Aside

Caught Between Rage and a Working Faith

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"Officer Go Fuck Yourself" aiming rifle at protestors and journalists, Ferguson, MO, August 19, 2014. (http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/).

“Officer Go Fuck Yourself” aiming rifle at protestors and journalists, Ferguson, MO, August 19, 2014. (http://www.deathandtaxesmag.com/).

We can add Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Freddie Gray, Kindra Chapman, Samuel DuBose, Joyce Curnell, Ralkina Jones, Raynette Turner and Christian Taylor to the list I started the post below with nearly a year ago. You could add Zachary Hammond to it as well, as structural White supremacy kills Whites dead, too (police state). There’s The Guardian‘s “The Counted” webpages on deaths at the hands of law enforcement. There’s also the Killed By Police website and via Facebook, and Fatal Encounters, among others, that track these death back much further (since The Guardian only began their webpages in June 2015).

The post I wrote last year was about what we could do, what I could or can do in light of living in a racist police state, otherwise known as living with the Gestapo. It’s still an open question, especially with reporters shoving microphones in the faces of the aggrieved asking them to forgive police officers who murder five seconds after learning the news. We’re supposed to be nonviolent, to forgive and turn the other cheek. Long before Malcolm X said during a radio interview in Boston in 1964, “In fact, it’s a crime for any Negro leader to teach our people not to do something to protect ourselves in the face of the violence that is inflicted upon us by the white people here in America,” this has been an issue. Martin Delany, Frederick Douglass, Ida B. Wells (before she became Wells-Barnett) Booker T. Washington, W. E. B. Du Bois, Nannie Burroughs, Marcus Garvey, among many others, raised this issue of what to do about state-sanctioned racism-based violence and murder years ago. We still don’t have any good answers, but we do have options. (A revolution, though, may well be necessary…)

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After the events of the past month — between Eric Garner and the NYPD, Michael Brown and the Ferguson, Missouri PD — I find myself of two minds. My primal mind says, “Fuck the fucking police!” Resist with rocks, with bricks, with bombs and grenades. Go buy a composite bow with composite arrows. Go buy a rifle with a scope, and take out as many of these motherfuckers as I can. Maybe they’ll think twice about putting someone like me in a choke-hold or shooting us with our hands up if they knew we could organize ourselves into vigilante groups, well armed and well adept at escape and stealth, ready to put the likes of Sunil Dutta out of their racist-ass misery!


– What we should be able to do to any corrupt cop or vigilante killing unarmed people of color…

Eric Garner in midst of dying from choke-hold via NYPD's finest, Daniel Pantaleo and (not pictured)  and Justin Damico, Staten Island, NY, July 17, 2014. (http://www.thegrio.com).

Eric Garner in midst of dying from choke-hold via NYPD’s finest, Daniel Pantaleo and (not pictured) and Justin Damico, Staten Island, NY, July 17, 2014. (http://www.thegrio.com).

The mind I live in and with every day, though, puts the kibosh on such evil yet well deserved plans of action. Because in light of so much police harassment, brutality and state-sanctioned murders, to say that this shouldn’t be a response belies everything all of us know about human nature. Yet my mind says, “No. This isn’t the way to fight. You’re a writer. You’re a teacher. You’re a believer. Use your tools!” So I pray, I always pray, for people to seek and find the light, to forgive and be forgiven, for peace.

But as the New Testament in James says, “Faith without works is dead” (look that one up, evangelical Christians committed to White privilege!). None of us can hope to change our own lives — much less something as intractable as structural and institutional racism — on prayer and faith in God, the federal government and/or science alone. We have to do, too. In my case, writing and teaching is what I do. Posting to my blog about the palpable rage that I know exists within me and many others who have faced brutality because of racism, misogyny, poverty, homophobia, Whiteness and fear. Teaching about “the physical and psychological wages of Whiteness” (thanks, W.E.B. Du Bois via Black Reconstruction [1935]). Being part of the social media crowd demanding humanity and justice for Michael Brown. This is who I am and what I do.

Me the Evil Blogger at home, Silver Spring, MD, August 1, 2010. (Donald Earl Collins).

Me the Evil Blogger at home, Silver Spring, MD, August 1, 2010. (Donald Earl Collins).

Is it enough to assuage my rage, my guilt for not being able to do more? Yes, most of the time. But I have to remind the perfectionist that remains within me, I can’t do much, but I can do something. And, that this isn’t about me, even with as much as I’ve experienced in racial profiling and abuse of power, at home and with police. It’s about all of us. So, if I do buy a composite bow with arrows, I will train to use it well. Just not on other humans, no matter how reprehensible.

