Exclusive: Read An Excerpt From Kevin Powell's New Book 'My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand Of The Angry White Man'

NEW YORK, NY - JULY 18:  Kevin Powell attends the 466/64 Fashion Collection Preview In Celebration Of Nelson Mandela International Day at South African Consulate on July 18, 2012 in New York City.  (Photo by Kristen Blush/Getty Images)

Exclusive: Read An Excerpt From Kevin Powell's New Book 'My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand Of The Angry White Man'

The moving work covers everything from Obama to Trump, Jay-Z to Prince and more.

Published September 4, 2018

Kevin Powell is one of the most acclaimed political, cultural, literary and hip-hop voices in America. The Jersey City, New Jersey, native son of a single mother, absent father, terrible poverty, and violence nevertheless was able to study at Rutgers University and went on to be a writer who has flexed his pen for publications like The New York TimesThe Washington Post, CNN, NPR, ESPN, EssenceEbonyRolling StoneEsquire, and Vibe, where he was a senior writer and founding staff member. He has also written 13 books, the latest of which is My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man.

BET.com has an exclusive excerpt from the book prior to its publication below. Keep scrolling to get early access to Powell's powerful words.

  1. My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the Last Stand of the Angry White Man is a collection of essays about the past, present and future of America. The book is about Kevin’s mother’s physical and emotional health problems, and it is also about issues like racism, #MeToo, ending violence against women and girls, poverty, violence, the complicated presidential legacy of Barack Obama and, obviously, the very profound times in which we live with Donald Trump as the president. The book covers everything from Cam Newton and American football to Jay-Z to Prince to Harvey Weinstein to Tupac Shakur to hip-hop to conversations about toxic manhood, about re-defining manhood, about mental health, yes, and about mothers and sons, about single mothers like his mother, and all she/they have survived. There is much hope in this book, and there is much love, too.  

    Read our exclusive excerpt below, and then buy the full book online from Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

  2. 'My Mother. Barack Obama. Donald Trump. And the last stand of the Angry White Man.'

    Nobody knows my name, nobody knows what I’ve done. 
    — Bessie Smith

    This is what it sounds like when doves cry. — Prince

  3. Part 1

    My mother is sick, and she has been in much pain for nearly two years now. There is no easy way to say this other than to say it directly. She is distressed, and I am distressed, extremely, by this situation. I cannot say that it was not expected, my mother becoming ill, but, nevertheless, I cry regularly—merely by thinking about it. My mother’s illness began in November of 2016, the same month Donald Trump defeated Hillary Clinton to become the 45th president of the United States. My ma, forever a very proud and very self-sufficient woman, has mostly kept things to herself throughout my life. For example, I still do not know the uncut version of how my mother and father met, how he courted her, under what conditions she became pregnant with me, nor why, completely, my father was not there when I was born, or why I only saw him two to three times the first eight years of my life, before he told her he was done, that she had lied to him, that I was not his son. Nor do I know, wholly, the backstory of my mother’s childhood in the racist, segregated America of the 1940s and 1950s and early 1960s of which she was born, and raised, and socialized to be who she has been ever since. Oh, yes, she has given me plenty of unsolicited testimonies, several of those tales I have heard repeatedly, but when your mother is sick and your heart feels like it is going to fracture the way the earth does, abruptly, during an earthquake, you, an only child, cannot imagine your existence without the one person who has been there for you constantly, from the moment you drew your first breath; and you begin to hear and see and feel your mother’s stories in a radically different way.

