Harriet E. Wilson could be my distant cousin!

By ruth | December 12, 2016

Contributed by Alicia Nimonkar,  Editor and Writer with Accepted.com, Certified Trainer with Equilibrium Dynamics

I recently received the results of a DNA test I took for health reasons.  While our family knew that we had Native American ancestors, I was surprised and pleased to learn that we also have West African ancestors! 

I have identified as Caucasian most of my life since we are from mostly European ethnicities. However, I have also spent much of my professional life working towards social justice.  To discover that I have African American cousins feels like a gift—especially in an era that has seen the first person of color be President of the United States!  In embracing both the joy and the pain of membership in a vibrant community that is still struggling to achieve equality, I am integrating a whole new aspect of my identity.

I am experiencing in a new way how we are all so much more connected than we can even imagine, as well as unique and diverse.  This new knowledge of my heritage strengthens my sense of responsibility to continue doing my part to create a community that values all perspectives and inspires everyone to achieve their full potential.

The timing is great. Serendipitously, I have been learning even more this year about the African American community. Last semester, I took a graduate level literature course on American Romanticism.  We studied authors, from the popular poets, Poe and Dickinson to Melville, Stowe, Frederick Douglas, who have come to represent this time period in American Lit.

To learn more about Frederick Douglas while reading his autobiography, My Bondage and My Freedom, I visited the African American Museum in Boston and the African Meeting House where he gave speeches opposing the Fugitive Slave Law that was passed in 1850.  When Toni Morrison, one of the greatest living American writers, came to town, I was first in line for her first lecture.  As the course progressed, I wrote a short paper on one of the three African American characters in Moby Dick, Pip, the cabin boy (who is arguably one of the most important characters in the book).

Of all the texts required for the course, there was only one that I had not encountered before—Harriet E. Wilson’s Our Nig: or, Sketches from the Life of a Free Black.  After reading Harriet E. Wilson’s book, I chose to focus on it for my final paper.  I was moved by the suffering and the strength of the author.  She displays a sophisticated knowledge of the literary genres of her time in employing aspects of each one before the narrative dissolves into a genuine plea for help. 

Wilson’s husband died a year after their son was born—she struggled as a single parent to support her son as a free Black woman living in the North.  She was forced to place him in foster care when he was two years old.  She wrote Our Nig to raise the funds to get him back.  The book was unsuccessful because it represented an unpopular perspective—she exposed the racism of the North. 

At seven years and eight months old, her son, George Mason Wilson, died in foster care.  I cannot even imagine the heart break that Wilson must have experienced in losing her son this way—caught in a low power double bind in the midst of such overwhelming racism.

In my research, I came across a note about the location of her grave in Quincy, Massachusetts.  With a little bit of sleuthing, I was able to find her final resting place!  Despite the fact that her book is considered to be the first novel written by an African American woman, there was only her name on her grave stone—no mention of the fact that she is considered to be “one of the most important African American writers of the mid-nineteenth century” (P. Gabrielle Foreman).  

To show my respect, I brought a copy of her book to her gravesite.  I imagined what her reaction would be if she could know what a success her book had become—though it didn’t happen fast enough to save her son.  I left a pencil on her grave—from one writer to another.  I savored the opportunity to honor her struggle in my final paper.

Now, several months after the class has ended and with my new identity, I wonder who my African American ancestors were.  What were their lives like?  I wonder what George Mason Wilson would have done with his life had his mother and society been able to support his growth to manhood? Did I lose a cousin?  

Contributed by Ruth Thomas-Squance, MPH, PhD, Executive Director, Equilibrium Dynamics and Certified Trainer

A long road home - 5 emotional intelligence tips to survive a post-election Thanksgiving.

Ideally, Thanksgiving represents a unique time where generations within a family gather and old friends catch up, sharing appreciation for one another. However, the flipside of this warm, nostalgic picture is well known from comedy screenplays. It’s a stressful inter-generational gathering with various tensions erupting into outbursts from issues both old and new.

In the wake of the highly emotive 2016 election, many Americans will be facing the prospect of sitting across the turkey from someone who voted for a candidate opposite to their own. Alternatively they may be feeling adrift because they were disinvited or decided to not go.

How can emotional intelligence guide us safely through these potential emotional land mines?

1. Feeling Management

Equilibrium Dynamics’ curriculum for emotional competence teaches the coordination of ‘The Big Four’; that is the coordination of thinking, feeling and judgment before action.

So let’s start with a time-out to plan ahead. First determine what your own satisfactory outcome would be for now and the long term from the upcoming holiday season. Be honest. Look at your feelings.  What do you want to achieve from this time with your extended family and old friends?  Are you looking to convert everyone to your viewpoint? Are you simply looking to be heard and respected - or just tolerated? Or would you rather just fly completely under the radar to get through it? Or perhaps even not turn up at all? Above all be realistic.

Once you decide your End Result Desired, plan how to best achieve it under the circumstances. 

2. Judgment

Each of these decisions has major emotional ramifications that will guide a whole different set of actions and behaviors.  In teaching judgment, Equilibrium Dynamics emphasizes the need to stop and anticipate the consequences of each action - or indeed inaction. This includes both the consequences you want and the unavoidable fallout you don’t.  You will need to evaluate the benefits and the costs (long-term and immediate), of your chosen action or inaction. Then decide if it’s worth it.

3. Pay attention to the difference between motivation and impact

Should you choose to discuss the election, this might be a perfect opportunity to ask someone to clarify what he/she meant by their action or vote.  Be mindful to listen. Also distinguish this from what you perceive their action to mean.  This is the difference between motivation and impact. Blending them is a frequent source of interpersonal conflict.  Keep in mind, discussions from opposing perceptions of the same action can frequently descend into rancor you cannot control—especially when drinking or high.  Focus on offering the civility you expect in return. And always aim for your End Result Desired, revising your plan when necessary.

4. Showcase Shared Values

You can look for shared core values with your family members, remembering that disagreements don't necessarily have to be arguments—unless everyone enjoys arguments! If disagreements persist and are not resolved, make a plan for how you plan to process and grieve the impact this might have on your relationship going forward.  Perhaps it will be more distant or just have more topics “off limits.” Contemplate this quote from Carrie Fisher, ’Resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.’

5. Practice Self -Care

Make plans on how you will maintain good self-care through the holidays.  Will you keep time for exercise? Make healthy food choices for yourself? How can you protect time and space to reflect on your feelings and journal? Will you need time alone from the potential intensity of interactions of family and friends?  Pay attention to what serves to re-fuel you emotionally and make plans to incorporate that into your holiday routine.

By using these strategies to practice your skills of recognizing and managing your feelings and responding to the emotions and interactions of others, you will be developing emotional competence.  Research shows that these skills can empower people for success whenever they are applied.

And we wish you all a very rewarding Thanksgiving!