Posts Tagged With: black

THE MINE FIELD


I’ve had a chance to process more of what’s taking place AROUND me, but more importantly, what’s happening INSIDE of me. See, there’s been a shift of focus. Here’s what I mean…

In the past, I’ve been content to navigate life by trying my best to avoid instances of prejudice, discrimination and flat out bigotry. I call them racial land mines. Whether obvious or hidden, these land mines are a very real threat to me and others like me, in several aspects of daily life. It could be targeted discrimination on the job, excessive derision or bullying at school, false accusations by my neighbors, or undue scrutiny at the store.

LAND MINES.

Over the years, I’ve learned how to circumvent many of these situations by treading cautiously through life. A sad truth. I’ve done my best to teach these avoidance strategies to my two adult sons, and even my 13 year old. It absolutely kills me that this is even something that I have to do. But my hope was that having these tools might LESSEN the chance of them being injured, abused, or let’s be real… murdered. I say lessen because while prevention would be the obvious goal, there simply is no guarantee. I’m aware of the fact that when it comes to these land mines, prevention is not always possible, even under the best conditions.  One false step and it detonates. I NEED people to understand that I carry around with me the reality that there is no protected space. Anywhere. There is no guarantee of safety, even inside my own home.

I’ll be honest. In the past, when people asked about my experience in order to “understand what it’s like”, it was… frustrating. Not because they asked. But because I didn’t think they understood how much of an impossible request this might be. Why? Because there is no equivalent to systemic racism. It’s a different kind of beast. Nothing I described to them would come close to fully expressing the residual strife of a hostile environment built over hundreds of years. Even now, I can’t always articulate how I manage the haunting navigation of black life in America. The closest I’ve come recently is to say that my daily black experience can be summed up in one tormenting question…

AM I NEXT?

Imagine starting every day with this thought overshadowing every thing you do… every conversation, every activity, every interaction. Maybe that will give people insight into what it feels like to be black in America.

LAND MINES.

Because of their pervasiveness, I now know that it’s not enough to just AVOID them, we have to do the hard work and DISMANTLE them. I say WE because I’m convinced that we are far more likely to accomplish this united together than we ever could working alone. We start by having honest, uncomfortable, and sometimes difficult conversations with one another, so that we might understand the reality of the life we live, and how we affect each other. This is how we gain valuable perspective and hopefully, grace and empathy.

This also allows us to identify land mines that may not be obvious to everyone around us. Pointing them out is the first step toward disarming and hopefully destroying them. That’s not to say that I have all of the answers. But I do believe they can be found through our combined efforts.

So my focus has shifted.

I’m now at the point where I see the need and sincerely desire to have these conversations. As a matter of fact, I welcome anyone who wants to have genuine dialogue about our current conditions, the implications of this movement, the way all of this affects me and my family, how it might be affecting you and yours, and what can be done to move things forward.

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BLACK IN 2020 AMERICA


I thought that it would be a good idea to maybe paint a picture for some of you who are genuinely interested, or just curious, about what minority life looks like in America, at least for me and my family. So here are just a few of the very real considerations I have to take into account daily.

– When I mentioned that wearing glasses makes me appear less threatening to some white people, this was not just conjecture. This is from personal experience. I can see people visibly relax when I enter a room and they notice that I’m wearing glasses. I’ve had white people actually say things TO MY FACE about my apparent “harmlessness” because of my glasses. If it was just once, I could pass it off as an exception. But on several occasions white people have “jokingly” said variations of, “Bro, your glasses totally kill the gangster vibe.” Yep. Gangster vibe. Really. Did they mean any offense by the statement? Not at all. But they still got the super eye roll. 🙄

– I’m acutely aware of the substantial risk I take every time I leave my house. Not sometimes, during holidays, or on the weekends. No… EVERY. TIME. There’s an ever-present anxiety because I never know if this will be the day when I’m pulled over by the police, not because I did anything wrong, but because I “fit the description”. I would venture to guess that if you polled a sampling of black people, a majority would tell you that “fit the description” is a trauma trigger. When I get in my car, before I put it in drive, I place my cell phone in a holder attached to my dashboard. Why? Because I want to be able to call my wife or start a live-stream within seconds of being pulled over by the police. It’s on my Driving While Black checklist. It may not keep me alive, but it may bring some justice.

