Just How Low is Sweet Chariot Supposed to Swing

Pookie Wilson is my cousin. We grew up walking the same streets, drinking the same Kool-Aid, plotting on the same girls. Somewhere Pookie took a wrong turn. He’s my cousin and I love him, but he’s scandalous. Impregnating a girl nowhere legal age, pawning his mother’s wedding ring, creating a food stamps business scam, and snatching women’s purses on the first of the month are just a few of my cousin’s highlights.

It seems we all have Pookies in our lives. Often the family tolerates them, and the old people enjoin us to embrace Pookie and his maladaptive behaviors. “He’s family,” they remind us. But dumping persons from one’s life who are encased in poverty or prison bound is probably the single most important accomplishment in your journey toward psychological freedom. Ridding ourselves of all our Pookies–mine, yours, and theirs–will aid us all in our advancement.

How do we not become embarrassed when they insist on embarrassing us? How do you become you while having to drag all this dead weight with you? Letting go of dysfunction in black communities in general, as well as dysfunction in specific black persons toward whom we feel some affinity, becomes a process of deindividuation–that is, defining yourself as an individual whose identity reaches beyond family, community, and now history.

I know my Pookie ain’t worth the trouble. Just as you know your Pookies aren’t worth it either. We know it in our hearts. They’re unredeemable. Yet we still hold on ‘cause he’s our cousin, our brother, our nephew, our son. We hold on ‘cause he’s a black man. We remember when Pookie was young and had potential. Now he has young children spread over half the city. He’s always wanting “a little somethin’.” It doesn’t matter whether it’s money, time, sex, or an audience. It has never been enough, and it will never be enough for Pookie to orchestrate his life beyond his own constrictions. 

Fortunately, dumping Pookie is a relatively simple process:

DIRECTIONS (from a sitting position)
1. Firmly plant your feet.
2. Rise until you are standing erect.
3. Walk (briskly out the nearest exit.

DIRECTIONS (from a standing position)
1. Walk (briskly) out the nearest exit.

DIRECTIONS (from a position of guilt, intimidation, shame, and obligation)
1. Firmly plant your feet.
2. Walk (briskly) out the nearest exit.

Many of us stay tied to Pookie as a result of habit. We let ourselves get used to his bullshit and that of a community intent on self-preservation. But black delayers such as Pookie forget that we’re supposed to be in process. We are not static. We cannot maintain the same codependent and enmeshed relationship with them as they move backward. We’re developing. We’re in flux. We’re moving forward. Pookie insists that we remember him despite his constrictive trap. The trap is of his own making. Apparently, he likes it. Who am I to disturb his peace?

It is imperative that we dump Pookie. If not, his weight will surely drag us down. Not only will dumping him free us of the burden of carrying another, but it also challenges the very person who should bear the weight . . . Pookie.

Well, that’s all the time we have for today. We’ll pick up again next week.

Until then:



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Dr. James Davison, Jr. is a licensed psychologist and university professor. He conducts a private practice in Seattle, Washington, and has appeared on several nationally-aired programs including The Phil Donahue Show, National Public Radio’s All Things Considered and C-SPAN. Dr. Davison hails from Philadelphia, and is the author of several books – Prisoners Of Our Past and Sweet Release, and the upcoming Paid In Full – related to individuality and personal freedom for African-Americans.

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