Self-hatred and narcissism exist in a mutualistic symbiotic relationship, often appearing as one or the other. This is because many people use the term ‘narcissism’ colloquially (i.e., as a general diagnosis of a self-congratulatory/concerned person, with little to no regard for the myth of Narcissus from which the term was derived.) This incomplete idea of narcissism provides it the cover it needs to coexist with self-hatred, undetected. In the myth of Narcissus, his ultimate undoing is his unwillingness – and inability – to look away from himself, but the genealogical side of the story is perhaps the best aspect of it to observe. Narcissus was the son of the river god Cephissus and the nymph Liriope (daughter of a river deity), meaning both of his parents emerged from and had command over the same element: water. Understanding this detail is vital to truly unpack the story and get to the root of Narcissus’ inner conflict. Water happens to be the very element Narcissus was drawn to, which ultimately became the stage for his demise. The genealogical theme is present in Narcissus’ biological, genetic makeup. He was the impossibly beautiful product of his parents, so beautiful in fact, that he was unable to love anyone other than himself. This genealogy is present in Narcissus’s death in two forms: the water itself (representing both of his parents) and in the beauty of his reflection, which, as I just explained, is also a product of his parents.
One: Cleaver’s Bliss
Clarence Cleaver, a 29-year-old black man, was leaving a downtown restaurant on a Friday night in Florence, Alabama. After a long day of working, all Clarence wanted was an unhealthy meal and a strong dark drink to decompress, and since it was payday, he decided to splurge on a 12oz medium-rare rib-eye and a double shot of Woodford Reserve Double Oaked. Clarence was the lower case and italicized D decompressed and at ease with the bloated satisfaction of a beached seal and the light and sophisticated buzz only a good Bourbon could provide. Three minutes into his downtown stroll back to his car parked a full block away, Clarence was practically floating down the sidewalk when his grease and alcohol-induced blissful retreat was abruptly interrupted by a loud noise. Not just a noise…a rhythmic noise “… is that a chant,” He thought to himself while floating. This threw Clarence off because nothing was happening in downtown Florence tonight that would warrant such a loud and intense chant, so what could this be? The closer he got to the noise, the more confusing it became. The chant was no longer independent of a source; he could see a group of silhouetted figures in the distance. A mob of chanting silhouettes was alarming enough, but Clarence’s descent back down to earth from his 90proof, garlic butter retreat was accelerated by the fact that these loud silhouettes were moving, and they were moving towards him.
As the rococo downtown lights permitted, the silhouettes gradually became human beings the closer they got to Clarence, and their chant was finally clear: “BLACK LIVES MATTER!!!!…. TAKE IT DOWN!!!”. The chant was surprising to Clarence for two reasons: one, this was Florence, Alabama, and as far as he was concerned, there were no progressive anti-racist organizations in this southern town, two, “take it down” had to be in reference to the confederate monument, and as far as he could tell, statues were inanimate objects that were fully incapable of oppressing the black lives these former silhouettes were so passionately reaffirming the significance of in their loud, blissful retreat shattering chants.
The closer he got to the chanters, the more uncomfortable he became. They were about twenty steps away now, and what Clarence saw when he finally got a nice clear view of them left him bewildered and back-footed. A slim black woman led this surprisingly large group of anti-racist and apparently anti-statue chanters with a pitch-black, full, healthy, and crinkly afro and a raised fist, the intensity of which was matched only by her focused eyes and impressively urgent walking speed. The woman behind her was a slightly shorter and significantly whiter woman, whose eyes were equally as intense and focused as the black woman in front of her. She (this shorter white woman) appeared to be leading the chant, and Clarence could not believe how big, full, and powerful her voice was. He stared in utter disbelief as she effortlessly expelled the words “BLACK LIVES MATTER…. TAKE IT DOWN!!” with the projection of a trained stage thespian, all without breaking stride. As Clarence got within fifteen steps of the group, he noticed that the Black woman up front wore a black shirt with large white block letters that said: “INTERSECTIONALITY” (her tan jacket covered the “IN” and ITY,” so it actually read “TERSECTIONAL,” but Clarence inferred the rest.). The white woman’s black shirt read “VOTE”, also in white block text. Clarence found both of these shirts reprehensible: Intersectionality meant nothing to Clarence, but he had heard it associated with feminism several times, and that was enough to make him grimace after reading it, and Vote triggered a reflexive eye roll, because in Clarence’s mind, voting for one of two racist white men, or two racist white women, or a white man and a coon, or a white woman and a coon was pointless and insulting, and voting for an impossible to elect radical black man was just a waste of time.
Behind the two women stood (more accurately, marched) a collection of people Clarence had never considered anti-racist politics advocates. They were ready to risk their safety, their freedom, or their Friday evening(s) to publicly advocate for Black lives and the removal of the Statue in which he still could not see the correlative significance.
These were not classically strong, stoic, and masculine black men, exuding the firm confidence and fearlessness of his idol… what’s his name (?), that one Black Supreme Court Judge appointed in 1993 that he read about and admired for his strength, stoicism, and masculinity. These people didn’t display the harsh and uncomfortable truth displayed in his favorite book of all time: “Soul On Ice,” by the incredibly strong and masculine black man…what was his name again? Clarence couldn’t remember, but he knew that the multi-racial sea of women would repulse the author of that masterpiece, gender non-conforming men, non-binary folk, pride flags with black power fists stitched in the middle, smiling children, and so on, and so on, etc.
As this group, led by the two women, approached him, he had two options: get involved and march with these people who obviously saw the significance in his life, or step aside and reject solidarity with the people who did not reflect the image of his conception of a Black Revolutionary. He quickly chose the latter, stepped aside, and allowed the group to march on by him. As they passed him, he noticed that a single person’s chants functioned a lot like echoes.
Clarence sat in his car peacefully, for hours after the incident, without noticing how much time had passed. His blissful retreat was no longer one of Bourbon and grease; this was something new, something more organic. For the first time, Clarence felt as if he had displayed the courage of his convictions. He solidified aspects of himself that were only abstractions before this moment of reflection and clarity. His strength, stoicism, and masculinity were now concrete aspects of his identity, and that was something Clarence fell in love with. An unconditional, unwavering, exclusive love.
Board member of Project Say Something, Regional Political Director, Alabama Democratic Party, Independent Scholar, published illustrator, video essayist,