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thesonwithtwomomscover

Not too long ago I had a friend of mine who was urging me to read this book that was written and self-published by an acquaintance of his who lives near him in Takoma Park, Maryland. My friend was so moved by what he read that he’s been going to great lengths to publicize this book and he’s trying to think of ways of having it get noticed by a real book publisher so it would get published and be more widely distributed across the country. (Which isn’t easy because the closest my friend has ever gotten to the book publishing industry is that he currently works for a public library. LOL!) He even made a video review of the book which he posted both on YouTube and Amazon.com.

So he gave me a copy of this book because he wanted me to read this book and write a review on it. I accepted this as a favor to him since he recently has helped me out in a few ways. I posted a review on Amazon, which is what my friend wanted, but I decided to post a longer version of it in this blog since not everyone visits Amazon on a regular basis.

The Son With Two Moms by Tony Hynes is the kind of book that can easily be of interest to both the African American and LGBTQ communities. This book is a prime example of intersectionality politics, where it delves into the complex yet related issues of classism, racism, and homophobia. At the same time this book provides a personal human perspective on such issues so it teaches a more powerful lesson than if one were to read about intersectionality politics in a college textbook that was written in an intellectual fashion by an emotionally detached academic.

Tony Hynes was born in Washington, DC to a poor struggling African American single mother who also had a nine-year-old daughter. (His biological father was already out of the picture by the time he was born.) His mother struggled with schizophrenia that grew so bad that she could no longer take care of her own baby. Other members of the family were unable to take the child in so he was sent to an orphanage by the time he was one. His luck would change dramatically the following year when, at the tender age of two, when he was taken in by a loving upper class childless couple and he moved to the couple’s home in nearby Takoma Park, Maryland.

What makes his story different from the hundreds of other stories of poor children being taken in by loving upper class childless couples is that the couple in this case were not only white but they were lesbians as well.

Once he moved in with his new family he started to blossom. He quickly made friends with two brothers from an Irish American family who lived near his new family and he excelled in soccer. Reading those chapters of his early life in his new neighborhood sounds like the typical childhood of someone who grew up in an upper middle class suburb. The only difference is that he happened to have two same-sex parents instead of a mother and a father.

His two moms went to great lengths to make sure that he had a relatively normal childhood despite his unusual family structure. They raised him in Takoma Park, which is a very liberal town that’s located outside of the DC border. Detractors frequently refer to it as “The People’s Republic of Takoma Park” simply because of its history of championing progressive causes, such as having the Takoma Park mayor and city council declare the town as a “nuclear free zone” back in the 1980’s in response to the Reagan Administration’s nuclear arms build-up. But the city also has a rich history of being welcoming to anyone who is perceived as “different” in mainstream U.S. society so it has attracted not only the LGBTQ community but also radical leftists, hippies, artists, and musicians. As a result, his family was accepted in a way that would have been impossible had he been raised elsewhere. I know for sure that had his family lived in my hometown of Glen Burnie (which is located 30 miles north of Takoma Park) he would’ve been subjected to intense bullying at both school and in his neighborhood on the basis of being a black boy with white lesbian parents. (Growing up in Glen Burnie I frequently heard all of the derogatory words being directed against African Americans and homosexuals.)

His moms raised him in a Presbyterian congregation that had mostly accepted his family (even though the main denomination at that time was less accepting of LGBTQ persons and, to this day, those who identify as LGBTQ are still cast out of more conservative congregations). That was a good thing because there are still many religions that consider homosexuality as a sin and there are also too many majority white congregations that aren’t very welcoming to people whose skin color is other than white. Such houses of worship would have never welcomed a family that consisted of two white lesbians and an African American boy. Hynes mentions in his book how one of his moms was originally a Roman Catholic until her parish kicked her out after someone told a deacon that she is a lesbian.

For added measure his moms also chose a private Quaker school in College Park in order to ensure that the students and teachers would accept him despite having two white mothers. The Quakers have long had a history of social justice (including advocating tolerance towards people who are different) and they were among the first religious denominations to accept the idea of both equal rights and marriage equality for LGBTQ persons.

This story may sound like a charming happy fairy tale on the surface, complete with the proverbial “And they all lived happily ever after” but, as Hynes made clear in his memoir, his growing up years weren’t all sunshine, rainbows, and unicorns. He admitted that he felt anger at having an absent father and being sent to an orphanage at an early age. He mentioned how some members of his Presbyterian congregation had snubbed one of his moms at a prayer circle once and there were fellow members who simply refused to accept that family as part of the congregation.

