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

A Reinterpretation of Tears

Two Porters

I learned shortly after my daughter’s mother and I separated that by continuing to be in my daughter’s life I was committing a highly subversive act. It felt as though my ex-girlfriend wasn’t prepared to deal with my continued presence, my picking our daughter up on weekends, my asking for her on holidays. It felt as though I wasn’t following the script and she, as well as her family, couldn’t understand why I didn’t just leave. After all as a black man wasn’t that what I was supposed to do?

My parent’s marriage disintegrated not long after I came into the world. I have absolutely no recollection of them being together but my older brother and sister insist that this was indeed the case for several years. I rarely if ever saw my father. And when I did he was always very serious, even when he smiled. And every time I saw him he was always in a suit and tie. Occasionally he would pick us up on a Saturday afternoon and take us out to eat. Then we would often times go several weeks at a time without seeing him.

Shortly after I turned 7-years-old my father came over to our house one evening and called my two older siblings and I into the living room. Like always he was wearing a collared shirt and a tie, and like always he was very prideful. He told us that he would be moving back to his home state of Tennessee with his new wife to be the pastor of his own church. We didn’t believe him. We made him place his hand on the holy bible and say it again; after he obliged we knew it was true. He only stayed for a few minutes then he left. We smiled and waved goodbye to our father through the window never fully realizing what was taking place.

After that night sometimes we would see him once a year, other years we wouldn’t see him at all. In the beginning he would call but then the calls began to come in a lot less frequent. I never called him. As a matter of fact by the time I was a teenager I became a lot more comfortable with his absence than I was with his presence. In the public schools that I attended not having a father was trendy. It made you normal.

In junior high school whenever I was hanging out with my friends in the hallway or in the gym and the subject of our father came up we all chimed in with different reasons as to why we hated our dads. Why dude was a coward. At least one of us declared that he would beat his father to the ground for what he did to his mother—if he ever saw him again. There could have been a whole room full of black boys and you wouldn’t find one of them that wanted to be like his father. No one ever tried to understand his father. We all depended solely on our mothers, or in some cases grandmothers, for our daily representation of what a man was supposed to be. And we were able to infer from these women’s stories that a “real man” was everything that our fathers were not.

At the age of 19 I fell in love with a woman. Three years later she gave birth to my child. About six months after that she broke up with me. She confronted me one evening and said that she could tell that I was unhappy with the relationship. I couldn’t find the words to disagree with her. Two days later she moved out of my house and took my baby girl with her. It was at that point that I realized I had no idea what being a father meant. I also realized that I needed to find out in a hurry but I had no idea where to look.

My mother’s father was shot in the face the day that she was born and died in the hospital a few days later. The only thing I know about my paternal grandfather is that he and my father didn’t get along. He died before I was born and I have never so much as seen a photograph of him. My mother once said that he was the overbearing type but I’ve never been able to confirm this with my father. My father has never brought him up.

So each week I would approach my ex-girlfriend’s house to pick up my daughter I would be completely confused. I wanted to be in my daughter’s life so she could know what it was like to have a father; however, I didn’t know how to do it. I had nothing to draw on. My rides to her apartment complex were painful, my walks to her front door were swift, my knocks were violent, and we always exchanged the baby in a visceral silence.

My daughter felt the negative energy. Before I could buckle her down in her car seat for the nearly one hour drive she would break out screaming and crying until she lost her breath. After I strapped her in and turned onto Main Street heading toward the freeway the crying would persist. I would look at my baby through the rearview mirror; she’d make eye contact with me and scream louder. One day I became unraveled.

I demanded that she stop crying, and told her how much I sacrificed for her. That I had gotten a college degree so I could provide for her. That I was being degraded on a daily basis at a job that I couldn’t stand just so I could have enough money to come get her, and she had the nerve to disrespect me. Cut it out! I told her. Stop it! But she continued to cry. This little brown skinned girl with light brown eyes like mine, and full eyebrows like mine, was in her car seat openly expressing all of the sacred things that I had learned to forget.

I never liked to get my haircut as a child just like I never liked to take baths. About once every few months my father would take my brother and I to the barbershop for a haircut. By this time I would have a small unkempt Afro with patches of tiny naps on the back of my neck. In preparation for my trip to the barbershop my mother would gently comb my hair with a little plastic comb. She would spray water on the tougher spots so the comb would go through nice and easy and so I wouldn’t squirm as much because I was severely tenderheaded. But I still squirmed and all of my mother’s careful strokes and tedious labor was irrelevant by the time I got to the barber’s chair because the water had dried up making my hair harder and nappier than ever.

