Freud famously wrote that a man’s first love is his mother and each woman afterward is a prism through which he loves a new view of her. I was wary of his theory until my mom was retelling stories of her 1960s activism, and it sounded like my life right now. How did the Left become a substitute for my mother?
For my mom, activism was an escape from a closed-in Puerto Rican family and a mother who said she was born too dark. Even as she grew older and lighter she saw herself as small and ugly. The Left gave her a larger world that said “Black is beautiful.” When the movement collapsed in the Seventies, the reason for her life fell with it and she began to doubt her body and her politics. She was drifting, and I wanted to save her from the fatigue of being lost.
We began a silent war. She got a nosejob to fix herself “white.” I soaked in the sun to be brown as a peanut. She straightened her hair. I let mine lock into dreads that swung like chains binding me to the slaves in our blood. If she scowled at my hair, I’d only date sistas who flaunted Afro-puffs, twists, cornrows and Nubian dreads a la Jada Pinket in The Matrix; each style being another angle on the Black pride she left in the sixties.
When she was fired from Manchester Community College for organizing welfare mothers to retrieve book money cut from the state budget, I vowed to be paid in full for being progressive. Each of her political defeats became a life passion. After fighting her for years I’ve achieved a small measurable success. The price is I’m now married to the Left.
I am more conservative than my mom. My love for her was always greater than my love for the Left. Ideas never impressed me; emotions, not thoughts, were my compass. Leftism felt like a maze and to find her I followed a convoluted map of ideology. I found the center of it to give her a son she can be proud of. Now the question arises: was love worth the lie of acting more Left than I am?
It’s too late for me to answer. Instead I accept that what is true about lies is not what they say but our need to tell them. And I’ve gotten so good at it that Leftist ideology is fun. I can raise my fist knowing that it grabs hold of a higher law. My passion is legalized. It scares people and I get strength from their fear. But now, after years of rhetoric, the Left’s embarrassing ineffectiveness is scaring me.
At the city-flooding antiwar march of 2003, I was in Times Square. Cops panicked as we rocked the barricades. We pushed through into the street, eager to go further when a headline slid across the large Times Square screen, “George Bush and Tony Blair halt war against Iraq in response to global outcry.”We cheered with one voice.Weeks later, Baghdad glowed with bomb explosions.
Lately our ineffectiveness, our selfish fear is not only embarrassing, it’s dangerous. After I breathed ash on 9/11 and waded through a flooded New Orleans handing food to homeless families, after seeing Sean Bell’s grey face as he lay in a coffin it has become painfully clear that the people we talk of saving need more than words. So I went to D.C. to march again, but the knowledge is rising that it’s time to risk more than my voice – it’s time to risk my life.
The last time I saw my mom in Boston she’d gone natural. She was so proud. I rubbed her hair; it was tight, curly and soft. It was hers, all hers. My mom claimed her body and its history. When I congratulated her, my left-wing revolutionary voice felt like a wedding ring around my throat. But when I returned to New York and to my work, it began to feel like a slave collar.
The Left is my wife. She’s tired of theory but loves to talk in abstractions. She marches in circles while our leaders murder the world. She claims their victims as private property and uses their blood to deepen the red of our flag. She’s gone vegan. She’s always been brown but now feels okay about it. Sometimes she jokes of shooting whites and/or capitalists. She’s always asking for money.
Not long ago, sometimes even still, I would’ve accepted the state of affairs to keep the faith. Now her 9/11 conspiracy theories, tribal fetishes and self-righteous guilt feel like betrayals of my political origin, that love is a universal need. The Left is my best friend. I love her. I just don’t know how to show it anymore.