Born in the era where all I heard were hopeful promises, with some of them promises of silver and gold, it turned out to be mostly wooden nickels. I learned to cope by letting the glow of other’s wishes sink or rise to the level of their intent. Intention, by the way may serve the universe well but it does not always solve systemic social injustices, but active investigation into them and dismantling them might.
Having been born a Negro, as evidenced by my 1959 birth certificate, means that I was born under a controversial, suspect, historical identity. No other United States of American ethnic group has undergone such rapid identity changes across a fifty year period; Negro, Black, Afro-American, and now African American. I am also feminist, gay, married, and spiritual.
The brighter side:
Hope is found in the small things we can hold onto, those things that we can nurture and protect. I tell you this now, hold on to your dreams, speak truth to power, let go, and let love heal you. Pray and cry for peace if you must but always stand for justice.
This blog was first established in October 2013.
Although I am a licensed clinical psychologist (IL), I do not want to be perceived as conducting psychotherapy in any shape or form. The writings here should not be viewed as a personal substitute for psychotherapy and seeking professional help. I believe in getting help from multiple caring sources, friends, supportive family members, meditation, reflection and action, and professionals. If you or a loved one needs professional care and support, please do not hesitate to find a qualified professional. This blog and all of the information contained within it, reflect much of what I have learned inside and outside the walls of academia, in living, and being a witness to acts of resistance and resiliency. These thoughts are my own and do not, or may not reflect any position my former or current employers may espouse. The personal is always political.
My mother always believed that I was a writer, and here is what happened to me so long ago.
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Writing these words in this blog (brianragsdalewriter.com) fulfills the promise I heard in my mother’s voice when she confronted my middle school principal, Ms. Dobias. This was back in the early 70’s when we (i.e., black children) were bussed into an all white suburban school in a suburb of Bridgeport, Connecticut. From the looks on white students and teachers faces you would have thought Huey Newton or Angela Davis stepped off the bus instead of a group of low income and just above low income black students. Anyway, I think you get the general sense, you can only imagine that the reception for all these yellow busses full of frightened, brave, excited, and shipped, black children were not a wanted sight in this all white community.
I was one of the few blacks who were placed into the top classes, while the number 2 and 3 classes were full of other children from my bus. Many of the black students called me hurtful names, “Tom” as in Uncle Tom, sell out, wanna-be but can never be, honky, do gooder, mama’s boy, etc, and many of the White kids didn’t even look at me or barely even spoke to me. The ones who were really nice to me seemed to do it because they thought it was cool to have a black friend. They, meaning the white kids, let me know that even the dumbest of them was smarter than me, and some teachers seemed to confirm my invisibility throughout my middle school education.
During middle school, I can still remember how tired my right arm got from waving and raising my hand so much. Over time I knew that the teacher would never call on me, so I just started blurting out answers. Desperate times do call for desperate measures! After awhile, once we all realized that I was forever going to be the pain in the ass smart student, we all just moved along and I slowly became part of the classroom environment. I didn’t fit in, and this is how “integration” has felt to me most of my life. I have three degrees in higher education, BS, MS, and PhD. I am a black psychologist, writer, researcher, and artist.
Back to the story about my mother confronting my middle school principal, the meeting was being held to discuss my performance in my English class. Ms. Dobias, the white haired principal with a mean face and nazi-esque style, suggested that I did not have the aptitude for writing as demonstrated by my sloppy performance in grammar. Her goal was to have me demoted out of the advanced English class into a lesser ranked class.
Basically, Ms. Dobias seemed to have that same crystal ball that seems to be passed among some whites that can tell the future of black people. She spoke with such certitude, after having looked into that ball, that I would never become a good writer. Her prediction: writing was not going to be my destiny.
I remember the emotional tone of the conversation, the bitterness, and I can almost smell the thick and dripping racism of the conversation like it was yesterday.
My mother battled this white woman as if she were a gladiator ready to slay the tiger. My mother fiercely defended my right, her belief in my abilities, and my promise– to what we now refer to as my intellectual property. She demanded that I remain in the top English class. She told Mrs. Dobias that I was a wonderful and gifted writer, and whatever else this principal was trying to do my mother was not having any of it.
She stood toe-to-toe, mind-to-mind, and heart-to-heart with the principal. Her words marched out of her mouth with conviction, calmness, and surety. I listened –in this watch and learn moment –as she politely yet firmly told the principal to take her white worries and stick them on somebody else’s child. Her worries had no merit or power, and were being applied to the wrong black child.
Mrs. Dobias psychologically wounded, under the powerful word and demeanor of my mother, Helen Ragsdale Smith, stumbled pitifully under the assault, buckling under the pressure of my mother’s proclaim. I could tell by Miss Dobias’s tone that she relented because she had no other option but to retreat.
I never spoke to Ms. Dobias again, and I don’t remember my mother ever having to talk to any of my educators or administrators again, throughout the remainder of my academic life.
My mother taught me something which has stayed with me all of my life: no one can ever stop someone else’s destiny.
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