To Envy the Blind

I slept for far too long last night. So long that I woke up still feeling lethargic as if the entire day had escaped my grasp and I would have to wait until tomorrow to do something productive. I lay in my bed feeling like stagnation is my only option, like why should I even try, like my efforts won’t make any kind of difference in the world. I woke up feeling like no amount of education that I could ever receive would stop any white authority figure from killing me in the street or prevent any group of neighborhood goons from robbing my house or stop my loved ones from losing their minds.

I could get a PhD and be a professor at the most prestigious university in the world yet somehow, someway I would be reminded everyday that I was brought to this country to be a slave and nothing more. To be dependent and illiterate, to never own anything, and to always be humble. Lauryn Hill once said, “I look at my environment and I wonder where the fire went” and she spoke the absolute truth.

Every time I walk down Macarthur Boulevard or Bancroft or E14th in East Oakland I wonder what happened. Why can’t we have a thriving black business district like Mexican-Americans, Asians, and Whites? Why do we allow Arabs to sell drugs legally (alcohol which they do not consume) from every corner in my community while young black men get arrested for selling drugs in front of the same stores? Why do we create music that places strippers on a pedestal while simultaneously devaluing educated businesswomen who work for paychecks and not dollar bills? Why don’t we have our own police force comprised of people who are actually from our community and look like us instead of a bunch of white boys who grew up in places like Castro Valley and Napa and have no idea what its like to grow up in the hood? And finally why is the objective of successful blacks always to leave the hood as opposed to making the hood better? When experts speak of the phenomenon of brain drought they often discuss it in reference to developing countries like Pakistan and India when they ought to be looking at how this phenomenon has manifested itself domestically. The American ghetto has been the birthplace of the most creative, brilliant, and transformative minds that this world has ever known yet with each individual success there is a departure, which leaves the same void that ultimately, keeps the black ghetto from becoming a respectable fully contained black community. Our most capable compatriots would rather work for the white man than work for themselves. We have digested so much hatred for so long that we no longer question what white society is feeding us. So we spend our whole lives trying to be validated by our oppressor and of course we fail. We move out into the suburbs in an effort to be accepted by whites and of course we are rejected. We go to their schools and sacrifice knowledge-of-self for academic success only to spend the rest of our adult lives confused about who we truly are.

What happened to the revolution? We are currently in the midst of a movement that is screaming Black Lives Matter to white people in an age where we don’t value our own lives. We don’t know that we come from greatness. We don’t know that we were the original people. We don’t know that our women are the most envied in the entire world. At what point do we put ourselves first? At what point do we keep our resources in our community?

To be a Black-American in the 21st century is such a bizarre experience. The summer before last I found myself in Paris approaching the Eiffel Tower when I saw a young black man with a Wiz Khalifa shirt on. The day before that I had seen a young Parisian man driving down the street with a Compton hat on. It tripped me out when I realized the impact that my people have on global culture. I thought about the dichotomy of on the one hand having the entire world wanting to be just like you while on the other hand being a member of a culture that continues to be robbed of its self-esteem and made to feel inferior to every other culture. And so many of us die not knowing that so many people the world over would die to be us.

We have been asleep for too long. Our luminaries have left us in the dark and we have somehow learned to make being blind fashionable. But we still need vision. We need to see that how other people see us is not nearly as important as how we see ourselves. We need to see that we can make our own community better but first we need to see that it’s worth it. We need to see the humanity in one another. We need to see the beauty in ourselves. We need to wake up, get out of bed, and unlearn all of this hate.

-YB

The sometimes obdurate heart of an existentialist

I stand alone even when I am in the middle of a great body of people. I don’t lend myself to the movement or to the moment but rather I am always hyper-aware of my own individuality. People die not knowing what love is. At times I wish that I could have spent my entire life in such oblivion. If only I could have never loved then I wouldn’t know the acute pain of having to lose what you are convinced that you need. My circle of family and friends is too small to even make a circle. Trust is an issue and love is a liability.

At some point I adopted the mentality that a man should never be vulnerable and when I think about it, isn’t that what love is? Isn’t love accepting the reality that you need another person to feel complete? Isn’t falling in love merely a romanticized sacrifice of one’s own individuality? Love is a stain. Love is a handicap. Love is a selfish thing that never gives back what it takes. Often times I’ll sit back and reflect on all the ways that my own lens victimizes me. How the trauma that comes along with betrayal has tainted my interactions with others.