    My mother has long had diabetes and high blood pressure and acute arthritis, has long taken prescription drugs for these ailments. And when my mother dutifully retired, at age sixty-two, after twenty-five years as a home health care worker to senior citizens, just as she was becoming a senior citizen herself, I noticed in that very moment her walking with a dramatic limp, that she was wobbling instead of moving upright, and wobbling with tremendous discomfort. It was as if her mind had texted a message to her body that the backbreaking work begun when she was a little girl, picking cotton in the sun-fried fields of the American South, was over, at long last, and that her short, plump frame was instantly to pay the price for it: the years of twisting and bending and stretching and lifting and carrying; the years of being the help to others, to their families, while also raising her own child, alone; the years of walking and bussing it to work, through rain and high winds, through snow and dangerous ice, through the humbling heat of Summer and the callous cold of Winter; up the stairs she walked and down the stairs she walked, those twenty-five years of caring for the elderly, of washing and bathing those not able to wash and bathe themselves; those twenty-five years of picking up those aging bodies who sagged in her arms like a heavy load, including the ones who died as she was nurturing them in some way; everything had finally taken its ugly toll on my mother. In those first years of her retirement I only half-heartedly and guiltily tried to get my ma to seek real medical attention, not more prescription drugs. Her response to me, each time I tried, is what she has been saying to me endlessly: “Boy, you don’t know nothin’. I’m an independent woman. I’ma be alright.”

    But my ma is not alright, this much is clear to me now. When she finally broke down and told me, on that November day, that she had been having awful dizzy spells, that her hands and ankles were badly swollen, that she could barely use her fingers, that she felt electrified whips of torture, on the regular, shoot across her back, her arms, her legs, I knew that my mother was in a terrible place. It made me think back to maybe a half decade before when my mother called me in a panic and told me she needed to go to the hospital immediately. I was in Brooklyn, New York, where I have lived for over half my life at this point, and my mother was there in my hometown of Jersey City, New Jersey. I frantically phoned an old high school friend, Leonardo, to get to her since I knew it would take me a while to make it across the Brooklyn Bridge and through the Holland Tunnel. He did, and when I reached the hospital there was my mother lying belly up on a metal table, in a hospital gown, with multiple tubes protruding from her body. I was shocked to see how much weight my mother had gained, how much her stomach had ballooned since her retirement. It was almost as if I had been so consumed with my own life, with my work of being a writer and an activist and a public speaker, with, truthfully, my own trials and tribulations, that I did not know my mother, did not know the troubles she had seen. In that hospital room, I sat with my ma as a battery of tests were run, and during one especially somber lull I stood up with my back to her and sobbed uncontrollably, with my hand muffling my mouth, at the dreadful thought of losing her. “No, ma, not now, please. . . .”

    The hospital doctor was blunt. My mother had to lose weight, she had to lessen her sugar intake, she had to stop cooking and eating the over-the-edge cholesterol-loaded stuff. My mother agreed to do what was told to her, to stay the course with her prescription drugs too, but she straightaway returned to the diet given to her at birth, the only diet she knew, one that filled her up, that gave her great satisfaction and joy: soul food. So, I became the ever-convenient punching bag for her feelings of being dispossessed of her identity: my mother mocked me whenever I broached the idea of changing her diet, ridiculed me for being “a vegan,” and maintained that I was the one who was going to get sick because I “only ate lettuce.” She did not understand that part of the reason why I had become a vegan is because I had watched her and other family members, and many folks around me, get preventable diseases because of what they ate and drank. I just did not want to knowingly go down that path. I especially thought of this when my mother told me, from that metal table, that she had not been a patient at a hospital since she’d given birth to me in the late 1960s. A stunning revelation that my mother, like so many of our self-sacrificing mothers, had gone her entire life ignoring one symptom after another until it had halted her in her wobbly footsteps. It was then and there that I could see the stark-naked fear in my mother’s eyes, but she dared not express it to me aloud. She did not want to talk about anything other than my getting her away from that hospital as fast as possible.

