On the 5th anniversary of a moment that changed Panama’s life forever, he reflects back on what led up to this significant event, his feelings and his family. You’re in for a special and personal episode of Dear Culture. (Part 1 of 2)
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Panama Jackson [00:00:11] What’s going on, everybody? I’d like to welcome you to a very special episode of Dear Culture. And it’s special for a couple of reasons. Number one, there’s no guest. It’s just going to be me talking, sharing. This is probably going to be the most personal episode of Dear Culture that exists, at least in this current iteration of it. It’s also special because it’s going to be a two parter. The first part of this episode is going to effectively break down an introduction to the story that I’m about to tell, an introduction and a lead up. And the second part of this is probably going to be a bit longer, and kind of give information about what happened since. It’s something I haven’t talked about at all. That’s not completely true. But we’ll get we’ll get to that now that I think about that out loud. But anyway, this episode of Dear Culture, we’re going to be talking about an article that I wrote that changed my life and ruined my family life for a couple of years. And the reason I’m doing this now is because the five year anniversary of me writing this article, which is titled How Trump Ruined My Relationship with My White Mother, is right around the corner. I realized I wrote that August 18th, 2017, when I was just joining The Root. This is right after a Very Smart Brothas was being purchased by Univision to become part of The Root. and. I wrote that article, It probably to this day stands as the most read thing that I’ve ever written. Bar none. But I also haven’t really talked about that article much since. Definitely not very publicly, and that’s for many reasons. I already alluded to the fact that it ruined my family for many reasons. A lot of choices were made that led up to that, and a lot of those choices were on my end decisions that I made that negatively impacted the way this story went. The most important reason, though, why I am doing this episode, especially at this time interval, is because on February 8th of this year, 2022, my mother passed away. And to date, it is one of the most difficult gut punches I’ve ever felt. And I’ve seen I’m somebody who’s seen a lot of death. Unfortunately, I’ve borne witness to death firsthand. In in in many ways, unfortunately, I’ve seen things that I’ve wished I would never have seen in my life. Losing my mother has been difficult. We’re going to get to that in the second part of this discussion, the second part of this this episode. There might be tears. I’m just going to be honest with you. I just want to put that out there. It’s entirely possible that I might shed a tear or two when I’m talking about both. What happened with my mom and then her passing away. Yeah. It’s a club I’m not, I’m not excited to be a part of. I know it’s a club that we’re all going to join at some point, unfortunately, unless you pass away before your parent does, which, you know, I hope that’s like a parent’s worst nightmare. But, um. But. Yeah, so, you know, sit tight. Buckle up. I’m going to break down exactly how I got to writing that article. That is become the thing that more people have asked me about in my writing career since I’ve written it. No matter where I go, even even recently, people have stopped and asked me since I wrote that article what happened with my mother. They know she passed away. You know where we good. How? Where we. You know, as a writer, you always hope that the things that you write impact people. You just hope it doesn’t negatively impact you in the process. And, you know, by the time we’re done with this is a couple of lessons that I I’m going to speak to things that I’ve learned about just by virtue of having written that article. But let’s, let’s start with the background. So. This is an article that I wrote. August 18th, 2017. It’s available online. Again, I wrote it while I was away, while I was a writer at The Root, and it was born out of years of frustration that I’ve had with my mother and the conversations we’ve had that have had any type of racial nature or a tone to them. Right. So my mother is white. She’s a French immigrant, though. So she moved to America when she was, I want to say, 13. Right before high school, her and my family, my grandmother, I think my grandfather was already here from France. They moved to a tiny town in Michigan called Selene, which is in that Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti area. And so she spent the latter part of her life. The latter, I’m excuse me, the latter part of her teen years in this town and high school she graduate. She joins the military. She meets my father in the military. I am born in Panama. Part of the reason where the name Panama