There are gorgeous days when I somehow manage to keep the pain contained in my subconscious mind. Days when I feel free enough to ask for guidance, to ask for help, to ask for salvation. There are nights when I feel connected to an entity that exists outside of my own flesh. There are days when I allow myself to draw the conclusion that staying alone does not necessarily mean being alone. And on these nights I dream half a dream and she conjures up the missing piece. When the sun rises we put the pieces together. We speak on a shared future. We plan out our day, our weekend, our lives, and everything feels very normal. Then I fall asleep again in poor health and wake up feeling just as guilty as a junky that has relapsed once again. I stand alone in front of the shrine paying homage to my lost soul and hoping that god will listen to a man who refuses to get on his knees.

-YB

The baby girl is gone

Me and my daughter at the Andre Ward fight 5 years ago.

Me and my daughter at the Andre Ward fight 5 years ago.

I was talking to an older black man today—not that much older, only about 6 or 7 years—when the topic of children came up. He let on that he had three daughters. He told me that one of them is 20 years old, the other one is in middle school, and he has a newborn. I said, “Damn dude, your kids are really spread out.” He then smiled and explained his philosophy:

“Yeah man its like this. At the point in their life when they start wanting to go out and liking boys and all that crap man, that’s when I be like its time to have another one. Its like I gotta be the number one man in at least one girl’s life.”

And then I laughed. I laughed really loud and genuine because I knew exactly what he was talking about. For my one and only daughter is about to start middle school in a matter of months and this frightens me.

I know that she’ll do well socially and she’ll definitely maintain a high academic standard, but what about my baby? What about the little girl who used to run into my arms when I picked her up from school and scream “Yayyyyyy” when I held up a bag of McDonald’s? She’s just too cool now and bound to get cooler. No holding hands when we cross the street, no kisses goodbye when I drop her off at school, she’s just way too chill and it hurts. It hurts because as her identity continues to transform my identity will be thrown into question. The reality is my whole idea of manhood is wrapped up in showing her that I love her but now that her adolescence has descended upon my world I must keep such things to myself.

I can’t replace my oldest child. I mean she knew me when I was still in college. As a matter of fact I carried her across the stage when I graduated. However I would only be lying if I told you I hadn’t thought about bringing another life into this world based on the sheer notion that I am rapidly loosing my baby girl to adulthood.

This is foolish talk. I’m not married and I still owe Navient (AKA the devils assistants) over $30,000 in student loans. This just isn’t the proper time to have another child. Not to mention I’m a man. Men don’t desire to have more children. We just want to have great sex and watch the game. We’re not supposed to want added responsibility.

I’m scared. Scared because that brotha’s comments resonated with me so thoroughly. And I’m scared because I have to start preparing my beloved daughter for how to deal with being the subject of boy’s lewd fantasies. And I’m scared because there will be dances, there will be dating, there will late night phone conversations, and there will be heartbreak. I don’t want to release my child into a world that will not see her as my baby but rather as just another black girl to be made to feel like somebodies hoe and to be constantly reminded not to have dreams beyond a stripper pole in a rap video.

I’m very apprehensive. I honestly wish that I could press my two forefingers against one another like Evie in that old sitcom “Out of this World” and freeze time. I just want more time to prepare her and nurture her and buy her happy meals and hold her hand and tie her shoes and carry her inside the house when she scrapes her knee outside and remix the hottest new rap song and put her name in it and watch her smile. And not smile all cool and patronizing like teenagers do but smile like she did when I would blow on her belly or tickle her underarms. That uncontrollable smile followed by laughter and screaming and absolute joy. But of course all of these things will remain in the past tense.

It took me a little while to accept my role as a father and now my role is changing. All I can do is sit back, be strong, and be there if she needs me. The baby girl is gone and the lady will soon arrive.

