A Hope in the Unseen: Chapter 9

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Summary of Chapter 9: Bill Payers on Parade

 

It is Parents’ Weekend at Brown. It’s a big weekend for Providence as wealthy parents arrive in luxury cars or by plane for shopping and nights out. Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers are Zayd’s parents; they are former student protestors from the sixties. They were members of the Underground Weathermen, a radical political organization. They were on the FBI’s Most Wanted List and were in hiding when Zayd was born. Cedric is delighted to learn Zayd was named after the uncle of rapper, Tupac Shakur, who was a Black Panther and friend of his parents. Zayd’s parents are a little critical of this generation of students who do not think of social issues, but they themselves have become more mainstream. Bernadine Dohrn works as a lawyer at Northwestern University, and Bill Ayers is professor of education at the University of Illinois. Bernadine decides she will not argue with her son this weekend over his focus on personal development and sexual conquests. She appreciates that he is an experimenter.

 

Barbara and her daughter Neddy (Cedric’s half-sister) have come on a night train and hope that this weekend will cheer Barbara up. She has been depressed since Cedric left home. She cannot pay her bills, the phone is cut off, and she even skips church. She worries that Cedric didn’t want her to come and will be embarrassed by her. She doesn’t want to mingle with the upper-class families and takes Cedric to malls, even though they have these at home in Washington D.C. They talk about changes in the neighborhood over an expensive dinner. She spends everything she has on the weekend and is anxious to return home on Sunday. Barbara feels out of place on a college campus, while the other parents are having fun there, feeling a bit of nostalgia. She thinks of her life of poverty. Bernadine sees Barbara and is friendly to her, which confuses Barbara. Bernadine is disappointed in not having a chat; she knows that this is the mother of Cedric, Zayd’s friend from the ghetto.

 

Commentary on Chapter 9: Bill Payers on Parade

 

A contrast of college generations is given in the Dohrn family, with Bernadine as “queen mother of America’s once fearsome radical counterculture” (p. 222) and her son, Zayd, “in some ways, her nemesis”  in his interest in himself rather than “mass behavior” (p. 223). Yet Zayd inherited his parents’ desire to experiment, at least in everything his parents didn’t try. They are the middle-aged Baby Boomers whose generational legacy is the open curriculum of Brown and affirmative action. They are a bit puzzled if that legacy will continue with this generation that believes in “no overarching principles” (p. 224). Zayd argues that his parents gave up too much of themselves in ideology, having to live underground for seven years while he was a baby. But the legacy lives on in his comfort with Cedric and curiosity about him. He knows black music and culture like few white kids do, having been in an all-black school near Harlem. Bernadine is eager to meet Cedric and Barbara, but Barbara is unresponsive, lost in her own feelings of inadequacy. After all, the counterculture was largely a white phenomenon, with Barbara living the 60s “on a parallel plane” (p. 235). Rob’s parents have taken him mountain-climbing for the weekend and avoid Cedric altogether.

 

Barbara makes a comparison between African Americans and Asian immigrants. She remarks that African Americans don’t help each other succeed, whereas Asians have the goal that “everybody get better” (p. 232). She makes a point of praising her daughter Neddy as smart too, instead of lavishing praise on Cedric alone. She tells of her own high grades in school and Cedric praises her for “being good too” (p. 234). It is the high point of the weekend for Barbara to share in his glory.

 

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