I lost my shit. Again. But…directed at a person this time and not a drying rack, or a non-compliant zipper. And really, it wasn’t about that person…though I feel no remorse or desire to apologize. (Ultimately, if I’d written anything close to the smoldering emotions coursing through my bloodstream I would have certainly needed to apologize to everyone with access to my Facebook feed. But I restrained. Nonetheless, my body becomes absolutely wrecked after such experiences. It is a pure, rageful, sympathetic nervous system event that leaves me weak-kneed, tired, and emotionally deflated. But I have a few days separation and am now able to relatively dispassionately process.)
I’ve reportedly been a passionate warrior for perceived injustice and inequity my entire life. The first movie that elicited tears was the original, “King Kong.” It was around Christmas back in 1979. I was 5. I cried when the ape fell from the Empire State Building and died. I remember this. Can actually recreate the emotions. (Also, I had a speech disorder, so perhaps the whole thing would be quite hilarious and endearing to see and hear. “But why did yey till him?! Him didn’t do anyfin. Him dust yiked dat dowel. Him joved her. Yey didn’t have to till him. I’m wee-we sad. Him wad nice.”) Well…it started then, King Kong in the role of the enslaved, oppressed, and disenfranchised…and it culminated recently in my losing my shit in a Facebook thread. I shut the guy up, but I did it in a harsh, profanity-laden, supremely-unkind fashion. See…I recently accepted a lot of Facebook friend requests which I’d previously ignored. My goal, before last month, was to have a small community which I could trust and with whom I could be my ENTIRE self. Curses, anger, judgmental rants, douche baggery, sadness, whatever…just the whole ball of me. Then, my wife and I began the process of creating a life more in line with our goals to be happy, to be healthy, to have money but also to have time…time to be creative, to hang, to enjoy each other and friends, to travel, to just…be. I’m self employed and find myself well on the way to that goal personally. My life is mine. My schedule. Mine. I can call off, sleep in, and calmly respond to Comcast’s assertion that, “We’ll arrive between the hours of 8 a.m. and 1 p.m.” with an, “Alright. I guess.” (The negative side of that is obvious. If I don’t work, there’s no income, and then I become very angry when I need to wait for Comcast to arrive at 12:59:59.) But…I’ve also wanted to write, to podcast, to find or create a community and forum in which I could share my thoughts and experiences in a humorous, sarcastic, but heartfelt and optimistic manner. A sort of humorous real-time memoir. Thus “driven to drink” was born. I knew I wanted an audience…needed one actually. And in opening myself to an audience, I would be opening myself not only to the laughter and dialogue I crave, but also the disagreement, criticism, and detached honesty that scares the shit out of me. So…I decided to take a baby step and accept all of those Facebook requests…from old friends, high school and college acquaintances, friends of friends, and so on…to crack that door open and let people in. People who don’t care deeply about me and my emotional fragility. People who won’t simply utter those cursed, vile, evil words which burn like an iron on the linen setting into the soft flesh between my thumb and index finger, spiking my bullshit meter, “That was nice.” People who don’t actually know me, my history, my ethical foundation, my spirituality, all of the abrasive, raw and honest pieces of my personality.
And…I failed immediately, in a forum and with a person I could have absolutely predicted and avoided. But…what good would avoiding or regretting do?! I got exactly what I needed…an immediate test. That test ended with, “J, it’s fucking over. Get off your little fucking soapbox. I know what you’re saying. Go preach to your fucking choir.” J’s response, “Wow.” That’s it. This somehow pissed me off further. I had allowed myself to get to the point of popping-off, with J goading along the way (…and I remember J from high school being EXACTLY the same way. Really. No different. It was, in many ways, like I was right back at Shaler Area High School…), and then he took the high road, the upper hand, the place of restraint and decorum with a simple, dramatic, aghast, “Wow.”
I decided to post a Facebook meme that stated, “FOX NEWS WILL NOW DESCRIBE THE LACK OF RACISM IN AMERICA.” Of course, this bracketed a mosaic of what might be called, “The Aryan Wet Dream Brady Bunch Hollywood Squares.” Blonde. Blue eyes. Porcelain white skin. I see the trouble now, and I knew it after I’d posted. I thought about deleting immediately…but I didn’t. I didn’t because my emotions had recently been quite fragile regarding race, socio-economics, and government and I wanted to release just a little resentful ire. But looking at the thread, I see the problem began with the biased meme. Additionally, starting a “dialogue” this way doesn’t help (at all) when what I’m truly dealing with is the depth of sorrow and rage I experienced after several recent cases involving grand juries deciding not to indict officers who killed black men. And boys. (And, interestingly enough…a young man with Down syndrome.) Piled on top of the George Zimmerman incident and multiple other stories involving Black people being harassed or judged or generally shat upon by authority figures. The myriad details of each case don’t actually matter to me. But the Eric Garner decision cracked open the shell of subconscious denial and “just pretend everything is okay…just click your heels three times and say…there’s no place like a United Colors of Benetton ad, there’s no place like a contemporary Disney situation comedy” that I’d constructed around my psyche. Once the shell cracked, all of the festering emotion came pouring out.