    But this second health scare has been different. It was almost as if in the years between that hospital visit and November of 2016 my mother’s body just kept going in a downward spiral on the inside, until her hands and arms and back and legs and feet decided to give up and be- come one huge and debilitating torment. I will be honest and say I did not know what to do at first, how to best support or help my mother. I’d heard stories from friends who had become their parent’s or parents’ caretaker. I had seen social media posts through the years of a parent falling gravely ill, then slowly dying, and the devastation it brought to the child or children. I had had people in my life, close friends, who had been through a similar rite of passage, where the child suddenly be- comes the parent and the parent suddenly becomes the child. But nothing—nothing—prepares you for this role, this responsibility, when it is automatically and ruthlessly you who is that person taking care of that parent. You sit and listen to your mother download what she is feeling in the various parts of her body. You hear her even as you are scanning the redness of her tired eyes, the budding wrinkles you never saw be- fore across the smooth chocolate plane of her face, the layers of loose flesh that dangle, like mushy wet clay, about her chin and neck. Your ears digest her words as your eyes make their way across her shoulders, down her back, to her arms and hands, where you see, clearly, that they have swollen as if someone had blown air into each of her fingers and the palms of her hands. You jump-cut to her ankles and feet and, yes, someone had air-pumped those, too. Your mother speaks of the years of soreness, of the many falls while working, that she has hidden from you until now. You seek help, ask advice, because as that only child you have no sister or brother to turn to, this is all on you—

    I know my mother’s eating habits are atrocious. I know my mother, especially since her retirement, has neither walked much nor exercised in any form, that she spends uncounted time in her favorite living room chair, a recliner, inhaling hours upon hours of television—the news, the talk shows of personalities like Steve Harvey and Ellen, anything, I imagine, that makes her feel good. After consulting with a wide range of people online and offline, one bit of advice stuck with me: just be there for her. How, I did not know at first, because my mother is not very sociable, does not like to go out much, except to church and the grocery store and errands to pay her utility bills. My mother, who I love dearly, can be mean, rude, perpetually enraged, if I am going to be transparent about it all. That alone built the sky-high mental wall that separated us since I was a little boy. And I am so clear that if not for two-plus decades of therapy, nearly a decade of yoga practice, and having my art, writing, as an outlet since I was a teenager, there is really no way I would be able to be in the presence of my mother in any way possible. I know far too many who have absorbed equally abusive behavior from their parent or parents—verbally, physically, emotionally, all of the above—who keep great distance from them and, in some cases, have cut them off and out entirely. I simply cannot do that to my ma, because, well, I love her, because I would not be who I am without her, and because I know what she has survived. It ain’t been no crystal stair. So here she is, in her seventies now, in the golden years of her life, just trying to be happy and comfortable. My mother rises early in the mornings and goes to sleep early at night, oftentimes falling asleep while watching television right on that recliner. So, in the first moments of those November 2016 days, I decided to ask my mother, rather than tell her, how I could be of service. Her response: Take me grocery shopping every week, so I do not have to walk there. And that is exactly what I began to do. Grocery shopping with my mother. Something I had not done since I was a kid. There in Jersey City, a community I had escaped at age eighteen for college, that had both shaped and wounded me in unthinkable ways, to the point that it has left a permanent and disfigured scar on my mind, a love-hate relationship that I am certain I will take with me to my grave. But I had to help my mother, which meant I had to suck up any negative feelings I had lingering about her, about my hometown, about being there physically, more than I’d been in years. And there I have been, week after week and month after month, with my mother, at her local market, the one she prefers, outside picking out the shopping cart for her to make sure the wheels move exactly right. There inside, always grabbing five or six plastic bags for her fruits and vegetables. In the first weeks of grocery shopping with her I challenged my mother on her food selections, especially after we had visited my holistic doctor in Brooklyn. I should have known better. The moment we left my doctor’s office my mother said to me, point-blank, “I do not give a f___ what he said. F____ that mother______. Ain’t nobody gonna tell me what to do!” And these were some of the nicer words spoken by this Christian woman who is so verbally fluid she can pivot from random Bible scriptures to the crudest foul language so spontaneously that even Dave Chappelle or Chris Rock would blush. But I took to heart what my holistic doctor said to my mother: that far too many medical professionals only try to control the sickness, very few ever talk about healing. Thus, I pray to myself daily, as my doctor’s words ring in my head whenever I grocery shop with my ma, that she will soften her stance, that she will heed his words in spite of her intense resistance, and come to understand the gravity of what my doctor said to her, of what she must do: change her diet over time, begin to do some kind of exercise, slowly ween herself off prescription drugs, and stop seeing sugar and fast foods as her two best friends. Yet as we go up and down aisle after aisle in this grocery store my mother grabs the worst possible things to eat, and I am deflated, defeated, and find myself arguing with her about her food choices, and her arguing back with me, cursing me, and matter-of-factly saying to me, on several of these trips, “You are trying to take away what makes me happy!”