Aside

Leaving Mount Vernon

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I left for Pittsburgh and for the University of Pittsburgh on this day/date twenty-eight years ago, my first trip on my own. It was my first trip out-of-state since my Mom took me and my brother Darren on a bus trip to Pennsylvania Amish country in June ’78, nine years earlier. At 5:51 am on the last Wednesday in August ’87, with my older brother Darren’s help — and with my Mom and three of four younger siblings watching us from the living room window — I packed my luggage, Army sack, and two boxes of bedding and materials into a Reliable Taxi. We headed for East 241st to meet up with my dad. From there, we took the 2 Subway all the way to Penn Station, with enough time to board and get all of my stuff on the 7:50 am Pennsylvanian train to the ‘Burgh. For the second time in a row, my dad was sober, and gave me a glassy-eyed hug and shoulder squeeze. Darren was both sad and happy to see me go.

Amtrak's Pennsylvanian train pulling out of Altoona, PA station, heading east for Philly, NYC, uploaded February 2013. (Dustin F.; http://www.northeastrailfans.com/).

Amtrak’s Pennsylvanian train pulling out of Altoona, PA station, heading east for Philly, NYC, uploaded February 2013. (Dustin F.; http://www.northeastrailfans.com/).

I’ve gone over the trip to Pittsburgh and my transformation from a seventeen-year-old with the pent-up emotions of someone who hadn’t left May 31, 1982 behind throughout my eight years of blogging and through my memoir. I’ve written about moving on to Pittsburgh before. What I haven’t really written about fully is how I thought and felt in leaving Mount Vernon, New York behind. The short answer is, I was somewhere between terrified, joyous, embittered, and sad to go, and all at once.

I was terrified. It was my first trip on my own, to a city I’d never been to before, to a university I never visited prior to saying yes. I could meet people who might catch on that I was someone who had spent the previous six years with few acquaintances, much less friends. I was hopeful, but had zero idea what to expect.

But I really was happy to leave. Between my decade living at 616, the abuse, the poverty, the Hebrew-Israelite years, the constant ridicule, the years in Humanities, the constant work of watching after Mom, my dad, my siblings, I was through. Throw in a summer of obsession with and emasculation by Phyllis, and five years of realizing that I needed to get out, and going to Pittsburgh was a no-brainer. Heck, if I’d been a bit smarter about my application process, I could’ve just as easily applied to the University of Washington, Stanford, Northwestern, Georgetown, Michigan, University of Toronto and UPenn and almost certainly gotten in. It didn’t matter where I was going, really. I just needed to go and find my myself, and my education with that.

That last year or so in Mount Vernon had let me know that even with an academic scholarship (after a private investigation) from Columbia, staying would’ve been a huge mistake. Between the silent disdain and snickering of Black teachers at Mount Vernon High School around my sullen presence and the whole Estelle Abel episode at the end of four years of torment. Add to that the years of Black middle class folk talking at me about how my life was so much better because they marched or protested somewhere before I was conceived, or because they prayed for me. Add to that this insistence that I “give back to the community.” As if Black Mount Vernon had given me anything but a hard way to go since I was knee-high to a boil weevil.

Viewing and wake service for Heavy D, Grace Baptist Church, Mount Vernon, NY, November 17, 2011. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images; https://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/).

Viewing and wake service for Heavy D, Grace Baptist Church, Mount Vernon, NY, November 17, 2011. (Mike Coppola/Getty Images; https://cbsnewyork.files.wordpress.com/).

As I saw it, the only difference between the vapid, seething facade of White liberalism among paternalistic White Mount Vernonites and the false smiles and frequent excoriations of Mount Vernon’s Black middle class was skin color. They drank deep from swimming pools full of what we now call respectability politics, born out of a need to be good examples to the world, like Kendrick Lamar described in “Swimming Pools” (2012). (Pour up [drank], head shot [drank]…faded [drank]). This isn’t the same as doing the right thing at the right time or speaking truth to power. You make money, wear nice clothes, drive a nice car, stand up straight, look a White man in the eye while firmly grasping his hand. And apologize for not being as assimilable as you pretend. It was 100%, USDA-approved bullshit, and it smelled like it a lot of days, too.