Jackson comes from, though, the true origin of that name is a completely random but. You know, I was early.. Early on in my life, I was raised my father, my mother, my father split when I was I want to say like three. And my little sister and I moved with my mother to Michigan. And we were in Kansas at the time with my mother to Michigan. My father moved to Germany. So I was living with my mom in southeastern Michigan, Ann Arbor, Ypsilanti, like all the, you know, these places outside of Detroit. And, you know, we moved around a bunch of places. But anyway, as I got older, you know, we ended up going to live with my father when I was six and my little sister was was three. So I’m sorry I left to live with my my mother and father split when I was three and my little sister, who had been just been born. Yeah, I got to get that timeline right. So when I’m 6 a.m. from my father and my stepmother and I have step sisters, but we’re all family, right? My mom my stepmother is someone I call I referred to as my mother. My mom, I call her mom. There’s no you know, there’s none of that other stuff. And that can get confusing when telling the story. And it actually confused many people along the way because people are like, why are you referring to this is your white mother in telling the story? But you know, my life you have to understand that while I was well, I’ve been blessed. I was blessed with two mothers. I have my my biological mother, who also was very instrumental in raising me and my stepmother, who was vital and instrumental to my upbringing and helping establish my cultural identity in who I am as a person. Right. So I grew up, I’m in Frankfurt, Germany. Then we moved to we moved to Madison, Alabama, where I joined high school. And, you know, as I get older, it’s one of those things, you know, so my mother lives in this this really tiny town in Michigan called Jackson. Well, Jackson is the city that the town is attached to. She lives in the town called Napoleon. And as we grew older, I you know, when you’re a little kid, you don’t really pay attention to who’s paying attention to you. But as you get older, you start noticing people noticing you. And I’m a I’m a black boy. I’m getting bigger and I’m just kind of noticing the eyes that we get when we go places. And over time, I would have these conversations with my mother and I would say, you know, I’m noticing these things. I’m uncomfortable here for these reasons. And she would often be what I felt was dismissive of my my feelings about that. Quite frankly, I think she just didn’t want to acknowledge or accept the fact that perhaps I was I was right. That maybe there were people out there viewing and paying attention to me and my little sister in a negative capacity. So. My mother and I, we like to argue. We’re very we’re very similar. Like, there is no argument that that we didn’t walk into, like, eyes wide open together. Right. We would argue about racism. We argue about politics. We argue about any manner of thing. Like just if there’s an argument to be had, we were probably going to have it at some point. We had a lot of fun. I mean, you know, we had a lot of fun. Like my mom was fun. She liked to do fun things. She would take us to do all manner of things like stay in the cabin. You know, we say cabin. We stay in the cabin for like a month. We stayed on a lake. My mom believed in laughter and believed in joy and believed in, you know, just making sure her children didn’t want for anything. And I think she always felt a little bit of guilt about the fact that, while she had to because of of the position she was that she was in health wise and where she was in life, I think she felt a little bit guilty about sending my little sister and I off to live with my father. And, you know, that’s that’s even something my uncle mentioned to me, you know, after her funeral, like, you know, your mom really struggled with sending you all to go live with your father. But I think ultimately was probably one of the great things that happened in my life because it gave us some more stability. It sent me live, my father and my stepmother. And again, my cultural identity was shaped by those people. Right. Like, I am a very strong, very secure black man. And it’s because of how I was raised. Right. I understood that my mother was white, but my father was very clear. You are black. That is who you are. I don’t know if that’s what I would have gotten if I’d grown up with my mother. But the point is, we we argue about anything despite the laughter. But again, let me tell this this real brief story about the kind of fun we would have one day when I graduated from.. I have a master’s degree from University of Maryland. I my mother and I were bored and we’re trying to figure out something to do. So we just got in a car and drove to Mount Vernon. Mount Vernon being George Washington’s plantation. We drove down there. I mean, I was dressed in the