An Oakland Artist

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.
-RP

 

A Mirror Called Haiti

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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.

 

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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.

-Roger Porter

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American Gangbanging: Notes on the Murder of Qasem Soliemani

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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.
-Roger Porter

The Sunday Session: Are you down?

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When them stars in the sky be sleeping and the sunlight hit my eyelids first thang in the morning—that’s when I want you there. I want you to feel comfortable enough to kiss me before you brush yo teeth. I want to squeeze you until yo ribs hurt, but just a little bit. I want you to gasp for air a little, you know how you do, and then I’ll let you go. And I want you to roll on top of me and slap me in my face, but not too hard though. Then I want you to pin my arms down and kiss me on the lips. Then when I stick my tongue in your mouth I want you to blush and tell me to stop because yo breath stank. I’ll tell you I like that shit and you’ll scream and cover your mouth and try to run to the bathroom. I’ll grab your hand and pull you back in bed. And we’ll do what we do until you don’t think about what your mouth may taste like to me. After that we’ll contemplate what we’ll do for the rest of the day. Where are we going to eat? Should we work out together? Should we go hang out by the lake? Or should we doordash breakfast, lunch, and dinner and pray for a girl when we’re finished doing our thang?

Anyways that’s how I want you. I want obsession to be a normal thang with us. I want you to be my homey. Like on some real Tupac Me and My Girlfriend type shit. Look for me when you dream and see me when you wake up. That’s how I want it to be forever. Are you down?

Her entitlement

Her entitlement is what disturbs me the most. She knew that she could have me. She didn’t need to hear any of the compliments that I gave her. She knew that I would spend money on her. She knew that I would continue to desire her well beyond the point where she stopped returning my calls.

 

I can’t find the words to tell her how insecure she is making me feel, and if I could find them I still would not tell her. I would rather let the cancer spread throughout my body than to allow the sun to touch my wound.

 

I found a lock of her hair on my navel when I was showering. My soul jerked back and forth between the euphoria of her bed and the depression that is her absence. It was less than 24 hours after seeing her and I knew that I would never see her again. I shuddered. My mind drifted. I was alone in my shower. Alone in my home. Alone in my yearning. I got it together.

 

I cleaned her off of my body. I texted another woman. I swiped right for about thirty minutes, and I almost went to the bar where all the pretty black girls who work in tech hang out before I realized I was lying to myself. I was hurting. I would be in pain for quite some time. I had to heal.

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Photo by Ekrulila on Pexels.com

Her hair

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Her back faces me. Her afro leaps out in every direction like an uncontained blaze. And I am nothing but a moth drawn to my own destruction. Before I parish may I kiss your cheek my love? Can we do our dance? May I hold you? The answer is yes. I cherish this right now. For it won’t take me the rest of my youth to appreciate the magnitude of this blessing. Did you say your mother was from Georgia? Can I taste your peach? Can I lick your spine? Can I run my fingers through your hair from behind? No, well why not? You say that your father is a man of my hue maybe even a shade lighter. Your brother was your first friend and I remind you of him but I can’t run my fingers through your mane? Why am I not allowed to touch your crown yet you have given me your body from all angles? Your nipples point out like Hershey’s kisses but the room is not cold. The conflagration is beneath me. Your anxiety has burned away and I kiss thee.

I hold thee as if this were our bridal bed. I share with you precious quotes that my grandmother said unto me when I was a little boy. You kiss my neck softly and you crawl away beckoning me to follow. I catch up to you. I am she. She is me. She moans soft and sultry. I pull her hair. She becomes stiff. She crawls away but this time I never catch up. I apologize to her as she puts on her clothes. The fire has been contained but not before I perish. You are not a fetish to me. You are not exotic. You are the one that my grandmother wanted to meet before she passed away. You are the one I was raised to protect. You are the truth from whom I could never run. I can’t apologize for all of those boys but I can be your man.

My obsequiousness does not move you. The room is suddenly cold. Your eyes avert mine. I have violated you and for that I apologize. My punishment shall be to remain unseen by you forever. If this be my hell, then may the devil allow me to look straight into the fire every day and be reminded of your beautiful hair.

The ownership of dreams: Notes on Colin Kaepernick’s NFL workout

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In a matter of hours Colin Kaepernick will have a football workout with several NFL team representatives on hand. They will be determining whether or not he will have the opportunity to play for one of their franchises. Some people are concerned because the workout is taking place on Saturday when most NFL teams are unavailable due to their respective games on Sunday. They wonder why it isn’t happening on a Tuesday which is the league protocol. Other people are praising Jay-Z. They state that his teaming up with Roger Goodell is the only reason Kaepernick is getting this opportunity. To be real, it all seems very disrespectful to the movement that Colin still desires to play in the league at all. Especially since he’s made enough money via his settlement and his deal with Nike to never have to work for the man again. Colin’s yearning to throw more touchdowns in front of tens of thousands of fans is obviously very essential to his being. The only question is why.

 

We must now revisit the childhood dream that so many little American boys have. 4thand Goal, 6 seconds on the clock, the ball is on your opponents fifteen-yard line. You take the snap. You look left. You look right. You see your favorite target. Touchdown. The crowd rushes the field. You have just led your home team to a Super Bowl victory. And now you’re going to Disneyland.

 

Colin almost achieved that dream in Super Bowl 47, but instead Kaepernick threw an interception to the Baltimore Ravens. Perhaps he wants that pass back. Perhaps he wants to play until he actually wins a Super Bowl title. This mode of thinking is extremely dangerous because it means that in order for Colin to achieve his dream he must be an employee of one of the many billion dollar companies that are a major reason why his people are suffering in the first place. The NFL has 32 teams. All of them are very profitable. All of them have a majority of black players and none of them have a black owner. At times we forget that the NFL is just as guilty as city planners, the prison guards’ association, the police, and the banks for keeping blacks in the ghetto. It’s the same exclusionary practices which keep all but one of the NFL owners white (Shahid Kahn of The Jacksonville Jaguars is Pakastani) that keep banks in the hood from lending money to African-Americans so that they can start a business. Therefore, it feels counterproductive for Colin to expose them as a racist good old boys’ network who colluded to keep him out of the league only to want to work for them once again. Thus, Colin has effectively allowed wealthy white men to have ownership of his dreams.

 

It’s very frustrating to know that with all of his social justice work and all of his support from the black community and progressives around the world, Colin Kaepernick may still be mentally enslaved. He still needs to be validated by a white organization in order to feel whole. It bothers me to see that this is what has become of knee that he took. And it frightens me to think that he may still be on his knees begging to work in the white man’s kingdom.

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.

Utah

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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.

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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.