Heroes

I watched Black Panther last night and the tribute to Chadwick Boseman that followed, the young man from Anderson, South Carolina who died much too young from colon cancer.  A movie star some have called heroic.

The news of his death at forty-three struck a discordant note and triggered my own memories of young men gone to soon.  Over the last decade I have lost two former players to colon cancer, one in his early thirties, the other in his early forties. 

I watched their deterioration and the devastation the disease wreaked upon their families.  I witnessed firsthand the bravery they displayed as the sands ran too quickly from their hourglass. It seems Chadwick fought his battle silently and worked nearly up to the end. Like my players I’m sure he fought heroically and at his age could have easily been one of my students or players.

Because he was from South Carolina, I had heard a great deal about Chadwick. I followed his career but Black Panther was the first movie I saw despite having been impressed with excerpts from 42 and with the interviews I had watched. I had been too self-absorbed and lazy to actually go to a movie theater. 

2020 has been tough on role models.  Kobe Bryant and John Lewis passed before Boseman, all prominent African Americans in their respective fields, athletics, Civil Rights, and film.  Joining them today, as I write this, was legendary Georgetown coach, John Thompson. 

There are others who have passed, of all races and many different fields.  People who were important to other people whether they knew them or not.  Many who were role models and heroes in their own right. Still, I could not help myself, I wondered, “Why had Chadwick Boseman been elevated to ‘Superhero Role Model’?”

I knew the answer but as I read reactions to his death, responses to media presentations, and the final straw for fragile, triggered, white folks from his home state, the lowering of the flags to half-mast that fly over our state capital.  Small fire fights raged over social media to the point I shut my computer down to put them out.

I was surprised at the negative comments.  “He is an actor, not a hero. He is playing a part”, “It’s just because he’s black”, “It’s the liberal media’s agenda”, “It’s all about politics.”  Those were not the worst of the comments.

I decided to do a bit of introspection.  After my self-study, the answer swimming around in my mind had not changed.  I had stayed silent when certain people enumerated the failings of Kobe Bryant and John Lewis, trying to make them seem less heroic and more human. I’m not going to be silent today.

People need heroes.  We always have needed them, whether they were actors playing a part or athletes playing a game or living heroic figures.  I had mine, from John Wayne’s ‘Whistling’ Dan Roman in the movie The High and the Mighty to Mickey Mantle and Bobby Richardson to JFK.  All were important to me.

They were heroic figures for a young white boy named Donnie.  They were also flawed humans…discovered to be flawed by the adult named Don.  When I was the child we did not seem to have the need to tear our heroes down as we do now.  Heroes were heroes, villains were villains. You could tell the good guys by their white hats unless your hero was Hopalong Cassidy.

Today, we elevate normal humans to godly status just before doing our best to explode our idols by exposing the failings that make them human.  Hero worship to hero bashing.  Why?

I do not have an answer to why…except that it is 2020 and for the previous decade our capacity for hatred has steadily expanded.  I guess we have always mined for veins of corrosion in someone else’s hero’s armor.  As far as the comments about Chadwick Boseman, it seems much darker.

I restate, “People need heroes.”  For Black Americans and other hyphenated Americans, heroes have been few and far between.  Not because they were not any, there were plenty, but because heroes of color were whitewashed by the “White European” history we taught…I taught into the present century. 

The Thurgood Marshalls and Jackie Robinsons were relegated to “footnotes” during the Civil Rights Era while others were crammed into the shortest month of the year, “Black History Month.” 

Chadwick Boseman helped bring those historical figures to life for a new generation of Black kids.  Chadwick Boseman gave little black youngsters a hero…even if he was playing James Brown or The Black Panther.  Chadwick Boseman gave an entire race a sense of pride that had been rendered almost invisible in many history books. 

Before you question me, I know I am correct because I taught United States History off and on for forty-one years and I only realized the errors of my ways late in my career.  I am sorely sorry for that.  In God I trust but I now know I should not have trusted my “Lost Cause” education or the textbooks I taught from.  It appears I did a good job of teaching as the propaganda I taught is often regurgitated back into my face. 

Please understand, my failings went far past presenting Black Americans in the shadows.  My shortcomings included Native Americans, Spanish speaking Americans, Asian Americans, and women of all races.  

I taught a sanitized version of history, as most of us did.  I taught the good instead of adding the bad and the ugly.  I now believe if we do not confront our history, we truly are doomed to repeat it.  We needed Chadwick Boseman along with actors and actresses like him to bring that history to life…and provide a bit of escapism too.

Is Chadwick Boseman a hero? I think we throw the term around too easily and too often.  He is a positive role model, not just for black kids but for all kids in general.  From a small Southern town, to college, to Oxford, to a pinnacle of stages and red carpets.  More than an actor in a role, a good man, an intelligent man, a humanitarian, and philanthropist.  Maybe not a hero in the heroic sense but a culture hero for sure and the best of role models.    