most ridiculous of fashion, I’m pretty sure like a blackalicous t shirt on, had a bandana on and a straw hat, like I was just giving 100%. Pay attention to me. My mother and I are walking around this plantation like having a blast. Like, because we’re like cracking. Like, we’re talking about how ridiculous, like colonialists and all these people were who literally enslave people. Like we’re doing that kind of stuff together. So it’s not it’s not that we didn’t have fun. And my mom my mom at one point was very much, in my estimation, like understanding of of the plight or understanding what her children would go through. But that changed. We would get into these arguments about racism, particularly whether or not it existed, whether or not if race was a potential reason why something might have happened, whether it was legitimately on the table, I can’t tell you how many times she would dismiss my claims of racism. There’s that famous, famous study that was out there about people sending the same resumes in, but putting one with an ethnically like an ethnic name versus one, like a middle American Ohio type name. And the difference is in the percentage of callbacks people got simply based on the name, and she just refused to accept things like that as being fact. So. As I got older, as I got more secure in myself and who I was, we got into more and more arguments and debates about that type of stuff. She? My mom was a was a George Bush fan, George Bush supporter. I remember when when Bush was elected, very excited about that. We have all these arguments about that. And I’m going to speak to a little bit of this, because I want to get to the point of of at least this first part of this first episode. But the point is, my mother and her husband were Republicans, devout Republicans, their NHRA members, Republicans, small business owners. They owned a little restaurant. Awesome place. My mother was an amazing cook. Amazing. Like she could make anything. And so she opened a restaurant. She actually opened a hot dog stand at first, and then they opened a standalone restaurant, but they also owned a gun shop. So they were entrepreneurs like Middle American, Michigan entrepreneurs. Politically Republican. Right. So, you know, I don’t remember a ton of discussions during the Obama years. But as as the Obama presidency came to a close, I did notice when we started talking about who people would be voting for, a pretty sizable and substantial like leaning towards anti-Hillary. Right. My mom hated Hillary Clinton. You’d almost think it was personal the way this used to talk about Hillary Clinton. So I knew she would be voting for Trump once Trump was the nominee because she couldn’t possibly vote for Hillary Clinton. Like she hated this woman. I mean, I really wish I had a clip of her just talking about her disdain. It was it was truly mystifying. But over time I started to notice how her it was less about Hillary, more about actively being endorsing of Trump. And my sister and I. We had conversations about this because we’re like, yo. Like, I think I think mom is going to vote for Trump, but I don’t think it’s about Hillary anymore. I think she’s actually voting for Trump. This started to come to a head during Thanksgiving the year, I guess that was Thanksgiving, the year that Trump was elected. 2016. We were going to go. We went to my mother’s house for Thanksgiving, but the original plan was to go to her family’s house for Thanksgiving. And. I remember being like, I’m not going over there. Like, it’s too this is too raw. Like, we care too much about the fact that Trump is in office because of all the racist rhetoric and all of these things that we heard. And I don’t want to be in a space with a bunch of people who are going to say things that I can’t respond back to without starting a race riot. And my mother thought I was being ridiculous but ultimately decided not to go. But during that same trip, we went to go visit her restaurant and like I also have to state my mother, while being a Trump supporter, was also like anti the whole Black Lives Matter thing. Like she just she thought it was a bunch of miscreants and people who were just like actively just being disruptive. So we go to her restaurant, this is on the way out of town. Shouts out to my wife, who literally had to calm me down or stop me from like really saying things that I wanted to say. You know so the town police officer shows up. And remember my, you know, they my my mom and her husband are basically like, you know, if if you people and see this say you people, you know people would would meet more cops like this then they wouldn’t have this negative views of police and all this other stuff. Like they basically like, like everybody else is the problem. Like, it’s not the police. It’s it’s it’s it’s us. It’s us. People who are Black Lives Matter and complaining about things that the police are doing. We’re the problem.
