Cooning with Compassion: Notes on the Kanye West Oval Office Meeting

 

I just want Kanye to own everything he said yesterday in his oval office meeting with President Donald Trump. I want him to stop blaming his strong reverence for The President on mental illness. He needs to keep that same energy that compelled him to claim that Donald Trump is a father figure to him when he goes on black radio and talk shows. And I’m not saying that everything that Kanye said was negative because it wasn’t. Some of it I can only describe as brave and profound. He said marvelous things about former Chicago gangster and community leader Larry Hoover in hopes of getting him sprung from prison. He spoke about bringing honor and dignity back to the black community and making sure black fathers are in the household. He placed himself in a position that makes him impossible to simply dismiss as ignorant. He cooned with compassion.

 

Yes, he definitely put on a show for the white president, the white photographers and journalists, as well as all of the white republicans watching at home, but isn’t that what the American political game is all about? Any time an African-American lobbies hard for white people isn’t that cooning? So, would you feel better if he would have given that speech at the feet of Bernie Sanders or Hilary Clinton? Would it be more acceptable then? I don’t think so. I feel like a lot of African-Americans are upset because they snuggled up to the wrong white person. Kanye aligned himself with Trump and Kanye won. He now has a direct line of communication with the president.

Yesterday Yeezy tap danced on the master’s desk until all of the polish wore off of his shoes, until the soles cracked, and until his feet ached. He went ALL in and no one forced him. He called President Trump his daddy and gave him a hug. He took arrows in the back for the President and teetered the line between calling black people out and being their representative. Kanye is not a victim of the Republican party or Bi-polar disorder. He is doing exactly what he wants to do. All that I ask is that he stands strong when the black tide of judgement washes over him. Don’t blame it on being crazy then Sir. Please don’t, for there are too many people who are really suffering with mental illness for you to hide behind it whenever your people hold you accountable. All that I ask is that you keep that same energy.

-Roger Porter

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An Honest Woman

       

       He was the most promising thing that had ever happened to her nonexistent love life. He was marriage material, and it frightened her to think like that because she had never known anyone that had ever gotten married. Certainly not her mother who had her, and her sister by a former standout high school football player who eventually turned to cocaine and crystal-meth. Not her older sister who had gotten herself pregnant by a local hoodlum and want to be playboy who, when drunk, would send her pictures of his dick on snapchat. Not herself, she had never been proposed to by the boy who had impregnated her shortly after her 20th birthday and she had never wanted him to. He was an aspiring rapper who ate with his mouth open and didn’t believe in keeping a job. He had shown an intense interest in her when he met her at the bus stop. She remembered thinking that he was kind of funny looking and had a very thin long face like a camel. She wasn’t attracted to him but she loved the way he wanted her, the smile that he had given her, the crass words about the shape of her hips came out sounding rather sweet. She was even charmed by the way he had to keep pulling his pants up because he had forgotten his belt and his skinny jeans were a few sizes too big. She gave him her number. He called, they fucked a few times, she got pregnant, she told him, he never called again, he blocked her on Facebook, deactivated his Instagram and disappeared. She didn’t really care. Honestly she didn’t. He wouldn’t have made much of a father anyway. Besides she would rather raise her child by herself with no interference.

            But now she met this promising brotha at a church function. He was with his family but his soul still wandered. He stood in the pulpit briefly to tell the congregation about the boy’s camp that he had started and how he needed their help. “Give me your boys” he orated “and I will do everything in my power to make men of them.” She thought this was very corny but she was still intrigued. Her son was far too young to attend the camp but she still got his business card after the service anyway. She emailed him the next day, and when he didn’t respond to her satisfaction she called him at his job and left a message with his secretary. The whole time she thought about his cream colored suit and matching tie. She ultimately became impressed by the dramatic nature in which he spoke and his extensive knowledge of scripture, not to mention his youth. He had to be the youngest settled man she had ever seen. She envied his wife and his daughter. She wanted him for her bedroom and she wanted him for her son. She didn’t feel like she was worthy of all of him just yet but she felt like she deserved a little piece. He should be able to spare that. So she continued to call him at his job, and she visited his home church, she helped out at the fundraiser for his camp, and she emailed him inspirational quotes.

