the great brain

November 24, 2009 § 6 Comments

when i was a kid i loved the great brain books. so when the great brain was the reference that this blogger used to make her point, i was so happy.

The excerpt I’m providing is after Abie Hoffman has died, and Tom’s family are coming to terms with the gruesome fact that Abie starved to death–that he died among, yet tragically apart from, those who called him friend:

“What has that got to do with letting Abie starve to death because he was a Jew?” Uncle Mark demanded. “Abie was my friend and your friend and had all kinds of friends. He knew all he had to do was to ask and we would have given him anything he wanted.”

“But he would have had to ask,” Papa said.

“I just don’t get what you’re driving at,” Uncle Mark said, shaking his head.

“Let me put it this way,” Papa said. “It isn’t that we dislike the Jews or mean to be unkind to them. It is just that we don’t worry about them the way we worry about other people. I talked to Mr. Thompson at the meat market. He knew Abie had stopped buying meat from him weeks ago, but he didn’t worry about it. I talked to Mr. Harmon at the Z.C.M.I. store. He knew Abie had stopped buying groceries from him, but he didn’t worry about it. Oh, they had their excuses, saying they had thought Abie had stopped batching and was eating in cafes. But the fact remains we let a man starve to death because nobody worried about a Jew.”

“I don’t buy that,” Uncle Mark said.

“Let us assume,” Papa said patiently, “that Dave Teller, who is a bachelor and cooks his own meals, suddenly stopped buying meat from Mr. Thompson. You can bet Mr. Thompson would have made it his business to find out why. And let us assume that Dave Teller suddenly stopped buying groceries from the Z.C.M.I. store. You can bet Mr. Harmon would have worried enough about it to find out why. And let us assume they found out Dave Teller was broke. You can bet they wouldn’t have let Dave Teller starve to death. And if Dave Teller had fainted three times, you can bet the people in this town would have insisted on taking Dave to a doctor whether he wanted to go or not. But Abie was a Jew and so nobody worried about him. May God forgive us all.”

“I see what you’re getting at now,” Uncle Mark said. “We are all guilty.”

it has me thinking a lot about what community is.  and what it isnt.  i mean who was abie in that community?  he was a part of the community.  and yet not really. not enough.

i have been on both sides of this equation.  i have been abie, the one that no one worried about, checked up on.  and i have been the butcher. seeing all the signs but not caring enough to check up on someone.

–community is about survival.

–saying: all you have to do is ask.  is often not enough.

in almost every community i have ever been in.  i have been on the margins.  i remember when i was a trainer we had this exercise to explain that in every group there is–the center–and –the margins

i hated this exercise.  because the organizations take on the group dynamics. is that the center and the margin each play an essential role in the group.  and so we should be appreciative of each others roles.

what was not emphasized, or mentioned, was that the center had much more influence and power to make decisions than the margins.  and that in our organizations and in most org’s you dont get to choose if you are in the center and the margins.  the organization presented these concepts as if it was a difference in personalities.  between being rebellious and being stable and preservation-oriented.  and while this seemed pretty true with the white, male, middle class, traditionally christian, etc folks.  the further that your identity was marginalized in the greater society, the more likely that one was going to find oneself on the margins in this progressive social justice organization.

and then of course one was labeled with being ‘rebellious’.

folks think that i must love being on the margin.  i must love being stigmatized and diminished with terms like ‘rebellious’ and ‘different perspective/vision’ and ‘creative’ all the other euphemisms.

sometimes i just make it all into a joke. laugh it off. this is easiest when it doesnt effect something fundamental about my life.

sometimes i just bite my lip.  and feel the water in my eyes stinging.  and keep walking forward.  cause i cant let them see how much they are breaking me.




§ 6 Responses to the great brain

  • Aischa says:

    I am grateful to know that other people have enjoyed the Great Brain books. That is such a good lesson to pass on. (need to check in on my neighbor)
    This whole center/margins thing is pretty interesting. Speaking from my , white, experience—When you are young it is alluring to gravitate to the margins. It is not always a sustainable though. You grow up and realize that it’s easier to fit in, at least on the surface. Even now. Happy to be where I am, Muslim- which is something that makes me feel like I can no longer blend into the mainstream center, even if I was pretending–it’s a loss I can feel. On the other hand, just getting married and having kids, “normalizes” you in some way. Maybe it’s like if you do x and y you’ll be more acceptable, and closer to the center. Somethings you choose and some you don’t.
    I always have much to think about after reading your blog via niqaabisister.

    • mama says:

      yeah i am dealing with this a lot right now. all of sudden with aza in school i find myself trying to figure out how to interact with her her teachers and school directors who are bit baffled by my non-normative practices. especially in regards to my daughter.
      and its true being married with kids def normalizes you in some way. because people treat me as if i am more normal than i am. like it there is just a bunch of–of course you are the mother/wife so you take care of this this and this…from aza’s teachers or just other women and men…and it is so easy to be like…oh yeah it would be easier if i just slid into your box. sometimes i do. and sometimes i dont.
      thanks for reading the blog…;)

  • NaksibendiMuslimah says:

    sorry mai’a, i put my comments in my reader when i shared this but didn’t put them here:

    “In Islam there is a concept of brotherhood that Imam Ghazzali wrote extensively on, and one of the signs of true brotherhood (and this is also sisterhood) is that one does for their brother or sister when they see a need without being asked. That you see a need, and you meet it. Someone shouldn’t have to ask. Having to ask is a power dynamic. It is withholding until someone humbles themself to ask you, the one in power to decide if you want to give or not. And that is not genuine giving then. That is not giving from the heart, selflessly. And if, as in the case of Abie, we are waiting to be asked and not doing anything until then… shameful. Yes, may Allah forgive us, but it is just wrong.”

    and i too loved The Great Brain. 🙂

  • […] GuerrillaMamaMedicine: The Great Brain […]

  • “saying: all you have to do is ask. is often not enough”

    absolutely. yes.

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