Last Updated on February 17, 2021, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1301
While she watched Nana detox from his addiction, Gifty felt lost, knowing that her brother was in such trouble that her mother sometimes even had to bathe him. However, she felt lifted up by her mother’s strength. As a professional caregiver, her mother was used to sickness and the proximity of death. Gifty was scared and wanted reassurance. She and her mother managed to take a somewhat improved Nana to church one day, only to encounter Ryan, who made an implied offer to sell Nana drugs in order to get him back on the basketball court. Their mother sent Ryan away, and Nana seemed dejected after the conversation.
Young Gifty told her friend Bethany about Nana’s addiction. After that, Bethany was not allowed to play with Gifty anymore. Gifty did not tell anyone about it again until college. At that time, her friends told her she was noble because the loss of Nana had inspired her to try, with her research, to keep the same thing from happening to others. Adult Gifty does not consider herself noble; she chose this work not as a form of self-sacrifice, but because she wanted to do something hard. She also needed to work through her incorrect thoughts about how addiction works: namely that Nana could have overcome his addiction out of sheer willpower for his family’s sake. The narration returns to Gifty’s childhood, at a time when Nana relapsed and disappeared for three days. Gifty and her mother found him passed out in a park. They lifted him into the car with difficulty, while the white people around them watched their struggles but did not offer to help. Gifty thought Nana was dead, but he was not. At home, their mother raged at Nana, telling him he had to stop using drugs and slapping him over and over.
Gifty reflects that her scientific work usually starts with an answer, and the difficult part is discovering what the question is. Wondering about her journeys in research and life, she asks herself how people know when they are reaching the right destination as opposed to steering into disaster.
Young Gifty stopped her mother from continuing to slap Nana by moving between them and forcing her mother to accidentally slap her. Her mother was horrified. Taking action, she stayed up all night making phone calls and arranged for Nana to go to a rehab facility. He did not want to go, but her mother made him, and Gifty did not try to stop it. Reflecting on the process of choosing her research question, adult Gifty admits that she struggled to look what she really wanted to know in the eye: how can an animal stop itself from pursuing a reward when it is so addicted that it keeps seeking the reward even though it is dangerous?
While Nana was in rehab, he barely said anything to young Gifty in their phone calls. He was released after thirty days. They ate at a Chick-Fil-A as a family, and Nana told Gifty and their mother that he was determined to stay clean. Gifty’s research, adult Gifty painfully admits, is currently very distant from being able to address a problem like Nana’s. All she is trying to do is prove that it is possible for the procedure she studies to help an addicted creature restrain itself. She is trying to get to the bottom of a vital question: why did Nana relapse on the very same day he left rehab?
Gifty explains how opioids affect the brain, activating reward circuits that make the brain want the drugs over and over. However, the brain responds to the drugs with less and less pleasure, until they provide only relief from pain. Han gives a lecture on how reward processes and expectations work, which Gifty attends. She asks Han whether dopamine, the reward chemical, would be released if she did something very bad. He laughs and does not answer.
In a diary entry, young Gifty wishes that Nana would die so the family’s suffering could be over.
Unable to talk to her mother about Nana, Gifty found refuge in her diary until she wrote the entry in the previous chapter. Deep in shame, she responded by going quiet, while her mother, she says, lost her mind. Dancing wildly at the altar, her mother attracted attention at church, where Nana’s addiction became gossip. Young Gifty overheard a conversation between two white women about Nana’s addiction: one woman said that Black people are naturally inclined toward substance abuse and are always on drugs, and the other agreed. For the first time, Gifty hated Nana.
Gifty explains that until after college, she never experienced a discussion about people of color internalizing racist beliefs about themselves, let alone the psychological and physical effects such internalized racism has on them. She did not have a way to understand why she hated herself and therefore simply assumed that there was something terribly wrong with her. They were the only Black people at their church, which her mother had not realized would make a difference. When Gifty overheard that conversation, she began to lose her faith, believing that God could not be present in her life. She wanted to be living proof that a Black person could be good, not realizing—sometimes even as an adult—that she was not responsible for other people’s hatred and judgment. After Nana’s addiction became obvious, the town turned against him, abandoning their prayers for his recovery and booing his inability to play basketball any longer. Watching everyone booing, Gifty realized the true nature of the people she worshipped with and rejected it. To keep her mother from feeling alone, Gifty continued to go to church, but she no longer believed she would find what she needed there.
This section is particularly notable for its heightened use of the narrative technique in which the author interweaves different time periods in Gifty’s life. While many chapters earlier in the book go from one time period to another, and perhaps back, chapters 33 and 36 rapidly cross from one era of Gifty’s life to another, doing so several times in each chapter. This technique allows the author to use adult Gifty’s research and knowledge to contextualize her experiences as a child. Gifty’s scientific work as an adult provides both her and the reader with objective information to help them understand the nature of addiction and racism. Though acquired late in her life, an understanding of internalized racism and its effects makes it possible for the adult Gifty—and, again, the reader—to process young Gifty’s experiences and comprehend them in the context of larger social phenomena.
Social judgment is central to this part of the book. As soon as Nana’s addiction became known, the school and church communities, which once praised him and cheered him on, turned their backs on him. From the racial stereotype that led them to assume his future was in basketball instead of in an impressive intellectual career, they slid easily into espousing the racial stereotype that all Black people are drug addicts, dismissing Nana’s potential as a human being altogether. A symbol of this dynamic is the moment in the park when Gifty and her mother tried to lift a passed-out Nana into the car. The white people around them observed three Black people struggling and watched with interest but made no move to help them. Similarly, the community members who once embraced Nana did not try to help him, despite their professions of Christianity, because he was a poor young Black man struggling with a drug addiction. They saw his suffering as natural and not their problem.
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