    It was on one of those occasions when my mother said that to me, after a few months of these weekly grocery trips, that I let it go, I stopped questioning her food choices aloud, and just did what she told me to do: to push the cart for her when it became too heavy; to “notice my pocketbook” whenever she quick-stepped away from the store shopping cart to grab one item or another; to quietly move her cart out of the way given her habit of always halting abruptly in the middle of one aisle or another and leaving it there to block others; to learn exactly when to offer assistance in the store, when to reach for an item she needed, when and how to unpack and put away her groceries once home, and where, precisely, to put her personal shopping cart every week in her bedroom, by her mirrored dresser. It has been because of these trips, over time, and as I have withstood with my mother all kinds of weather, all kinds of obstacles to my work schedule to be there for her, and all kinds of insults and toxic words and put-downs from my ma, that I finally began to see the whole woman that she is, and how she came to be, in ways I had never fully grasped before. . . . How she was born and raised in the Low Country of South Carolina, Ridgeland, South Carolina, Jasper County, in a two-room wooden shack; how she shared that cramped shack with her mother and father—the only grandparents I have ever known—and three sisters and a brother. How they were so poor that they would sometimes only have syrup to pass around in bowls as their meals. How they were so poor that modern conveniences like a bathroom with a working toilet or electricity, even, was not an option. There was a lightless and dingy outhouse in the yard that they had to enter to go to the bathroom. There were kerosene lamps to see in the pitch-black night. Yes, they were so poor that the girls sometimes had to take turns going to school because there was only one decent dress to wear, and thank goodness, the four of them were relatively close in age. They were so poor that my mother began picking cotton, at age eight, in the fields owned by local White folks—my mother out there as a little girl with people old enough to be her parents or grandparents, each of them equally trying to make a way out of no way. There were also stories of what America was like during those days. My mother would say to me often, when I was a boy, that I had no idea what they experienced in the American South, that we were poor, yes, but that I could not imagine how poor they were. What I gathered, as a child, as a man listening to my mother today, is that poverty is economic violence against human beings and it is a nonstop assault on your mind, on your soul, on your body, and it damages you, permanently, even if you are able to escape it, and that it was passed by my mother’s parents to her to me as if we were earnestly passing a collection plate in one of our churches.

