I defied the national punishment today and walked to the post office. On the way back I saw an Oakland that was black enough to make one believe that gentrification was just a rumor. There were black people on the sidewalk with chairs. Black people pulling up to their homes from working “essential” jobs. Black teenagers milling about. Black people appreciating the Spring and dreading not being able to get fly and go to the club, or a house party, or to the movies. It felt very nostalgic but very present day. A few people had masks on but most of us didn’t. It was almost as if I was walking home from grade school in 1992 except for the fact that there’s a big empty lot where the housing projects used to be and there’s a bike lane on either side of the street so people can’t rev up their engines and race at the light. Other than that I swear I was in a chocolate city today with no hint of Vanilla in sight. It was an awesome rejuvenating walk. I took my time.
The temerity of allergy season to try to steal Covid’s moment is astounding. As a black person I try to look as healthy as possible during this crisis yet people still leave the aisle when I walk through the grocery store. Then I sneeze and people are horrified. It’s only after many microseconds have elapsed that they realize sneezing isn’t a symptom of Corona virus, however, the CDC says that it can be spread through saliva. They walk briskly away from me praying that I have not infected them and I can’t help but to feel sorry for those poor racial profilers. And no, contrary to recent national media coverage leading Americans to believe that every black person is a walking respiratory disease, I don’t have Covid 19 but I do have seasonal allergies—BADLY. I sneeze. I snot. I sniffle. I get pink eye. It’s very unsexy but not at all deadly.
I’ve had allergies since I was about 9-years-old and it isn’t going away but—GOD DAMN! I really wish it would disappear this Spring. I have a global pandemic to try to steer clear of. I can’t be cough sneezing while another jogger is passing me in the opposite direction on a trail. One moment the man is enjoying his essential daily workout as ordained by Governor Gavin Newsome, and the next moment he thinks that I may inadvertently give him an airborne virus so he runs off the trail so far into the brush that he almost hits a tree. And it’s so rife with irony that as children growing up in the south, my parents had to get off of the sidewalk and walk down the middle of the road when a white pedestrian approached them and now the whites do the exact same thing for us. I suppose one could call that progress—well if it is then I don’t want it. Having hay fever is hard enough but to give white folks another reason to be afraid of me is just too much. I don’t know if this is truly a result of “The Rona” or if this is how they always felt but now they are somehow justified. Or perhaps maybe racism is the pandemic beneath the pandemic. No amount of hand sanitizer or surgical mask could ever prevent the spread of racism. They would never shut the country down to deal with it either. Even though it’s killed more Americans than Corona ever will and continues to destroy our potential at an alarming rate.
In these times of bullying and government induced hysteria I want people to know that it’s still ok to ask questions. If something doesn’t make sense to you then god wants you to express it no matter what the consequences shall be. On this holy day in which Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ let me remind my brethren that it is our duty to follow god and not to blindly follow man, for he is fallible and corruptible. To all Americans of African descent it’s ok to question how a virus began in China, ravaged Italy and other parts of Europe and now is specifically targeting you when it isn’t even targeting your brothers in the Caribbean or Africa.
It’s ok to be inclined not to trust a government that has injected you with disease before, that has drugged you multiple times, that has herded you into prisons around the country in order to provide jobs for the real citizens of this nation, and one that leaves you to languish in ghettos until you die. If it seems very odd to you then that’s alright. You are not by yourself.
It’s ok to not be ok with martial law. If you go outside of your house then that does not mean you want your grandmother to die or anyone else’s for that matter. For all the people that have perished due to the Corona virus none of them died by your hands or your breath. But for those who are responsible for this savagery the lord will deal with them in due time. Until then do not allow your psyche to be ruled by fear and hysteria.
On this Easter of 2020 I pray that the highly essential skill of critical thinking will rise from the dead just like Jesus. For this is the only thing that will liberate the masses from bondage and guide us to the promised land. I pray that people will begin to seek their own truth as opposed to waiting for the government to tell them what to think and when to be afraid. In Jesus name I pray. Amen
Over a year ago my former professor Ajuan Mance reached out to me. She asked if I wanted to be featured in a project that she and Pam Uzzell were doing on artists from Oakland, CA. The result is the video posted below. I am grateful and blessed to have a part in the documentary along with so many other great artists.
I have spent over a week trying to put my trip to Haiti into perspective. I have been searching for the words that would not only convey my affinity for the nation but would also speak to the very real feeling of precariousness that is currently gripping her. What I have come up with is this—close your eyes and imagine that Deep East Oakland is an entire country. Now open them. What you see is Haiti.
There is at once so much pride in the people, so much righteous resistance in the history, an enormous amount of potential, and a nearly extreme amount of dysfunction. One day after going up a mountain to see the very stunning Citadelle Laferrière and the ruins of the Sans-Souci Palace we stopped by a cultural center in the town of Milot. They welcomed us with African drummers and upon entering we washed our hands with the assistance of a female member of the center. Much to my surprise they were in the process of cooking for us. The lead organizer of the center, a black Haitian man of about 60, explained to us that he didn’t know what exactly was being prepared because he didn’t know what the fisherman caught that morning. He went on to say that they had been without power for several days—which isn’t unusual for Haiti. What that means, he went on, is that we don’t have a refrigerator therefore we must eat whatever we can catch on any given day. Then the next day we fish again.