I was sad to leave, too. There was a part of me that still wanted to fit in, out of loneliness, if nothing else. I still liked Clover Donuts and some of the breakfast places on the South Side. I longed for some sort of acceptance, an acknowledgment that I was a real person, even though that would’ve required being around real people at 616, and in Humanities, and in the rest of Mount Vernon. I knew that I’d miss the close proximity to The City. I’d put my hopes and dreams in a place in which I knew I couldn’t afford to stay, literally and figuratively. That longing would come to haunt me in the coming year, but I’d eventually learn, I could always visit New York.

Aside

Running Away, 30 Years Later

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Today’s date marks three decades since I took on my idiot stepfather Maurice Washington, and actually won, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. I’ve written about the incident and my twenty-three-hour trek through Mount Vernon, my dreams, prayers, and wishes, and my confrontation before, here and in Boy @ The Window. (Even now, the baseline to Pharcyde’s “Runnin'” (1995) is running in my head, temporarily replacing my writing theme song for the past week, Maverick Sabre’s “Emotion (Ain’t Nobody)” (2011), but that’s how my mind works). So I won’t go over all of the details again. Still, there are a few important takeaways that puts Sunday, August 25, 1985 in my lifetime victory column.

Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon's spin move gif on way to a 61-yd TD against Notre Dame, Ann Arbor, MI, September 7, 2013. (http://thebiglead.com/).

Michigan WR Jeremy Gallon’s spin move gif on way to a 61-yd TD against Notre Dame, Ann Arbor, MI, September 7, 2013. (http://thebiglead.com/).

1. Physical advantages. It never occurred to me until Maurice tried to blindside me in the apartment hallway with a punch that I had much faster reflexes than the idiot. It also never occurred to me that I had a better sense of balance. I managed to avoid the punch and spin around him by using his 350-400 pounds of bulk against him (I really hated having to touch the unwashed, greasy fat frog of a man), and in only a foot of space between the two of us. That’s how I escaped Maurice’s punch and grasp, and got out of the apartment to begin my trek. Knowing what I know now, I should’ve tried out for basketball instead of baseball in eleventh grade.

2. Not finding my father. I kind of wished I had, just to have a few hours that day not to think about my present and future. But my alcoholic dad was a significant part of my present, and his absence gave me real time to think about how jacked up my family life was. I knew, if nothing else, that Maurice, Mom, and Jimme couldn’t pin that on me.

3. Walking up Gramatan Avenue and into Fleetwood. It was partly a walk that reminded me about how the other half of Mount Vernon — affluent and predominantly White — lived. I knew that I’d never be a part of that Mount Vernon, and not just because most of them would run me over with a car sooner than say “Hello.” It was the sense of exclusively, the ability to check in and out of progressive issues, like Humanities and magnet programs, that made me see. These folks I could never befriend.

St. Ursulas Roman Catholic Church, 213 East Lincoln Avenue, Mount Vernon, NY, August 2012. (http://maps.google.com).

St. Ursulas Roman Catholic Church, 213 East Lincoln Avenue, Mount Vernon, NY, August 2012. (http://maps.google.com).

4. MVHS overnight dreams and Catholic church prayers. Both reminded me that if I played my cards right, I could be on my way to college in two years, twenty-four months, 730 days. I could cope with 616, Maurice, my older brother Darren and my younger siblings and high school and Humanities for that much longer, I thought. But I also knew I needed to make a conscious, almost single-minded effort to do so. Even then, I was tired of burying my thoughts and emotions and playing the role of enigmatic weirdo, though. I realized this was going to be a battle with myself.

Yet what I didn’t learn from my ordeal would also be two more reasons to leave Mount Vernon. I wouldn’t learn those reasons and lessons until the spring and summer of ’87, when the respectability police, the good middle class folk of Black Mount Vernon, would give me just the push I needed…

Aside

“And There’s Winners, And There’s Losers…

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“But they ain’t no big deal/’Cause the simple man, baby/Pays for thrills/The bills the pills that kill” – John Mellencamp, “Pink Houses” (1983).

Donald Trump’s entire campaign might as well be called “The Ultimate Narcissist Does The Pink Houses” Tour, complete with Def Leppard, his kids, and Omarosa going to bat for him on CNN. Trump and his angry band of supporters see the world in the simplest way, like an indoctrinated twelve-year-old forced to be part of a religious cult (I can definitely relate). Trump sees himself as a “winner,” the US as a country that used to be a “winner,” and anything or anyone who doesn’t fit his narrative as “losers.” Of course there’s a contradiction here. Trump doesn’t have the courage to call many of his supporters “losers,” though there are about four decades’ worth of his actions and statements that would serve as evidence of his thoughts about his base.

2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA, October 21, 2012. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald;http://bostonhearld.com).

