Sorry about this y’all. These past few months have been tortuous. Please see above-or don’t. I know it’s as brutal for me as it is for you. I had to take a damn hard look at myself and now I’m asking you to. I seem to be spiraling downwards, rather driving through an endless tunnel. It’s scary, I can’t see the light…
I’ve been unable to concentrate or focus. Procrastination’s always been an issue, but now, it’s not that I’m putting things off-I just don’t/won’t do them. I swore the book I’ve been writing for 20 years would be finished two months ago, and that I’d have an editor or an agent by now. I want a career as a writer, but I haven’t been taking the steps to make it happen. The sad irony is, I’m jobless: Covid was a gift: I had all the time in the world (well, not all the time in the world-I still have the boys) but I have more time than I’ve ever had in my life to write. Well, now the threat has somewhat dissipated and there is some semblance of normalcy but here I am.
James Baldwin is my favorite writer. He is the most prolific thinker I have ever had the pleasure to read-bar none. I remember when I read The Fire Next Time. I remember how motivated I felt to change the world, all those years ago…I thought I’d be ready for The Fire Next Time, which is now! I dishonor his memory, and my status as a writer by remaining silent. Mr. Baldwin, I owe you an apology.
In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, and the protests that erupted across the world as a result, I tried to write. Tried to get political, tried to use my gift for good. Really, I did. I’d been working on a piece-several pieces-in fact, for months. But nothing materialized. I submit nothing. I figured so much had/has been said already, by educators, law-makers, politicians, activists, proponents and opponents of the movement. What could I add to the debate ? As a writer, it’s been a scary time because times like these usually inspire thoughts and the thoughts manifest on the page. Something happened. I mean, years ago when the NYPD Stop and Frisk Policy was the political controversy du jour, I immediately wrote an op-ed for the New York Daily News supporting it.
People weighed in on both sides of the argument. I was resolute. My opinion was that the residents of high-crime communities are unfortunately people of color so logically those stopped and frisked would be of color. I told myself that the stops and frisks were meant to protect the residents of those communities who would become the casualties of the gun violence in crime infested neighborhoods.
When I wrote the article, I was angry. Angry about being black, because as a black person, having to deal with the reality that assumptions and presumptions are made about you for no other reasons then the color of your skin is a lifelong albatross for a person of color. Sure, the anger may have been misplaced, but it’s infuriating that even though I have never committed a crime in my life, nor intend to do so, I may as well have, because young men and women who share my skin tone are, in the eyes of an oppressive and unjust system-guilty. I suppose when I wrote that piece, I was pleading with the Americans to understand that not all black people are “thugs” and criminals nor are we wild animals to be shot down in the streets, or even in our homes-as Breonna Taylor was-but I went about it the wrong way. I defended a racist policy because I thought by doing so, whites, police, or whomever is holding the power will see that black people such as myself, want to see crime stop just as much as they do. Or anyone who wants to live in peace would. Black people simply want to live our lives and enjoy freedom from persecution like any human would.
Black Lives Matter is surging forward and gaining momentum while I lay awake at night, depressed and feeling sorry for myself. I’ve been praying, doing my daily devotionals to gain focus and achieve some clarity. I pray for peace but I have none. In fact, I feel the exact opposite of peace, whatever that is. My body is tight with rage. I cannot sleep thinking of the time I’ve wasted. The time I am wasting while those kids are marching, doing something because they are fed up. So am I.
I need to get over myself.
I wanted to comment on the video in which the entire world watched George Floyd’s call for his mother as he lay dying in the street under the knee of someone who has the audacity to call himself a human. No human could have such a blatant disregard for another human’s life. Dave Chappell ‘s Netflix Special 8: 46 was pretty poignant on this point. I wish I could be that eloquent or poetic about what went through my mind as I saw what I saw. I just don’t have the words. However, I love the analogy drawn between the white officer’s knee on George Floyd’s neck and racial oppression in America. Chappell said it took him some time to bring myself to want to watch the video. I still haven’t.
Today in True Crime, a podcast I’m obsessed with, discussed Mississippi Burning, in which three civil rights workers, James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, two white, and one black, were murdered by the KKK in 1964. The movie based on the murders, like Floyd’s video was hard to watch. I knew much of the movie was fiction, but the KKK exists, they hate black people, they burn crosses and they lynch black people. I could not understand that level of hatred and it frightened me. It still does. I mention this because the Michael Schwerner’s wife, Rita was preaching Black Lives Matter long before the movement was born. In the midst of mourning her husband, she made it a priority to tell the world that she-a white woman-was aware that the only reason the case received the attention it did was because her husband and Andrew Goodman were white.
