approximately 1 trillion (yes trillion) in 2011 . . . but every dollar that comes into a black neighborhood stays there for 6 days compared to Asian communities (28 days) and Jewish communities (19 days). The majority of African-American dollars is spent on???? Keep thinking! You guessed it! Bling . . . clothes . . . shoes and other depreciative goods. In other words, more junk weighted just so, to keep you from rising up from the bottom of the well. And I hope that every gay person determined to spend his or her last dollar to look ‘fabulous’ is taking note of this also.
They . . . and you know who I mean when I say “they” . . . have one simple rule that they go by to keep blacks, gays, women, Hispanics and the poor all fighting amongst one another. “Keep them ignorant and we’ll keep our power.”
So now my question to you; is ignorance your self-esteem killer?