Caught Between Rage and a Working Faith

August 21, 2014

"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/).

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!

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.


Earth, Wind & Fire’s “Fantasy,” My Reality

July 18, 2013

n  Cover of Earth, Wind & Fire's single "Fantasy" (1978), February 29, 2008. (Columbia Records). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution and subject matter of this blog post.

Cover of Earth, Wind & Fire’s single “Fantasy” (1978), February 29, 2008. (Columbia Records). Qualifies as fair use due to low resolution and subject matter of this blog post.

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.

The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo (1889), by Marie Spartali Stillman, March 7, 2006. (Charivari via Wikipedia). In public domain.

The Enchanted Garden of Messer Ansaldo (1889), by Marie Spartali Stillman, March 7, 2006. (Charivari via Wikipedia). In public domain.

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.


Anger Issues and Management, Inc

September 25, 2010

Rage of the Incredible Hulk. Source:http://www.ramasscreen.com

Exposure to abuse, ridicule and scorn in fairly large dosages when you’re young will leave you with anger issues to manage. I should know. Don’t believe the impressions that my classmates from Humanities and MVHS and my friends from my first two years at Pitt have of me. I may have appeared to smile, to be happy-go-lucky, to be sober and monk-like. But mostly, I was angry, not in a raging, vengeful way, but in a depressed way, a constant, gnawing, sometimes envious, sometimes ironic and sarcastic way. My anger was the kind of anger that I chewed on and swallowed, simmered at low heat for a while in the pit of my belly, then I’d regurgitate it into my mouth, and then chewed on it and swallowed it again.

But, despite what some folks in certain religious circles may say, not all anger is bad, evil or sinful. In fact, sometimes anger is necessary, even if and when it’s dangerous as an emotion or a state of mind. Why, you may ask? Because without anger, you take what life gives to you, even when most of what good you get out of life comes in a miserly and begrudging way. Everything else that comes, if indeed bad or evil for you, isn’t taken in stride or taken with difficulty. You simply don’t take it at all. You become so emotionless that whatever happens doesn’t matter at all, as if your purpose for existing is merely to exist, not to succeed, not to do good works or make yourself a better person because of or despite your circumstances.

That, by the way, is what I’ve heard over the years when some of my former classmates from Mount Vernon — and a few people who knew me in my early days at the University of Pittsburgh — describe me. It was as if I was Porgy in Porgy and Bess, Louis Armstrong or Paul Robeson singing, “I’ve got plenty of nothin’, and nothin’s plenty for me.” That would and did piss me off, but I reminded myself that this was how I had to be to deal with the anger I had within. With emotion, I could’ve easily flown into a rage many

In Treatment Screen Shot. Source: http://sepinwall.blogspot.com

a day between ’81 and ’89.

At the same time, I had the wisdom to allow my anger to rise up, to channel it many more times than not into what I needed to have happen at a particular moment in time. It’s amazing how much you can get done with a sense of righteous anger and indignation, a feeling of got-to-get-it-done-or-else anger. It came at the right time, usually when I felt that my back was up against a concrete wall, with no way out except to fight my way out.

Like in February ’82, the middle of seventh grade, when I just got tired of my 7S classmates thinking that they could say and do anything to me without me getting angry, and tired of days on end at 616 without food to eat. After a fight in the boy’s locker room with one of my classmates — which I won, by the way — I channeled the energy unleashed by that rage and fight into two things. Improving my mediocre grades, and my infatuation over Crush #1. It was three months of relative bliss in the middle of the worst eighteen months of my life.

Richard Marx, 1987.

Or in January ’88, after recovering from the crash-and-burn of my first semester at Pitt. I was mad and disappointed with myself over allowing my obsession with Crush #2 hijack the final six weeks of my semester, not to mention my generally hopeful and creative imagination. After an incident with a couple of my more evil and drunken dorm mates — one in which I cracked a broom handle on the crowns of their heads (no injuries or investigation, luckily) — I summoned some discipline and theme music to get through that second semester. From Richard Marx’s “Should’ve Known Better” to Paul Carrick’s “Don’t Shed A Tear,” I spent fifteen weeks turning anger into A’s and jadedness into new friendships.

I’ve had other periods in my life — in ’93, ’98, and ’03 — where the circumstances dictated that anger, with some patience and understanding, was absolutely necessary in my overcoming of them. The lesson here is that anger — like fire, electricity and nuclear fusion — can be and is often dangerous. Yet it’s also necessary, a potential evil that can be an actual good, if channeled, allowed to dissipate, if tempered by wisdom and patience. At the least, anger allows those of us under stress to know that we are very much alive.


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