Centuries ago it was found that dividing civilizations along phenotypic and morphologic lines proved lucrative to capitalism. And so the cancer of racism metastasized. A caste system was created in which ( in this case) blacks are born into their socio-economic status as a result of their skin color, and as a result of these traits being assigned at birth cannot escape it. The fact that you are “born into it” means it determines each and every aspect of your daily life until you die.
The caste system is most famously used in Asia, but it has a global reach. In the Caribbean, we see it in terms of who holds high-profile, or highly visible positions in businesses or politics, education and entertainment. For example, in Jamaica, when I was growing up, you would only see light-skinned, near-white people working in banks or offices. It applies here in the United States, but it’s far more detrimental when this racism is internalized and we as black people use the lies that the dominant culture has been telling about us to oppress one another.
The entertainment industry is another form of institutional racism. In movies or television shows featuring black actors-those directed and/or produced by black and white directors/producers, if the male lead has dark skin, the female lead will almost always have caucasian features; straight nose, light-skin, long hair (or if it’s not long, it certainly isn’t “nappy”). The images that we are presented about who we are, whether good or bad, have consequences. For a long time I wished I was white because growing up, that was what I saw. It was what I was taught, and not only from white people. My own family would say things like, “you have good hair,” people would constantly ask me “what I was mixed with.” My grandfather, a white Jamaican, who loved me dearly, would tell my dark-skinned grandmother-to this day, I remember how much pride she took in her appearance and the great care she took of her skin, and how smooth and supple it was -that ‘nuthin’ too black (meaning her) can be any good…” he slept with her still. I can’t imagine having to endure that kind of abuse. But then again, I can.
Michelle Obama has a line in her book “Becoming” that I think is completely unnecessary but it proves to show how deeply racism affects how we view ourselves: she describes a time she was in Africa visiting Barrack’s family, and his aunt asked her if she was mixed with white. Of course, Michelle Obama proudly claims she’s fully black, but the only reason to include that information is to draw attention to the fact that you aren’t like other black people-in some way you are better than the awful lies that have been told about who we are. I’m guilty of that too-in some ways it’s why I wrote the Stop and Frisk article. I wanted white people to know that I wasn’t a thug or criminal like those who opposed a policy that was intended to keep their crime-ridden communities safe. If I agreed with them, wasn’t that proof that we were on the same side? If we are on the same side, there is no reason to fear or hate me. Internalized racism is just as toxic as racism directed at a race outside of your own. The way we think about ourselves motivates the choices we make and the lives we live for better or worse.
I’ll admit I towed the “all lives matter,” line, like the cowardly politicians and uninformed white people (those who claim they have no privilege because nothing was ever handed to them-excuse me, when was the last time you had to rethink vacation plans because of the color of your skin? There are places in these United States and across the world that black people simply can’t go-forget disrespect-that’s the least of it-they/we could be killed! There are people who refuse to acknowledge the truth-that to a lot of people, black lives have little to no value. America was built and continues to grow based on that fact. And while it pains me to quote Ashton Kutcher, his tearful twitter post moved me.
The image of him with his hand in his pocket, posing casually, with his knee pressed against George Floyd’s neck as if it were as natural as taking a piss in the morning, will haunt me forever. I have two sons, who are too young to understand the awful legacy of slavery and racism in America. Don’t get me wrong, they’ve been “taught”, they know, but they don’t get it. Unfortunately, they won’t until our attempts as parents to ensure that they have access and equality of opportunity to achieve this so-called American dream, will eventually reveal the truth about how America sees black men, and it will be brutal. But who knows, Juneteenth is now a paid holiday so perhaps the tide will turn? Psssht, we got Martin Luther King Jr. day and still…
Education is the only way to eradicate racism, and it must be taught in the early grades. Also, black history is more than slavery and Martin Luther King. Our kids must be exposed to the contributions they have made to this country-beyond black history month-enough is enough!
Thing is, the powers that be have known this forever. Herein lies the dilemma. And so I end with this: America would not be the most powerful nation in the world, if it weren’t for black lives. It is for this reason and for my children’s sakes, I proclaim loud, proud and forever that Black Lives Matter!