I am. All of Us.

The Marvin Gaye sample was enough to have me locked in. Every Black person in America that was raised in a traditionally Black household knows the sultry masterpiece that is “I Want You.” We’ve listened to it in our uncle’s tape decks, and during Sunday night oldies on the radio station. We’ve had it playing in the background as we spoke to girls on the phone in our sexy voice as adolescents. But then Kendrick begins rapping, and it feels even more reassuring. He punctuates every syllable with a hand gesture, a facial expression, rhythmically rocking back and forth as he does his OG dance. His eyes stay averted from the camera. He spasms with each bar as if reacting to a drug. The Marvin Gaye sample is his drug. We (his fans) are his drug–after all, he hasn’t spoken to us from his throne since “DAMN” was released 5 years ago. There is a red backdrop behind Kendrick that resembles a velvet curtain. He’s performing a one man show onstage. Incredible! I get it. Welcome back Kendrick. 

That would have been enough. But enough is never the objective when it comes to a generational talent like Kendrick Lamar. He must have it all.

The first time I saw the video I blinked when I shouldn’t have. Because when I opened my eyes I saw the face of OJ Simpson rapping with dreadlocked hair. I screamed several profanities at the television. I leaned in toward the screen from my seat. I thought, “Is Kendrick trolling?” Why OJ? Why would he want to be provocative in this particular manner? I laughed while trying to figure it out. Then there was the deep fake into Jussie Smollet and it became bizarre. No cap! I got defensive. The Kingdom of Kendrick has no place for Jussie Smollet. The former Empire star who claimed he was attacked by white supremacist and still had the noose around his neck when police came to interview him does not deserve to be immortalized in a Kendrick Lamar video. The fake rapper who claimed to be the Gay Tupac in the immediate wake of that incident needs to be forgotten quickly. I did not approve. 

Then he morphed into Will Smith and I understood the theme, but it wasn’t until the second time I watched the video that it came together for me. Somehow I had missed the most important quote in the entire visual; “I am. All of us.” The video is a highly stylized drone attack against cancel culture, especially when it’s levied out disproportionately against Black men.

The last cameo is that of Nipsey Hustle. Kendrick, a man from a Blood neighborhood, speaks from the perspective of Nipsey, a member of the Rolling Sixties Crips. Through Nipsey he speaks to Nipsey’s children andNipsey’s brother Sam. I became emotional as I saw this rendering of the deceased prophet. The man who literally bought his own block, and spent his entire brief career showing young black rappers the extreme importance of ownership. Nipsey has also been the recent subject of sex tape rumors and other salacious allegations by a Los Angeles gang member turned music manager named Wack 100. Perhaps one could argue, as tough as it may be, that Nipsey Hussle could have been on the brink of cancellation. Kendrick is a man who doesn’t go out of his way to stay hot in between albums. He doesn’t do a lot of features. He isn’t trying his hand at acting. He’s never hosted Saturday Night Live. He just makes really good music then disappears. He escapes into being a normal black man with exceedingly high intelligence and a deep devotion to his people.

Kendrick is an empath who expresses the pain of the world through classic albums. What Kendrick is saying in The Heart Part 5 is that he is not capable of letting his brothers and fellow entertainers be destroyed by a savage system run by sociopaths. He will not surrender Black men who have made mistakes to a justice system controlled by Europeans that have committed the most egregious transgressions in the history of the world. Kendrick will not leave his people to be eaten by wolves on social media because they made mistakes. For he is all of us. When we are cut, he bleeds. He places himself on the cross for us while everyone else celebrates when we are publicly humiliated, snatched out of our mansions, and made to crawl through town square on broken glass.

People recently cheered when Kevin Samuels was rumored to be dead. Then they celebrated when his death was confirmed. Black folks quickly removed the same R. Kelly songs from their music collections that were played at their weddings and senior proms because everything that he created was deemed to be toxic by the media. A few years ago The Cosby show was taken out of syndication because of the alleged misdeeds of Bill Cosby. When it comes to Black male creatives, society seems to be unwilling to separate their failings from their masterpieces. We aren’t given the same grace as Paul Gauguin, Woody Allen, or Roman Polanski. We are discarded. We are shamed. Our art becomes radioactive. Our legacies are forced into disrepute. And we are given to white people so that they may abuse us until the day that we die. 

