The humongous state of California can feel claustrophobic at times. As of late these times have been occurring much more frequently. A few weeks ago, I sought to leave. I felt like if I didn’t cross the state line then bad things would happen to me. I was imploding. There’s really no other way to put it. So, I headed east. And quite randomly or maybe one can say it was by god’s design, I wound up in Utah. As I traveled through the state I was shocked by all of the natural beauty. The red clay was very reminiscent of Arizona but it wasn’t as brightly colored. It was more subdued. The landscape on either side of the highway was so striking and the canyons were so picturesque that I found myself pulling over at every looking point. Each time I stepped out of the vehicle I further internalized the fact that I was a long way from Oakland, CA.
The beauty of the state was amplified even further when I got to Bryce Canyon National Park. As I admired the shapes of the rocks in the canyon from the top of a trail something told me to look up into the sky and when I did I was forever changed. The perfectly formed clouds stood still and they accentuated the endless blue surrounding them. I’m from the west coast so I’m used to looking out at the Pacific Ocean and feeling like a speck of dirt amongst its vastness. I have never, until that moment, looked toward the sky in the middle of the day and felt the same way. There was so much sky. It was unpolluted. It was clear. It was humbling as well as comforting. I trusted the sky. I felt protected by it. I was enamored with its unwavering presence. I thought of my father and my grandparents. My friends and all of my ancestors and it brought contentment. I knew that their souls were there and I knew that mine would be there one day as well, and I was ok with that. I was at peace with where I was and where I would ultimately end up.
I took a picture which is my attempt to capture something that could never be captured. The peace that I gained in that moment has been a lasting one. I never thought that Utah would be the place that I would go to heal but that’s how it played out. And now whenever I feel downtrodden I stop and look up before I continue my life.
Are we in the pursuit of money or are we in the pursuit of justice? That is the question that is currently dividing Team Kaepernick and Team Jay-Z as we move forward into another NFL season. After Jay-Z forged a partnership with Roger Goodell and the NFL on August 14th many people viewed it as a betrayal of his former protégé Colin Kaepernick—I am one of those people.
To be clear, I am not Team Kaepernick. Meaning I do not follow Kap blindly. I am critical of his desire to reenter the NFL. I am critical of him starting a movement that seems to have no real goals. As a matter of fact, he seemed to disappear shortly after his kneeling gained serious traction amongst both liberals and people in the center of the political spectrum that appreciated Colin exposing the myriad hypocrisies that are embedded in the fabric of this nation. One thing I would never call into question is that Colin took a knee by himself. He had no support when he did it. He lost millions of dollars in salary and endorsements for doing it (though he made a portion of it back through his deal with Nike and his settlement against the NFL). And he was ultimately banned from football because of it. That is admirable. Any time a man puts a cause over making money in a system that routinely places capital over human life then they are special. That makes Colin immortal and it says that the cause itself transcends any amount of money. This is why I was aghast when I found out that Jay Z made a deal to provide entertainment for halftime at NFL games this season and maybe be part owner of a team. Most of the details are still not public but what we do know is that there is some form of a social justice component. Money will be raised to give to nonprofits and educate people about racial profiling and police brutality. Some very prominent members of the black community including popular DJ Charlemagne the God have rallied in support of Jay-Z suggesting that he is trying to help black people and that he is taking the campaign to the next level. But Jay Z never sought Colin’s approval. How can one befriend a social gadfly like Colin Kaepernick, wear his jersey on Saturday Night live, tell other up and coming artists not to perform at the Super Bowl and then monetize a movement for your own personal gain when it was never about money?
One can’t put a dollar amount on consciousness. One can’t throw money at a centuries old problem like racism and expect it to go away, however, it is a good business practice used to manipulate the public into believing that you actually care. Jay-Z not only knows this, he’s complicit in it. People will say that this deal will generate jobs and thus it will create opportunities for the disenfranchised. To that I would ask black people, Would you rather have a job or a revolution? Why can’t we create our own league and hire who we want? We have enough billionaires to do it. Why do we, as black people, want to actively participate in a system that was designed to keep the vast majority of us at the bottom? We are so brainwashed that I am convinced that a good deal of us would be willing to bring slavery back as long as 15% of the plantations were owned by African-Americans. But not Colin. Colin wouldn’t sell his soul for a check. Jay-Z did. And that’s the difference. I don’t rock with Roc Nation. Neither am I on the Kaepernick bandwagon. I rock with the truth. To paraphrase what the comedian Monique said earlier this year, I place my integrity over the bag. I place my morals over money and I celebrate moments in history when others do the same. Let the movement continue. Let the kneeling continue and may every billionaire owner of an NFL team be made to feel uncomfortable every time the national anthem is performed.