Panama Jackson [00:16:14] So I remember being, like, incensed by that. But, like, whatever. That’s November of 2016. Fast forward to August of 2017. My mother comes to visit. My aunt comes with her. We had this ritual. There’s a store in Pentagon City Mall right outside of Washington, D.C., in Arlington that has, like, all these great America souvenirs. They can get Obama bobbleheads and you can get all that kind of stuff, right. You can get toilet paper with Trump tweets and stuff, like there’s one of those type of places and she always wants to go to the store. We go to the store and. She wants me. She wants Make America Great Again. T shirts, right? I don’t. I hate those things, but she wanted them and she’s going to take it back home, give them to her husband and other people, blah, blah, whatever. It’s not a big deal. That day. On TV is a there’s a news story about somebody who put like one of those… You know, that you drive on like a car dealership and they got like one of them huge balloon things with the arms all flapping and flailing. Somebody had put one of those on the National Mall, but it was like Trump, like a chicken. And this was a news story. And my mom was so pissed about this and she was like, Nobody’s ever been more disrespected than Trump. Trump is the most disrespected person, like ever most disrespected president. I’m like, ma’am, the guy who just left office has been way more disrespected. His wife is more disrespected. His family, like an entire eight years of disrespect from people who claim he was never even the president and use racism as a means of describing discussing him. We got into a huge argument. I mean, like a fight, like yelling at each other. I’m pretty sure I cussed at my mama, and that caused me to later on that night, pull her to the side and apologize. Like, mama, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t spoke to you that way. I feel how I feel. But I should never speak to you that way you’re my mother. I’m going to. I’m a relax. I’m a chill. We talked, we hugged high five like you’re my son. You’re my mama. We love each other. Like we’re not going to do this again. The next day, my mother in the morning walks downstairs in her Make America Great Again t shirts. I was incensed. I’m like, Ma’am, what you not going to do in my house is wear these shirts. That’s not what we’re doing. You can’t do that. And she was like, I’m I’m wearing it. I’m not taking this thing off. I refuse to take this thing off. It’s just a shirt ts just the start. It doesn’t mean anything. We get to another argument about what Make America Great Again means and how I view it is like a racist dog whistle. But she’s like, it’s just a shirt. It’s just words. It doesn’t matter. You stop persecuting everybody, blah, blah, blah. That day, we’re going to pick up the license plates for my new car. I just got my car with the license plates for the dealership, which is in Rockville, Maryland. Excuse me. We’re going to pick up the license plates from our car, which is in Rockville, Maryland. While walking out of the door, my mother says to me, Why does this shirt offend you? And I said straight up, Do you really want to know? Or are you trolling me? Because if you really want to know, I will tell you why. But if you’re just trolling me further, I’m not responding to this question. And she says, I really want to know. Boom we get in the car. Rockville, Maryland, from my house is probably about a 45 minute drive. When I tell you this is the longest drive of all time. We get to a huge argument where I explain to her why I’m offended by the shirt. Excuse me. We get into a huge argument where I explain to her why I’m offended by the shirt. She explains to me why it’s stupid, that I’m offended by the shirt, that I have no right to be offended by the shirt because it’s just words and I’m deciding to be offended and blah. And all of us who are offended by these things are deciding. We’re yelling at each other in the car. She’s like, Take me home. I’m like, I do. You better. I’ll take you to the airport. Like, I’m ready for you to go. Like, I want you gone. I don’t want to deal with this anymore. We. It’s a very tense trip. The problem is we’ve gone too far to turn around. So we had to go continue to get my my my license plates. And then we were going to go get some toys for my kids from Toys R US. You know, it was just a very tense trip. We we went. We came back. We weren’t really talking much. We were like avoiding each other, but like trying our best to be in the same space but not be in the same space. She’s leaving on that Saturday. So this probably happens on that Thursday. She’s leaving on that Saturday morning. We’re sitting there waiting. I’m basically waiting for her to leave. Right. Like, I’m just, like, waiting for the time. Like, there’s it time to is it time to hop in a car yet and go take you to the airport? And then we’re watching TV and what happens? Charlottesville erupts.
News Annoucement: [00:21:22] We begin tonight with that breaking news. A horrific scene in Charlottesville, Virginia, a white nationalist rally that descended into deadly violence and chaos.