            Finally he began to open up about everything that his marriage was not, and she listened. She began to talk about her son, and he listened. She began to laugh hardily at all of his jokes. Even the ones that weren’t funny—especially the ones that weren’t funny. She called him sexy and said, “If your wife ever slips up then you know who to call.” He ended that conversation abruptly. So abruptly that she just knew that she had lost him and she cursed herself for it. But the next day he called back from his job and after several minutes of small talk he asked in a nervous, secretive tone if she wanted to come and see him every now and then. She said ok. He then gave her a location to meet him and she told him that she was looking forward to it.

            She felt extremely accomplished when he finally reciprocated her lust. She never felt bad at all. She felt contented in knowing that she could have a piece of something great. She felt like his touch would raise her above the predetermined fate of all of her foremothers. That if he left work to be with her for an hour then that would elevate her consciousness. And that after enough hours he would come home to her and teach her little guy how to tie a tie, go fishing, and catch a football while she cooked dinner and ironed his clothes. With this young ambitious man she would be able to press the reset button on her womanhood. She had gotten his attention. She earned her hour and now she would submit to him and he would be hers for as long as it took for him to be hers.

-YB

The Real American Flag: Notes on Bree Newsome, Dylan Roof, and the Confederate Flag Contraversey

As much as I loved to see Bree Newsome climb that flagpole and put in serious work this morning, I have to confess that taking down the Confederate Flag won’t make me feel any better. Drafting stricter gun control laws won’t put my soul at ease either. What would make me feel better about the nine people murdered while they prayed in a South Carolina church is if the person who killed them was actually treated like a mass murderer as opposed to a child who threw a temper tantrum or unconsciously hurt someone’s feelings.

I was sickened when I saw the arrest of Dylann Roof. Perhaps even more sickened than when I read about his initial crime. In the video he pulls over to the side of the road and is very calmly and gently handcuffed and walked to an awaiting squad car.

It is confirmed that the officers later took him to Burger King because he said that he was hungry. There was no repulsion from the officers, no rage, no yelling, no violent search, none of the officers roughly crammed his body to into the patrol car after he was handcuffed. No. It was almost as if they all felt sorry for the kid. The 21 year-old-kid who accidentally walked into a church, befriended a prayer group and then blew all of its members away. They treated this heathen as if he had done god’s work.

I’ve seen a child as young as 12-years-old have his head slammed against the trunk of squad cars for participating in a dice game. I’ve seen suspects pulled out of car windows, and I’ve seen faces smashed into the concrete by arresting officers. Just at the beginning of this month Dajerria Becton was slammed to the ground and had a cop put all of his bodyweight on her because she was suspected of attempting to illegally enter a swimming pool, but Dylann Roof on the other hand—Dylann Roof is a special kind of suspect. He could be any police officer’s child or brother or, to be quite honest, he could be any police officer. They probably envied him for being able to kill all of those black people at same time while they can only pick them off one by one.

 

One can see that the officers care about Dylann Roof in the same way that the judge at his arraignment showed that he cares for him by announcing that Dylann’s family are victims. The Judge said this at a time when Dylann could have literally still had the blood of those which he had slain on his flesh. He could have still had gunpowder residue on his fingertips and his adrenaline was probably still charged from his bold strike for the white race yet, in that moment, he is viewed sympathetically and that judge and those officers and maybe even the whole system have the compassion to immediately see the humanity in this killer. Even though he has yet to apologize or express remorse. He hasn’t found Jesus or cried or looked afraid or ashamed yet the system has a place in its heart for the Dylann Roof’s of the world. I mean I’m sure that one could ask any drug dealer in Charlotte or Raleigh (who hasn’t killed anyone) is it North Carolina state policy to buy suspects fast food after an arrest and they would laugh out loud.

 

If one had any doubts about the existence of white privilege in every single facet of the American Judicial System then the handling of Dylann Roof should burn that doubt to a crisp similarly to how Dylann was photographed burning the American flag. So no I really don’t care if every state building in the South takes down the Confederate Flag or if every major retail store in America refuses to sell it. For the original Confederacy was a group of treasonous guerillas that rejected federal law by violent means therefore I’m sure the descendants of these individuals will not hesitate to continue to wave its flag and believe in its principles whether it’s on front of the state capital building or not.