    And then there was the very serious divide between Black people and White people, that it seemed that White folks hated Black folks mainly for being Black, but it would not be until many years later, when I was in college and began to study American and African-American history, in a very serious and critical way, that I finally comprehended, fully, the breadth of what my mother and her family and families like theirs endured in that old country, in that old America. I mean, imagine your life, if you are my mother, a very beautiful and intelligent little Black girl, with very dark skin, being told practically from the time you could understand words and images, that you were ugly, that you were not equal to Whites, that your life was doomed to be the servant, in some form, for White America, but never completely a life for yourself. I have wondered, as I have made my way up and down the aisles of that grocery store with my mother, what she might have wanted to be when she grew up, or if she even had any dreams at all. On a few of those grocery trips I tried to ask my ma but got rebuffed each time. Because, I have learned, Black people in America, with a few exceptions, often do not want to talk in detail about the past, not the dangerous parts of it anyhow, not the parts they miraculously survive. We just keep going, as my mother keeps going, wobbling from aisle to aisle in that grocery store, pushing her cart with a deep sense of focus and determination, as she pushed her life, as she has pushed me my entire life. Yet I have also wondered about her explosive anger, her fire-hot temper, the one that was passed to me, like how the super-rich pass family inheritances, where she might have gotten it from, what made her so terribly full of rage as a little girl. Uncontrollably angry, my Aunt Birdie once told me, that the tip of my mother’s nose would become pockmarked with beads of sweat. I think of my mother’s father, Pearly Powell, my grandfather, a very short and thickly built jet black man, who I heard from the time I was a kid, had an equally volcanic temper, how my mother and three sisters and brother and his wife, my grandmother, lived in day-to-day terror of his outbursts. He who wore blue overalls as Southern Black folks did in those days. He who hated White people, because of how much they hated him, because of how they treated Black men like him; and, also quite frankly, because of how some of the White men had savagely murdered his father, and then stole the majority of my great-grandfather’s land from my great-grandmother. Yes, my grandfather was a mean man who knew how to fish and hunt and raise vegetables and fruits, who knew how to toil the earth, and to steer, effortlessly, the mule-led wagon that got him around, because there was no money for a car. Yes, my grandfather was a mean old man who was taught, by the White world, by America, by his family, that violence was the solution for all problems, and, without hesitation or shame, did to my mother and her siblings and his wife what my mother did to me as a child: beat them ferociously. Beat them the way Black slaves were beaten ferociously by White masters and White overseers on those plantations. Beat them ferociously the way Indians were beaten by those who lusted this American land at all costs. Beat them ferociously the way women have been beaten by men since the beginning of time. Beat them ferociously the way people of all backgrounds have beaten each other bloody in that thing we call war. Beat them down, ferociously, the way the severe poverty beat down my grandfather and grandmother and my mother and her sisters and brother, to the point where they were painfully frightened of people, of the world, I have been told by other relatives.

    And beat them down the way my grandfather and grandmother were beaten down by Whites of all ages, who called them “Uncle” and “Aunt” instead of Mr. and Mrs. Powell, because there was basically no respect for Black people, not even if you were a White youth or child. “Uncle” like “Uncle Ben” and “Aunt” like “Aunt Jemima,” names given to Black people in America to sideline us, to marginalize us, to make us feel like, yes, we are still slaves, forever the mammies and nannies and sharecroppers to that part of White America that refuses to call us by our rightful names, refuses to see us as whole and complex human beings. The way, my mother told me, the White kids would call the Black kids where she grew up “n****r” and “coon” and “spear chucker” and “darkie” and “spade” and “jungle bunny” and “jigaboo” and every other name one can think of, names that made their way into American popular entertainment that lasted over a century, from the 1800s to the 1900s, via minstrel shows and minstrel songs, entertainment that, yeah, amused and drew much laughter from Whites in America while simultaneously making Black girls like my mother feel like they were worthless, unattractive, nothing, with no possibility whatsoever of any sort of a future, unless they worked for it until their bodies fell apart, quite literally. And even that would never be enough. And, yes, I think of what my ancestors must have felt when, while there in Africa, European invaders came with guns and the Bible, co-opting and manipulating local Africans to assist them in kidnap- ping and enslaving people Black like me, to bring them, forcibly, to haunted ships that would cross the Atlantic Ocean; how they made their way—those that did not die or commit suicide—to places like New York City, like Charleston, South Carolina, like various parts of Latin America and the Caribbean, to become, as captured human beings, the first global economy in this new world. A world they did not create, a world that transformed them into something—some thing—new, different, foreign, completely, from who they had been. African people turned into human property. The mental and physical and spiritual terrorism of that experience, for a couple of centuries, stripped of their names, their spiritual belief systems, their goddesses and gods, their music, their culture, their identities, their very beings. Made to do what the slave masters and those plantation overseers told them they had to do. Told, perpetually, that they were inferior, stupid, not worthy of being treated as human beings. Made to work the fields, to work in the big house, to be baby makers and baby breeders, to be the master’s mistress by the only word that fits: rape. To be property sold at will, on a whim, whenever the mood struck. Families here today but torn asunder tomorrow: a family member liable to be sold at any given moment. Marriages not honored and respected consistently. Children ripped away from parents. Mental and physical violence as an everyday reality, torture and brutality as an everyday reality, who cared if their hands were up, defenseless, who cared if they said they could not breathe? The utter insanity of it all, enough to make a people wonder what they had done, indeed, to be so black and blue. Yet in the midst of that they still created music—field hollers, spirituals, what would become the blues, jazz, rock and roll, soul, reggae, calypso, merengue, salsa, and, yes, hip-hop. You can slice or chop out their tongues, you can emasculate them, you can tar and feather and burn them and then hang them from trees, you can kill them and steal their land as you did to my great-grandfather Benjamin Powell, but you cannot stop them from singing, you cannot stop them from pushing, you cannot stop them from dreaming.