-YB

Nostalgia for my Grandmother on Easter Sunday

I looked inside the window of a tan duplex on the corner of Lane and Shafter expecting to see my grandmother knitting away in her rocking chair. I wanted to walk up the same blue wooden stairs that we so daringly leapt off of as children. I wanted to press the black button to ring the bell then knock on the small window on the front door. I wanted to see the cloth in that window which prevented people from being able to see “all up in her house.” I wanted the door to swing open and I wanted to see her smile and give her the biggest hug I had ever given her. But I knew that I would never be welcomed into that residence again. The closest that I could get to that feeling was to park across the street and stare at it like a voyeur. Hoping that no one would notice me I stayed there for a few minutes until my eyes began to water—then I left before my tears fell.

Its Easter Sunday and I want to hug my grandmother. I want to open my Easter basket in that house. I want to hear her compliment me on my Easter suit. I just want to hear her raspy voice period so that it can galvanize my soul. I want her to talk just enough trash about me to make me humble then I want her to build me back up with memories that only she and I share and in so doing remind me that I will always be her baby.

I still sleep with the batman quilt that she knitted for me. It still keeps me hella warm in the winter. It still makes me sweat in the summer. I rarely wash it because I’m still a nasty little boy.

In the year that she’s been gone I feel like I’ve given too much love. Now I just want to be given love back. I want to feel that love in every season. I want to know that the void that she left has been filled. I want to be made to feel special and I want that to be automatic and not a forced thing—but everyone expresses love differently. And love without physicality isn’t love at all.

I miss the feel of my grandmother’s face. I miss her hugs. I miss the consistency of her presence. I miss seeing my prom picture on her wall. I miss seeing my mother and my aunties’ graduation photos. I miss seeing the pictures of my uncles in their cool suits with their permed hair. I even miss the dichotomy of waking up in the backroom and being able to see my breath but not feeling cold because I was wrapped up in my grandmother’s quilt.

I miss having a home in the Bayview section of San Francisco. I wanted so intensely to ask if I could come inside but I realized that the home is not the structure, the home is she. That tender, down to earth, tough love-giving woman. My home was there because she was there and now there are days when I feel like I have no home to go to. Nowhere to rest my head. No one to put me in check. Even when I sleep all day I wake up tired. I have no place to rest. Nowhere to lay my burdens down. I’m grounded but I have no roots. I am confused. I am disoriented. I want to see her again in that rocking chair. I want to talk to her. I want to be understood.

-YB

Escape into Isolation

If I close my eyes tight enough then I can have a round table discussion with all of my close childhood friends about what its like to be 33 and to have made it through the torture of oppression and the embarrassment of poverty, to a state of relative economic comfort. It is only when I open my eyes once again that I can see that everyone else that is taking part in the conversation is dead.

This is the cross that I must bear for having the audacity to make it out of the ghetto—otherwise known as the trap—and that is that is that I am forced to look back inside the trap on a daily basis and see the mangled, distorted, and eviscerated bodies of so many of my childhood friends. At times this makes me feel so isolated and so intensely alone, questioning my present state of being while simultaneously wishing that I hadn’t made it out. Sometimes I come to the conclusion that if I were in the penitentiary then I would have more friends and be around more like-minded individuals and if I were dead or crazy then I wouldn’t know this pain.

I am now forced to make it in a world that does not belong to me and represent for a people that have never mattered. They do not matter to the other world and they do not matter to themselves, however, they do matter to me because I am them and they are me. I’m lost out here in this world. I want their conversations back, their spirits back, I want those memories back so I’m always looking back.

I’m never in the present and I don’t value the future. I’m always looking back inside the trap wishing that I could have liberated my loved ones minds before they got caught up.

YB

The Age of Crucifixion

I just realized that I’m the exact same age as Jesus Christ when he was crucified. Its very humbling to consider that one man spread a new religion, defied a nation, performed several miracles, and resisted every form of temptation while I am merely trying to pay off my student loan debt. Of course Jesus was no ordinary man.

But then I don’t consider myself to be normal either. I had many grandiose dreams at every phase of my life that mainly consisted of me receiving worldwide adulation for some spectacular thing that I had done. Be it through sports, the arts, or the struggle by the age of 33 I always thought that—if I were still alive—then my international legacy would be secure. Needless to say I’m not there yet.

This realization, however, is not a negative one. It is merely a reminder that god is good and along with my ambition I must have a certain amount of patience. I welcome 2015 as a year of both reflection and progress. I am grateful to be living in my 33rd year.

-YB