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Chapter 2 19 Frederick is a well-built, dark-skinned man in his forties. Dressed in a sweater reminiscent of the early 1990s, he looks put-together but is vulnerable nonetheless once he starts speaking. Frederick’s appearance, the outer layer of his life, speaks volumes about the struggles he has endured. Anger emanates from his body and his words, held tenuously in the intricate weave and once-fashionable fabric of his sweater—anger toward his family, whites, women, and the lifetime of racism and victimhood he feels at the collective hands of these groups. He has experienced racism, starting within his own lighter-skinned family who treated him as an outcast from his earliest memories—we have different shades, I was made fun of because of that, they taught me to hate myself. At twelve, he was institutionalized, it was like jail or something, as he was depressed and could not function. But, upon escaping twice, he says, “Nothing had changed, the whole light-skinned, dark-skinned thing happened again.” It was then, at age thirteen, that Frederick started drinking. Frederick understands his alcoholism as a strategy for coping with his life, his internalized racism in particular, picked up from his alcoholic father: “I started drinking at about thirteen. I didn’t have to trip, I didn’t have to be on this planet. Everybody else, poor things, they still have to be in this world. I’ve tried to stop. I got a lot of animosity, a lot of back flow, and I can’t get rid of it, so when I’m alone with my thoughts, I literally torture myself for so long I have to go out and get a drink so I can calm down. What you shoulda did, you coulda did, why did I come back to California, how did this happen? Oh Jesus. You literally beat yourself up, so that’s the roots of my drinking problem. A Liquor Store on Every Corner Intimate States of Alcohol and HIV/AIDS Not to mention my dad has a drinking problem, so when I picked up my first drink, it was like, where’ve you been all my life.” Frederick laments opportunities passed up, ones that he feels were a better fit for his early intellectual curiosity—college and the smart women they got in there—and the ability to do the things that college kids do—talk on my level, take baths, settle down and have kids. He has no money to realize his dream of comfortable hetero-normativity, encircled by the fantasy of a white picket fence connoting a dream deferred. And so Frederick ends up living in the projects and working at McDonald’s. He continues to move along through life, albeit alone. Frederick is a single actor suffering in a hostile world, and his hostility reflects this. His early life of childhood trauma, and in particular the internalization of racism, becomes an adulthood of missed opportunities that alcohol can numb, at least momentarily. Racism is embedded into the narrative of Frederick’s life in all forms but primarily as internalized racism.1 How he looks, both in the interview and throughout his life, is central to his experience of internalized racism: he must look a certain way, well dressed and together, to get the right job, to gain credence in a white society. And yet he continues to experience internalized racism as well as racism within his family and community as a dark-skinned man. He traces racism’s roots to the persistent effects of slavery: “Blacks have been hated by white society, so we hate the way we look. They don’t like their natural selves. Our people have to go to great lengths to try to look like something that they’re not. This is something that’s been handed down from generation to generation. From slavery, a lot of our parents grew up not liking themselves or their people, we see each other the same way. If I get off the bus in Bayview, a guy will walk up, he’ll look at me, but [if] I get off with a business suit, put that up, it’s a white guy coming through, it’s a respect thing.” Frederick articulates a strong sense of identity tied to his work as a former nurse’s assistant. Despite his hard work as a self-made man to build up his career over the years, his mistakes keep coming back...


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MARC Record
Launched on MUSE
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