 

All I wanted was for law enforcement to look past the color of a suspect just once to see that Dylann is a vile human-being who need not be treated delicately and need not be given a value meal on his way to jail. But that didn’t happen. America has waved its true flag in dealing with the South Carolina massacre and that flag isn’t orange and blue nor is it red white and blue. That flag isn’t decorated with stars and bars nor is it decorated with stars and stripes. That flag is all white. For white is the only color that has ever mattered in this country.

 

-YB    

Fruitvale Station and the Notion of Cultural Obligations

 

 

I believe in cultural obligations. This is something that my mother taught me at a very young age. I had to be about 8 years old when Young Guns II came out in the movie theater.  It was the sequel to the completely awesome and rendition to the story of Billy the Kidd starring Emilio Estevez and Lou Diamond Phillips. Needless to say I was pretty excited about it. Back in those days my mother would take my siblings and me to the movie theater about four times a year. So I was super stoked that we were getting a chance to go while this highly anticipated film was still showing. Even though I was in the 3rd grade there was never a time in my life when I couldn’t watch rated R movies so naturally I recommended that we all watch the gun-toting western together. My older brother had different intentions.

“We should watch Mo Better Blues,” he told my mother.

“What! That stupid jazz movie? Don’t nobody want to see that crap. It looks hecka boring,” I protested from the back seat.

“It’s a Spike Lee joint,” he said with passive authority.

“So what it’s gone be boring,” I continued on.

My mother probably weighed the options for about a quarter of a second.

“We’re going to see Mo Better Blues,” she said in her ‘and that’s that voice.’

I was pissed and the most I could do about it was suck my teeth. I suffered through what seemed like five hours of music with no words and multiple hardcore sex scenes. Well the sex scenes weren’t bad but I would have much rather seen Billy the Kid and The Regulators kill all those backstabbing hypocrites that were trying to run them out-of-town. I didn’t understand it at the time but my mother was teaching me a very valuable lesson. Black people are obligated to support other black people even when it hurts. And while I was sitting in that theater watching Wesley Snipes, Spike Lee, and Denzel Washington get into debates about issues that I couldn’t care less about, it REALLY HURT. After the movie was over she spoke to me about our responsibility as black folk. She told me that if we don’t look out for one another then no one else will and I got it. Very reluctantly, I got it.

 

Now several years later I sit here in front of my house composing this entry a day before the release of Fruitvale Station a story about the life and tragic death of Oscar Grant. To be straight up about it, I really don’t want to watch it. And that’s not because I don’t think it will be a good film because I think it’s going to be great. As a matter of fact last Saturday I actually met a brotha that plays a role in the movie. No it’s not that, the thing is the incidents that are chronicled in the movie are still extremely painful for me.

 

I was one of the thousands of people who marched through the streets of Oakland demanding justice for Mr. Grant after he was shot in the back by transit cops as he lay down in handcuffs on New Years Eve of 2009. I AM OSCAR GRANT was the slogan and when I said it I meant it. Because I have been to the Fruitvale BART Station several times, because he had a daughter the exact same age as mine, because I went through a phase in which I had no idea where my life was going, and because we were both young black men growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area I empathized with him completely.  I wrote about it extensively. I became enraged about it and ultimately depressed when Johannes Mehserle was sentenced to only two years for Oscar Grant’s murder. This isn’t like a movie on Fred Hampton or Ghandi—No, this is something that I actually lived through. It’s not even old enough to be historical.

 

But alas Fruitvale Station is a black movie. It was produced by Forrest Whitaker and directed by another young black man named Ryan Coogler. It also stars Octavia Spencer and was of course filmed in my hometown of Oakland, CA. But I still do not want to watch the movie. It bothers me that the Black American experience is so saturated with pain that even our leisure activities induce a certain amount of trauma. Why is awareness always a tragedy in the mind of the young black man? The story of Oscar Grant like the story of Trayvon Martin reminds me that my life is completely dispensable and I’m torn because part of me does not want to revisit that moment but another part of me knows that I can never actually leave that reality.

 

Whether I want to acknowledge it or not does not make racism less prevalent. Even when I’m eating my ice cream at the creamery, viewing art at the museum, or smelling lavender roses at the rose garden, racism is always lurking. I realize that I try to run from my issues as often as possible. I don’t want to confront the pain of my subconscious mind just like I don’t want to deal with my emotions. I feel like the film Fruitvale Station is guaranteed to make me confront both and even worse it will make me confront both of these untapped entities in a very public setting.

