November 13, 2014 at 7:00 am EDT | by Kathi Wolfe
Charles Blow is the James Baldwin of our time
Charles M. Blow, gay news, Washington Blade

Charles M. Blow (Photo by Larry D. Moore; courtesy Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 4.0)

Every so often, a book comes along that hits your solar plexus so hard that it becomes a part of your DNA. That’s how it’s been for me since I read “Fire Shut Up in My Bones,” the bestselling memoir by New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow.

In this searing, indescribably moving work, Blow writes of being a child and coming-of-age in rural, dirt-poor Louisiana. I’m not being metaphorical here. Blow, who is black, and his brothers lived in such poverty that, sometimes, they literally ate clay out of a ditch. In writing that is strikingly original, yet evocative of James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, Blow holds the reader spellbound with his stories. You hold onto his every word as he tells of his journey from his boyhood in Gibsland, La., where he attended schools still segregated 16 years after Brown v. Board of Education, to an Atlanta journalism jobs fair where he found employment with the New York Times in his 20s. Along the way, he struggles with the trauma of sexual abuse (at age seven, he was sexually abused by a male older cousin), his sexuality, and with societal ideas of masculinity.

From the moment I read the memoir’s opening sentences, “Tears flowed out of me from a walled-off place, from another time, from a little boy who couldn’t cry,” I couldn’t put “Fire Shut Up in My Bones” down.

When I was 10, I remember my Dad, a Jewish veterinarian in a small South Jersey town, telling me how he’d stayed up all night, glued to the page, reading James Baldwin.  “Everybody should listen to him,” he said, “he’s saying what needs to be said whether people want to hear it or not.”

Blow is the James Baldwin of our time. Using his gifts as a storyteller, he writes of poverty, race, bullying, gender and sexuality – the issues, struggles and process of self-discovery of our era. From an early age, Blow felt that he was different. Though he liked girls, Blow sometimes felt attracted to male images. As a youth, he was called “punk,” a local anti-gay slur. His mother worried that Blow didn’t run as a boy should run. One of his older cousins is tied to a bed, beaten and murdered because he dares to be openly gay. This hate crime against a black man, unlike Matthew Shepard’s murder, didn’t receive media attention.

“Black bodies…were not valued by society as much as others,” Blow told me in an interview when asked about growing up with racism and society’s stifling definition of masculinity. “On top of being black, being poor and from a rural situation…amplified the devaluation. Being different, not part of heterosexual normality…you had to be alert.”

We wouldn’t want to pretend that there’s been no improvement since the pre-Civil Rights era, Blow said, “but that said, there is still disenfranchisement, mass incarceration, inequities in terms of poverty and treatment by the criminal justice system.”

If you look at the sociological data, he added, this difference in treatment ranges all the way from preschool through adulthood. “In terms of worse treatment for black and brown people – in particular black and brown men,” he said.

Because a child’s mind isn’t completely formed, and because a kid is pre-sexual before he or she is sexually abused, Blow said, “you can understand how they can bring together ideas of abuse and attraction.”

The anti-gay forces would like for there to be an environmental cause of being gay because then there could be an environmental cure, he said.

“The better way to think about it,” Blow said, “is that children who will likely identify as different later in life may be more prone to be victims of sexual abuse.”

Often, we’ve been too rigid when we talk about sexual identity. “Human beings are sexual beings,” said Blow, who identifies as bisexual. “Sexuality expresses itself in myriad ways.  These ways are not hierarchical but part of a spectrum. Some people are fixed at…points along the spectrum and some are fluid.”

Wherever you are on this spectrum, check out Blow’s memoir. Its fire will burn through your bones.

Kathi Wolfe, a writer and a poet, is a regular contributor to the Blade.

2 Comments
  • This is the most stunning of Kathi's stunning documenaries.

  • http://i.imgur.com/y52n01C.png

    https://www.facebook.com/CharlesMBlow/videos/10154454339404989/

    *Charles M. Blow On Drug Abuse and Mass Incarceration*

    In the late 60s I was a young Long Island suburban teen with access to virtually any drug available at the time, including heroin.

    Lots of kids and young adults who grew up in safe, peaceful neighborhoods were experimenting with or regularly using alcohol, uppers, downers, man-made or natural psychedelics, weed. Toward the end of the 70s cocaine became a popular drug used by many of my neighbors.

    At that time heroin was not very popular, though a few knuckleheads who in my experience were raised in abusive and neglectful family environments did use this life-debilitating substance.

    Fortunately this widespread drug use did not result with the Quality of Life of entire communities being compromised by drug users running around neighborhoods using weapons, force and fear to obtain cash to purchase their favorite drug.

    Sadly, this was not the case for many of my peaceful neighbors of African descent who were struggling with Poverty, aka Child Abuse and Neglect, created by irresponsible parenting that often resulted with depressed and emotionally abused children maturing into angry, frustrated teens and adults lacking empathy, compassion and respect for their peaceful neighbors.

    Sadly, because many African American children were introduced to a life of hardships and struggles which far too often resulted with them resenting the painful lives they were forced to experience, many of these depressed teens and adults, unlike me and most of my neighbors who were raised with love, caring and affection, had little or no incentive to make sure they DID NOT disappoint their moms and dads. Why? Because they did not respect the primary caregivers who introduced them to a life of hardships, struggle and pain.