2016 presidential candidate Donald Trump meeting with New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, Gillette Stadium, Foxboro, MA, October 21, 2012. (Nancy Lane/Boston Herald;http://bostonhearld.com).

At the “Big Boys” RNC debate a couple of weeks ago, Trump couched everything in terms of “winners” and “losers.” President Obama was an “incompetent loser.” The US is “losing to China” economically. Mexican immigrants are turning the US into “a nation of losers.” The US has to “win” against ISIS (I prefer the term Islamic State or IS that most news agencies use outside the US, but that would make me a loser). Trump’s pronouncements at the debate and since have been about more than sound bites of “us” vs. “them,” as the more progressive media elements have said. It’s been about presenting himself as America’s winner, as the one at “the top of the heap, king of the hill, A-number-1.”

In a nation full of narcissists, this has a real appeal, even if the reality of Trump’s life contradicts both the winner image he portrays and the lives that most of his supporters actually live. The most obvious is Trump’s net worth being more like between $1.4 billion and $4 billion (Oprah Winfrey territory), and not the $10 billion he says it is. Or that he has — or, as Trump would say, “my companies” have — filed for Chapter 11 four times in the past quarter-century. Or his multiple divorces. Or his ridiculous comb-over in 20+mph winds.

I guess all of those falsities and setbacks should be more nuanced, as part of life’s long and bumpy journey. By Trump’s own definition, because his net worth — though envy-inducing — is hardly #1 (still between Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, and Michael Bloomberg), he should see himself as a loser. Because Trump has seen multiple business ventures crash and burn, the “loser” moniker could fit. Oh, but narcissism allows for those suffering from grandiose inflations of themselves to see their failings, their losses as mere bumps in the road, and not part of the “winners and losers” narrative.

Picture of abandoned Palma Nova mobile home park, where the last of the 900 families had been evicted in 2009, Davie, Florida, February 15, 2010. (Mike Stocker/Miami Sun-Sentinel; http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-palma-nova-davie-pg-photogallery.html).

Picture of abandoned Palma Nova mobile home park, where the last of the 900 families had been evicted in 2009, Davie, Florida, February 15, 2010. (Mike Stocker/Miami Sun-Sentinel; http://www.sun-sentinel.com/local/broward/fl-palma-nova-davie-pg-photogallery.html).

The same goes for Trump’s supporters, most of whom couldn’t hope to be PTA president at their neighborhood elementary school, much less run for POTUS. The US is so replete with narcissism that it’s in the bloodstream of ordinary low-income Americans (the majority of the working population, by the way). And as such, their reasons for supporting Trump are as sad as they are predictable. They see him as a winner, even though he was born into wealth via his real estate magnate father (or as many New Yorkers saw him, slum lord), Fred Trump. The Donald was born halfway between third and home plate, and somehow ordinary Americans see him as a quintessential American?

Trump’s supporters also see him as someone who “tells it like it is.” Really? Ready to be fooled again, just like with so many numbskulls and wing-nuts who’ve sold Americans the magic of tax cuts for the rich and for corporations and endless prosperity in the past? Some of these narcissists are like gambling addicts, taking their last dollars to a slot machine on the hope of making it rich with crusty toenails. It both a real shame, and pitiful to watch.

Aside

Midnight Train To Georgia

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Forty years ago this week, my father took me and my brother Darren on the biggest trip of our growing up years. Especially since I was just five and Darren was only seven. We went to see our extended Collins clan in Georgia, spread between Atlanta and Harrison, the latter a small town of ex-farms in the east central portion of the state. Macon is the nearest city, with Augusta about ninety minutes away.

It was paid for courtesy of my Mom, who likely did it to give herself a vacation from Jimme’s weekly drinking, days-on-end-abandonment, followed by verbal abuse and threats. And the occasional physical fight, as the month before, after a July 4th party Mom threw, my father came in late, became jealous, and went after her with a meat cutting knife, only to end up stabbed in the torso and leg. All with the Mount Vernon police coming over to 425 South Sixth, and, upon finding Jimme in the stairwell suffering from his wounds, began laughing hysterically (more on that at a later date). I’m sure that Mom needed a break from Darren and me as well.

We went down to the city via Metro-North, took the Shuttle (in all likelihood) to Penn Station, and then the Amtrak to Atlanta. I don’t remember much of the trip itself. It was an overnight affair, and Mom had bought us overnight tickets, enabling us to sleep on cots or small beds, I guess. I do remember us pulling out of Washington, DC and seeing the Capitol from a distance after crossing into Virginia.

