A few months ago I was on BART headed to San Francisco when a gorgeous young black woman stepped onto my train. She knew she was gorgeous too, as did everyone else on the train that evening. She had a brightly colored flowing scarf wrapped around her neck and lipstick that made her lips look wet and loud, reminiscent of a jolly rancher. She was a bit of a contrast in terms of style. She was like a mash-up of India Arie and Trina with her conscious side just barely beating out the ratchet. I dug her from a distance.
Every single passenger in our car, male and female alike, stared at this sister and then quickly looked away. They tried to remain focused on their newspapers or the old structures that passed right outside the window barely lit by the streetlights. The gorgeous young lady also tried to pretend as if she was completely engrossed in the screen on her smart phone but every now and again she would look up to see who was looking at her. I was looking. I swear I wasn’t looking harder than anyone else but I was definitely struck by her beauty. The sister saw everyone else looking at her and appeared to be charmed. She saw me looking and became uncomfortable, if not agitated. I could almost read the frantic thought that pulsated in her head: “Please don’t talk to me. Please don’t try to talk to me.” We were the only two black people on the car.
Her body language hurt me and my attitude immediately became morose. I did not want to talk to the young lady. I did not want her phone number. OK maybe I did want to tell her she was beautiful but I was not going to harass her or compromise her regality in any way shape or form. I did not understand why I caused her so much consternation and how was it that she seemed to want the attention of everyone in the world except that of a black man. I did not understand. But now after the murder of Janese Talton-Jackson I get it. It makes sense why the young lady sat as far from me as she possibly could and why she all but ran off the train once her stop came. For I have come to realize that as far as she is concerned, I am her oppressor.
Janese Talton-Jackson was a 29-year-old mother of three who was murdered last Friday morning in Pittsburgh, PA because she would not talk to a man after leaving a bar. Apparently his ego was so fragile that after being rebuffed he felt the need to shoot Janese in the chest. Both Janese and her murderer are black.
This is why so many of our women fear us. Why they see us talking amongst ourselves on the corner and cross the street. This is why we say hello to them and they say nothing. This is why young black women would rather fall in love with one another than to let us come anywhere near them. This is why so many of our women hate us.
I think about how I respond when I am walking down the avenue and I look up and see a police car. Or when I’m driving down the street and see a squad car in my rear view. I get nervous even though I haven’t done anything because I know that the police have the power to harass me anyway. That they can take away my dignity for their amusement. That they can beat me up because they don’t like my attitude or that they could even kill me. For one to have a forced interaction with the outside entity that has power over one’s life is always visceral and intense. Janese Talton-Jackson chose not to have this interaction and was killed for her decision. In the same way that Oscar Grant was killed. In the same way that Trayvon Martin was killed. In the same way that Laquan McDonald was killed and in the same way that Mario Woods was killed. Janese Talton-Jackson was murdered because she had enough pride to resist.
If only coming to terms with Janese’s murder was that simple. The fundamental difference between her murder and the murder of black men at the hands of white male authority figures is that Janese’s murderer will spend the rest of his life in jail while police officers routinely kill black men without consequence. However even as I live in this truth I am still left to ponder the questions; To what extent are black men the oppressors of black women? And to what extent do black women have the right to be deathly afraid of us? I know not the answer and I have no solutions. I do know that the young lady on the BART train was a stunning example of flawless three-dimensional art. Her surface was impeccable but on the interior she was wounded. If I could I would apologize for all of the pain that black men such as myself caused her and pray that she could internalize the message. And If I could I would bring Janese Talton-Jackson back to life and tell her that she was beautiful and assure her that I wanted nothing in return.
As I listened to the song entitled “Blasphemy” by Tupac Shakur I found myself thinking about how much of a Christian the man truly was. “We probably in hell already/ our black asses not knowing/ everybody kissing ass to go to heaven ain’t going.” Pac was a pastor preaching to an unsaved congregation in a manner that they could understand. He encouraged young black people to change our conditions here on earth as opposed to waiting for a paradise that was not promised to everyone. Tupac also instilled the significance of spiritual reformation “Do what you gotta do but know you got to change/ try and find a way to make it out the game.”
