The Moral of The Fox and the Hound

This post is about my best friend. A person I miss everyday. It is about a relationship that got away due to elements of a false faith in God, class, and race. This is about a relationship that has shaped my ideological and intellectual construct; it is about a relationship that pushed me towards the left and has shaped my readings, my faith, and in many ways… my identity. This is a post about my friend Shannon Killough.

Today is the 34th birthday of my best friend. At times I am perplexed when trying to describe her to both friends and family who do not know her; I know that she emerged in my life at a time when I was stuck between two worlds: One world was made up of white privilege and religious conservatism that angered me. The other world was that of black distance and distrust of organized religion. I often struggle trying to come to terms with both worlds. As a young black man entering 10th grade on scholarship at a very nice private school with a religious heritage, I was often isolated in my understanding of the white middle class, though I seemed to fit in well; I was a good athlete and eager student – though I clearly felt behind my counterparts at times; I once asked aloud, “what are French Doors” as my peers discussed their homes and the summer renovations that took place. I had never heard of youth groups before, nor did I fully comprehend the emotionalism held at youth rallies or the exaggerated collapsing of members in the black church.

Leaving my underfunded public school, which was an extension of racial segregation and bigotry for a more privileged school, only awakened me to the realities of the world. Furthermore, it was at my nice private school that forced me, as was and is the case for many teenagers, to seek some sort of an identity. My parents are not educated – at least not in the conventional sense, nor are they religious. They  taught me to love and embrace all people: black, white, gay, lesbian, poor, and defeated growing up.

But it was my friend, Shannon, who transformed my life in a very different way. For the first time it was okay to relax and be me; it was okay to display a sense of emotion that was not of the norm; it was alright to accept people and love the beauty of what life offers; however, it was this close relationship that impacted not only my ideological position – but my interpretation of life. I realize this is a great burden to place on one person, but I think she managed. Our friendship had its challenges: Her parents did not like me; I was not up to par. Her family was not the only ones who felt this way; I even had to contend with a few teachers that looked at our friendship with an eye of suspicion. I was troubled by this suspicion since it was generated not by my character, but by my skin color.

She and I, as well as a group of my newly minted private school friends, would often have to lie in order for her to hang out with us; my race was an embarrassment to her family. I am often reminded of the classic eighties cartoon The Fox and the Hound; it was this cartoon that can teach us much about the pain of relationships and how the dynamics of race and class often divides us. In the cartoon, the fox and the hound befriended each other only to be forced against one another by their families: The hound was supposed to hunt the fox, but that was difficult for both to accept since they met at a young and innocent age. This cartoon teaches us about relationships and the purity of its meaning.

My friend Shannon died of cancer in the fall of 2005; I was supposed to visit her upon a return trip from Atlanta four months earlier; I got caught up in a meeting at a private school and even confused on my drive back to Montgomery. I missed seeing my friend and thus would learn of her death later. She died within thirty days of discovering she had cancer. Hearing this was tough; it was the longest week of my life; I had to stay home because I could not control my emotions. Out of anger and frustration for how complicated her family made our friendship, I took every letter she had written me over years and copied them. I went on to write a very long letter to her parents illustrating my hurt and frustration over the problems they caused. And yes, I did mail all of this to them.

I am not sure a day goes by in which I fail to think about my late friend. I do not suspect, I know that our relationship and the behavior of closed minded people have played a major part in my ideological shaping. Thus part of my job as a teacher is to inculcate a sense of passion and understanding in my students of all types of people. That has been Shannon’s gift to me, and hence it is my gift to my students.

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15 thoughts on “The Moral of The Fox and the Hound

  1. I love this. You never blog about this stuff. I did notice you still linked it to some social issue. I am with LukeD, thanks for this. Wow!

  2. This is probably your best piece of blog. It spoke and it showed a huge level of vulnerability (big, bad Carson has a soft side 🙂 ). As a 5 year old the Fox and the Hound was probably one of my favorite disney movies. Thank you for showing me it in a new, powerful way.

  3. Wow. This is a great piece – as James said, probably one of the best on your blog. Shannon sounds like she was the kind of great friend that we all need.

    It’s rather ironic, because my pseudo-brother and I were just discussing theology, conservatism, and then personal identity. I would love to sit down with you and discuss this sometime.

    Anyway, thanks for this.

  4. So what did her parents think when you sent that stuff? Sounds like they are older, I bet. How about her? Why the control of her life by them? Was it religious? Tell me more about the faculty members at your upper private school that looked with suspicion. I am curious. many questions. Great post. Nice way to address a number topics you often blog about. I must admit, this post did surprise me some.

  5. SO much of our personal lives informs our practice as teachers. It’s impossible to separate the two, I think. My condolences on the loss of your friend, Eddie; you honor her memory well.

  6. viva la lunch bunch!!!! we were a band of misfits:D and a merry bunch we were. shannon was an amazing person and tried and true friend. i wish that we could all have one last pizza party 🙂 i miss her quiet little voice and the twinkle in her eye when she laughed! her parents never liked me either, never figured out why????

  7. Our friends are important and sometimes it is easy to lose sight of that, whether we are students caught up in schoolwork and athletics or an adult busy with work. I think no matter how old you are you can’t forget what is really important.

  8. Oh dear… where to start, I think as much as you want this person to be your best friend… you’ve deluded yourself, she’s really your deeply respected arch-enemy. Let me say this, I don’t feel guilty about slavery and the impact that this has had on black people, want to know why? It’s because I’m not black. I doubt you feel any empathy for the whites that are being systematically terrorized by the governments of Zimbabwe and South Africa, but then again why would you, you’re not white. We as peoples have a conflict of interest as old as time immemorial, the most foolish thing either one of us could do would be to think to the contrary. I personally find that even though I don’t want blacks on the whole as my enemies and as many on the other side feel the same, you still need to understand that if the proverbial **** hits the fan, everyone will know which side they stand on and will do what is necessary to acquiese a position of dominance for themselves through their group. Race means nothing to little children, but as they grow it becomes more apparent and what starts as competition becomes rivalry which ultimately leads to the ultimate struggle. She is not your friend just as you are not her’s, whether either one of you are ready to admit this to each other or yourselves is completely a matter of your own personal/collective choosing. It’s exaclty teh same thing with jews and Muslims, they will always hate each other and seek to destroy each other and the wars will continue until one side is vanquished. The old proverb “might makes right” seems to make about as much sense as 1+1=2 right about now, at least as far as I’m concerned.

    If you feel differently (which even if you don’t for the sake of this conversation being held in a public forum I believe you’ll still say you do), I would love to hear your response Professor DuBois

    Sinceerly,

    Jack Johansen

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