“A tree is best measured when it is down,” the poet Carl Sandburg once observed, “and so it is with people.” The recent death of Harry Belafonte at the age of 96 has prompted many assessments of what this pioneering singer-actor-activist accomplished in a long and fruitful life.
Belafonte’s career as a ground-breaking entertainer brought him substantial wealth and fame; according to Playbill magazine, “By 1959, he was the highest paid Black entertainer in the industry, appearing in raucously successful engagements in Las Vegas, New York, and Los Angeles.” He scored on Broadway, winning a 1954 Tony for Best Featured Actor in a Musical – John Murray Anderson's Almanac. Belafonte was the first Black person to win the prestigious award. A 1960 television special, “Tonight with Belafonte,” brought him an Emmy for Outstanding Performance in a Variety or Musical Program or Series, making him the first Black person to win that award. He found equal success in the recording studio, bringing Calypso music to the masses via such hits as “Day-O (The Banana Boat Song)” and “Jamaica Farewell.”
Harry Belafonte - Day-O (The Banana Boat Song) (Live)www.youtube.com
Belafonte’s blockbuster stardom is all the more remarkable for happening in a world plagued by virulent systemic racism. Though he never stopped performing, by the early 1960s he’d shifted his energies to the nascent Civil Right movement. He was a friend and adviser to the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. and, as the New York Times stated, Belafonte “put up much of the seed money to help start the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and was one of the principal fund-raisers for that organization and Dr. King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center notes that “he helped launch one of Mississippi’s first voter registration drives and provided funding for the Freedom Riders. His activism extended beyond the U.S. as he fought against apartheid alongside Nelson Mandela and Miriam Makeba, campaigned for Mandela’s release from prison, and advocated for famine relief in Africa.” And in 1987, he received an appointment to UNICEF as a goodwill ambassador.
Over a career spanning more than seventy years, Belafonte brought joy to millions of people. He also did something that is, perhaps, even greater: he fostered the hope that a better world for all could be created. And, by his example, demonstrated how we might go about bringing that world into existence.
Listen, you nasty little Bushwick troll, go unload the dishwasher.
Photo by Deborah Diem / Unsplash
First of all, before you read this article, go unload the dishwasher. I promise it will buy you at least an hour off from questions about your plans for the future.
Good, now that you have a few free minutes, let's get into it.
So you moved back in with your parents, huh? If it makes you feel any better, as of July 2020, 52% of young adults resided with one or both of their parents, up from 47% in February, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of monthly Census Bureau data.
If you're like me, you may find that information alternately depressing or comforting, depending on the day. That means that more than half of people your age are also kickin' it in their childhood bedroom or musty suburban basement.
Like you, I also crash landed at my parents' home when the pandemic started to look really dire. While I was lucky enough to keep my job (now working remotely, of course), I just couldn't justify continuing to pay for my expensive Brooklyn apartment when all the things I loved about living in Brooklyn were no longer available. So here I am, squandering my youth in my parents' spare bedroom in Virginia.
But hey! At least I'm using this time to improve myself! I'm getting into yoga (I've done it twice, three weeks apart), going for runs (every few days I spend 20 minutes walking and compiling a running playlist and then I get tired and sit on a bench listening to the playlist and crying softly), and even learning French (there's a very specific French p*rn site I can't recommend enough).
Moving back in with your parents is a relief in many ways, but it's also hard and weird. I love my parents, something not everyone is lucky enough to be able to say. But even so, readjusting to the way they ran our shared household for 18 years of my life is jarring. I've been out of the house for nearly six years, and in that time I adapted habits and preferences of my own that aren't necessarily compatible with theirs.
For example: I, personally, love to buy an entire rotisserie chicken and eat it with my hands in the bathtub in the dark. Contrastingly, my mother and father prefer that chickens be shared at a table and eaten with cutlery. My father likes to go to the farmer's market as a family every Saturday at 9 AM. I like to sleep until noon and then emerge into the blinding light of day like a rabid raccoon to raid the fridge, bleary-eyed and hissing. My mother prefers the kitchen to be clean at all times. I like to manically bake corn muffins at three in the morning and then fall asleep with batter still on the ceiling. The possibilities for conflict go on and on.
In some ways, since coming home, I find myself regressing into a version of myself that whines, "What's for dinnnnnerrrrr moooommmmmm," demands fruit snacks at the grocery store, and generally craves my parents' attention and approval. Simultaneously, a part of me is desperate to assert my independence and autonomy, suddenly refusing to wear anything but pleather and chain-smoking clove cigarettes just to prove that I am not exactly who they think I am. This veritable frappuccino of feelings and impulses makes for an exhausting mental landscape at the best of times, but pair it with the mental-health-molotov-cocktail of 2020 and you've got yourself a real doozy.
Still, in the midst of a global pandemic, impending culture war, authoritarian takeover, and climate change so drastic that reproduction has become a selfish prospect, it's very comforting to hear my mother's absurdly loud laugh in the evenings as she watches TV in her recliner. Even as my world seems to be coming untethered around me, at least I can count on my dad coming outside to watch me pull the car into the driveway every single time I come home, as he always has. Despite the fog of uncertainty that continues to thicken around the rest of my life, at least my parents still shout "I love you" up the stairs before they go to bed.
While economic strife has surely driven the majority of young people back to their parents' homes, I think there is also something to be said for the irreplaceable comfort of the people or person who raised you. Even through the arguments, irritants, and inevitable differences in opinion that come part-and-parcel with living at home as an adult, moving home also feels like placating some animalistic instinct to return to the beginning, to gather the pack around you and hunker down when tragedy strikes.
And make no mistake: What we're living through now is a cultural, social, and political reckoning that is just as dire and life-or-death as every other major reckoning in the history of humankind. Of course you aren't doing well. Of course you went home.
This moment in time is also necessary. We had to collectively wake up to the truth of racial inequality, environmental devastation, and socio-political corruption at some point, but that doesn't make this period of inevitable rousing any more comfortable. That doesn't make being forced to go home suck any less. That doesn't make the lives lost to COVID-19 or the lives destroyed by wildfires any less tragic. But still, as we fight to make a better world, allow yourself some time to rest and grieve.
Listen to your dad's bad opinions about capitalism and your mom's adoration of Obama and remind yourself that no one has all the answers (not even you, even though you follow several socialist philosophy Instagram accounts). Consider that your parents are just as scared as you are and that they're also doing their best, just like you are. Hang up a poster in your room that makes you feel like yourself and try to (safely) see people your own age frequently, but don't squander this time with your parents, either.
If you're lucky enough to be back home (whatever that looks like for you) with people you feel safe with and with whom you have a relatively healthy relationship, try to think of this as a chance to get to know the people who raised you in a new light. Continue to do the work to make the world a better place for everyone, but consider that maybe some days, the work isn't about doom-scrolling through Twitter or angrily sharing posts to your Instagram story. Maybe some days that simply looks like sitting down with your mom and a cup of coffee.