And after listening to this track for probably the 5,000th time and hyper-analyzing the lyrics I became downtrodden and embarrassed. I was ashamed to be a part of a culture that worships the THUGLIFE tattoo on his stomach while ignoring the holy cross that was permanently inked to his back. Twenty years after the man’s death and we still refer to him as a thug, a rebel, the GOAT, a hothead, and a real NIGGA but we never refer to him as a devout follower of Jesus Christ. For how long will we allow the media to tell us what to think about our prophets? At what point will we seek the truth for ourselves?
Rain speaks to me. Rainfall creates a mood, a train of thought, a release from the cool Northern California monotony. Cars swish by and I don’t want to leave my home. I don’t want to open the curtains. I don’t want to text anyone back. Rain tells me that it’s ok to be antisocial.
I live in my head. I breathe in nostalgia. I spend the majority of these winter days trying to make sense of this confusion. Trying to create solutions for a problem that I have yet to identify. Trying to avoid cliché’s while trying to arrive at inner peace. My bible has fallen to the floor. I haven’t picked it up in weeks. My future is frightening so I disappear into old things. The truth has become so distorted by the lapsing of time that often times I forget how destructive these things were to me. I lose the same race every night. I lose it in my soul.
In between raindrops I smile. While it is pouring, and only while it is pouring, I allow myself to cry. I cry for all of my mistakes. I cry for the dead. I cry for my inability to make things right. I cry to remind myself that beneath all of the masculine ideas that I have learned, I am still a human being.
The rain gives me an excuse to have pity on myself and to analyze the miserable side of being alone. And that being that so many people that I once loved, and even more importantly, that once loved me have moved on to happiness. They’ve moved on to engagements and husbands and children while I continue to move back to nostalgia. The days when I kissed them and left them where they stood. The days when I gave them just enough. The days when I thought they would always be there for me to come back to. The days when I thought that I had it like that. I don’t. I never did. Now all of these thoughts are inappropriate and all of these memories are painful. Just like the childhood memories of playing football at recess, goofing off in class, and getting the phone numbers of cute girls with friends that are no longer living. More dead memories.
I contemplate all of the false steps I have taken to get me to this point. I am astonished at how blind I had to be to have gotten so lost.
I won’t give Bill Cosby up to the system. I will not post disrespectful memes (though I admit some of them are very funny) and I will not support The Cosby Show being taken off the air. Why do we do that? As black people why are we so quick to throw our artists and heroes into the lion’s den. White people still marvel at the artistic masterpieces of Picasso and Gauguin. They still love the films of Polanski and Woody Allen even though these individuals are confirmed sexual predators, so why do we feel the compulsion to turn on backs on our most creative minds. What bothers me most about this practice is that black folk actually believe that they do this in the name of progress. Since when is allowing an unjust government the right to destroy one of your people progressive? Was it progressive when Emit Till’s uncle gave him to a group of angry white men in the middle of the night?
This government has sanctioned the murder of black men since its conception so why should we subject even our worst behaving brothers and sisters to the punishment of a completely unethical regime? This is the sign of a weak group of people. The men who murdered Tamir Rice and Eric Garner will never face charges nor will the officer who unlawfully arrested Sandra Bland, and all of these incidents were caught on camera so why should I beckon for members of an occupying army to capture my kinsman? Only in the black community do we look at those who support our leaders in times of distress as backwards and ignorant. Only in the black community do we rely on our oppressor to tell us who to hate while we discard our brightest minds in times of woe. Only in the black community do we support the destruction of our own legacy. I stand with Bill Cosby and I will not give him up.
What does mental illness mean when you are a black person living in America? Everyday is more distressing than most people will admit and it seems as though the days are getting longer. I was searching for escapism on social media. I found myself on Instagram looking at goofy vines. It worked for a while, until I stumbled across a video of a man being shot to death as he walked down the street. I watched this 15 second video about three times before I read the caption which revealed that the person murdered was not a man, on the contrary he was 17-year-old Laquan McDonald and the person who murdered him was a police officer.
