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

Stop apologizing! Notes on Ismaaiyl Brinsley

It’s so absurd to me that people in the movement in general and black people specifically feel the need to apologize for the actions of Ismaaiyl Brinsley. Why? When is the last time that a police officer came forward to apologize for another police officer who murdered an innocent black man? The hashtag is blacklifematters but when something like this happens it proves that it doesn’t. The formula has always been for a white authority figure to kill an innocent black person with impunity causing the ghettos of America to erupt in protests and sometimes flames, but very rarely if ever causing the authority figure in question to be charged with any kind of crime.

As soon as Brinsley pulled the trigger he knew that his life was over. If you ever take a shot at a cop then you are dead. That’s the way it has always been. Why? Because the lives of cops matter. When their blood is spilled the entire country pauses to give their condolences. When black lives are taken then people go to great pains to justify why they deserved to die. Oscar Grant was a convicted felon who was resisting arrest, Trayvon Martin was high, Renisha McBride was drunk, Mike Brown had stolen a box of cigars and somehow—because they were young and black—then these crimes were punishable by death. It helps people sleep at night when they don’t have to consider the reality that this country has never valued the lives of its black population. Even black people place the lives of the police officers that harass them over their own lives.

So lets apologize for Brinsley. A man who acted as an individual and had nothing to do with any organized movement. A man who had just shot his girlfriend in Baltimore before heading to Brooklyn. Yes let’s make it clear to the world that we are sorry for his actions because somehow this man who had gone to jail in two different states and been arrested 19 times represents every single conscious minded college educated black person whose ever been to a rally. Somehow he represents the movement in a way that trigger-happy police officers never represent the entire police force. This mentality is so unbelievably asinine and wrought with fear. Fear that if we don’t distance ourselves from Brinsley then the police will no longer be merciful to us (as if they ever were). And fear of the power of black progress. How can we show our children that we are strong and prideful if we are always bowing our heads to apologize for something that we had nothing to do with just because the culprit was black like us?

As far as I’m concerned the tweet by Reverend Al Sharpton and the recent rant by Stephen A. Smith expressing their outrage for the murder of these police officers is completely unnecessary. When police apologize to the black community for all of the atrocities that they have committed then maybe I can express public sympathy but until then I will do my best impersonation of the blue wall of silence.

-YB

Notes on The Black Life Matters Campaign

In the wake of the decision of two separate grand juries not to press charges against Daniel Pantaleo and Darren Wilson for killing two unarmed black men I find myself lost. Even in the midst of a massive nationwide movement to end police brutality I can’t help but to feel out of place.

In my city of Oakland CA, there have been several successful demonstrations. On black Friday a small but highly committed group of black people shut down the West Oakland BART Station and just a few days ago there was a bold occupation of the Oakland Police Department which featured a coordinated raising of black fists in the air as well as the raising of a flag which included the faces of all the blacks senselessly murdered by white authority figures in the past couple of years.

All of these things are dynamic. All of these things are necessary, courageous, and beautiful. One thing, however, that overwhelms this black man in the midst of all of this positivity is the slogan on the banner of this particular manifestation of the human rights movement which reads BLACK LIVES MATTER.

How disheartening it is to have to remind people less than a month before the year 2015 begins that my life matters. I can’t help but to feel melancholy when I see a young black woman or man end a post on social media with the hashtag #blacklifematters. Do people need to remind themselves that they deserve to exist in the same vein that our parents and grandparents needed to remind themselves that black is beautiful? Or are people telling law enforcement/the system/the oblivious/the power structure that a black life is still a life? If that is the case then I am not sure that the power structure is being receptive to the message.

This strikes me a very peculiar act of desperation considering the time in which we live. It’s quite ironic that the current generation which is being raised on the bravado of hip-hop music, and that is massively addicted to posting selfies on facebook and instagram so that we can be reminded every day just how sexy we are would have to make a sign that promotes the controversial idea that our lives mean something.

How sad is it to have to confess to the world that beneath the Jordan’s, the Versace, the Mac Cosmetics, and the jewelry we feel worthless. That, because our court systems continues to validate our sense of nothingness, we have to remind you that we are not worthless. But what I find to be most disturbing about the BLACK LIVES MATTER campaign is the stinging notion in the back of my head that says that they really don’t. No matter how loud we scream and no matter how well we mobilize, our lives will never matter to a country that was founded on the idea that black life is and always will be dispensable—and that we are only of value when we are at the service of white people.

I try to silence this voice but I cannot. I am not sure if such pessimism has a place in any movement and please forgive me for what I am about to say but to try to get a man whose soul intention is to destroy me to see that my life matters seems rather absurd. If I as a human being have to waste my precious breath trying to convince someone else that my life matters then the conversation is not worth it.

-YB

Notes on the Adrian Peterson child abuse scandal

As I continue to follow the Adrian Peterson child abuse saga I mull over the many thousand ways that we, as a society, rob little black boys from reaching their full potential as human beings. Most of the seeds of failure are planted before the child reaches adolescence and most of these seeds are planted by the black men under the auspices that they are teaching him some kind of truth.

When I turned five years old (Approximately one year older than Adrian Peterson’s son) my uncles became deeply concerned that I was too “soft”. Apparently I cried too much and enjoyed hanging out with my mother more than a young boy five years of age should. They argued to my mother that I would be starting school soon and even though I was her youngest child she would surely ruin me if she didn’t somehow toughen me up. Eventually she obliged.

Within a few months she put me in karate class with my older brother and older cousins who had already been training for years. The dojo was run by a Vietnam veteran named Poppy who used to get dressed with us and reveal his bullet and stab wounds. “What you looking at!” he growled at me on one occasion after he found me staring at an old stab wound under his rib cage that to me resembled the gill of a fish. Unaccustomed to being yelled at I quickly looked away.

Poppy was a mean dude. If we did anything wrong he would knock us on the crown of our heads really quickly with his knuckles so that it felt like we were bleeding. And he would do this over and over again until we did it right. At the age of five I couldn’t understand why I had to be subjected to such treatment. He didn’t ask us anything politely, he never said sorry, and he spoke most effectively through violence. This was then and always will be my introduction to manhood.

At the age of five I grasped the concept that manhood simply means that ones primary mode of communicating is through violence. This truth was reiterated in the streets, at school, and on the football field as well. To be quite honest it hasn’t been until very recently that I realized I have no idea how to sustain a loving relationship or communicate through the language of faith. All I’ve known is ever-present violence.  Most of it is pent-up while some of it gets expressed (primarily in the boxing gym) but it is always there.

I think about Adrian Peterson’s son who I’m sure he loves dearly. As a matter of fact he loves his son so dearly that the only way that he could express it is through beating him with a switch because he wouldn’t sit in his car seat. Somehow Mr. Peterson missed badly and cut the child’s forehead. Ironically enough this all happened a year after Adrian Peterson’s other son was beaten to death by his mother’s boyfriend. The reality is that when Adrian Peterson and the man who took his son’s life were young they probably had their burgeoning masculinity molded by abuse. When violence becomes one’s first language then one has no choice but to teach that language to one’s children, which leads to the normalization of one human being, hurting another one to express his emotions. Moreover this mentality ultimately results in a very low rate of healthy relationships and a very high rate of incarceration.

Young black boys are given the tools to destroy themselves essentially at birth. How long will it take before Adrian Peterson’s young son learns that everything his father taught him about being a man is a horrendous lie that will only lead to his destruction? Perhaps, unfortunately, he will learn this lesson far too late.

-YB