Known as the 750, it was donated to the Atlanta Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society in 1962, and operated through the 1980s (likely the train that scared me in 1975), August 15, 2015. (http://www.steamlocomotive.com/nc-ga/sa750.jpg).

Known as the 750, it was donated to the Atlanta Chapter of the National Railway Historical Society in 1962, and operated through the 1980s (likely the train that scared me in 1975), August 15, 2015. (http://www.steamlocomotive.com/nc-ga/sa750.jpg).

Then, after seemingly endless forests and nothing to do but sleep or watch my father sleep, we pulled into Atlanta sometime the next morning. After getting off the Amtrak and watching it depart, an old smokestack steam pulled in, blowing its whistle as loud as anything I’d ever heard. I practically jumped out of my skin, prompting some White guy who worked on the tracks to tell me, “That’s okay, that’s just ol’ [?] blowin’ off steam.” I didn’t much like the White guy, either.

Our Uncle McKinley and one of our older cousins picked us up from the train station, drove us around West Atlanta, and then down to the family farm in Harrison. Along the way, we stopped at my cousin’s job at Burger King for Whoppers. Except they got me the Whopper Jr, which didn’t make me too happy. But then I got to ride in the front of my uncle’s ’73 green Chevy Impala, with all of its chrome and tan leather seats.

A nice, juicy sow, August 15, 2015. (http://www.platnershowpigs.com/OldSite/Sow8.jpg0.

A nice, juicy sow, August 15, 2015. (http://www.platnershowpigs.com/OldSite/Sow8.jpg0.

We got there late in the afternoon, but mostly what I remember was the smell of the rural area. I’d never been to a farm before, much less one that was still somewhat in operation. The next couple of days were the most memorable part of the Georgia visit for me. The first morning on the farm, I woke up, washed up, and stumbling into the dining area and kitchen, which seemed so vast. Wood paneling, rich dark colors and the strong smell of Maxwell House coffee were what penetrated my five-year-old mind that morning. I remember sitting on my grandfather Fucious’ lap while he asked me a few questions. Then he gave me this syrupy yet somewhat crisp and doughy glazed donut to eat. My grandfather was eating one of his own, to go with his strong and sugarless cup of coffee. It wasn’t as good as the Clover Donuts donuts I’d eaten, but this first experience with Krispy Kreme was pretty good. Darren had a jelly donut, with the jelly all around the corners of his mouth.

They tried to take us horseback riding, my grandmother Imogene and my Aunts Christene and Charity. It worked fine for Darren, but for me, not so much. The whinnying of the horse scared me, and when they lifted me up to put me on the saddle, I started to cry. My grandmother hugged me, and told me that it would be okay. Then, they grabbed one of the sows and let me ride on her for what was probably ten minutes, taking a couple of pictures and laughing at the same time.

A beat-up version of the 1975 Chevy Impala my uncle Mckinley bought in August 1975, August 15, 2015. (http://www.dvap.com).

A beat-up version of the 1975 Chevy Impala my uncle McKinley bought in August 1975, August 15, 2015. (http://www.dvap.com).

A couple of nights later, I remember waking up in the middle of the night. There had been an accident involving my father, my cousin and my Uncle McKinley, and the green Impala was no more. Despite not wearing their seat belts, all three came out of the accident more or less unscathed. The next to last day of our time on the Collins family farm, my uncle drove up in a ’75 Chevy Impala, cream-colored and even more impressive. 

It was a good trip, meeting my country-strange family, and the longest trip I’d go on until ’92, when I went to DC to visit a former high school classmate. it was also a welcome break from the constant fighting between Mom and Jimme.

My son, thankfully, has been going on trips since before his first birthday, although the flight he’ll take next week will be on his own, with his aunt meeting him at the destination gate.

Aside

Brotherly Love

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Not quite the courts at Chester Heights (aka, Bronxville/Mount Vernon border), but more or less what would've looked like 30 years ago, Eastchester Playground, Capitol Projects, Bronx, NY, August 11, 2015. (http://www.nycgovparks.org/).

Not quite the courts at Chester Heights (aka, Bronxville/Mount Vernon border), but more or less what they would’ve looked like 30 years ago, Eastchester Playground, Capitol Projects, Bronx, NY, August 11, 2015. (http://www.nycgovparks.org/).