The most dramatic moment came when Hynes’ two moms managed to initially adopt the boy only to encounter a persistent challenge from a member of his original birth family who called herself his Grandma. She opposed young Tony being placed with them in the first place for these reasons: 1) living in Maryland would cut him off from his original family and community in DC, 2) he would be a black boy being raised by whites and his Grandma feared that he would be cut off from his cultural heritage, and 3) his would-be adoptive parents are a same-sex lesbian couple whom his Grandma considered as sinners and she didn’t think that such sinners should have any business raising children.

At first she told the court that she was his biological grandmother who would be willing to raise the boy. When the court found out that she was really his step-great-aunt by marriage who didn’t have any legal rights to the boy, she first tried to get his biological mother to file for custody then tried to get his absentee biological father to file his own custody suit (with the idea of having the boy live with Grandma once either parent got custody) only to have both parents fail to show up for a hearing.

In any case, his Grandma managed to get the adoption overturned. After years of legal maneuvering, both sides ended up making a compromise where the two moms and Grandma all had legal guardianship over the boy. The two moms would have physical custody of Tony but they would be required to send Tony to his Grandma’s house for a visit every other Saturday.

While it seemed like an ideal compromise, Hynes writes in his memoirs that, as legal guardians, there were certain things that his two moms legally couldn’t do that they could’ve done had the adoption not been overturned by the court. One example was having access to his birth certificate, which his moms couldn’t access because legal guardians do not have that right. As a result, Tony was unable to apply for a learner’s permit at 16 because the state required a birth certificate nor was he able to go on a class trip to Canada because he couldn’t get a passport without producing a birth certificate. Ultimately one of his moms waited until Hynes was 19 (when the state no longer had to notify the birth family of a pending adoption because he was over 18) to legally adopt him so the adoptive mom can request a copy of his birth certificate as well as having full legal family rights that are given to both adoptive parents and their adopted children.

There were times when he would be sent back to DC for the weekend to the home of the woman he called Grandma (in reality she was a step-great-aunt by marriage) and any other relatives who happened to be living with Grandma at the time. His Grandma was a far cry from the stereotypical cheerful doting grandmother. In fact she was a bitter chain-smoking old woman who would spend much of her time trying to convince young Tony that he was stolen from his family and his new family wouldn’t let him be around other black kids. At one point Grandma even had Tony’s mentally ill birth mother (who rarely saw her son since his birth) over at her home during one of his visits in an attempt at manipulating the boy into turning against his two white moms. To Tony’s credit he was able to resist Grandma’s frequent manipulation attempts and come to his own conclusions regarding his then-current living situation.

Tony Hynes would face another major challenge in his young life soon after his custody case was settled when one of his moms was diagnosed with colon cancer. What was even more sad and devastating was that it was the younger of his two moms who was diagnosed (she was only in her early 30’s at the time). Not only did Hynes write about his own feelings about seeing his one mom’s health decline but he also included excerpts from a journal that that mom kept at the time so the reader gets her perspective as well.

Ultimately that mom lost her battle with cancer and she died just a couple of months before Tony’s 12th birthday. From that point on he lived with his surviving mom in a single parent household and the trials and challenges that he and his mom went through are not unlike those of other children who have lost a parent to death or desertion. Hynes mentioned a situation in his memoir when he remembered how people used to literally gawk at his family when both of his moms were still alive and the family went out anywhere in public. After that one mom’s death Tony and his surviving mom received fewer stares when it was just the two of them who went out in public. Hynes admitted that he felt relief at not having so many people stare at his family unlike before yet he was also ambivalent because he deeply missed his dead mom.

The book shows how even the person who holds the most prejudice against the LGBTQ community can soften his/her attitude once he/she gets to know at least one person from that community and begins to understand that person’s humanity. Tony’s Grandma from his birth family is one such example because she had initially gone to great lengths to have Tony’s adoption overturned and gain custody of the boy simply because the adoptive parents were a lesbian couple. Many years after that custody case ended, one of Tony’s male cousins came out as transgender when that cousin arrived to a family Thanksgiving celebration dressed in women’s clothing. Tony’s Grandma immediately embraced that relative, which indicated that she was willing to accept her relative with unconditional love.

