There’s an episode of the show Family Guy where Stewie, the talking baby, starts drinking so Brian, the family’s talking dog, decides to break him of the bad habit. His plan is to get Stewie so drunk and hungover that he never wants to drink again. So the two head to the local dive bar, The Bearded Oyster. They get soused and at one point as they are about to pound another drink, they are casting about for something to drink to. Stewie says, “Oh – I know, I know . . . to the black man. Thanks for taking it all in stride.”
My husband and I just laughed and laughed at that. Because it’s so true. Our society has basically expected that no matter how poorly treated, oppressed, disenfranchised or unjustly dealt with a black man is, he’s not allowed to be angry or bitter or just plain jacked up in the head. He’s just got to take it all in stride. No stumbling, no falling, no excuses, no empathy, no mercy.
The thing is that this “take it all in stride” ethos isn’t limited to black men. It’s a cultural attitude which affects a lot of us. Whatever happens to us, whatever baggage we got burdened with or barriers we faced or the trauma we’ve experienced, none of that is supposed to matter. You’re just supposed to find a way around or through like a trooper. Get a therapist if you need one, but hurry up and get over it. No use crying over spilled milk. Forgive and move on. Take responsibility for your own life. I’ve heard it and I’ve expected it of myself and you probably have to.
For the most part, it’s not bad advice. I mean you can’t change the past, might as well make the best of it and move forward the best you can, right? The problem is that this generally well meaning advice becomes a sort of moral bludgeoning tool. We stumble and beat ourselves up for it without allowing for the fact that some a-hole had tripped us while another tried to tackle us from behind.
I recently had someone I know say to me, “you’ve chosen such a hard road to walk” and part of me wanted to hunt them down and stab ’em in the eye with a sharp stick. Because the reality is that despite my best efforts, I never did get the chance to walk down the road I had meant to take. Like most people, there were a lot of things that happened that I didn’t create or chose which pushed me down the road I took. And no one stepped forward to help make sure I was OK or that I landed on my feet. Except my husband, but he was even more screwed up than me and did his own fair share of tripping me up. I think I did a good job – a freaking fantastic job, really – of making the best of it. But because I’d deeply absorbed the “take it all in stride, never look back, don’t make excuses” ethos, until pretty recently, I couldn’t allow myself enough mercy to actually say, “I got pushed. I got tripped. My way was blocked and no one would help me out.” It was all my responsibility and I rendered harsh judgment on myself for everything that went wrong or I wished was different. And I allowed others to do the same.