In March when the stay at home orders just went down my good friend and current San Jose State English Professor Keenan Norris called me up tp talk about one of my favorite poems of all time The Idea of Ancestry by Etheridge Knight. Please watch the video that I created and let me know what you think.
If being aware requires me to watch one more video of a black body being torn apart by bullets from the gun of a white police officer then I choose to be functionally oblivious. I understand police brutality on a visceral level. I do not question it’s pervasiveness. I do, however, worry that the instant virality of a black body being shot up may be causing more psychological darkness than consciousness in its viewership.
Jacob Blake ought not have been permanently maimed, and in front of his children no less. I overstand that. I do not need to watch it playout on Instagram in order to feel his pain. I refuse to watch it.
As the days leading up to me returning to education pass way too quickly I find myself filled with consternation. I have been on hiatus for over a year now. I have traveled. I have created. I have sheltered in place. I have started my brand. I have made money independently. I have crafted every day of my life to be exactly what I want it to be. My time has been mine for the first time ever in my adult life. And now I have to prepare myself to surrender it to the institution once again.
I feed off of energy during my lectures. I look into the eyes of my students. I read the room. I put people on the spot who look at me quizzically by asking them to throw their questions out on the floor. I bless those who sneeze. I engage those who appear to be sleepy. I raise the energy level in the room to the highest possible level. Now I wonder how might this skillset that took me decades to master be inhibited by Zoom.
I have never taught an online class. The idea of lecturing to a computer screen has never been appealing to me, but here we are in the Fall of 2020. I fear that Conference Zoom is not a proper conduit for my soul. I am afraid of the disconnect that has been brought to education thanks to COVID 19. I am not sure how I will face it. I am not sure that I have the patience to return to form.
Before Kadjha Bonet told me to remember the rain I almost forget why I was hurting the way I am. I’ve spent by entire adult life one ugly cry away from being labeled insane. It was the guitar that brought me back. Her voice sounds like the ceiling in the Louvre, her face reminiscent of Habesha royalty. I don’t be dancing right…but I danced with her though. In my mind it was like an early 90s slow grind but much more respectful. Imagine if the movie LaLa land was filmed in Richmond, CA—yeah something like that. Except in the end I get the girl. We get evicted from our studio apartment in Emeryville but we still have each other though. Every now and then she turns one of my poems into a song. She gets gigs on the weekends. I wait tables during the week. I would never miss one of her shows. I love to watch the people’s faces get all euphoric when she plays “remember the rain.” It reminds me that she’s mine as long as I don’t do too much, and I’m ok with that.
A few months ago I sat down with the great brotha Keenan Norris to express my deep appreciation for the poetry of the late Etheridge Knight. What came of our conversation was one of the most amazing audio recordings that I have ever been a part of. Please listen for yourself here:
I saw a 27-year-old iconic black woman named Megan thee Stallion hobble backwards in the middle of the street at the behest of the Los Angeles Police Department. Her wounded foot leaving a trail of blood on the concrete as she continued to walk backwards with her hands up. Recording artist Tory Lanez laid face down on the opposite side of the vehicle. Initially it was reported that the car was pulled over because an occupant was shooting in the air and that glass from the window cut Meghan’s foot. Then that narrative was replaced with a more disturbing one. Apparently Tory Lanez shot Meghan twice in the foot in a domestic dispute as she tried to leave the SUV. The police then pulled them over a short while later. Tory was charged with weapon possession and quickly bonded out. Meghan has yet to tell the police that Tory is the culprit, but she has made a few social media posts which seem to not only point the finger at Tory but at black men in general.
“Black women are so unprotected & we hold so many things in to protect the feelings of others w/o considering our own,” she tweeted. “It might be funny to y’all on the internet and just another messy topic for you to talk about but this is my real life and I’m real life hurt and traumatized.”
I feel like a failure. 482.4k people to date liked this post. I would assume a disproportionate amount of them are black women who agree with her sentiments. Many of whom were probably retraumatized by watching a performer like Meghan who is normally so full of confidence and one who possesses an unabashed ownership of her sexuality wounded and bleeding by the hands of a black man. I hate that this feeling of being unprotected is so pervasive amongst black women. I hate the truth of it. I hate that when a black woman sees a group of black men that she does not know then she is much more likely to feel extreme anxiety than comfort. I love black women and it bothers me that in these moments of high-profile domestic abuse, my love can be overruled by the actions of a coward. I wish that I could heal Meg. I wish that I could restore the dignity of black men in the eyes of all black women who have been abused, but I cannot. All I can do is hate what I see, log off of social media, and try to come up with a real-life plan to bring some understanding to our fractured relationships.
Yeah. I see your concerns. I would say that the most effective thing that Marcellus Wiley did was read from the actual Black Lives Matter mission statement. In my critical thinking class I teach the concept of the Lens which basically means that our personal experiences along with race, class, gender, etc. shape how we view the world. With that being said BLM is created through the lens of three queer black women. So to me it isn’t at all shocking that the movement that they have constructed doesn’t necessarily resonate with a masculine rapper and an equally masculine football player who are from the hood. This is to be expected. I think the biggest problem is that BLM seems to be “the only show in town” if you will, when it is clear that they are not for everyone. And they clearly don’t represent the attitude and mindset of working-class black people.
Regarding Lord Jamar’s emphasis on the founders being lesbians, personally I think that’s important to note. They shouldn’t be shunned or dismissed because of their gender or sexual orientation but we must acknowledge that those things will impact how they view progress. If neither of them will ever start a family with a man then I think it’s easier for them to look at the traditional nuclear family structure as something that should be dismantled. Marcellus Wiley on the other hand feels the exact opposite. He thinks having both a man and a woman in the family is crucial for the success of a child.
But yeah perspective is important. I definitely disagreed with Wiley when he seemingly used the example of multiple black people hosting the same sports show as evidence of there being no such thing as white supremacy in 2020 WTF! Overall though I think it’s extremely necessary for us as citizens of this world to determine our own truths so that we don’t end up being the tools of demagogues. In addition to that we should stop looking at the world like a comic book: Good vs. Evil, Left vs. Right, BLM vs. White supremacy etc. because, as you and I know, the world is much more nuanced. In these times of extreme ideological bullying I really appreciate people who aren’t afraid to be gadflies. I look at both Lord Jamar and Marcellus Wiley as very welcome disrupters of contemporary woke programing. I salute them for trying to make the world think, and I salute BLM for giving them something to disagree with so passionately.