Hynes indicated in his memoir that there may have been another reason why his Grandma was more accepting of different people than she was in the past: Her health began to decline. Nearly a year after that Thanksgiving celebration his Grandma died at the age of 80. Ironically his Grandma died in the same hospital that one of his moms went to when she was battling the cancer that ultimately took her life. Amazingly Tony was able to look past his Grandma’s frequent attempts to turn the boy against his two moms and her overall difficult personality to realize that, in her own way, she loved him just as much as his two moms. He even tried to convince his older sister (whom Grandma used to frequently criticize about her weight as she grew up) that Grandma didn’t really hate that sister as much as his sister felt, which showed how much he was willing to let go of any past bitter feelings he may have had for his late Grandma.

The last few chapters of Hynes’ memoir deal with his efforts to lobby the Maryland General Assembly into adopting the resolution legalizing same-sex marriage and publicly giving interviews when that proposed law, known as Question 6, was placed on the ballot for people to vote on during the 2012 elections. The book ends with the voters overwhelmingly approving Question 6, which made Maryland the first state to have same-sex marriage become legal by popular vote. The back cover of the book mentions that Tony Hynes still lives in Takoma Park and he currently teaches autistic children at an elementary school in nearby Prince George’s County. Basically he turned out okay despite being an African American man who was raised by two white lesbians.

At times Hynes interrupts the narrative of his memoirs to explore the issues of same-sex parenting and trans-racial adoption. For an added perspective on the latter, Hynes interviewed three of his friends (a Latino, a Korean, and an African American) who were all adopted by white parents (except these parents were the traditional husband and wife pairs) and their varied reactions to their own backgrounds lets the reader know that there are many different ways that children of trans-racial adoptions can turn out once they reach adulthood.

As for same-sex parents, Hynes admitted that there were times he internalized the frequent societal equation of heterosexuality with masculinity. He also admitted that he felt the need to be straight just so he could refute the frequent belief that children raised by same-sex parents turn out to be homosexual themselves. The fact that he encountered such negative societal attitudes despite his moms’ extraordinary effort to raise him in a neighborhood known for its diversity speaks volumes about how much homophobia there still is in the United States despite the recent legalization of same-sex marriage.

Tony Hynes definitely has a way with words when it comes to writing his memoir. Here’s a sample paragraph of his writing style, which can be found on page 49 of the book. (This concerns his memory of one of his weekend visits in his Grandma’s home when his birth mother also happened to be there during that visit.)

No words were said for the next half-hour as the three of us sat in the room, our eyes glancing from the TV, back to our hands, and back to the TV again. Tom Brokaw’s voice ebbed in and out as Grandma flipped from channel to channel. As the day turned to evening she put the remote down, picking up a box of menthols on the table. She plucked a cigarette from the middle of the container then fumbled on the table for her lighter. After finding it under a spare napkin, she put the cancer to her lips and lit up, the smoke framing her face under a grey haze. She took a long drag and settled back into her chair, picking up the remote with vigor, aimlessly flipping through more channels.

I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in learning more about how children of trans-racial adoptions and/or children who were raised by same-sex parents could turn out in adulthood. This book would be ideal to give to any acquaintance, friend, or relative who is adamantly against same-sex couples having children or having a couple adopt a child of a different race because this book refutes the notion that such children end up being completely screwed up in some way. The bottom line is that it’s not race or having gay parents that determines the outcome of a childhood, it’s the quality of the parenting, the quality of education the child received, and the neighborhood the child was raised in that makes all the difference of whether a child grows up to becoming a functional independent law-abiding adult or not.

This book is available in both print and various ebook formats. Here’s a short list of where you can purchase this book online.

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Books-A-Million

Google Play

This amusing blog post sounds like my own experiences with expectation vs. reality.

These well-preserved chalkboard drawings from 1917 were recently found in an Oklahoma City school. They provide insight over the educational methods used back then as well as showing some of the artistic talents of the teachers or whoever drew these really lovely and whimsical drawings.

Here’s an interesting critique on American Girl’s Addy Walker, an African American historical doll who’s depicted as being born into slavery, and the effects of that doll on African American children.

I’ve been critical about the recent changes in Etsy’s policies, such as allowing manufacturers to sell their wares on its site and I wasn’t surprised when I learned that Etsy recently got sued by its investors. Add this to the list of recent Etsy woes: Etsy’s stock has fallen by half in the two months since its IPO.

Here’s an interesting commencement speech given by film director John Waters, self-described as “The People’s Pervert.”

Lewd graffiti from ancient Pompeii. (NSFW.)

http://www.nablopomo.com

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