Kendrick is here to remind us that this is a practice engaged in by the weak. Strong civilizations don’t allow their enemies to discipline their criminals.For they understand the adage “I can talk about my brother like a dog, but if you ever disrespect him then we’ll have to fight.” Kendrick is saying that I am the greatest black man but I am also the worst. I am all of them and they are all of me. You can not come for them without coming for me. When you hurt them I cry. When you kill them then I die. You will not separate us. I am. All of us.

I used to hate Luther: A Black History Month Confession

I spent my entire young life hating the music of Luther Vandross. It bothered me that he smiled when he sang. Even when I heard his songs on the radio, I could clearly hear that he was happy. I always liked pain. Real pain pouring out of the mouth of another black man always comforted me. The sorrow of losing your lady (Otis Redding). The sting of living a second class citizenship (Sam Cooke). The trauma that comes from having to suppress your natural impulses, being addicted to drugs, and growing up in the slums (Marvin Gaye). Those were the men who I listened to at night while I tried to talk sexy to my girlfriend, hoping my mother wouldn’t get on the line and tell me to get off the phone. But never Luther.

Luther sang about heartache in a way that sounded downright bearable. I was too ignorant to appreciate the inherent happiness in his rendering of Soul music. His voice was always there but I never gravitated toward it, until I found myself in a state of confusion and depression. I had been intensely at odds with the mother of my child which therefore put me at odds with my child. I was in an empty kitchen with pictures of my kid on the refrigerator. I was in total despair as my Spotify playlist played in the background; “Don’t you remember, you told me you loved me baby.”  Luther sang a song full of sorrow but he was not downtrodden. He recalled the pain without living in it and somehow, the song which I thought was immensely corny in my younger wilder days, was getting me through my difficult time. And then I started back listening to his catalog. 

“Aunties” used to obsess over Luther. Big women that carried very big purses and had no less than three children were guaranteed to have at least one Luther Vandross tape and they never pronounced the “er” at the end of his name. He was always LUTHA! They adored him. Conversely, I abhorred him but now my first sign of being a mature man in his 30s was my willingness to admit to myself that I had been wrong. 

I had heard “If only for one Night” since I was a child but I hadn’t felt it until I was old enough to have a child of my own. It’s a song about a man trying to seduce a woman that he feels like he can’t actually be in a relationship with, for whatever reason. Maybe she’s married. Maybe he’s married. Maybe she’s devoutly Christian. We do not know. What we do know is that she’s afraid of something, and he’s afraid too. He renders himself completely vulnerable in the song. 

I never hear from you

And my knees are shaking too

But I’m willing, willing to go through

I must be crazy

Standing in this place

But I’m feeling no disgrace   

-Luther Vandross

He’s not begging as much as he’s illustrating the beauty of their potential lovemaking. And he means it. He sounds authentic, as if he isn’t running game at all.  In fact when I listen to other legendary black male singers, sometimes it sounds like they are seeking the approval of men for how they are communicating with women. For example; when Teddy Pendergrast shouts “TURN EM OFF!” in the song “Turn off the lights”, women like it but men can also respect it as well. It’s very dominant and masculine. It represents a certain aggression that men like to bring into romantic relationships. An aggression, I’ve been told several times,  that women don’t always like. But while Teddy is screaming Luther is releasing a single tear as he smiles nose to nose with your lady in a secret location plotting on doing forbidden things that you will never be made aware of. That’s the appeal of his music. Sistas consider him to be safe. There is no barrier between how the Aunties feel and what he says. There is nothing rough about “Lutha’s” voice. There is no depression. There is no angst. He is not overzealous or angry. He is calming. He is happy. He is soulful, and he is love. And I am honored to be at a place in my life when I can finally recognize that.

THE JEOPARDY CHAMPION!