    There is a reason that today and for more than three decades many locally and nationally popular American recording artists of African descent demean and hate-on the MATERNAL HALF of our population, characterizing in their music art performances our moms, sisters, grandmas, daughters, aunts and nieces as less than human *itches and ^hores unworthy of respect.

    Sadly, kids like Tupac were deprived of being raised in a GENUINE loving, caring family environment that understandably caused them to become depressed or suicidal, lacking empathy, compassion and respect for their peaceful neighbors because their lives sucked, so why shouldn’t their neighbors lives suck too!

    Sadly, significant numbers of abused and/or emotionally neglected kids matured into depressed, angry teens and adults causing great harm to themselves, their peaceful neighbors and entire communities.

    I guess instead of arresting and removing depressed, angry, drug abusers (many who were victims of abusive and neglectful childhoods) from communities and isolating them in prison where they could not emotionally terrorize and cause great physical harm (or worse) to their peaceful neighbors, society could have ignored these depressed, emotionally disturbed people and sat by watching them destroy and OPPRESSING entire communities populated by mostly peaceful people entitled to be protected from the dangers often presented to them by depressed children who mature into angry, frustrated teens and adults peeved for being deprived of a SAFE, fairly happy ‘Average Joe and Josie’ American kid childhood Grammy winner and victim of horrific childhood trauma Kendrick Lamar repeatedly laments he, his siblings and numerous cousins were deprived of by their violent felon embracing family and community members.

    This is my theory explaining why far too many of our prisons and communities were and still are populated by depressed, angry, frustrated teens and adults.

    Sadly, the human ignorance we term as racism that for generations OPPRESSED and deprived countless loving, caring human beings from enjoying the respect and equality all Americans are entitled to has *largely* been replaced with a more current form of HUMAN OPPRESSION and indignities known as *Childhood Abuse and Neglect*, or what many so-called concerned, caring Americans characterize as Poverty.

    Before closing I should mention I spent twelve years of my life witnessing on a near-daily basis gun violence and other anti-social ‘people and community’ harming behaviors American recording artist Shawn Jay Z Carter joyously raps about inflicting on an entire Brooklyn community populated by mostly peaceful Americans just wanting to experience and enjoy a SAFE, peaceful life for them, their families and neighbors.

    Regarding society’s changing attitude (evolution) toward drug abusers, Charles Blow stated “It ticks me off to no end.”

    Charles, with all due respect, are you ticked off about children being conditioned from a young age to accept and embrace anti-social lifetyles that far too often OPPRESSED the lives of children and deprives many of our peaceful, responsible neighbors from enjoying a SAFE, fairly happy American life experience?

    In his 2015 Grammy award winning Rap Performance titled “I”, Kendrick Lamar writes, *”I’ve been dealing with depression ever since an adolescent.”*

    During a January 20, 2011 LAWeekly interview (Google search) Kendrick, born in 1987, the same year songwriter Suzanne Vega wrote a song about child abuse and *VICTIM DENIAL* that was nominated for a Grammy award, he told the interviewer:

    *”Lamar’s parents moved from Chicago to Compton in 1984 with all of $500 in their pockets. “My mom’s one of 13 [THIRTEEN] siblings, and they all got SIX kids, and till I was 13 everybody was in Compton,” he says.”*

    *”I’m 6 years old, seein’ my uncles playing with shotguns, sellin’ dope in front of the apartment.”*

    *”My moms and pops never said nothing, ’cause they were young and living wild, too. I got about 15 stories like ‘Average Joe.'”*

    Kendrick Lamar Talks About ‘u,’ His Depression & Suicidal Thoughts (Pt. 2) | MTV Video News April 2015

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hu4Pz9PjolI

    Peace.
    _________
    Doctors Ross and Dietz offer insights into how our Early Childhood Development plays a key role in determining the type of individual we mature into.

    Robert K. Ross, MD, President and CEO of The California Endowment, addressed inmates at Ironwood State Prison offering a compelling overview of the role that exposure to childhood trauma plays in the lives of *emotionally troubled* and chronically ill American teens and adults.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsCNuB_KBUw

    At 2:12:25 in this documentary about Mafia hitman and victim of Early Childhood Trauma/Abuse, Richard “The Iceman” Kuklinski, Dr. Park Dietz explains why young Richard most likely developed into a emotionally disturbed, paranoid, cruel, heartless teen and man who did not give a frig about anyone else, including his wife and kids.

    https://youtu.be/QXgi72W2H7U?t=2h12m25s
    __________________________
    *(NY Times May 18, 2015 – Rise in Suicide by Black Children Surprises Researchers)*

    Black *(Children’s)* Lives Matter; Take Pride In Parenting; *End Our National Epidemic of Child Abuse and Neglect*; End Community Violence, Police Fear & Educator’s Frustrations

    TAGS: charles m. blow, new york times, author, journalist, mass incarceration, inequality, police misconduct, police anxiety, police aggression, child abuse, child neglect, child oppression, childhood depression, maternal responsibility, gangs, drug abuse, gun violence, community violence, teen depression, teen violence, teen suicide, adult depression, CRIMINALLY NEGLIGENT PARENTING, educator/teacher frustration, sadness, solutions?,

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