I do not think that an American born person who is not of African descent can understand the mental unease associated with having to fear the same people who are paid to protect you. Furthermore, if you are a black man living in America then what is known as paranoid schizophrenia is not a disorder as much as it is a strict interpretation of the world that you were born into because everyone actually is trying to kill you. There was a cover up in the Laquan McDonald murder that implicates members from every level of law enforcement in the city of Chicago. From other officers on the scene, to internal investigations, on up to the chief of police. Even mayor Rahm Emmanuel has blood on his hands. But only one officer is charged with murder and it took over a year for that to happen. So what about all of the other accessories to the killing? Why are they not being held accountable? How can members of the black community sleep at night knowing that there are officers of the law patrolling their communities who do not care if they live or die?
Do you know what it feels like for a global movement to be necessary to inform the world that your life matters? That when we get hit it hurts? That when we get cut we bleed? That when we die our loved ones mourn? That we have loved ones? That we know how to love? That we are actual human beings with three dimensions and souls?
Sometimes I don’t get out of bed. Often times I don’t want to be around people. It isn’t uncommon for me to miss a meal because I just don’t feel like eating and I suppose if I hired some white man with a PhD in Psychiatry to tell me what’s wrong with me he would come up with a whole host of things that I suffer from and prescribe a whole dresser drawer full of pills—but I refuse to give him the satisfaction. I don’t know everything but I know that what the white man calls crazy is very subjective. What is not subjective is the fact that he created all the conditions that have led to this black man’s depression.
So how do we process the fact that if you are black in America the term mentally ill is completely synonymous with your consciousness? And the more aware you are that this country does not care about your existence then the more likely you are to implode. I struggle with how to deal with the melancholy truth that mental illness is our normalcy and to be sane is to be oblivious to one of the oldest American conspiracies. And that is that the masses of black people in this country must remain in a state of fear and unctuous servitude in order to preserve this nation.
Imagine the feeling of reaching for your emotions only to find them not there. Imagine living a hollow existence even though you are said to be a man of great depth. Manhood is a game of concealment. Conceal your emotions just like a player conceals his hand in dominoes. I have a weak hand but a dope strategy. I see people coming before they appear. Paranoia is no disorder for me. Paranoia is a necessity. The world was not created with the intentions of endowing this man with pride. Knowledge of self is contraband in a white-hot hell.
I found myself on a city bus in the state of Oregon yesterday. I had a destination in mind but my time wasn’t my own. I had to wait, just like everyone else, for the driver to make all of his stops. I looked out of the window and thought about the world and my place in it. Would I ever have complete control over my life or will I always be in debt? Will I ever be completely self-sufficient or will I always have a boss like figure who I have to appease?
The earth is a gorgeous place. I am very fortunate to be here. But I desire to experience it on my own terms. I don’t want a master. I don’t want a dictator. I don’t want a supervisor. I only want to serve Christ and be humble in my own liberation.
When you’ve had the long talk about why the two of you can no longer be together
And you’ve unfriended her on Facebook and blocked her Instagram as well
When you’ve placed all the pictures of her that you have on your iPad into your digital wastebasket
When you’ve deleted her as a contact on your Facetime along with all the goofy emails exchanged during that blissful time when the two of you spoke of eternity as reality
And when you have taken the time to delete the profile picture on the Groupme account you shared with her
Then you can begin the process of forgetting the sound of her panting and the curl of her toes. The loudness of her snore and the fullness of her Afro. The way she used to beat you at every game you played with her; air hockey, tennis, wrestling, love etc. And the irony of her insatiable desire to listen to Donny Hathaway on vinyl because as it turns out, giving up really is hard to do
And then you can forget all of the ground you covered with her only to have more ground appear only to realize there lay a chasm between the two of you that your love alone could never bridge. It is only then that you can forget that you tried harder than ever before but you failed all the same. It is only then that you can begin to become reacquainted with how enormous the world can be for a person that must traverse it alone. Then you will finally come to terms with the truth. And that truth is that you were always alone and you will always be alone because alone is how god made you.