Kenneth L. Hardin: I said I wouldn’t shed anymore tears

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 17, 2023

By Kenneth Hardin

I have to confess my dishonesty. I told an untruth, but I’m not ashamed of it. I wear this badge of deceit proudly and realize it probably won’t be the last time I’ll stretch the boundaries of this type of truth with whatever time I have left walking upright in this world.

Several years ago, I opined in this publication about the number of times I’ve cried tears as a grown man. I don’t mean the type where you double sniffle, squeeze your eyes closed repeatedly really hard to force a tear to appear, then dramatically wipe it away while apologizing profusely and asking to be given a minute to regain your composure. I’m sure you’ve seen those Oscar worthy performances by those who lack the sincerity and acting chops to pull it off. I’m speaking more of the type of crying you do when you get punched in the nose or kicked in other lower nether regions that cause your eyes to moist up so heavily you lose visual acuity. I said I wouldn’t again engage in instances of emotional frailty that resulted in open weeping unless it involved my children. Well, your boy lied, so let me take the long way around the barn to explain.

When I was a child in the ’70s, I never understood why my paternal grandfather would be so elated, proud and emotional when watching someone Black accomplish something remarkable on TV. I fondly recall sitting in his den on Saturday afternoons watching TV with him. I get misty now as I hear him yelling out loud praising skinfolk on the tube, “Look at that colored fella go!” This ritual wasn’t relegated to me only, but to my parents and siblings as well. Anytime there was a new Black show on TV, we all trekked over to my grandparents’ house to watch it as a family. I recall watching light humorous fare such as “What’s Happening” and “The Jeffersons” and even it being mandatory to watch more socially conscious programming. I remember at 12 years old going to my grandparents’ home every night in January of 1977 to watch the “Roots” miniseries. At the time, I had no understanding of how necessary and important this family bonding moment was, but as I look at the breakdown of the Black family and the degradation of our communities today, it needs to be reinstated.

Grandpa Pete was a quiet and humble man of a few words, who stood tall and said a lot with his presence and demeanor. He conducted business by a handshake and secured his integrity by hard work and being a man of his word. Unfortunately, he was born, raised and headed his own family in a turbulent time where hate, discrimination and the emasculation of the Black man were the normal order. Like him, although you had those positive attributes and strong personal characteristics, they were always called into question because of your skin color hue. I’m certain feeling this oppressive weight pressed down upon him took a mental and emotional toll that could only be relieved by finding joy in the temporary celebratory distraction of an accomplishment from someone on his TV or radio. I close my eyes and imagine him reveling in Jesse Owens’ masterful track and field display in the 1936 Olympics or sitting around the radio a year later whooping it up as Joe Louis won the heavyweight boxing title. I’m sure he shed a tear because it made him feel like in a world where skin color was deemed as a negative, for that moment, he could feel a semblance of pride.

Saturday, a week ago, I sat in my oversized recliner holding my four-year-old grandson yelling at the TV with tears in my eyes displaying that same immense pride I saw 50 years ago. As Coco Guaff triumphed in the championship game of the U.S. Open, my normally expressionless look morphed into some type of ugly face crying meme passed around the internet. I was yelling her first name repeatedly while thrusting my arms skyward and pumping my fists. As tears of joy and pride were streaming  down my face, I’m sure my grandson didn’t understand why his Pop Pop was crying. I honestly hope he will never feel the pains and stings of being judged by something so incidental as his skin tone or ethnic composition that he will have to find it necessary to revel in the accomplishment of someone who looks like him. Hopefully, our society will have progressed and evolved to the level that every person, regardless of what they look like, who they pray to, whom they choose to love or what pronoun they answer to, can feel valued and woven into the fabric of the society they’re a part of.

Kenneth L. (Kenny) Hardin is a member of the National Association of Black Journalists.