The Great Suppression by: K.G. Frempah

Have you seen The Umbrella Academy: the sci-fi/superhero program that centers around a family of superpowered people who, all born on the same day? Although the action, acting, and special effects are glorious, the characters intrigue me the most. More specifically, one. The shy, quiet, introverted violin-playing sibling Vanya Hargreeves played brilliantly by the magnificent Elliot Page. (If you haven't watched Season 1 and want to, then don't read the rest of the piece. Or do, I'm not your mama).

Throughout the first season, Vanya is told that she doesn't have any powers. In flashbacks, the other children train and go on missions while they leave little Vanya behind. Even in adulthood, Vanya is ostracized by her lack of powers as her siblings still look down on her. Throughout the first season, Vanya learns that she had powers and had been medicated and manipulated at a young age. When her "father" first discovered her powers, he tried to see its full capability and potential. However, he suppressed it when he saw the volatile and possibly destructive capability of her powers. Suffocate it, hoping it died, instead of letting it breathe and nurture it. As the climax gets near, we learn another thing. Doomsday, the Apocalypse that the Hargreeves family tried to prevent, was caused in-house.Vanya causes it. In the explosive season finale, Vanya, wielding her white violin and entranced by her growing power, plays the violin, causing the moon to hit the Earth. Before Vanya starts her path of destruction, the other siblings learn of Vanya's powers after she slices the throat of her sister. Luther locked her in a basement, even as she pleaded to be let out, as a way for them to "be safe," even after the victim's sister pleaded with Luther to let her out. That's the starting point of Vanya's rampage with her powers, destroying the house they grew up in and killing their father’s assistant, Pogo. I watch all this fantastical suppression of a person's own power. A conspiracy to deny her the right to utilize her powers and keep them suppressed because it frightened them instead of helping her understand it and control it and use it. If their "father" had done that, what would've happened? If Luther hadn't locked her in the basement, could that have stopped Vanya from playing the violin to oblivion? Then, I think of another question. What would've happened if the teachers I had growing up taught me how to somewhat manage my emotions instead of demanding I control them without a guide or dismissing it?

***

I won't lie to you and say I always had a handle on my emotions. I once threw a tantrum in 3rd grade and knocked over a bookshelf in my classroom after an argument with my sister. In 7th grade, I kicked one of my friends when I thought they were taunting me after a teacher chastised me for exclaiming "Jesus Christ." But I will say, ever since eighth grade, I've kept my composure and not harmed anyone in a fit of anger. But I, like every human since creation, knows anger. Unfortunately, I had a personality some would consider a bit irritable and gruff. Everything annoyed me: traditions, authority, bullshit. Stupid asshole schoolboys annoyed me the most, especially in Mrs. Doyle's room.

Mrs. Doyle, a small, white woman who worships at the altar of respectability: her skewed version of it, at least. She thought the problem with 45 (Trump) calling countries with brown people "shitholes" was the vulgarity and preferred the Cosby Show over The Jeffersons because she thought George Jefferson was "rude." She had a "boys will be boys" attitude more than likely influenced by her small-town East Texas upbringing. She let so much shit slide from boys throwing around slurs and derogatory names. She had created a safe space for noxious behavior. I admit, sometimes, I playfully threw markers at her (although I did throw them a bit too hard, not knowing my own strength), in my narrow-minded way of partaking in that type of culture. However, the older I got, the more I grew out of the habit, the more it annoyed me. At one point, I could take it anymore.

Doyle sat at her computer with her discipleship of students at lunchtime. There were offshoots of the discipleship who were scattered across the room. One of the offshoots included Gideon: a pothead who saw general dickishness as a laughable human trait. In the past, he had blurted out racial slurs linked to Black folks," which justifiably angered me, but he simmered down after those events. But there was a flare-up. He, when telling a story, quoted someone saying the N-word. To be real with you, I wasn't paying attention until another student called it out in front of the whole room. I stared at him from my seat and told him to never do It again. Doyle was silent. Then one of Gideon friends defended him (and this friend was white, adds nothing more than context to this scene)

“I mean he said it with an a not an er.”

I got up and walked up to this friend, and we yelled at him, and he yelled at me. Doyle stopped her silence and commented on my actions. Which was the norm with her. Bad shit happens from others (barely a word from her), but my reaction to it preceded her objections. The first time I got mad at Gideon using slurs, she responded, "I don't know why you're still mad." Constantly told me to let things go and not be angry. However, that's not the reaction other white students experienced. Let me crystallize this phenomenon for you. The crushing of net neutrality angered one student. She sympathized and lectured me on the 90s events on the dismantling of broadcast radio as a way to give validity to that feeling as she dismissed my feeling of danger at the election of 45. When I read articles about 45's win, I said I was "obsessing over it."