I was into hip hop in a family and neighborhood in which anything Black was bad, wrong, and untouchable. “Nigger” was a term that exited the lips of people surrounding me often. People helping to raise me.
I read books (John Lewis, Nelson Mandela, Mumia Abu-Jamal, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Malcolm X, “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee,” “Pedagogy of the Oppressed”) which drove me further toward first-person accounts of the white-washed “facts” of U.S. history I’d been taught. I began reading these books in high school, but really dove into the library of ‘history from the perspective of the under-classes” in my early 20s. Perhaps I couldn’t wrap my brain around it quite. Perhaps I can’t now…but nonetheless these accounts had an immediate and lasting impact.
I was in South Africa, as part of a Semester at Sea voyage, just 6 years after Mandela’s release from prison and two years into his presidency. I sang the newly minted South African national anthem (“Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika,” here’s a link to a lovely version by the Khayelitsha United Mambazo Choir: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W83_2Up–7U) in front of thousands of Black University of Cape Town students. I had contemplated boycotting the Cape Town port of call with a group of Black students on the ship with whom I’d connected because of continued post-apartheid policies and challenges in the country. I meditated and contemplated during the days preceding our arrival. I sat at the back deck staring in the ship’s wake, moonlight extending from the onyx black water at my feet to the horizon which stretched 360 degrees…and ultimately decided that it was best for me to see the country, to visit the townships, to sing this living, breathing anthem of freedom, reconciliation, and reparation.
My father married a Black woman who lived in a housing project in Alequippa, Pennsylvania, with 99.999% Black folks. The .0001% who were not Black were white. Actually, the .0001% who were not Black was my Father. And on certain weekends, me. My memories of my step-brothers and sisters and my step-mother, Angie, are phenomenally positive…particularly in stark contrast to my biogical Father who was immature and self-involved at best. Certainly not fit to be a Father. White as he may have been.
I’ve lived in Kenya, as a Peace Corps Volunteer at a school for the Deaf; and in Atlanta among mostly poor Black and Mexican communities; and in several non-gentrified Pittsburgh neighborhoods.
I came to adore Black culture…the food, the music, the passion and emotion, the looseness, the spirit, the ability to fully feel and fully love. Hell, I love gospel and the Black church and I’m a self-described agnostic. And, I immersed myself in the history of slavery, Jim Crow, the civil rights struggle through the 60s, etc. I came to a point of deeply personal “white shame,” of actual self-hatred, that is unavoidable when one has the unique combination of my experiences, my love of Blackness, and my unending dissatisfaction until having learned all that one can about the Black experience and the experiences of other historically oppressed people. If King Kong drove me to angry, confused, sobbing tears at 5; imagine what Emmett Till did to me.
I didn’t fit in. Not in high school. Not one fucking bit. A poor white kid who was hip to the history of systemic socio-economic and racial inequities. I was a Wigger in the quintessential sense. But I was not, and still am not, nor will I ever be Black. So, I just didn’t fit. Didn’t feel like I did at least, and so I went about finding my community…people who were fun and cool and hip and, most importantly, safe. People who wouldn’t surprise me three weeks in with a, “Well…you know THAT neighborhood is going downhill,” or an eye roll as Tribe Called Quest poured out of my chunky headphones, or some other veiled, or even entirely unveiled (e.g. my formerly beloved uncle stating, “Why does he have to go work with niggers in Africa when he can work with niggers here?!”), statement of racism.
I found them. My tribe called quest. And notably they are all still in my life today.
J is not one of them. Never has been. But I can’t just surround myself with MY choir, right? Where does that get me? (It would allow me to be calm, for fuck’s sake. But the crusader in my genes wouldn’t go for that. [No whoa…Ayyy…No can do.]) Who ARE my people? What the fuck IS the consistency of my community? It must transcend color, ethnicity, socio-economic status, neighborhood, city, country, fraternity, church affiliation, brand of Abrahamic religion, and/or a myriad of identifiers that, to me, just don’t matter. All that matters, and I need to give full credit to Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson for this marvelous analogy, is that we’re a bunch of evolved monkeys, hurtling through space on this speck (Earth), in a speck (Solar System), in a speck (Galaxy), very likely on another speck (Universe) of infinite specks. Infinite…specks. We have frontal cortices and limbic systems which allow us to relate, communicate, and socialize. That’s it. Humans. Together. In the same space and time. How fortunate that I’m me, that you’re you. The odds of those things happening simultaneously are as incomprehensible as the infinity in which we travel.
And I lose my shit when we stray from this so extremely. Not valuing the lives of group A, or subcategory 3.1, or whatever fucking social or historical or political or physical or aesthetic terms we’ve affixed to ourselves and each other. And I lean immediately to support the oppressed and reveal the oppressor. It’s a blind spot for me, and a place of full intolerance…where I see or sense or interpret racism or oppression or unfairness, I have no patience. It’s so difficult to walk the world mindfully, peacefully, optimistically, in the moment, here and now. It seems impossible to understand how certain folks get to where they get, and yet I end up doing exactly to them what I despise seeing them do to others. I should probably just accept it for what it is. Acknowledge it. Then work to improve myself, my reactions, my biases and intolerant behaviors and reactions. I should. But I’m not sure that I will. Not sure that I can. I guess I’m just Wigger for life.