This is my first avatar. ( To the left, under About Me) We got our first computer three years ago and I am completely self-taught, learning what "surf the net" meant and how to do it and learning how to work with Microsoft Paint and finally buying my first software, Paint Shop Pro.

I wanted to graphically express "my two cents worth" and have done so. My avatar is proudly displayed on Rex Parker's crossword blog

Sunday, November 2, 2008


My husband comes from the Anacostia neighborhood in SE Washington DC. Anybody familiar with this area knows it is the quintessential definition of ghetto. More to the point, it is a slum. His story was tailor-made for Horatio Alger.

He got a job in a brokerage firm at the age of 17 as a janitor and a kindly old white gentleman assuaged his liberal guilt by taking a shine to an obviously bright young African-American boy from the neighborhood and helped get my future husband into a junior college, taught him the commodity trading business from the ground up, and three years later Archibald - his name clearly a hint to this blog's theme - was able to earn a scholarship to this gentleman's alma mater, Georgetown, and the rest, as they say, is history. A sort of reverse Alan Iverson story.

A curious thing began to happen. Archibald started putting distance between himself and the old neighborhood and managed to turn himself into a version of that white gentleman but, unfortunately, without his generosity. To this day, he still insists that he earned his scholarship to Georgetown and, as a result, has no one to thank for what later success he so clearly earned, being a poor kid from the ghetto and working so hard and on and on into the night. As much as I love him for his other attributes, he has a hole in his soul in this area.

I thought naming this blog the way I did would be a fitting testament to the gentleman who helped my husband. He had a delicious sense of irony. And now you know . . .


foodie said...

edith b, this was interesting to read. It seems to bother you that your husband does not acknowledge his benefactor. It's probably very dichotomous in his mind-- either he earned what he did or someone else handed it to him. I think it's in part due to the individualism that the the US culture inculcates-- you create your own destiny, we're told. And that is in fact truer here than anywhere else I've ever lived. But it's also called the land of opportunities for a good reason-- one that immigrants particularly appreciate. Because without opportunity, you cannot get anywhere no matter how determined you might be. So, the benefactor gave him opportunity, and then he created his own destiny. The two ideas need not be at odds.

What I find helpful is to think of opportunity as a present that you pass on...by giving opportunities to the next generation. I hope that your husband has had the chance to do that, and if so that this might make you feel better about his position.

Edith B said...

Thank you, foodie, for your thoughtful comment. The interesting thing about my husband is that he sees himself in the light of an immigrant.

His feelings about fiction notwithstanding, one of his prized possessions is a signed copy of Robert Heinlein's novel "Stranger in a Strange Land". How he acquired it I don't know as he is not really a talkative type nor does he tend to share.

It's not the theme of the book that resonates with him - it is more the title as the theme has little bearing on his life. And the fact that I am white further cements the thought that he is an immigrant - a stranger in a strange land, if you will - as the place he comes from is so far removed from mainstream America as can be imagined.

I don't know where you are from or whether you are familiar with the Anacostia section of Washington DC.

foodie said...

Edith b,

I actually love "Stranger in a Strange Land" and have used the theme to talk to women about how to fit in the culture of science.

I've heard of Anacostia, although I've never been there. But as part of the science outreach work that I do, I sometimes visit schools and talk to them about the brain, and I've been to some schools in DC. I was surprised how segregated some of them were in this day and age. I've visited one that was literally 100% African American. I was talking to those kids about brain biology and drug abuse and the kids knew so much about street drugs, I literally lost sleep over it.

So, I can imagine how growing up in an environment like Anacostia would feel like a different world to your husband.

I'm currently in New York to give a paper on how one's environment, especially in early childhood, has lifelong impact on the brain-- it's structure, chemistry, connections and how all that affects mood, emotions and thinking. The biological impact of a rough childhood is so huge that I'm impressed with anyone who manages to rise above it, even if they carry some scars...

I know Obama's presidency is not going to solve all the problems, especially poverty and social disparities. But I do hope that large swaths of Americans will no longer grow up feeling like they don't belong.