This is a Boy @ The Window story, one that occurred a little more than thirty years ago, and so typical of my experiences growing up with my older brother Darren. Nothing I ever did to help my older brother seemed to help him overcome the trap of going to The Clear View School, a school for the mild to severely mentally retarded (of course, we say mentally disabled in 2015), although Darren was never such. He, in fact, had taught himself to read at the age of three, and taught me to read on my fifth birthday. Darren’s issue was severe shyness, and between my Mom, my father Jimme, and the good White liberals and moderates at The Clear View School, the trap for Darren’s potential genius had been set by the summer of ’74. By the time I was aware enough to say anything about Darren’s predicament, it was already too late.

But say and try I did anyway. Everything from sharing music to talking to Darren about our futures and my escape-Mount-Vernon-for-college plans. I shared books, and tutored him through algebra and geometry and US history.

I even tried playing sports with Darren, including basketball, which in the summer of ’85 was only my third favorite sport. As I wrote in the memoir

“Darren played at the center spot on Clear View’s basketball team, which made sense since he was already between six-three and six-four at seventeen. Of course they crushed every team they played. It was truly unfair. Darren towered over his classmates and his opponents, and being the only non-mentally retarded person on the floor, he could run rings around folks.

Still, Darren could knock down any jump shot within thirty feet of the hoop. His shot was smooth, like Isiah Thomas’ or Bernard King’s. It was the kind of shot no one on MVHS’ basketball team had at the time. Knowing this, I wanted to — no, I had to play my brother to see this shot up close. There were two well-maintained courts near 616, one in Pelham near its main street of Fifth Avenue, the other a longer walk in Chester Heights. We chose Chester Heights for most of these battles. Their court felt like a good outside court should, surrounded by trees, with level, quality-painted asphalt, and bright-white mesh nets.

The first few times we played that summer, Darren just killed me. Every time I left him open for a jumper, he buried it. It was obvious I hadn’t touched a basketball other than in gym class since I was ten. I didn’t have a jump shot, had never worked on my footwork, and could dribble only moderately well with my right hand. Forget about using my left hand! I was so afraid of hurting my two crooked fingers that the left hand’s role for me was to block shots, not to catch passes or take shots.

"Nothing but net" (in context of UPS/NCAA March Madness cross-promotional ad), March 2012. (http://compass.ups.com/).

“Nothing but net” (in context of UPS/NCAA March Madness cross-promotional ad), March 2012. (http://compass.ups.com/).

My semi-buried competitive nature got the better of me. I knew I couldn’t beat Darren in a shootout. But I knew I was quicker than my taller brother. So I decided after another embarrassing performance (I lost 23-2!) that it would be easier to play defense and try to steal a few balls to keep the next game close. Amazingly, the plan worked! It worked so well that I took Darren completely out of his game. After three blocked shots and a couple of steals, I discovered that Darren couldn’t play me one-on-one if I drove hard for the hoop, that I could beat him with my first step. So every time I got the ball I attacked the rim. The last two games we played I won by a combined score of 50-18. I started feeling bad when Darren started forcing long jumpers. After a while, he just gave up. I wanted to win, but I wanted it to be competitive, too.

Darren was so upset that we didn’t talk on our way back to 616. He then walked to the back of our apartment building and threw his basketball down the garbage chute. I wanted to continue to play because I thought it would make both of us better and give us something positive to build on in our relationship. Instead it just made Darren mad and made it even harder for me to talk to him about what was going on at 616.

Standard New York-area garbage chute door, June 2009. (http://theferrisfiles.com/).

Standard New York-area garbage chute door, June 2009. (http://theferrisfiles.com/).

I really did feel awful about how Darren felt after the game. I had shattered confidence in one of the few areas in his life in which he had any. I had humbled a star basketball player at his own game, a game I’d yet to learn. I’d given my older brother yet another reason to be jealous of me. It was shocking to watch him throw the basketball away. I really didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry, Darren, for beating you two straight games, for making you look bad at your favorite sport?” I guess I could’ve said that. What fifteen-year-old with as much on my plate as me would, though, especially in an environment as competitive as ours when it came to basketball? It made me pity Darren for his situation at Clear View, but also left me angry with him. I was trying to help him, after all, not break his spirit. The incident left me shaking my head.”

I didn’t play basketball with Darren again until the spring of ’97, during my Teachers College interview/PhD graduation week. By that time, Darren’s jealousy and stubbornness had pretty much forced me to give up on my reclamation efforts. But, when left open, Darren could still nail a twenty-four-footer with ease.

Aside

What’s Up With These Leftist Labels, Anyway?

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Asian woman in nude breaking through a barcode, September 2010. (unknown author/woman, http://www.willeyelisten.com).

Asian woman in nude breaking through a bar code, September 2010. (unknown author/woman, http://www.willeyelisten.com).