I committed a millennial sin about a month ago and here is my confession. I went on a vacation to a tropical island and I didn’t bring my camera. Not only that, I left my phone in my room every single day. And finally, I went on this vacation alone. Not with my crew, not with my squad, not with my gang, not with my fraternity, not with my family, not with my brothers—just me. And I wandered, I had savory authentic dishes, I got scammed, I declined several propositions from prostitutes, I was myself mistaken for a prostitute and propositioned (That was interesting. Must have been my shorts), and I had conversations that made me question my stance on my country. All of these things made my soul expand yet I don’t have one picture to prove it so therefore it never happened.
I’m fine with it. That’s the portion of it that concerns me the most. I don’t care. I’m wondering what’s the purpose of confessing to a sin that I don’t feel sorry for committing. I guess this means I’m doomed to spend eternity in millennial hell. A place with no Wi-Fi where porn only comes in actual magazines and I have to listen to entire albums the whole way through and actually physically turn those albums over. If that be my fate then so be it. I’m beginning to guard my experiences more. I share them on social media less and less. I don’t even feel comfortable writing down which island I went to. I will say that it was one of the ones filled with black people. And they spoke a language other than English—except when they were talking to me. I will also say that I wouldn’t ever go back. It was an awesome experience but I felt an enormous stigma as a tourist. I wasn’t in an all-inclusive resort so I realized within hours of touching down that I was the economy. Everyone there depended on me to feed their families and I didn’t like it. I hated that the whole island is being raped by foreigners. There were billion dollar hotels and multimillion dollar carnival cruises that docked on the bay and none of these businesses were owned by any person from that country. All that they could do was work in the service of tourists or flee to a country like the one I was born in. I had come there for escape, for paradise, to have an experience akin to those I’ve seen on Instagram—I was a fool.
I took no pictures. I wished I could turn my critical thinking skills down enough to Turn Up the whole time I was down there but I couldn’t. I saw beautiful women and I will always remember them. I learned about the great prophets of that island and I won’t forget them. I felt the water of the ocean against my toes while the seaweed tickled my ankles. I embraced the fact that I was wrong about a lot of things after futilely fighting for their individual truths in conversations with islanders who knew better. I realized that I, even in my black skin, have privileges. I accepted that though I am the descendant of American slaves. Though one could argue that I am still in bondage—and often times I do—I am still an American. America is all that I know. Everything I have learned has been filtered by my government. Even the things that I believed to be radical I only was able to learn because my country allowed me to.
When I stepped onto that island I lived a different truth. A truth that couldn’t be captured in a photograph. It couldn’t be validated by X number of likes either. Therefore I didn’t partake in any of those practices that have set this era apart from all those preceding it. It was a sin that I committed intentionally and a sin that I will commit again.
She was very insecure but she ought not to have been. Her lips were as full as the moon. Her hair was deeply tangled yet beautiful, just like the history of humankind. At 22-years-old she was fine as hell. She knew she was fine. All the boys told her so but far too many times there was an asterisk. “You’re fine for a dark skin girl” they would say. She was pretty enough to be a stripper but not pretty enough to be a model. When she got all dressed up she was a bad bitch and not a gorgeous woman. No one saw the pain that was spreading behind her high cheek bones. No one was aware of the self-doubt that had burrowed its way into her body, they were too preoccupied with the way that she walked into a room and stood in the middle of that thang arms akimbo until she found her girls, or a seat, or the bar, or a place to dance. And while she waited she breathed in deeply as if she was inhaling the hatred of the women and the fantasies of the men—then she exhaled slowly, dramatically, seductively. She was the center of all dirty thoughts without ever trying to be. She was viewed as Hottentot Venus but she wanted to be The Birth of Venus. She wasn’t insecure about her culture, no not at all. She was just beginning to be consumed by all of the ways in which her complexion was permeating her dreams. Dreams that used to be sacred and unbound were now tainted by the perceptions of both strangers and loved ones.