I thought for two hours and fifteen minutes Sunday night Chadwick Boseman was heroic, the same way John Wayne was heroic in the movie In Harms Way or The Horse Soldiers. There were certainly creases, maybe huge dents and rends in John’s armor and yet I still tune in everytime those movies are on.

We need heroes even if they are playing a part or a sport. We need heroes even if they are human with human failings. Boseman’s heroism went much further than just the screen of my TV.

Don Miller’s author page may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM?fbclid=IwAR1eQLwKCHwi-dJ92ECz70HcFU6lwIeP6pKv8-4vBA_gJEqpQiGtI3Ic1H8

The image of Chadwick Boseman was mined from the New York Times.

Tide Pods and Heroes

 

I wasn’t going to react…I really tried hard but the “daddy” teacher in me has reared its ugly head and I will not sit on the sidelines while thousands of young people exercise their First Amendment Rights…and get ridiculed and called names for doing it.  My inner child of the Sixties has stood up and grabbed me by the ass and shook me.  I was young once and so were you…and if you didn’t do stupid things, you should probably head to the doctor and find out what is wrong with your memory.

Yes, some of these youngsters are stupid…no not stupid.  Some are immature and do stupid things.  Like, take the Tide Pod challenge.  Stupid things like goldfish swallowing contests, flagpole sitting, telephone booth stuffing, pet rocks, flappers, zoot suits, platform shoes, lily-white Irishmen in Afros and lime green leisure suits.  Abuses like beer drinking, smoking marijuana and premarital sex with the wrong woman.  Stupid things that immature young people from previous generations did (I know this for a fact)…and went on to do great things.  Before you say that I’m advocating for beer drinking, marijuana use, and premarital sex…JUST STOP IT!  That is not my point.

Growing up is being taught by caring people if you are lucky enough to have them: parents, teachers, family members, the clergy of your choice…the village.  Unfortunately, or maybe, fortunately, it’s also about ignoring what you were taught, striking out on your own path, and somehow managing to survive it…and learning from it.  I was lucky…I survived.  I didn’t learn much, but I hope the newest generation survives and learns.  I believe the will and that they will go on and do great things too…but they won’t do it our way.

I saw plenty of heroic young people, not one of them had a Tide Pod in their hands…or mouth.  We focus on all the immature actions and fail to recognize that they have a voice that echoes their pain, their concern, and their fear…whether they are high school students or not. They don’t have the life experiences.  Tell that to a kid whose mother works two jobs and leaves him to care for a little brother…no don’t.  You don’t have the right.

Sure, some left just to get out of class and there were, as my brother pointed out, some knuckleheads.  There would have been knuckleheads fifty years ago during YOUR or my generation, and after.

Others knelt in hallways when they weren’t allowed outside.  Peace signs were created by elementary school kids.  Shoes were placed in protest near the capital. Chicago students marched for mental illness awareness, equal educational opportunities, safety in their OWN communities and THE PARKLAND, FLORIDA, DEAD, and SURVIVORS.  I watched one young man march and stand silently…the only person in his march.  I think it was pretty goddammed heroic.

For you deflectors and detractors, sure the problem is more than JUST about gun control.  I don’t want your gun, I have one.  But their march…their conversation was about guns and dying in a school.  Organize your own march…I’ll march with you.

The PROBLEMS are about a failure in a law enforcement and background system that allows a mentally ill youngster to obtain a legal weapon that can kill thirty people in a minute.

It is about bullying, something some people still blame on the victim not being tough enough.

It’s about something being wrong with men of my race and gender who have a need to shoot up things with weapons only one or two steps down from a battlefield…and call it huntin’.

It is about violence in certain cities and the double, the national norm, unemployment figures that go with it…and the inequality in the education they receive.

It’s about prisons for profit that robs families of men who have minor brushes with the law when other men get a slap on the hand and community service.  But that’s something some of us don’t want to hear or even entertain.

It’s about a judicial system that seems to punish, more severely, one group over another.

It’s about moral depredation, Christ follower or Athiest, that must be someone else’s fault cause it ain’t mine.

And, it’s also about smart and consistent gun control, even if it means JUST enforcing the laws already on the books.

There are plenty of facets to the problem…just pick a cause…or not.  But that will be YOUR CAUSE, not theirs.  Or just sit back and denigrate young people who want to start a conversation…one we can’t seem to have without yelling.  I’d say you failed at quieting them and I think that is a good thing.

To quote Buffalo Springfield:

There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
Young people speaking their minds
Getting so much resistance from behind

Don Miller is a multi-genre writer who may be found at https://www.amazon.com/Don-Miller/e/B018IT38GM

The featured image was taken by Amber Nelson Wagner

Video from YouTube