Over the years, I’ve grown tired of the idea that my social, cultural, economic and political beliefs could be summed up with one or two words. Like “progressive,” “Communist,” “neo-Marxist,” “leftist,” “liberal,” and/or “Marxist.” Why? Because like so many things American (or in this case, Western), ideologues and intellectuals take the easiest path and slap overgeneralized labels on groups of people without thought, without nuance, and certainly without an understanding of both people and history.

I’ve felt this way about these labels at least since my first year of grad school in the University of Pittsburgh’s MA and PhD programs (1991-92), and likely longer than that. But in that program, I was surrounded by professors and colleagues who were various shades of Marxism. At least that’s what they claimed. More to the point, they claimed that “the class struggle” was the defining feature of both human history and US history. “The class struggle” trumped slavery and America’s racial caste system, the near eradication of indigenous cultures in the US and around the world, it trumped the exploitation and exclusion of women in Western civilizations.

I admit it. It really, really, really pissed me off to be earning my MA and beginning my doctoral work around such ignorant thinkers. They would ask me about my Marxism, and I’d say, “I’m not a Marxist. I’m not a neo-Marxist. I’m not even a Groucho Marxist.” My Pitt grad school colleagues would laugh, sometimes a little too forcefully. My professors, for the most part, ignored me, since I was an African American history student who believed that race intertwined with class to be US history’s defining feature. How scandalous!

It wasn’t that I hadn’t read Karl Marx’s and Frederick Engels’ Communist Manifesto (1848). I read it via Rosemary Martino in twelfth grade, though I can’t remember if I read it for AP English or for her Humanities Philosophy class. I’d also read Marx’s much longer Das Kapital (1867), Frantz Fanon’s Black Skin, White Masks (1952) and The Wretched of the Earth (1961), Du Bois’ The Souls of Black Folk (1903), Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man (1952), and so many other supposedly Marxist-leaning tombs by the time I’d taken my first full semester of grad-level courses (I took my first grad course my junior year at Pitt).

A basic world political spectrum chart (really, too simple), August 5, 2015. (http://www.endofprejudice.com/).

A basic world political spectrum chart (really, too simple), August 5, 2015. (http://www.endofprejudice.com/).

I just wasn’t that impressed on the Marxism part of things. I mean, I was well acquainted with oppression, exploitation and abuse long before I’d read anything by Marx and Engels, or George Orwell in ninth grade English, for that matter. I had a contrarian Humanities classmate in JD who espoused what I considered even at the time his version of Communist gibberish all through middle school and into our sophomore year at Mount Vernon High School. So how do you label someone a Marxist or Communist who both views it with disdain and didn’t grow up quoting from it? I’d like to know.

This last question, though, is bigger than just my own experience with poverty, race, racism, child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence, homelessness, cultish religions, and sheer willful ignorance and neglect. Historically, labeling anyone who had radical ideas about the falsities of human civilizations as civilizing the human tendency to spread inequality and oppression to the most vulnerable as Communist is a bit ahistorical, no? So-called leftists or socialists do that with Jesus and Muhammad almost every day. Maybe we should call Karl Marx an original, Asiatic Christian or original Muslim, minus the spiritual component of kneeling before God in prayer.

Portrait of Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), author/date unknown, August 5, 2015. (http://plus.google.com).

Portrait of Guy Fawkes (1570-1606), author/date unknown, August 5, 2015. (http://plus.google.com).

For me, growing up in a striving household that ended up in grinding welfare poverty didn’t make me a Communist. I went through several stages of belief, from my Mom and idiot stepfather Maurice hoisting the Hebrew-Israelite thing on me, to evangelical Christianity, to just plain Christianity, to critical race theorist adherent. I never completely gave up on capitalist democracy, because what would’ve been the point of that? By the time my son was born in 2003, I saw myself more in European terms, as either a Social Democrat or a Christian Democrats, believers in compromises and reforms from within that ameliorate the worst forms of racial, gender and other forms of oppression and poverty.

Yet even that is too big a label to hang on me or others, now and across history. What did people call those who wanted to rid the world of poverty and economic oppression prior to 1848? Or prior to the French Revolution, for that matter? Troublemakers? Radicals? Jacobites? Weird? Lunatics? To be honest, any of these terms fit me better than progressive, liberal, leftist or Marxist. Because ultimately, I don’t believe in any single economic or political belief system crafted by Homo sapiens. They’re all subject to corruption, all subject to be bent by those with the most power and resources.

So, who am I, ideologically speaking? To quote Alana Davis, “I am 32 flavors” and dim sum. Go ahead. Try to figure that out and come up with a label that fits!

