By Michael Goldstein
By Dennis Romero
By Sarah Fenske
By Matthew Mullins
By Patrick Range McDonald
By LA Weekly
By Dennis Romero
By Simone Wilson
Another conundrum that has worsened considerably, perhaps fatally, since the ’60s is that of authentication. In another modern-day complication of double consciousness, blacks devote so much energy to squaring themselves with an authentic black mode -- especially middle-class blacks -- that they find little time and space for individuality. Cobbs says that mode defines being black as “deprived in terms of housing, economics, jobs, money. Black is still the culture of have-nots. If someone has all these things, then they are not black, and they are lost. That‘s very difficult.
”I can’t tell you,“ he goes on, a bit mistily, ”how wonderful it was to hear in a meeting, years ago, ‘Black is beautiful.’ You could hear a pin drop. The ledge that we stood on had been broadened. But once it was broadened, the question was, ‘Well, who’s black enough and who isn‘t?’ Rather than giving us more room, it gave us less room on the ledge. The Washington Post ran a story recently that wondered aloud if the new mayor of D.C. was ‘black’ enough. The very new definition that ‘expanded’ us has actually narrowed us.“
We‘ve all had a hand in the narrowing -- black and white, corporate tiger and street-corner rapscallion alike. Cobbs puts aside the growing vexation for a moment and focuses on me. ”Do you collide with the ledge?“ he asks. ”Do you write about something nonblack, like French cinema, and broaden the ledge? You’ve got to do those things. You‘ve got to follow the beat of your own drummer. You’re grounded in who you are, which means you can go off on as many tributaries as you want and it augments you, it doesn‘t limit you.“
I am starting to feel distinctly charged with something, a mission of renaissance. Cobbs grows more agitated, his eyes brightening behind thick glasses. ”You’re in a process of liberation,“ he says. ”I went through it too, as a psychiatrist. I was seen as too bourgeois, or too militant. All you need to do is be yourself.“
I feel in the middle of a mildly fantastic journey. I‘ve come up north seeking the great and powerful Oz and found instead the man behind the curtain, in a nice cubbyhole of an office, with an air of fatigue and no answers but perhaps with something better, more empowering. He is seeking something in me; I’ve got the deliverance all wrong, and that‘s good. Maybe. Cobbs walks me out into the blinding sun, down the street to a deli, where we sit with coffee, soup, sandwiches. He’s eager to know what‘s going on in L.A., the town where he grew up: Who’s up and coming in leadership? What‘s promise look like?
What can I tell him? What can I give a back? I search my mind, knowing I don’t have to, shrug elaborately. ”There‘s nobody,“ I say. ”Nobody I know of.“
Back to the Couch
I stopped going to the therapist eventually because I couldn’t afford it. I had grown rather used to the confessions, the onion-peeling, even liked the process, my induction into the whole wonderful gestalt of being listened to -- for no reason! It was 180 degrees from not and all the tensions of opposition and authenticity -- at the therapist‘s, I floated on a current that carried me wherever I wished. I could talk about why I overspent on shoes, why I liked solitude so intensely, why I had stuck with a lousy relationship for so long. I found I could very neatly separate these issues from those of race, and I tacitly decided to talk about the former and not the latter. I was hardly aware of this decision, it seemed so natural: Race would upset the balance of this new relationship that was forming comfortably. It was forming, I reasoned somewhere deep within myself, precisely because I wasn’t leading with experiences tied to color. If I invoked blackness I would become something less vulnerable and more belligerent: She wouldn‘t like me anymore, she would regard me less as a person and more as a political malcontent. I was enjoying the luxury of being listened to too much to risk any less listening on her part.
But that became the problem: Here was a mother confessor, finally, to whom I couldn’t tell all for fear of retribution. And I was withholding perhaps the most important information of all about myself. I might as well have been a serial killer with a great secret of having buried five bodies in four counties. Yet discussing myself as a black person navigating the world -- which is fundamentally what I was, what I am -- felt somehow more foreboding than discussing myself as a failed pianist. My feelings about shoes felt more appropriate for these chaise-longue discussions than my feelings about race and my conflicts between loyalty and displacement, between family and a larger collective. Certainly all these things were making me more subtly crazy than the shoes or the boyfriend, and I felt increasingly guilty that I was holding back with a woman who seemed to want to know everything and would seemingly wait forever to know it. But there it was. I couldn‘t quite integrate myself in her presence and didn’t want her to know, yet worried she would never get to the bottom of me, that she would never surmount what I couldn‘t surmount myself. Therapists are of course there to do what you cannot do yourself, but believe me, she needed my help on this one. And then the situation suspended itself rather abruptly when I ran out of money.
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