The barber was my father’s friend. He was an old guy with thick glasses named Will. He never showed me any mercy. My father was always first to get a haircut and it always amazed me how he used the barber chair like a pulpit. He carefully directed the general conversation of the shop to topics that interested him. Somehow he was able to redirect all conversations about sports—which he has always abhorred—to the need for black people to support black businesses. Conversations about women somehow ended up being about Christianity. My father, although small in stature, was the unofficial maestro of the Barbershop. And he never once had to raise his voice.

My brother would go next. A man-child six years my senior he was always tall compared to everyone else in our family, and he was confident, and charismatic. At eleven years old he had a head full of waves and since he was very concerned about his image, he would take trips to the barbershop either by himself or with my older cousins. He never let his hair get as long and kinky as mine. His hair was so soft and thick the barber almost thanked him for letting him touch it.

Then it was my turn to go. While my father continued to direct conversation and my brother sat in his seat glowing with all of the adulation he had just received, Will the barber ripped through my hair with a torturing device known as “a natural comb.” A natural comb is a long black comb with metal teeth designed specifically for taming the most savage, unruly, naps. As he ran the comb through my hair with so much force that it snapped my head back and I could literally hear the naps popping, I tried so hard to keep it together but I could feel the tears coming. I knew that he had to comb my hair so that it wouldn’t damage his clippers but I couldn’t understand why he had to be so brutal. Why didn’t he ask me if I was tenderheaded? If he did then maybe he would be able to comb my hair gently like my mother did. Why didn’t it bother him that he was hurting me? I could no longer stop the water from trickling down my cheek. I looked at my father, the great composer of conversation through blurred eyes as I cried. And I remember him finally looking up at me. He did not say anything. He was ashamed.

And now this little being was in my backseat screaming so loud and for so long that she lost her breath. I hadn’t made it to the freeway before I cracked. She broke me down. I pulled the car into the nearest parking lot unbuckled her and held her close to my chest. I let her cry and she did for several minutes. I rocked her and shushed her gently while telling her over and over again that everything was going to be OK. I kissed her tears away until no more fell, until she went to sleep in my arms.

That was the day I learned how to transcend my manhood in order to be a good father. I learned how to listen to her cries in order to interpret exactly what she needed. Sometimes it was a bottle, sometimes it was reassurance, and sometimes it was a hug, while other times it was a song. Indeed my daughter was the first female I learned how to effectively communicate with. She became my entire weekend, she was my focus, and she became my identity.

That was the day I promised I would never leave her.

-YB

Yuri Kochiyama Never Went Hollywood

Hollywood distorts just about everything. When wealthy people get together and decide to green light a movie they do so because they believe it will make them money, not because a particular version of the truth needs to be told. With money as the motivating factor often times beautiful people with minimal talent are casted in leading roles, scripts are seriously altered in an attempt to make events more melodramatic, and sometimes very righteous people are completely removed from history.

 

It wasn’t until my first year of graduate school during a class discussion that I learned that the lady who cradled the head of Malcolm X while he lay dying was not his wife Betty Shabazz but rather it was Japanese-American activist Yuri Kochiyama. Kochiyama remained a fixture on the Bay Area civil rights scene well past her 90th year. As a matter of fact I saw her at the world premiere of a documentary on the life of Richard Aoki at The Grand Lake Theater in 2009. Yuri Kochiyama died in Berkeley on June 1, 2014 in Berkeley, CA.

 

I think about how a more realistic depiction of the death of Malcolm X would have changed the black and white perception of The Civil Rights Movement. What if Lucy Liu would have been the lady weeping over Denzel Washington’s body instead of Angela Bassett? Would that have been too difficult for the American public to digest? Is reality too complicated to understand? Americans love looking at the real world as if it were a comic book—Black vs. white and good vs. evil—which always ends in an overly simplistic view of society.

African-Americans should realize that the Rodney King Riots in 1992 probably would have been suppressed within a day if it were not for the general empathy and participation of the Spanish-speaking citizens of Los Angeles. Similarly Mexican-Americans should understand that the United Farm Workers of America would not have been nearly as powerful were it not for the involvement of Filipino farm workers who also suffered under the same wretched conditions as day laborers in California and who had also had enough of it.

 

So Spike Lee made an executive decision to insert a sobbing Angela Bassett into a death scene instead of writing an Asian-American actor into the script. That doesn’t minimize the accomplishments of Yuri Kochiyama, however, it does reduce the potency of her legacy. After all Americans learn their history from the movies not from books. It’s rather pathetic that a woman can be down for the cause until the age of 93 and most conscious people don’t even know who she is. The power of Hollywood is immeasurable

 

RIP Yuri Kochiyama

1921-2014

-YB