Aside

“White Privilege,” “Privileged Whites,” and Other Clarifications

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"White Privilege-Amex," April 2014. (http://theblacksphere.net/).

“White Privilege-Amex,” in black and white, April 2014. (http://theblacksphere.net/).

It is hard to discuss race. It is definitely so in the US, where virtually everyone believes that their individual good intentions mean more than systemic oppression and ugly truths. And it is really hard on people of color when they/we discuss race with most Whites and some people of color (e.g., Black conservatives, the elite of color, those with internalized racism issues), as their belief in American exceptionalism and individualism is so strong that any evidence to the contrary must be wrong. Especially if the person providing the evidence is Black, Latino, Native American or Asian, and even more so if they are women of color.

One thing that’s been on my mind lately is the lazy use of terms by the media around race. And their laziness is our collective and individual laziness as well. So much so that most Americans use the terms for discussing race about the same way most Americans eat — they say “gimme lots of fat” while refusing the vegetables and healthy, but “put everything on it” at the same time.

Mr. Moneybags of Monopoly (1934) fame, July 31, 2015. (http://streetsmartbrazil.com/).

Mr. Moneybags of Monopoly (1934) fame, July 31, 2015. (http://streetsmartbrazil.com/).

For example, most Whites see the terms White privilege and privileged Whites and assume they mean the same thing. They don’t and can’t. White privilege refers to both systemic and individual racial discrimination and disparities that almost no one White would ever have to deal with in most circumstances. It has little to do with socioeconomic standing, level of education, social networks, or any other variable to which most Americans who play devil’s advocate often refer. Privileged Whites, though, refers to the fact that this socioeconomic group is either upper middle class or wealthy, often with high education levels. The latter can also refer to White privilege, but then again, that’s already assumed in America’s racial construction of itself.

Anyone who is White and poor and also assumes that White privilege (or, to use W.E.B. Du Bois’ term, Whiteness) is ascribing to them a socioeconomic status that they do not possess, that’s just incorrect. As Du Bois wrote in Black Reconstruction (1935), even the poorest Whites received societal compensation, at least in part, through a “public and psychological wage.” In Jim Crow times, it was one in which poor Whites “were given public deference…were admitted freely…to public functions and public parks.” At the same time, the “police were drawn from their ranks and the courts, dependent on their votes, treated them with leniency” (pp. 700-01). Come to think of it, much of this still applies in 2015, even though the Civil Rights Movement dismantled Jim Crow, no?

But it’s not just terms like White privilege and privileged Whites that throws off all but a small minority of Americans. Most use terms like race, racism and bigotry interchangeably, as if they work at an Apple factory in the Longhua Subdivision of Shenzhen, in Guangdong Province, China (it’s outside Hong Kong) making iPhones and iPads. Race is a construct and not a biological fact in the case of Homo sapiens, since humans are all part of one species, albeit with some rather interesting surface variations. Racism is the result of a construct to justify social and economic advantages in the US and all over the globe, as well as the systemic construction and maintenance of such advantages. Bigotry, though, is something we as individuals all possess, regardless of race, gender, ideology, religion, atheism, or any other variable. There’s more, but I’ve already written a post about this.

A clip from The Colbert Report in a segment about the end of stop and frisk in New York City, August 2013. (http://globalgrind.com via http://billmoyers.com).

A clip from The Colbert Report in a segment about the end of stop and frisk in New York City, August 2013. (http://globalgrind.com via http://billmoyers.com).

And there’s this whole notion of color blindness, the idea that millions of Americans who see everything in color can claim that they’re colorblind to race. “I don’t care if you’re white, black, red, green or purple. It doesn’t matter to me,” most Americans often say. There’s two problems with this statement and these phrases. One is that unless someone is actually, physically and neurologically colorblind, what one is doing is choosing to ignore differences, which is completely different from tolerating, accepting or embracing difference. One might as well say that they don’t see the homeless in the middle of Central Park in New York, that’s how ridiculous — maybe even tone-deaf and callous — this idea is.

Two is that there aren’t any green, purple, blue or other weird hues of humanity anywhere on this planet. Heck, technically, Whites are pink, Blacks are varying shades of brown, Native Americans have reddish undertones (and then only some), and so on. The point is, this idea of color blindness to race is straight horse manure, allowing many Americans to feel good about their views on race, racism and bigotry without any serious thought about their country or the people in it at all.

And that is why conversations on race in the US remain a pipe dream for some, and raise the fear of the specter of Judgment Day for others.

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