Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some Thoughts About Push

"First thing I see when I wake up is picture of Farrakhan's face on the wall. He is against crack addicts and crackers. Crackers is the cause of everything bad. It why may father ack like he do. He has forgot he is the Original Man!" (p. 34)

Precious seems to know almost nothing about Farrakhan and the Nation of Islam, except that he condemns drug abuse and "crackers" (Southern slang for Whites). Farrakhan is like a god to the abused and neglected teen: "I jus' want to lay down, listen to radio, look at picture of Farrakhan, a real man, who don't fuck his daughter, fuck children." (p. 58)

Precious is like millions of other lost souls--confused about why she is singled out for abuse and poverty in a world where it seems that everyone else has it better than she does. And she begins, as we all do in such situations, to play what I call "The Blame Game."

I has to be (and usually is) someone's fault that we're so put upon. Someone other than ourselves, that is.

So far, so good. Precious seems to recognize, on some level, that the abuse is not her fault. A father should not have sex with his daughter. Mothers should be fixing dinner for their children, not the other way around. White people have a disproportionate say in what happens to Precious, and welfare workers don't really care about her or her dreams--they only care about getting her off welfare, despite the fact that prematurely ending her literacy classes and sending her out to do menial work for a living condemns her and her children to repeat the cycle of poverty and abuse.

But along with blaming others comes the attitude that the person who caused the situation should be the one to rectify it. Of course that doesn't happen--why would the abuser change a system that works so much in his or her favour?

When that doesn't work, often what follows is a complete "renunciation" of the values of the oppressor. I put renunciation in quotes, because often what the abused person comes up with is a mirror image of the values that led to the oppression in the first place.

Such is the case with Farrakhan and his Nation of Islam: "First, the program starts with number one. That is number four. The first part of that program is that we want freedom, a full and complete freedom. The second is, we want justice. We want equal justice under the law, and we want justice applied equally to all, regardless of race or class or color. And the third is that we want equality. We want equal membership in society with the best in civilized society. If we can get that within the political, economic, social system of America, there's no need for point number four. But if we cannot get along in peace after giving America 400 years of our service and sweat and labor, then, of course, separation would be the solution to our race problem."

Let's go back to the fifties, when separation was the norm, only instead of white people having all the good stuff, black people will have it. Instead of black people being criminals by nature, more like monkeys than man, devils in the guise of humans, it's white people who are devils, criminals, and not "Original" humans, whatever that's supposed to mean.(Citations and quote here.)

It's typical fundamentalist dogma that requires little thought on the part of participants, and not much more from the leaders. It holds tremendous appeal for the masses, who have not, as a rule, been taught to think (or do) for themselves.

Precious manages to break free from this fundamentalist mind trap with the help of "Miz Rain," who teaches Precious not only to read, but to question and think. It's hard work, that questioning, that thinking. It's even harder work to pull herself free of the cycle of abuse and poverty that she's found herself in, because although she finds friends and helpers along the way, she realizes that it's Precious Jones who has to do most of the work--no-one can do it for her.

And she finds that her helpers aren't all (or even mostly) shining examples of the Perfect Black Man. Most of them are women. They're "faggits." They're hispanic. They've got rotten teeth. They're loud-mouthed and bossy. They've been abused, just like her. Some of them (gasp!) are even white.

When she accepts the imperfections in her friends, Precious can begin to accept them in herself. When she opens herself up to love from others on the margins, she can begin to break down the prejudices that enslave her more thoroughly than her mother ever did.

One of the questions I've asked myself over and over again is, "Why do people, especially people on the margins and the unchurched, turn to fundamentalist religion rather than more moderate and thoughtful religion?"

And I think Precious may have helped answer that question just a little bit. When we're hurt, we want the hurt to stop. Now! And we don't want to waste a lot of time or energy to get it to stop, because we don't have a lot of time or energy to spare. We want to box ourselves in and protect ourselves. We want to curl up into a ball and have the world go away.

But the world doesn't go away when we close our eyes and repeat the magic phrase, "There's no place like home." Instead, it just goes on hurting us.

More thoughts on this later, of course. I've only just begun to scratch the surface here. But Push was a good opening choice for my readings and thinking. I have some additions to my reading list because of issues opened up during the reading:

Freedom Writers (which I haven't read yet)
Oliver Twist (ditto, believe it or not)

My suggestions for other readings would be Alice Walker's The Color Purple, which I've read a couple of times, and her short story "The Welcome Table".

No comments: