The ‘Murican Dream (A Long Trayvon Martin Rant)

“Apparently, we are now at the point when a seventeen year old boy, unarmed, must make all the correct judgments during a confrontation with a grown man in order not to be shot to death.”

-David Simon, co-creator of HBO’s The Wire

I’ve been called a nigger, to my face, somewhere in the neighborhood of a dozen times in my life.  Clerks have followed me around stores countless times.  I’ve been automatically put in remedial English classes on 3 occasions and told by an English teacher that I have problems writing (it salted my opinion of my ability for years).  I’ve been stopped by police dozens of times, asked what I was doing, occasionally searched, yet never given a citation or a warning.  Once a cop pulled up when I was sitting in a car outside my house talking to a friend.  He checked my driver’s license three times (never hers, of course, she was white) on the grounds that there had been a robbery at a nearby convenience store.  He admitted when he first saw me that I didn’t fit the description except that I was black.  (Couldn’t she have been the getaway driver?)  The worst was the time the police pulled me over when I was driving home from work and drew guns on me.  The 1st cop asked for my registration, when I reached for it (it was in the glove-box) he blurted Whoa!Whoa!Whoa! at me while his partner aimed his gun at my head through the passenger window.  His intent was clear: Don’t move your hand another inch or you’re gonna get shot in the face. They kept me there for two hours, repeatedly checking my driver’s license and registration.  They said, once again, that my vehicle ‘matched a description,” but considering I was driving a grey Nissan pick up with blue side panels, you can count me  skeptical.

But I digress.  My point is, most black men have stories like these.  It’s just the reality of life in America.  I typically don’t give it much thought.

But I can’t treat this stuff so lightly anymore.  I mean, I live in a world where, as a black man, if being harassed and followed around is all you get, you’re actually doing okay.  Think about it; in any of the above instances, if I had been belligerent or, God-forbid physical, I might have been killed with impunity.

I mean, what the hell is that?  This is America, right?

We’re at the point now where a 12-year-old black kid needs a completely different set of instructions from a 12-year-old white kid.  If anything happens they won’t trust you if you’re black.  If you’re black and anything less than an absolute angel, you’re guilty.  And always run, because if you defend yourself successfully, the odds are you’re going to jail; if you defend yourself and lose, you could be dead.  And it will be your fault.

Yeah, yeah, I’m just being reactionary.  It’s got nothing at all to do with race.  It’s just happenstance.  Again.

The truth is, that while many of the details in the Trayvon Martin case have nothing to do with race, at its core, it’s all about race.  Race is what made George Zimmerman suspicious of Trayvon in the 1st place.  Race is why people are so quick to believe that Trayvon is a thug or must have initiated the physical confrontation that lead Zimmerman to shoot him.  Of course this is all based on Zimmerman’s account, which he had a month and a half to work on before being seriously questioned about it.

But I cannot possibly believe that if Zimmerman was black and Trayvon was white that Zimmerman’s story is the one law enforcement would go with any more than I believe that Sean Hannity and Fox News would help raise money for a black Zimmerman’s defense. Or that the police would give black  Zimmerman 44 days to get his story straight before arresting him. Or that a jury of six white women from a small southern town would sympathize with an armed black man patrolling the neighborhood and shooting an unarmed white teenager. Or that a 17-year-old white teenager would get racial profiled in his father’s gated community.

Don’t get me wrong, the judge’s instructions were horrendous; Zimmerman actually rejected Stand Your Ground in favor of a standard self defense claim. Yet the judge instructed the jury that Zimmerman had the right to stand his ground and Juror B37 has since admitted that Stand Your Ground factored into the acquittal.  Simultaneously, the judged failed to instruct them  that in a standard self-defense claim Zimmerman needs to prove that he didn’t initiate the confrontation.

Thus, I believe the evidence, or lack thereof, leaves room for reasonable doubt, particularly with how self-defense laws currently stand.  Moreover, I think the Dept. of Justice going after Zimmerman is de facto double jeopardy, a violation of Zimmerman’s Constitutional rights.  And I don’t think two wrongs make a right.

The fact is, this whole thing stinks.  And it hurts.  If Trayvon’s death was a punch to the gut, the verdict is a kick in the balls.

I honestly can’t help feeling…unwelcome these days. It’s somewhat familiar feeling,  unfortunately.

I know.  Everyone has to deal with racism.  But let’s be honest here.  America has one of the great atrocities of human history on its books. 400 years of the most brutal, oppressive, and dehumanizing slavery ever known followed by another 100 years of legislative, systematic, and violent oppression.

Trayvon Martin’s death is just an echo of this legacy.

Consider that at no point in American history have blacks enjoyed equal standing with whites in terms of income, wealth, education quality or access, job opportunities, corporate leadership, or representation in government.  This on top of being historically red-lined by banks denying us access to home and business loans, subjected to gentrification, stopped, frisked, arrested and charged by law enforcement with much greater frequency, and punished more severely for similar crimes.  So let’s stop pretending that there’s an equivalency, it’s ignorant if not downright duplicitous.

The problem is that we’ve allowed cowards, liars, and bigots–bullies essentially–to set the terms of the discussion.  And bullies hate a fair fight.  They have instead created an environment in which there can be no discourse on the subject of race, save for the occasional rant by Chris Rock.

When we’re not hitting each other over the head with the race card, we’re denying it outright (don’t be fooled, this is just a means of deflecting the entire argument back), focusing on minutia completely out of context as evidence of egality (a.k.a. the “see, when viewed in a vacuum, this detail isn’t racist”), or simply burying our heads in the sand and proclaiming that we’ve arrived at a post-racial America.

It’s bullshit.  And shame on all of us for accepting it as anything else.

The fact is, Trayvon Martin’s death and Zimmerman’s acquittal are about race.  A lot of things are about race, and will continue to be, because we refuse to face the issue.

I think about Germany, another nation with a Great Atrocity on its books.  They study the Holocaust as ugly and humiliating as it is.  They look at it and seek not only answers but solutions.  And soon after World War II they came to the conclusion that their government no longer has the right to take a person’s life.  Their current constitution, ratified in 1949, abolishes capital punishment.

That’s the kind of approach we need here in the United States.  Instead of meekly slapping injustice and discrimination away whenever it pops up, we should be actively hunting it down, rooting it out, and crushing it utterly.

More importantly, we can’t keep letting the people who are indifferent, weak-minded, self-interested, or hateful keep controlling the argument. There aren’t two equal sides to the issue.  There’s right and there’s wrong. We have to be determined to be on the right side of this issue forever more.  Not to make up for slavery, which at this point is impossible, but to ensure that inequality and discrimination are completely eliminated and bigotry of every stripe is banished to the shadows where it may wallow only in tremulous fear of the light.

Of course, this is only my dream.

We don’t actually live in a post-racialist America.  Toes are going to get stepped on, nerves will be frayed.  There are blatant racists and more significantly, oblivious ones.  Having your worldview shattered is an unnerving, occasionally violent thing.  It’s unpleasant.  But we can’t let that deter us.

We can no longer afford to be tolerant of intolerance.

Free.  Thought.

And boycott Florida.

Afro-Saxon Life In A Semi Post-Racialist World

Actor portrayals of post-racialists

Forgive me, this is gonna ramble a bit.

What do you call a black person who likes Mos Def as much as Coldplay and Loreena McKinnett as much as Metallica?

Okay, tone deaf.  Good one, but wrong answer.

Well, then what do you call a black person who has as many white friends as black friends (more, in fact)?  Who is heterosexual, but pro-gay rights?  Who uses words like avuncular and knows what an interdental fricative is, thoroughly?  What about a black person who has been called both a nigger by white people and a sellout by black people?

The answer is an Afro-Saxon–which is an innocuous way of calling someone an Oreo cookie.  Still, among the litany of  terminological mash-ups, Afro-Saxon is an all time great.  It just rolls off the tongue.  It’s meaning is clear and free from judgement.

It also best describes me, as I fit every last one of the above descriptors.

In these post-racialist times (which began–officially–Novermber 4, 2008) such cultural crossover is becoming the norm.  The walls of the old ways are coming down to reveal unimaginable spectacles before expanding horizons.

An avowed post-racialist

It’s a bold new world my friends, filled with wiggers, tweecanos, 1.5Gs,and Cablanasians.  It’s a world of N.R.A. Buddhists and preachers in flip flops, where a Mexican family goes out for sushi rolls, and Indian women wear green saris for St. Patrick’s Day.

It is a world well on its way to Dr. King’s Utopia.

I’m just not sure I’m ready for it.

Dealing with my own otherness is easy.

I’m a spiritual atheist (whatever that is).  I don’t get Tyler Perry.

I think Spike Lee is waaaay overrated.  I’m not a huge proponent of affirmative action.

World's Best MC, Black Thought of The Roots

If I could be anywhere in the world right now it would be Strommness, Orkney (until I went stark raving from all the nothing to do).

I think the best MC on the planet is Black Thought from The Roots.   I also love Brit rock (c’mon, The Servant?  Bloc Party?  Placebo??).  I prefer Zofia Kilanowicz’ rendition of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3 to the more popular version by Dawn Upshaw.

I want a political revolution.  I want equality for everyone.  I demand social justice.  I don’t think white people are any more or less racialist than any other ethnic group.

This is life as an Afro-Saxon.

It might not seem like much, but remember, I’ve been called a a sellout because of the way that I talk, the places I’ve lived, the music I listen to, and the friends I keep.  It’s easy to dismiss now, but as a grade-schooler transplanted from halfway across the country (twice–from new York to Nebraska then from Nebraska to California) it can be devastating to your sense of identity.

I’m not what people expect when they see a 6’4″ black guy on approach.  People who’ve heard about me before meeting me invariably respond with an oh! or wow! upon address.  I think I do ultimately make a good impression judging by what people say to my face–of course that’s to my face.  But I’ve also seen people shrink when I gesture with my hands while talking. I’ve seen old ladies clutch their purses when I stand next to them.  Audacity.  I wish I had the stones to snatch even one of those purses, so I could see the look on the old bat’s face like , “Goddamnit! I knew it!”

Inevitably though, people get comfortable with me; I’m not the aggressive type.  I’m jovial, slow to anger, rational and reasonable.  Unless you’re a bred to the bone hatemonger, the guard eventually goes down.

Sadly, that’s when the racialist comes out.

“Can I touch your hair?” This hasn’t been a problem lately, but believe me, I’ve been asked that dozens of times.

More often, I either get asked some racially insensitive question about black people or get unwillingly subjected to an uninformed opinion about the short comings of my race, present company always excepted of course.  All are replete with racist stereotypes and gross generalizations.

Not quite beyond the throes of racialism.

People love to get that okay to be racialist.  I tend to find it comedic, though.  Racism is a funny thing; it’s an odd mix of anger, fear, and ignorance.

And that’s the problem when dealing with other people.  If you’re free to fit in anywhere, it’s hard to know where to fit in.

H.P. Lovecraft said, essentially, that he basest human emotion is fear and the basest fear is fear of the unknown.  Racism is a bastardization of that fear.  So, in essence, what keeps the deer alive in the wild keeps human beings from coming together to make a better world.  It echoes the line from Dylan Thomas poem:

The force that through the green fuse drives the flower is my destroyer.

I’m not any better. I haven’t gotten past the prejudices in my heart either.  Of course, we’re all bigots if you dig deep enough; some of us simply have more control over showing it.  Just because a black person doesn’t jump up in the middle of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and proclaim it all “a bunch of pointless white bullshit,” doesn’t actually mean they weren’t thinking it.  Likewise, a white person who refrains from condemning each news story featuring Lil’ Wayne as “yet another display of rampant coonery,” isn’t necessarily above such a mindset.

It would be an uglier world if we spoke those thoughts.  But it would also be more honest.  Sure, they’re touchy subjects and they cut deep.  But I don’t consider any words or thoughts taboo.

Sometimes I wish we really could have a serious and frank airing of racial grievances.  Maybe if we just laid all our cards out on the table we could finally get to actual understanding.  But with the ignorance being actively fostered here in the United States, the only realistic outcome is a fistfight.  Best case scenario.

Alicia Keys is proof of the good that comes from post-racialism.

So, instead of navigating these long unsailed waters terrified because we can’t tell protruding rocks from shark fins, we tamp down our own natures and christen ourselves post-racialists–the very avant garde of open-mindedness–without ever actually confronting our demons.  It’s unearned enlightenment, which really means we’re just imagining things in the dark.  But boy, does it feel good!

It’s not hard to achieve.  In fact, there are 5 simple and surprisingly easy-to-follow rules to become a true post-racialist citizen of the world:

Michelle Branch provides further proof.
  • Rule #1: Don’t admit anyone is racist no matter how obviously racist that person might be.
  • Rule #2: Don’t admit anything racist no matter how obviously racist that thing might be.
  • Rule #3:  Proclaim yourself above racism no matter how obviously racist you might be.
  • Rule #4: Attack anyone who brings up racism as a shameless race-baiter.
  • Rule # 5: Act like everything else is okay.

Okay, so it’s not exactly inspiring.  It’s the old hates with new names and new veneers.  But maybe the Afro-Saxon and the wigger are driving the new cultural norms.  The resolution of racism won’t come from a race war or scholastic philosophy.  It’ll come from YouTube and the blogosphere.  We can “olive out” the black and white.  America could be the new Mediterranean.

At the very least, it’ll do until something better comes along.

Or until Coldplay comes out with a bad album.

The key to the world's future!

White Nigga-rettes To Kick-Start Black History Month!

‘Is it ever OK for white people to use the N-word?”

This is the question posted on the Thisis50.com website on a blog discussing rappers Kreayshawn and V-nasty.  Kreayshawn (a phonetic play on the word creation) has recently been signed to Columbia records.  They’re both women. They’re from East Oakland.

Natassia Toloz a.k.a Kreayshawn

Oh yeah…and they’re white.

They also say the N-Word when they rap.  (To be fair, calling it the N-word suggests they’re using the racial epithet, nigger, when in fact they use the more colloquial–and culturally acceptable–nigga.)  Although Kreayshawn doesn’t use it in her recorded music (only on the occasional off-the-top freestyle), V-nasty uses it profusely which she demonstrates in her 1 million+ viewed You Tube video Psycho B*tch.  Kreayshawn is a bit more mainstream in her approach as evidenced by the 30 million+ views she’s garnered for her You Tube hit Gucci Gucci.

So now everyone is mad.  Kreayshawn, V-Nasty, and their inimitable White Girl Mob are getting dissed by everyone from “You Tubers” to the blogosphere.  They’re being called racists and cultural appropriators (seems like you’d need a PHd for that?).  Even L.A. rapper Game included them in a diss track.

Vanessa Renee Reece a.k.a V-Nasty

I, on the other hand, don’t have a problem with it.  Their tracks are typical of the music you hear thundering out of youngsters’ trunks these days.  If these girls were black there would be no problem.  And they’re not using the word to proclaim any kind of socioeconomic plight.  There’s no cultural significance in how they use it at all; it’s syllabic filler. Some might say that makes it worse.  To me, the intention’s the thing.

They’re 21st Century inner city kids.   Not “street”, but from the streets.  Sure, they’re a tad clownish with the crazy clothes and the gun talk (like Nicki Minaj isn’t a little clownish?). The one thing they’re not is racist.  Besides, the word has become a central dialectic element of urban culture.  Their culture.   Saying nigga is like, well, saying “like”.

As for them exploiting black culture, McDonald’s and Chrysler beat them to it.  A decade ago.  We plunged off that moral peak when Clinton was still president.  Rap sells fast food and sneakers these days. Catch up.

And when did rap become so ass backwards?  A fifteen year-old drug dealer (and user) gets shot over a dime-bag and everyone goes, hate the game not the player.  But some ghetto white girl throws the N-word into a freestyle and it’s “Waaaa?!”  Mental.

It’s always a judgement call with racialist etiquette in post-Obama  America.  But if we’ve got enough love to put a black man in the White House, isn’t there a little left over for a couple of white nigga-rettes from East Oakland?

(Kreayshawn image from: http://live.drjays.com/index.php/2011/08/02/how-to-dress-like-kreayshawn/  V-Nasty image from:  http://rapdose.com/2011/11/11/v-nasty-im-a-real-bh)