As difficult as it may be for some of you to believe Professor Ajuan Mance is more than just a three time champion on Jeopardy. She’s also a classically trained musician, an artist, and a first ballot academic hall of famer. Check out the video to hear her story. Also please like, subscribe, comment, and share if you feel so inclined.

-Roger Porter

Surf Therapy: The Salvation of Dr. Diaz

I’ve never surfed in large part because I don’t know how to swim, however, if I did know how to swim then I am almost for certain that I still would never go surfing. The Ocean is a frightening place. It’s so powerful and unpredictable. I just could never bring myself to get on a board and maneuver it on the waves of the deep sea. That’s me though. Dr. Olga Diaz is different–hella different. She finds it to be therapeutic. You may have to watch the video to believe it, but it’s true. She’s even found a tribe of other black women that like to surf as well. Go figure. Check out the video to learn all about it. Please like it, comment, and subscribe to the tribe.

-Roger Porter

Blocked and Distraught

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Social media has created the most savage society in the history of humankind. Imagine being capable of making someone disappear without killing them. We establish real relationships with people online only to strike them dead as soon as they say something disagreeable. We leave no blood, no murder weapon, and no body. We just unlike, unfriend, unfollow, and BLOCK people so that we never have to hear from them again. We could have several pages worth of beautiful dialogue with another person. There could be years worth of liked photos and uplifting comments that instantly disappear once the BLOCK button is pressed.

Consider the following scenario. One night you decide to follow a person who lives on the other side of the country because you think their comment in The Shade Room is hilarious and also because you think they are kind of cute. Then they follow you back. Now the two of you have a relationship. Via social media you were at this person’s trip to Las Vegas. You go to the company picnic with them four times a year. You feigned joy for them when they got engaged and you secretly celebrated when it was called off. You sent a DM reassuring them that “Everything is going to work out for you. I can feel it.”  and that they were still the “hottest thing on the internet” followed by a fire emoji, kissy face, heart, heart, heart. You went to Jamaica with them. You were the only person in the chatroom when they went live on the beach at 2:00am. They waved to you. And I don’t mean they pressed the wave button on their phone, I mean they actually looked at you and waved. Once you planned to take a trip to their city but it fell through the last minute when your mother got sick. Twice they said they would visit you but they never followed through. It’s ok though because the mystery of everything keeps the relationship hot. You are a voyeur of sorts. You’re a guardian angel or maybe even a genie. You only exist to the person when they need you to exist but really you’re there all of the time, watching, smiling, and laughing. You are totally immersed in the story of their life. You want to play a bigger part but at the same time you are very good at your role. And then it all vanishes.

They stop viewing your stories. You posted three new pictures and they didn’t like any of them. It’s so unlike them. Then you DM them and it goes unseen for three days even though they continue to post stories regularly and you continue to see their comments in The Shade Room. What the hell is going on? What did you do? You wait about a week then you go to their page to send them a DM asking them are they ok. That’s when the screen reads that the page does not exist. You reason that they’re probably taking a break from social media. There’s no way that they would BLOCK you after you’ve consistently supported them for four years. Then you check their page from your back up IG account and it’s confirmed. They definitely BLOCKED you.

You want to pour back over your messages to see where you could have possibly gone wrong but you can’t. You no longer have access to any of the DMs that you share. They were destroyed in the conflagration of you being BLOCKED. The poems that you sent them when they asked if you’re a writer, the James Baldwin quotes you sent them to express how you felt about growing up the ghetto, the pictures of you at the club with your squad, the YouTube videos of the oldies battles that y’all used to have on Sunday nights—it’s all gone. And there is no way to hold the person accountable. To you they were an essential part of your life. To them you were disposable. Now you’re BLOCKED and distraught. You can’t figure out what you did wrong other than to care deeply for a person you’ve never actually seen.