***

The election of 45 was a focal point in my understanding of America. I witnessed how white Americans were willing to accept him. I know not all white people voted for this man, but this man, as Ta-Nehisi wrote, "ran on whiteness." I saw how middle-class suburbanites voted for him, knowing all of 45's severe and dangerous faults, simply because he wasn't Hillary Clinton as opposed to "economic security" as often touted as the reason for his victory. I saw how white Americans tolerate racism under the right circumstances. I saw how, to them, respecting others' political differences meant the liberals had to shut up as the conservatives could express their beliefs, halting healthy debate. I was angry and scared at this man's ascendancy. Touting banning Muslims, calling Mexican immigrants rapists and drug dealers, and questioning the validity of the first Black president, he gets to be commander-in-chief. I was mad at white people for letting it happen; for green lighting this man because they had placed their own finances or likes and dislikes over the lives and security of those who didn't look like them frightened me.

I went to school angry. I, inarticulately, said, "I'm mad at white people." My friends who didn't want 45 to win weren't as scared. They lambasted my reaction and said that me saying, "I'm mad at white people," "made me as bad as 45." How they could say this with a straight face is beyond my comprehension. I was enraged. I almost got in a fight with him before one of my friends, Marshall, stepped in to stop. Then we went to Spanish class.

My teacher, Ms. Lyman, passed out papers until class and noticed my sadness.

“What’s wrong,” she asked.

My friend Grant answered I was mad that 45 won and how I almost got in a fight. She then demanded that I consider that others were glad that 45 won and that I shouldn't be mad. Then Lyman said that I can't complain because I didn't vote to stop him from winning (I was 15 and again how with a straight face) and that people voted for 45 for economic reasons. Lyman also recounted how people couldn't trust Hilary Clinton. Then a friend seated next to me whispered about either Benghazi or her emails, or both. I almost responded to her claim, but the teacher stopped to impede debate. Then played Hillary's concession speech, which I can't imagine why she would play that, possibly because the candidate with the most votes talked of giving 45 a chance. But all I could see: the fact that I was told to respect a bigot. Respect for the office of the president comes out of her mouth, but what about her respect for her student feeling unsure of his place in this country. Instead of realizing the truth in both facts: the election of 45 could bring praise and fear. Instead of emphasizing her student's feelings. I had indoctrination and dismissed my feelings to avoid conflict in the classroom instead of nurturing conflict. I admit I almost got into a fight after this with a friend on the bus (not my finest moment). I now wonder if I felt outnumbered and defensive and no one wanted to address my feelings, could the second fight be avoided.

Later, when I told one of my teachers about the Doyle incident. She thought I was an ally. Mrs. Kirk, a young teacher only a decade older than us. Just a year younger than my sister, so I somewhat saw her in that light. I told her that a student had said racial slurs, and she didn't respond. She kept her attention on her computer. Then I said I got into his face.

"Woah, Woah," she said. "You can't do that. You would've gotten in trouble." It was a bit disheartening to hear. It was worse than racism to defend oneself. She had a problem with my reaction, but not the conditions that produced my reaction. Then she said other people would find the same problem that she did.

***

I know it seems a bit ridiculous to some to compare a superhero show to incidents of a Black boy's emotional suppression, but it's the easiest way to see that problem. I will recall that Doyle did once say that I could use my anger to change the world. But I must say, it rings a bit meaningless coming from her when you suppress the anger in your classroom to better the attitudes of those delinquents. To look at the country and not be angry is madness. Being a Black boy and not expressing rage over slurs and jokes at my people's dispense is maddening. Being a Black boy at the hands of white authority figures' need for order and respectability over self-expression is maddening. I'm not here to defend an aggressive or violent expression of emotion as an act of righteous expression. Instead, you witness my own selfish grappling with the person I am now, someone who's always unsure of my own emotions. Someone who can't trust his own emotions. At times, I sit alone with the moments and replay them as if present-day me in the place of the younger me. One who recognizes what was done to him and can now defend himself against this suppression. If they had taught me to control instead of demanding, would I still be unsure? Did suppressing the problem make the problem even worse? In Vanya's case, worse for the world? In my case, for my sense of self?



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