Below are two excerpts from Boy @ The Window about how I viewed Mount Vernon, New York and my world between the ages of ten and twelve:
“My only links to the great metropolis to the south were WNBC-TV (Channel 4), Warner Wolf – with his famous “Let’s go to the video tape!” line – doing sports on WCBS-TV (Channel 2), and WABC-AM 77 and WBLS-FM 107.5 on the radio. I found the AM station more fun to listen to, but I also liked listening to the sign-off song WBLS played at the end of the evening, Moody’s Mood for Love, with that, ‘There I go, There I go, The-ere I go…’ start. Music had been an important part of my imagination in ’79, with acts like Earth, Wind & Fire, Christopher Cross, Billy Joel and The Commodores. Not to mention Frank Sinatra, Queen, Donna Summer and Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall album. The music also made me feel like I was as much a part of New York as I was a part of Mount Vernon. It left me thinking of the ozone and burnt rubber smell that I noticed as soon as I would walk down into the Subway system in Manhattan…
“Besides the occasional reminder of life outside of my world, of Mount Vernon, I was the center of my own universe. Mount Vernon was but a stage on which my life played out, a place I hoped would stay this way forever. I was an eleven-year-old who thought that my world was the world. I lived my life like Philip Bailey and Maurice White would’ve wanted me to. I came to see ‘victory in a life called fantasy’ as my own life, living as if my imagination and dreams could be made into reality. All I had to do was wish it so.”
(And yes, I know the actual lyrics are about a land called fantasy, but that’s not how I sang it back then).
There have been so many moments since then where my Earth, Wind & Fire visions have collided with the reality that life for me and people who look like me has hardly been a fantasy. I had to get over my idiot ex-stepfather’s abuse in order to even listen to Earth, Wind & Fire again, because he was a fan as well, and I didn’t want us to both like the same music. But even more than that has been the reality that there are people, places and things who’ve (and that have) come through my life and stood in between me and all the things I wanted out of life. Individuals like Joe Trotter or Ken, policies like racial profiling and redlining, institutions like Columbia University or the former Academy for Educational Development.
While some of these instances have been disappointing in the sense of betrayal that I felt, the disillusionment that came with these incidents of discrimination and harassment pushed me ever closer to the person and writer I wanted to be. I don’t know what to make of how I’ve been feeling about the Zimmerman trial and verdict, the response of so-called White liberals and more obviously racist and gleeful White teabaggers over the past five days. I’ve felt badly for Trayvon Martin’s family, Rachel Jeantel and for so many others who’ve been figuratively beaten down by media coverage and stereotypes over the past months.
But I didn’t think I was angry. Not until I went for a run this morning. It’s was a comparatively pedestrian 3.1-mile run after I’d done a five-miler a day and a half before. Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy” started playing on my iPod as I was running uphill. All it made me think about was all the challenges that I and so many others have had to face because of individual bigotry and fear and institutional racism and indifference. I know that many things in life aren’t fair. What I realized at that moment, though, was that there really are folks in this world who wish evil and unfairness on people like me. That’s their fantasy!
That made me angry again, but not for too long. For I also knew that I had the power to ask for forgiveness, as well as the power to forgive others. It’s a power that no one can take away from me, that enables me to be honest about where I am, and clear-headed about where I want to go. That power, among others, does truly help bring my “mind to everlasting liberty.” Even in the face of the evil, indifference and ignorance that I see every day.