Social Media has made millions of hearts obdurate. We have created a society in which individuals can’t see the humanity in the very people we engage with on a daily basis. We leave the most disrespectful comments for attention. We block people who have opinions other than ours. We go on rampages and unfollow people because we’re having a bad day. Social media has enabled us to call thousands of people whom we have never met our friends while simultaneously giving us the opportunity to erase all of those same so called friends. It’s a creation that eats away at the bond of kinship that is essential to any high functioning society. For every day that we spend believing that social media is a proper surrogate for real human interaction we BLOCK our own growth.

The Nipsey Effect

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If they knocked off Nipsey then they can knock off anyone. And I suppose that I always knew that but it’s very rare that I feel it as acutely as I do right now.

Today I grieve for Nipsey and I also grieve for Sean Scott my childhood friend who was murdered in 2005. Today is his birthday. He would have been 37 years old. I used to think that I would outgrow the anxiety associated with being a black man and fearing a violent death just about everyday of my life. I realize now that I’ve just learned to cope with it largely through neglect. What the murder of Nipsey Hussle is doing is making a lot of people, particularly black men, consider the event of their own tragic death and face the reality that no matter how brilliant, devoted, talented, loving, inspiring and righteous you may be there’s always a ni**a somewhere waiting to kill you.

Erasing memories for the Cause

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I recently unloved my favorite painting because I found out he artist had a fetish for underage Polynesian girls. Then I unloved all the slow jams that I made love to in undergrad. Finally, I took it a step further and rendered myself unmotivated by the song we sang at my 9th grade promotion. After all, I am a fully-grown woke man. Why the fuck would I ever want to fly?

 

It’s like a few years ago when they came out with this Nat Turner movie and when I saw it I instantly thought it was one of the most powerful films I had seen in years but then I found out the director was charged with rape when he was a freshman in college so I instantly unliked it. I had to harness the social media app in my soul and take my heart emoji back! I am way too down for the cause to be caught in these traps. I made sure I never made that mistake again. For example; when the domestically violent homophobic young rapper XXXtentacion was put out of his misery I threw a release party with all of my fellow intersectionals. And I don’t mean a release party as in we played new music, but rather we opened all the windows of the house to symbolize the liberation of his victims from psychological bondage. Then each of us spoke about why his murder was empowering. It was a joyous occasion.

 

Wokeness is about being free of all blemishes created by oppressive patriarchy. It’s about unappreciating all the things that male dominated society brainwashed you into believing were amazing. It’s about taking the mighty Bell Hooks Bar of Soap and scrubbing your memories clean. It’s about deleting all of those dirty Chocolate Factory files and replacing them with Lemonade while the lemonade is still good. For it was recently revealed that the Queen Bey’s husband may have been involved with an underage rapper named Foxxy Brown in the 1990’s. I’m still waiting on the call from intersectional headquarters but if I have to erase more memories for the cause I am more than ready. For the child of destiny is now a full-grown adult and it was raised by two strong women without a man in sight.

 

Contaminated memories should be disposed of like contaminated meat. Well like all meat actually, and all nonorganic apples. We’re moving forward with this no matter what, and some thoughts will be sacrificed in the process. The point is I belong to a strong army of staunch nonconformists and we will win. This is just the beginning.

-Roger Porter

White Homeless Privilege as it manifested itself at McDonald’s

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I was at the McDonald’s on 14th and Jackson and I was hella disappointed because anytime I’m eating at McDonald’s something has gone terribly wrong. Like I forgot to bring my lunch to work, or I ate my last meal at 3:00pm and mistakenly thought that I would be full all night but now my 6:00pm lecture is less than an hour away, and I question whether or not I can be on my feet for 3 ½ hours without more food. So, on this day I panicked. I walked down the street and around the corner to Mickey D’s.

 

I suppose I could have gotten inside my car and drove to Lucky to buy a chicken salad, but then again fuck salad. I don’t even like salad. I’m one of those strange people that believes eating should always be pleasurable. No matter what you say about the negative side effects of fast food and how it doesn’t decompose and how the chickens are treated—Yo! That shit tastes good. The fries are magnificent and the sweet and sour sauce is the best thing to ever happen to a nugget. McDonald’s is cheap and there’s always one nearby. They say that relapse is a part of recovery so on this day I went on a binge like Pookie in a Crack house. “It just keep calling me.”