    That is why I am so very clear that the dreamers of my immediate family were my mother and her two sisters, Catherine and Birdie, who dared to see another world outside of the backwoods Southern village they had been born into. These three sisters, led by my Aunt Birdie and my mother, plotted their escape, first to Miami, to work in the homes of wealthy White folks, to save enough money to then move North, to Jersey City, where a cousin they were close to had settled. After less than a year in Miami my mother and Aunt Birdie scooped up the youngest girl, Catherine, back home in South Carolina, and brought her “up the road” with them. When they landed in Jersey City, they first shared a bed, the three of them, in a one-room rental, but no matter, as they were determined not to return to the old country they had fled. There was no therapy, there was no yoga, there were no healing spaces or sister circles or meditation groups or #MeToo and #TimesUp for my mother and her two sisters. There has been no path to ever resolve the decades-long arguments between my mother and Aunt Birdie. There has been no exit for my Aunt Cathy to bolt from the decades-long bullying of my mother, her closest relative. They simply have had each other, they simply have had whatever they had brought with them from the South to the North, and they simply have had to figure out, for themselves, how to win, how not to die or commit slow suicide in this foreign place, in this new land.

    We talk much about America being built by immigrants, but that is only partially true. No, America was a sacred ground that Indians occupied first, and that the ancestors of people like my mother built, for free. It is also a place where people like my mother have been assaulted and molested and abused and injured, by systems of oppression, systems of discrimination, systems of hate, their entire lives. Women like my mother do not know a world where the triple evils of racism and sexism and classism have not done a war dance on their psyches, a half step forward, dozens of steps backwards, just to make it to tomorrow.