– There’s some weird notion that being “other” is preferred to being “black”. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve been asked “Are you Cuban/Dominican/Puerto Rican/Non-Black?” by white people. It’s as if believing I am something OTHER THAN black, will make me more… acceptable? If I’m NOT black, maybe they somehow think I’m okay to like or believe or trust or befriend? Just a guess, but when I say, “No, I’m Black/African American”, there’s a noticeable sense of disappointment.

Again, I’m not speaking for all black people. I’m just sharing my personal experience. And if you take nothing else away from this message, please understand this… no amount of data, statistics, or reports should ever invalidate someone’s personal experience. We’ve lived what we’ve lived and we often see life through the filter of those experiences. Remember that before attempting to trivialize someone’s trauma.

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BROKEN


Ughhhhhhh!!!!!! 😩

My heart hurts. My mind is full of anger, confusion, and worry. I want to CRY and SCREAM and RUN and FIGHT… and hide, all at the same time. As I told someone else, I don’t have the emotional bandwidth to engage with people right now. So there will be no debate here. You either hear me, or you don’t. But that’s up to you. What I know is that I have been unable to sleep, and in my time of reflection, there have been myriad thoughts swirling around in my mind. Up until now, I have not spoken freely. But this must change.

And so, I will no longer remain silent.

To say that we reside in a nation divided, would be an understatement. It hinges upon readily observed and documented injustice, along with a perceived hopelessness, perpetuated by the repeated occurrences of mistrust, brutality, prejudice, and discrimination that I fear have now come to define the character of our country, to its citizens as well as the rest of the world.

These attributes have been affixed to the very nature of who we are as a population, brought about by the actions of those who have been appointed, and thereby obligated, to be the benevolent and compassionate custodians of liberty, safety, and justice for all.

But somewhere along the way, the vision was lost, or perhaps it was intentionally discarded.

We have become a nation in which the pursuit of wealth and success comes at the cost of compassion and consideration of others. We are teaching our children that it is socially acceptable to be selfish and obtain their definition of happiness by any means necessary. And in so doing, I fear we have developed a culture that prizes possessions over principle, money over morality, and status over solidarity. In a country whose very name embodies cohesion and promotes collaboration, The United States of America, we now seem to encourage divisiveness and egocentric aspirations.

We have been broken.
Broken promises.
Broken relationships.
Broken trust.
Brokenhearted.

I’m not sure how much more my heart and mind can endure. I used to think that civil dialogue could help heal the wounds between us. But in this current civilization, civility is not always possible. I learned a long time ago that people motived by feelings, who take action before considering the consequences of those actions, are NOT interested in talking. They are only interested in purging their emotions by any means necessary. There is no reasoning with them.

But I’m tired.

Tired of being the black man who is all too conscious of the fact that wearing glasses makes me appear less threatening. Tired of being the one who some people point to as the example of a “good black person” (wth is that anyway??). Tired of being the father who is constantly updating the Minority Rules of Social Engagement, and reinforcing them to his fives sons and one daughter, as a contingency against the very real possibility that their lives could one day depend on them.

I am a black man in America. And to some, that means I am a life without value. Disposable.

But my life has value as much as any other human being. And I will do everything lawfully within my power to uphold that right and recognize that value, in myself and others.

As I sit here in tears, I’m thinking about how I used to avoid making such precise statements about my feelings for fear of people misunderstanding me, unfriending me or taking offense. But I will say this without reservation, your approval of me will never be worth more than the welfare and well-being of my family. I’m committed to finding solutions and taking action. But I will not sit idly by while the world descends into chaos.

If I lose friends over this… ask yourself, were we really friends?

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Wakandan Ruminations


I went to see Black Panther this past Friday with my extraordinary and insightful wife of 14 years. As we pulled up to the theater and found a parking spot, we had an interesting exchange before going in. It had to do with perception, assumption, and judgement.

In our two decades of knowing one another – which includes 3 years of dating before getting married – one constant annoyance for us has been the misperception that we are an “interracial couple”. That is, in the commonly accepted sense of the phrase. The reason this is significant is because, at first glance, no one would know – and some may not believe – that my wife is, without question, African American. She is no LESS African American than I am, even though to many I more readily… look the part.