 

At any rate, I’m sitting at my table eating my food in record time so I can get back to the college where I teach before my class starts, when this brazen unsheltered man walks to the back near where I am. He’s white, mid-thirties, sagging pants and has a confident gait that seems to move him from side to side rather than forward. One of his hands is holding up his baggy pants while the other is free. He goes up to a table of four older Asian men and says in a forceful voice with three fingers out as if he is about to pick something up “Aye, can I get some of them fries!” Then he actually puts his nasty ass fingers on their tray and gets some fries. I am astounded. In a city full of homeless people, I have never seen anyone living on the streets do such a thing. I was perplexed. Was this white privilege? After all a shocking 70% of the homeless population in Oakland is African-American, so maybe this guy viewed himself as a member of the homeless elite.

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Even though this man was addicted and down and out, he felt like he was above begging in front of the McDonald’s like all of the darker skinned homeless folks. He was entitled enough to walk in and take what he thought he deserved. This was all conjecture on my part. Obviously, I didn’t know anything about his thought process. Then he looked at me and I got the same feeling that I’ve been getting since elementary school when I know there’s about to be a confrontation. It’s a moment of intense anxiety and instantaneous preparation for battle. Because no one was going to touch my fries. I would have given him every dollar in my pocket but if he would have touched one French Fry there is no doubt in my soul that very bad things would have happened to that man. Bad things that would have made me drop to my knees and pray for forgiveness after it was all over. However, he did no such thing. Our eyes locked. My right hand held a freshly dipped nugget. My left hand was clenched into a fist on my lap. It was a real Tombstone-esque Doc Holliday showdown moment. I took a swig of my small coke until it made that slurping sound that you hear when there’s nothing but ice. Then he looked away and gangster walked toward the front of the restaurant.

I didn’t see it coming. Why did he retreat? Surely he wasn’t full. Was the beat down that I would have given to him conveyed through my eyes? I doubt it. I can’t look intimidating to a homeless dude. Especially since I had on a collared shirt, slacks, and hard soled shoes. I mean I had a damn nugget in my hand. Was it because of my race? Did he feel more comfortable extorting French Fries from four Asian men than one lone African-American gentlemen? Or was he under the impression that my French Fries were below him because they were tainted with my blackness. Similar to those southern whites that wouldn’t let negroes swim in their pools during segregation because they thought we would dirty up their water. Was this unsheltered white man a southern transplant that moved to Oakland to avoid the comparatively harsh winters of rural Virginia? It was all very confounding. What was going on with me? Did I actually want to fight this man or at the very least verbally reprimand him for plotting on my fries? And why was I willing to land an overhand right on a man who was at the absolute bottom of society for a few pieces of fried potatoes? And there it was.

 

My anger stemmed from the fact that he was not on the bottom of society. Though he may have lost his family, fell into depression, been priced out of his home, and abused drugs and alcohol just like any other person living on the streets—he still had his whiteness. And his whiteness was enabling him to separate innocent people from their French Fries. This made me irate. That’s why I wanted to confront him. It wasn’t about that crispy goodness or even the four packets of ketchup that my fries were doused in—it was about the culture. I was there on 12th and Jackson ready to defend my culture from this white, delusional, French Fry Jacker.

I was ready to get down for mine

He wasn’t

I live in a house

He doesn’t

Yet in his eyes, he still had something over me and every other nonwhite person in that restaurant. He had placed himself at the top of the homeless hierarchy. Or maybe…maybe he was just really, really hungry. Two more minutes had passed and all of my food and drink were gone. I left the restaurant totally full and ready to lecture. Feeling like I had proven something to myself—but only to myself. I had gotten the victory. I had consumed all of my fries, but not in peace. For my mind was full of turmoil. Among many other concerns I wondered was that homeless man feeling like he had lost? Did it even matter to him at all? I may never know. And in this lifetime, on this earth, in this country that we call America, inside that McDonald’s in downtown Oakland—that will have to be enough.

-Roger Porter