After giving us an introductory history lesson on the town of Milot the food was brought out. It consisted of fried plantains, beans, rice, and two different kinds of fish one grilled and the other fried. The fish was extraordinary. It was way better than anything you can buy at a grocery store. What I found to be even more amazing is that even after having seconds I still felt very light. Unlike the meat here in the U.S. the food didn’t weigh me down at all.
As we we ate the food the lead organizer thanked us for coming. I was accompanied by a small group of African-Americans and one Haitian tour guide. The people at this center had cooked for all of us, went out of their way to make us feel special and this man still insisted on thanking us for visiting Haiti despite the unrest that was taking place all around the country. I felt a sense of kinship and belonging that one can only feel in a predominantly black country. It was almost emotionally overwhelming for me.
Then on the way back to our hotel the tension of national instability grew thick once more. Apparently, the disgruntled police force set several fires on one of the two bridges that leads to Cap-Haitian. They were upset because they believe they are being underpaid and instead of paying them the government was set to spend what the police thought was an excessive amount of money on the annual Kanaval celebration. So they decided to do everything in their power to shut Kanaval down (ultimately, they succeeded). We traveled over the other bridge which they had emptied several dumpsters full of trash and debris upon in an attempt to block it as well. Luckily for us we were in a larger vehicle that had the ability to drive over the makeshift roadblock. While sitting in the backseat the bumps from driving over all of the junk made me feel as though I was off-roading up a mountain in a Jeep—it was wild as hell but we made it back safely to the hotel.
Growing up in East Oakland I remember parties being shut down just like Haitian Kanaval while I was in line waiting to get in because a kid got jumped or someone pulled out a gun. I remember sideshows being descended upon by police the second I turned my engine off and got out of the car. I remember, on multiple occasions, feeling like my community couldn’t have anything. And when we would get something nice such as a new store, apartment building or transit center, I would just wait for it to be torn up by my people. These same feelings washed over me on the way back to the hotel that afternoon. And they troubled me in the exact same manner that they did when I was a teenager in the ghetto.
My trip to Haiti was full of black power highs and post-colonial lows. There were moments of bliss when I would be in total awe of the oldest black republic in the western hemisphere that would be immediately followed by the fear that it could all implode at any given second. Haiti, in this regard, is not unlike the South Side of Chicago or the West Side of Philadelphia or Deep East Oakland. Haiti does not pretend to be paradise. Haiti is no tropical escape for black people either. Haiti is a mirror for the descendants of African slaves. And finally, Haiti does not lie to make tourists feel more comfortable. It is for these reasons that I love her.
I can’t understand how the American government could possibly believe that murdering an Iranian cultural icon could bring the people of Iran closer to us. That somehow killing General Qasem Soleimani could prevent war. That we could bomb Iraq for nearly 20 years straight in hopes of establishing peace. The mentality of American high ranking officials breeds eternal enemies. The killing of a General isn’t something that any nation with pride can simply get over and it certainly isn’t going to bring them to the table of diplomacy.
A few weeks ago I saw a video on YouTube that detailed the life of a notorious young man named KTS Von from Chicago. He was a gangbanger who murdered at least four people before he himself was killed in 2015 at the age of 21. One of the many reasons why he was so reviled and feared on the streets was because he used to wear shirts mocking all of the rivals that he had killed. “Fuck your dead homies” read one of them. Below that there was a list of names of people that he personally removed from the Earth. So of course his “ops” made him the highest priority and eventually they executed him.
When I hear President Donald Trump say things like “Soleimani made the death of innocent people his sick passion…He should have been taken out years ago.” I liken it to him wearing a white T-Shirt with the General’s name on it. “Fuck your General” is what Trump is saying. Except he isn’t merely taunting a set, a crew, or a gang he is taunting a whole nation and many other nations who respect the man that he killed.
America operates under a dreadful psychosis. One in which the individual killer doesn’t think that death will ultimately come for him. Is it not ironic that in 2016 Donald Trump incorporated gang violence in Chicago into his political platform? He criticized President Obama and the Democratic Party for doing a terrible job in that city and implored Black Americans to vote for him because after all “What do you have to lose?” I’m thinking that perhaps Donald Trump was drawn to Chicago due to a certain level of very discreet affection he has for The Chi. As a man may privately gloat about the successes of an estranged child who he barely knows. “He’s just like his daddy” the man would say. “Whether he likes it or not.”
Well KTS Von is just like Donald Trump and Chicago is probably the most American of all US Cities. It is at once beautiful, heinous, nurturing, prideful, unforgiving, murderous, and attracts tourists from every region of the globe. When one looks at Chicago beyond The Bean, Soldier Field, and Navy Pier and into the areas run by black street gangs one can see white daddy looking on lovingly from the clouds. One can see the forefathers of this nation. One can see the architects of the ghetto and one can see President Donald J. Trump boasting to his confidant: “That’s my boy” he tells him. “A chip off of the old block.” Meanwhile his ops are strapping up. Just waiting to catch him lacking.