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Sonny’s Blues

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Reading Sonny’s Blues by James Baldwin really made me rethink about a lot of the decisions that my dad’s made and how he must, at times, either regret or second guess those decisions.  It also reminded me that the issues that face the black community really haven’t changed all that much.  You can find a myriad of themes to talk about in the story, the one that struck me most was the portrayal of the dual existence of African American’s.  You have the good brother, the narrator, who has completely assimilated, left the neighborhood, left the family and in the eyes of many become successful.  He has become apart of the black middle class.  While his brother, Sonny, has not assimilated, stayed within the community and been true to his passion by pursuing music as his livelihood and as a result developed a drug addiction to bury some of his pain.

My father made a very active and conscious choice to leave Louisiana.  He felt that by staying, he was dooming himself to a life that wouldn’t grow and that would be repeated by his children.  And I guess in looking back, he wasn’t wrong about that.  His siblings that have moved have made good lives for themselves, while the ones who have stayed have continued the cycle of poverty, and their children (my cousins) seemingly have continued the cycle.  But his leaving didn’t come without a cost, he had to leave the community that he knew behind, he had to leave his family behind and he’s paid for it.  There are the inevitable snide remarks about how he must think that he’s “too good for the family now”, when he goes back to visit there’s definitely a sense that he doesn’t belong anymore and that has to hurt.

My sister and I lived the typical army brat’s life, in that we moved ALOT; and with each move, we were to learn later that my dad again made very conscious choices about where we were to live and the type of people that he did or didn’t want us exposed to.  One of those decisions was to never live in a black neighborhood.  We’ve never actually talked about why he made that decision, I suppose we don’t really need to, the answers are pretty obvious but I’ve always thought that he seemed a little disappointed that Kim and I were never as “black” as he wanted.

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