 

Tomorrow is the local release date of the film. I won’t see it tomorrow but I will see it before it leaves the theater. And it won’t be because I heard good things about it or because I feel like I need to learn more about the life of Oscar Grant but it will only be because I feel like it is my duty as an African-American to support the film. I will support the film because that’s the way I was raised.

-YB

Writing my Sickness Away

I woke up sick this morning; sick in my mind, sick in my body, and sick in my spirit. I feel like I may be drawn to misery in the same way that insects of the night are drawn to streetlights. Even when things are well for me I always make room in my heart for pain. Or maybe I had too much to drink last night.

It’s always deeper than it is. Last night I sat across the table from an old friend who I have known for over half of my life. We probably see one another an average of once every two years so when we link up we are forced to cram everything that has happened in our lives into one conversation. How’s work, how is your daughter, who are you dating, what you been doing, who do you keep in touch with, how is your family, how is your cousin; and I then I tense up. I cover my ears and brace for the pain because the trigger has been pulled.

 

My cousin ain’t doing so good. He’s on the streets. He stole from my aunty. He has problems separating fantasy from reality. For him there is no real line between the past and the present. They say he’s schizophrenic. Sometimes he takes his medication but most of the time he doesn’t. But of course I don’t say all of this when she asks. “Awe you know, he’s out there doing his thing.” Then I look into my glass and take a sip. Next question please? And the small talk has just gotten a whole lot smaller.

 

 

My mother is the older sister of his father. When I was a young boy and my uncle was full of tall cans of Old English malt liquor, he used to break down in tears as he recounted the story of my mother picking him up out of the Arkansas snow because his other sister had kicked him out of the house for peeing in the bed. My mother then placed him in her bed and after he stopped shivering he slept through the night.

My cousin and I grew up really close. I signed up for football then he signed up for football. He ran track one year and the next year I did too. He was a lot larger and more athletic than me but I had a bigger personality. In essence I ran my mouth a lot but no one ever tried to fight me because they knew that he was my cousin. It worked out really well for me.

 

By our senior year in high school I had given up on sports while he excelled. I ended up going to college to pursue a career in writing and he got a full athletic scholarship at a division one school. It was a major accomplishment for him and everybody considered it to be a big deal. There was a banquet thrown for him and the other scholarship athletes on campus that was attended by my grandmother, his father, a few dozen other relatives, and various local media outlets that were itching to cover a positive story involving black youth. I considered the path that my life had taken to be pretty normal but his was extraordinary. After all, as young black boys growing up in the ghetto, naturally we wanted to one day become professional athletes. When we entered the 10th grade I was about 125 pounds soaking wet with Timberland’s and I knew then that I had no chance at all of going to the NFL, but he still did. He was about to make it, unfortunately for him however, he didn’t view things that way.

He wanted to go to another school, a school that was an NCAA powerhouse and a school that a few ballers who had graduated from our high school the year before we did were attending. They sent him on an official recruiting trip and he had a lot of fun. Too much fun. He committed before they offered. He told the coach he wanted to go there, no question about it. But as national signing day approached they gave his scholarship to another kid. He couldn’t understand it. It wasn’t fair. He cried about it, he told me in confidence. He cried about it a lot. He expressed to me that the whole thing was fixed. That old punk ass coach knew he wasn’t going to offer him a scholi in the first place. That it was all a game. That people were playing with him. Why were people always playing with him?

 

I was a little bit taken aback by his testimony but not too much. I figured it to be a very minor setback, something that he would get over as soon as he got situated in college. There was truth to my assessment but ultimately my reasoning was completely skewed by my on denial.

He was, for his freshman year, the big man on campus. He dominated on the football field taking a starting position from a senior less than halfway through the season. He even picked up a fumble and ran it back 60 yards for a touchdown at a game attended by our whole family. In they end, however, they lost that game. They lost nearly all of their games and my cousin was quickly losing focus.

He did a lot of partying and was getting into a lot of trouble. When he came back for Christmas breaks he had several fight stories that sounded like scenes from the old Patrick Swayze movie The Outsiders. By Spring break he had revealed that he had gotten a woman pregnant and was on academic probation and by the end of the school year he was asked not to return to the University.