    For those reasons, I can only imagine the ecstasy my mother must have felt when, as a young woman, she met my father, she in her early twenties, he a man in his early thirties. I do believe that my mother fell in love with my father, fell in love with the idea of being swept off her feet, as has been depicted forever in American movies. And I do believe that my father, equally as damaged and broken as my mother, did what he had been socialized to do, as a man: he stole her virginity, he stole her heart, he got her pregnant, with me, he left my mother to travel to that hospital, alone, to give birth to me, and he abandoned my mother to raise me by herself, on welfare, food stamps, government cheese, and the sort of poverty and desperation and hopelessness I would not wish on anyone. As I have journeyed with my mother through her illness, through the aisles of that grocery store, in those quiet moments in her apartment when we just sit and stare at the television, I have wondered often if my mother ever allowed a man to touch her again. I have wondered often why mother spoke for years, when I was a child, of getting married, to my father, to anyone, then at some point just stopped saying it, giving up completely on the possibilities of love for herself. I have wondered often if anyone had ever hugged or kissed my mother, if anyone had ever told her that they loved her, that she was loved, that she is love. I thought of this one day in my mother’s living room when she slipped off the plastic-covered recliner and landed on the floor, unable to get up. Frightened, I leapt to the floor to help her, but my mother’s weight is more than mine, so I struggled tremendously at first. As I held my mother in my arms I looked into her eyes and I saw the little Black girl who was never told that she was beautiful, who was never told that she could be somebody, at any point in her life. I saw the little Black girl who, like the Black woman she would become, had to put on the protective armor of anger, of defiance, of single-minded determination, merely to exist and survive in an American ghetto. I saw the Black woman who would come to challenge crooked landlords and stingy employers and no-good men and supremely judgmental school officials who would try, on several occasions, to either kick her bad-tempered boy child from school or put him in special education. I tugged and lifted my mother up, as she had done with her patients as a home health care worker for many years, both smiling and crying as I did so, because I was embarrassed to be so close to her, the closest, physically, we had been since I was a little boy in her arms, holding tightly to her for love and protection. Back in her recliner, my mother sighed heavily, and I sat on the sofa, dabbing the dripping sweat from my forehead. Ours has been an incredibly rough relationship. I have carried resentments against my mother since I was a child. As a boy, I blamed her for our poverty, for my father’s abandonment, for every- thing. I hated her, then, every single time she called me “dummy” or “stupid” or a “mental case,” a term she had picked up somewhere, God only knows where. I was absolutely terrified of my mother, the violence and abuse she heaped upon me as a child, the times she asked me “Are you gonna be good?” as she beat me with a belt or a thin, stinging tree branch, or her bare hands, leaving welts every single occasion on my arms and legs; the times she confused me so, in one breath saying, “Do not be like your father!” yet in another “You are just like that no-good father of yours!” I have hungered with outstretched hands, sob- bing like a baby, as a boy, as a teenager, as a man, through the fogs and clouds and storms of my life, to be told by my mother, that she loved me, for her to hug and kiss me, but those things simply never happened. So, as I held my mother in my arms for what felt like my entire lifetime I prayed with my eyes wide open and I said to myself, I forgive you, Ma. I forgive you for the mean words. I forgive you for the violence, for the beatings. I forgive you for hiding major parts of your life story from me, I forgive you for it all. I really have no other choice. I do not want to be that child, like some of my friends, who, even though their parent is dead and gone, they still resent or hate that parent, as if they are mentally chained to that trauma and that hurt no matter what. I do not want to be that person, I do not want to be trapped, I want to be free, and I know in forgiving my mother, as I have come to be her caretaker, I am also forgiving myself, too, at last.

    Then I looked around my mother’s apartment as I always did, and saw what had always been there with fresh eyes: the certificate from her former labor union about her years of service; the photo of a Black preacher I did not know holding a Bible with his head cocked just so; the ghostly image of the White Jesus at the Last Supper; the clock to tell my mother time as she has always wanted to be on time, even in retirement; and above the sofa, above my head, a framed picture of Barack Obama, his wife, Michelle, and their two daughters, Sasha and Malia. When I was a youth, I remember going to the homes of many Black people, relatives and non-relatives both, and how virtually every single apartment or house had the photos of Martin Luther King Jr. and John Kennedy and Bobby Kennedy together. Back then I was perplexed as to why, but I gathered they meant something to Black folks in America, these three men who all were killed when they were young. Years later I would come to understand that in a nation where people who are not White and privileged are treated as outsiders, as undesirables, as interlopers, we look for sheroes and he- roes we can connect to, who speak to us, who speak for us, who can be and are what we will never be in our own lifetimes. We need and look for what they call in the Black Pentecostal church “supernatural miracles.” Except for one Black preacher or another my mother had never had images of Black people on her walls before, not even Dr. King. But in Barack and Michelle, I am sure, my mother saw the supernatural miracle of their marriage and a love she will never have for herself, and she saw a Black man as president through the eyes of that little Black girl in South Carolina who could have never imagined such a reality, not in her lifetime, not in a million lifetimes.

Written by Kevin Powell

Photo: Kristen Blush/Getty Images


Latest in style