Panama Jackson [00:21:32] Right. So all of that’s going on. And even in this, she’s still defending Trump like she’s like, oh, he can’t do anything right. We’re all complaining because Trump had make it. He took forever to make a statement of any sort. So he just can’t catch a break. She agreed. The police are doing a terrible job down there. She was like the police are doing a crappy job, but she was still defending Trump. Take it to the airport. Excuse me. I take it to the airport. Put her and put her on an airport. Tell her I love her. And she’s like, What’s been real now? She didn’t mean it in the black way. Like it’s been real. Like peace out. She meant it like this has been her. It’s been real. Like it’s been whatever. That next week I end up like I’m seething. Like for a week I’m hot. Like, I don’t want to talk to my mother and I don’t I don’t speak to her. I talk to my sister back and forth and I get in. I guess it must have been that Monday. I, I sat down and I was like, I got to get this out. And I started writing this article. How Trump Ruined My Relationship With My White Mother. Now I, I wrote it. I sent it to my sister to make sure that she was okay with what I’d written. She’s like, What’s honest is, is so well written, blah, blah, blah. I sent it to Damon. Damon was like, Yo, publish that immediately. But I sent it to our editor who was currently my editor at The Grio as well, and she edited out, cut some things out, blah, blah, blah. And then it published. I was so hurt, my feelings were hurt. I had a lot of emotions and feelings out and I wrote them and I got it out. And I wrote at the end of that, like, you know, blood is not thicker than like. Than like liberty, right? Like, basically just because we’re family does not mean that I feel like I owe you. I owe you my family ness. Right? Like, forget that. Like the harm and the danger. I feel like you’re putting me and my kids in is something that I can’t deal with. So if we’re not, we might not have a relationship anymore. So I wrote all this out right. I’m one of those writers. I write things down, I drop it, I move on. I wasn’t thinking anything of it. I didn’t think this article was about to go viral. I didn’t think it was about to, like, hit the streets. But it did. I mean, it got shared thousands of times. You know, every time I looked up, it was being shared by other people. I’m on Facebook and my name is just popping up. I’m getting notification after notification because the it was shared so many times by so many people, people in my own family who have also had other issues with other members of our family, read it and reached out to me. And this is on my white family as well. And like, yo, like, I don’t. I don’t think you realize what you wrote and how much this impacts our entire family kind of stuff. This story got so big, I actually was concerned about it because, this plays into the later part. I didn’t tell my mom I was doing this right. I was writing it and I didn’t tell my mother I was doing this. But all of a sudden, I’m getting reached out to by CNN, by MSNBC, like I’m getting reached out to by news outlets, The Times, The Washington, The Washington Post, The New York Times. Like, people want to interview me about this article because apparently I struck a nerve about like the the divide in politics, in family, in all of that in America at the time. Like it was, it really did things. This is I won awards because of this article. Right. Which is cool. Except on the back end. This is the article that ruined my life, right? Or it didn’t ruin my life, but it ruined my family for some years. And. That’s. That’s the part that everybody knows thus far. That’s as far as it’s got. Because once we got to this article where I’m writing it, I pretty much stop talking about it. And that was both by design and for my own peace of mind. But. Out of respect. In deference to my mother, I decided now was probably the time to share what what happened after, like how me and my mom were doing when all of you would stop me in the street to talk me about it or what I’m going to do speaking engagements. How, you know, without fail, somebody asking the question and the audience would always say, how are you and your mom or that article that you wrote? I’ve had. It made me go speak to my mother about some of the issues we had kind of thing. And I appreciate the care and love that everybody’s giving me about that. So I decided that. Now is the time to share the rest of that story because it gets really bad. It gets really sad. It gets really painful. And. You know, it took a lot of work and healing for us to get back to a place. And as I remind you, my mother passed away this year and thankfully we were good, but. Man. I’m really hurt about the years that we lost out on because of the hurt that we caused each other behind this and what I did because of it. So we’re going to stop there for this first half, this first half of this episode, this first part of the discussion. Make sure you check out next week for the second half, the part that nobody’s heard, the part that nobody knows unless you know me very personally and what happened in my family, what happened between my mother and I on the after on the other side of the how truck Roma relations of my relationship with my white mother article that I won awards like that for. So thanks for listening. This is Dear Culture. I’m Panama Jackson. Make sure you check out episode two next week.
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