 

He didn’t sweat it much. He figured he would get more scholarship opportunities, and he did (he actually got a couple more). He spent most of the summer bonding with his newborn son.

 

On one day in August we took the baby on a family tour. We went to our grandmother’s house in Bayview Hunter’s Point and we took him to see our aunty on Havenscourt, and then our cousins on 90th. The little guy slept peacefully and very rarely cried. When we took him out of his car seat and into the cold San Francisco night air he wasn’t tripping. Even when I, at the age of 19, drove way too fast over the Deep East Oakland speed bumps he wasn’t afraid. He was with men that would die for him and he knew it. He was chilling. He was good.

 

When we got him home his mother was exasperated. She snatched the baby and said very little to us because we didn’t matter. She was very displeased and it showed but one got the sense that she felt as though it wasn’t worth talking about. For all intents and purposes her relationship with my cousin was over anyway and when she went back to school a few weeks later she made it official. It was only then that he became truly unraveled.

As I made it through college and experienced my own fair share of drama and got my own girlfriend pregnant and was nearly ousted from school myself the women of the family began to whisper. “You know your cousin ain’t right in the head no more. He’s a little off, a little touched. Do you know what he said to me the other day…?”  And this would always be followed by their laughter, a very disturbing defense mechanism that would piss me off. No one ever really wants to deal with pain so people force humor into things that aren’t funny.

 

Nevertheless I refuted their claims for years. I even argued with my uncle, his dad, about it. I would say he’s just a little down because his football dreams are finally over. It’s only natural. He’ll bounce back I said. All ya’ll are doing way too much.

As the years went by I managed to graduate from college but he didn’t. I established a very solid relationship with my daughter but he was asked by his son’s mother not to come around them due to his strange behavior. I was able to maintain a job— no matter how lame it was—but he wasn’t.

We were about 23 years old I when I got word that he was living in a shelter in Palo Alto so, of course, I went to go see him. By that time I could no longer deny the reality of it all. My cousin was gone.

As elementary school age children my cousin and I, along with all of the other neighborhood children, would play games of hide and go seek deep into the night. Sometimes one of us would fall and scrape our knees and elbows. In which case we would cry a little bit, go inside to get a band-aid, and come right back outside to play. When we ran track my cousin pulled a hamstring. He missed a few track meets but a few weeks later he was right back on the relay team. So when it was discovered that my cousin had a mental illness I couldn’t understand why he couldn’t bring it back. I can’t express the hopelessness that I felt knowing that he would never get better. That he would never fully recover and even worse, there was nothing that I could do to help him.

I tried very hard though. He was hungry so I bought him Round Table Pizza. I saw that he needed shoes so I bought him some. I literally gave him the coat off of my back because he was wearing a dusty old blazer with no hood and the October rain was going to start coming down soon. But giving him all of those material things ultimately didn’t matter because I couldn’t give him peace of mind.

As we walked down a street close to Stanford University he spoke to me in a strange kind of whisper that seemed very distant and very loud at the same time. And he talked to me slowly, reminiscent of Master Splinter in the Ninja Turtle movies. Like he was trying to sound very wise. We passed a bar and he asked to go in. I told him I wasn’t going to buy him alcohol. He then told me that he was trying to use alcohol to stop smoking weed in the same way that heroin addicts use methadone to quit their habit.

We walked into Walgreens to get him basic necessities and he asked me to buy him some painkillers. I told him that I was not going to buy him drugs and he became irritated but quickly got over it. He asked for some candy instead and I obliged.

A few hours later we were back at the shelter and I had to leave him. He said thanks. I said be cool and that was that. Every interaction I have had with him since then has been the same way. He oscillates between his former self and some dreamy voiced person whom I wish I had never met. He goes out of his way to try to get me to remember events that I did not attend and he asks me for money. I cannot help my cousin.

I miss my cousin and it sucks to know that although he is still alive he will never come back. So many memories from our childhood are dead because he can’t remember that he was there with me. And right now I want to call him up but he doesn’t have a phone number. I want to swoop him up but he doesn’t have an address, so I write about it. I write until I don’t feel sick anymore. I write about it because really, there isn’t much else that I can do.