It is common knowledge that the spectrum of African American complexions is wide-ranging, making it nearly impossible for someone to look at anyone else these days and deduce with any certainty that they are, or are not, “black”.

You don’t know, so don’t assume.

But assumption is the recurring theme of our public interactions with people who look askance at the “interracial couple” going to see the “black” movie. Never realizing the two of us are far more alike than we are different. Despite the apparent difference in our skin tones. The truth is that the evidence of who we are, who we really are, cannot be ascertained from a glance. Much like the truth of this movie’s significance can’t be defined by the opinions of professional (or unprofessional) critics.

See, within that truth lies the beauty of what it really means to be… African American. Within that truth is the careful, deliberate, often meticulous navigation through society that takes place daily for every African American, regardless of their shade. Within that truth is also the reason why, after watching Black Panther, this movie, this work of fiction, this stylized drama… why it is a watershed moment.

Let me be clear that I fully understand that this is a “super hero” movie. It is a live-action, film adaptation of a comic book, and as such, has no bearing on real-life events. That being said, my head and heart were all over the place.

Why?

There are several reasons. Far too many to fully convey here. But I will attempt to pinpoint the larger one in the context of my feelings.

The African Nation of Wakanda

Wakanda is a country unspoiled. Unsullied by the invasion – or colonization, as the characters point out – of those who would trample its rich culture, prohibit the expression of its traditions, exploit its resources, and enslave its people. Simply put, Wakanda was free to evolve into a highly developed, technologically advanced civilization, while retaining all of its history, customs and beliefs.

For those of African heritage, nothing like this exists in the real world.

Not.

One.

Thing.

To this day, many African nations are considered third world countries. This label typically refers to economically poor, non-industrialized nations who are often reliant upon foreign aid. But seeing Wakanda on the big screen was like a glimpse into an alternate reality. Even stripping away all of its supernatural elements, it stands as a future that could have been. Could have.

But… it isn’t.

For me, segments of the movie stood out as an extended expedition into an incredibly complex and engaging world established through tribal unity, ingenuity, and intellect. It was the answer to the nagging question… what if? What if there was no slavery? What if there was no colonization of Africa? What if there was no systemic racism? This is Wakanda!

But… it isn’t.

Or rather, it never was, and maybe it will never be. And that… that is heartbreaking.

Because it has nothing to do with the lack of supernatural intervention, or the existence of Vibranium. It has everything to do with systemic racism, the deterioration and intentional disruption of the black family unit… the lack of community awareness and concern as a country, not just isolated pockets of effective collaboration … and a society that seems to have lost its compassion and consideration for others.

Wakanda then becomes a sad reminder of unrealized potential, all that has been stolen, and what now feels unobtainable.

But… it isn’t.

Even without vibranium, the technological marvels of Wakanda are not completely fictional. The unique customs, arts, and social institutions exemplified in the movie are very real. We now have a space and an opportunity to discuss errors of the past and make corrections for the future.

Marvel Studios’ BLACK PANTHER..L to R: Okoye (Danai Gurira), Nakia (Lupita Nyong’o) and Ayo (Florence Kasumba)..Photo: Matt Kennedy..©Marvel Studios 2018

There may be some who think that what I’ve said and what I’ve seen… that it’s simply too late for us.

But… it isn’t.

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My Son, The President


DISCLAIMER: This is NOT a political statement. Just food for thought…

Four years ago, after Obama was elected as President, one of my teen sons asked me, “Dad, was it illegal for black people to be President before Obama?” I was floored. The fact that it occurred to him that perhaps there was a law prohibiting minorities from ascending to the highest office was both sad and frightening.

It’s not as if there wasn’t a precedence for that type of law in our nation’s history. But to think that my teenage son saw Obama’s election as the changing of law was/is rather profound. My response to him was, “No, it was not illegal. The possibility existed, but now it has become reality.”

I’ve taken this as a chance to build confidence in all of my children. I let them know that most of the limitations we face are those we’ve placed on ourselves. This is why I’m continually reinforcing the fact that with focus, dedication and hard work, they can indeed be anything they are meant to be… including President.

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