She thought of escaping quite often, but to where? She had heard her sorrors tell vacation stories in which natives of Germany, France, and Mexico adored dark skin women. These stories were entertaining but she didn’t want to be anyone’s primitive little fetish. She didn’t want to be chosen in an effort to challenge mommy and daddy’s expectations. She just wanted full credit for her radiance. She had a reoccurring dream of being the queen of the Dahomey Kingdom in the 18th Century. She was training to be a female warrior until the king of all of Dahomey took her to be his wife. And since it was her dream the king never took on another wife, and she only bore one child for him because she didn’t want to have too many stretch marks and it was very important that she hold on to the ability to keep her lady parts tight—and the king understood. The king spoiled her with gifts publicly and in private she was the one who made all of the important decisions. Also in the dream were all the people who had abused her in real life. Like Matthew who used to call her blacky in middle school. Taylor who laughed out loud when she decided to go natural in 10th grade and called her a fake ass Erykuh Badu. “Erykuh Ba-WHO?” he said with both arms in the air resembling a W in a questioning manner. Light skinned Monica who won homecoming queen over her was also there. And with a snap of a finger she had them all captured and sold into slavery, and she never felt bad about it until she woke up. The level of pettiness that she had descended into inside of her subconscious mind concerned her. Since marijuana upset her stomach she decided that she needed therapy. Preferably a dark-skinned black therapist that her sorrors recommended and one who was happily married to a black man. She would send a message of inquiry in the group chat immediately.
The more familiar a person is with the inner-workings of capitalism, the more a person is convinced that there is no way Jeffrey Epstein killed himself. Apparently, he was on suicide watch after he attempted to hang himself three weeks ago but was not being monitored at the time of his suicide earlier today. I refuse to believe that a man who allegedly provided sex with underage girls for the most powerful men in the world took his own life. Maybe we should use the term “assisted suicide.” Like maybe the word got to him that it would be in his best interest to kill himself and he was like “Yeah. You’re right. I’ll get on it right away.” Or maybe he was poisoned or maybe even shot four times in the chest. The point is that we will never know. No matter how comfortable you feel about the government report on the way in which Epstein died just know that the information that would have come out during his trial would have embarrassed the US government, several European governments, and probably Saudi Arabia’s as well. They had ample reason to kill him. But let’s just say that Jeffrey Epstein died by suicide as the media is reporting. What can we deduce from that? Is it fair to say that very wealthy white men don’t like to be placed in cages? Maybe they believe that jail is for the R. Kelly’s and Bill Cosby’s of the world. The Weinsteins, Catholic Priests, Ed Bucks and Epsteins are like “Oh hell no. Give me freedom! Give me bail! Or give me death!” But whatever, no matter how his life ended he’s dead. Let all of the princes, prime ministers, and presidents that were entertained by underage girls who were being trafficked by Mr. Epstein rejoice. And let the collective eye rolling of the masses who are once again being deprived of justice be slow, thorough, and accompanied by the loudest exhale possible.
It was her sentence structure that amazed me more than anything. Each sentence fit into the story so perfectly and each one seemed to have equal importance. She was so measured in her approach. She never caught the holy ghost, as writers tend to do, and carried on about a singular topic while neglecting others. Her passion was always evenly distributed throughout her work and she always used a high level of characterization with each character that she created.
As an artist, my literary heroes impress me in different ways based on their style. From Hurston and Dunbar I always appreciated their skill at writing black dialect. From Baldwin I marveled at his strength of translating the experience of African-Americans into beautiful but still very confrontational intellectualism. And from Toni Morrison I learned patience. From her I learned consistency. From Toni I learned the confidence to slow down and trust that your audience will slow down with you. I learned to believe in the fact that your readers actually want to believe in you as a storyteller. Toni Morrison made blackness the default in all of her books. She made white readers feel their otherness without even trying. She carried her blackness with such an awesome regality that it was infectious.
And I will miss her the same way that I miss my father, my friend Sean Scott, my friend Ronnie Kidd, and my grandmother. The same way I miss all of my ancestors who I have never met but I still ask them questions every day. I will cherish her words until the day that I die and I will continue to walk down the road that she cleared for black writers. I love you Toni. Rest in eternal peace.
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.