The Plights of Being Black

Jack-Johnson

Image courtesy of tc-pbs.org

I’m acutely aware of the fact that I am Black. I’m reminded of this on a daily basis–from the time I wake up to the news report of another murdered black man by police, to falling asleep after watching a television show absent of people of color.

In between, during the waking hours that seem increasingly like a nightmare, I encounter: people that appear visibly uncomfortable, stare, shift purses, and/or avoid my glance until out of earshot; media that highlight tropes of black violence, limited and defined behaviors, monolithic examples of expression through entertainment (music, athletics, movies, TV, etc.); culture-coded conversations on societal issues (crime, sexism, racism, violence) that reveal willful and dangerous ignorance; and the fear that these things, though slightly getting better, are not progressing in the ways that the dominant culture carelessly chirp that they are.

I’d like to think that every police-induced death, every revelation of a new voice on black culture, and every technological miracle can bring about a newfound empathy for and realization of the binding strands of humanity that everyone shares. But the former, despite the world-shrinking effect of the latter, remain pervasive because of the aggressive obtuseness of people to look outside of themselves and acknowledge what they don’t understand.

And this is present in how we perceive blackness.

This is not a new thought in my head. But it is something that is becoming increasingly lost in the public discourse despite a bumper crop of reminders that blackness is fraught with negativity and complexity–and little understood. In reading “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay, I’ve been reminded how my increasingly pessimistic view of interactions with other races boil down to cultural brainwashing on all sides: Black people–particularly men–are painted as violent, hypersexual, lazy, poor, dumb, unmotivated, ugly people that are only good for entertainment (both earnest and cynical).

That assumption of fear that I perceive others have of me as I pass by them on the sidewalk; that coloring of blacks when I watch, read, or hear the news; that stain from the shallow in conversation online and offline: I feel it all, and it weighs me down. These traits are like shackles, binding people into negative stereotypes while grasping the freedom of being able to skip through life with weightless problems of not being killed by police officers and having good shots at jobs.

These idiosyncrasies are forced upon us, programmed by us into others, and taught to be the only way to live; it’s like Christianity, and the Crusades are being a person of color in everyday life. They’re seen as the norm by the dominant culture and often by our own, and we’re socially punished for deviating from the script. Being shunned is getting off light; murder is the case given by the violent intolerant.

We can be seen as “one of the good ones” if we mimic the dominant culture to the chagrin of our ethnic brothers and sisters; we’re chastised if we are the embodiment of those confining stereotypes that are reviled. We’re damned if we do and damned if we don’t, and it’s fucking insane.

I can complain on my soapbox until I shout myself hoarse, bear my soul until the tears won’t stop, and protest society’s ills until I meet my end, and it won’t help. Not when the very people that need to hear it, need to understand others, need to change, won’t remove the fingers from their ears and the blinders from their eyes. And with all of the ways we can learn from and relate to each other in 2015, that is a baffling, excruciating pain to feel. And I feel it all the time–from when I wake up until when I go to sleep.

Ask a Genial Black Man! – April 2, 2015

Sometimes I receive interesting queries on my many social media pages (up to 105 Likes on Facebook! PROGRESS?!) that are as thought-provoking as they are typed into a user interface. They’re more deserving of 1-2 paragraph answers afforded through Facebook and Twitter.

That’s why I’ve devoted this post for my advice/opinion column (not to be confused with my op-ed column, EAT POOP!), “Ask a Genial Black Man!” !!!

Clint Ingram wrote:

God I am so sick of all this white privilege and white are racist bullshit …. Is there still racism? Sure. You’d have to be an idiot to think otherwise. But is racism exclusive to whites? Not by a long fucking shot. Everyone is a racist in some way. Its not exclusive to any race, to point at any one race and claim they are racist for something that happened in the past, something they don’t condone or had any part in, is racist in itself.

Not really a question — unless you count “Is there still racism?” as a legitimate inquisition — but here goes.

I understand what you’re saying, and yes, racism is not limited to one race. That said, there is a valid reason and right for people to cite a majority group for instituting and profiting from systemic racism. By voicing what they are feeling, they are making their reality known. It may not make sense to your reality, but that doesn’t mean it is any less valid.

And in terms of privilege, the ability to say that someone’s racial views are bullshit and be sick of it is within the definition the article covers. To be in the majority group and not be sympathetic to the plights and comments of a minority group is to use phrasing like “I am so sick of all this white privilege and white are racist bullshit.” If you were a person of color in a society with a majority ethnicity, you would be exposed to unique situations and treatment, and that might lend some shading to your viewpoint.

There are troubling things happening in society relating to race, and a fundamental problem is that there are people that are being treated unfairly because of the belief that someone of another ethnicity is different from the majority and poses a threat to their way of life.

The ability to not suffer the same fate when placed in the same situation because of your ethnicity is privilege. The ability to disagree with a person of color and view their opinion as bullshit because you don’t have that perspective is privilege. The ability to complain without offering a solution is privilege. The ability to not truly engage in conversation and learn from others is privilege.

No one is stopping any race from complaining about racism and privilege. But to ignore the very real commentary from others and/or dismiss it as “bullshit” is as ignorant as any blatant racism that is unfortunately performed on a daily basis.

A sane person wrote:

(Regarding the Phoenix police officer not being charged for killing an unarmed black man) so, basically what has been decided here is that death is the penalty for resisting arrest if you’re a black man in Phoenix?

Yep, if you’re a black man in Phoenix, New York City, Ferguson — basically America.

***

That’s it for this edition of “Ask a Genial Black Man!” Please send any questions, and I might answer them in 18 months or so.

TEN RACISM PREVENTION TIPS

Last week, Twitter user @texpatriate posted a satirical list of rape prevention tips aimed at turning the victim-blaming mentality of society on its head. When comedian Sarah Silverman retweeted the post, masses of people were offended at the joke — unwittingly at their expense. Rape is a serious issue that doesn’t get the acknowledgment it deserves, and barbs that shed light on the layers of issues that foster a culture that not only let it happen but find ways to shame and silence those that experience the horrific act.

There are many other societal ills that are swept under the rug — a hard feat considering the 24-hour news cycle and bumper crop of websites more than willing to call people on their shit. In that spirit, let’s highlight another of man’s failings, racism, with racism prevention tips.

ten-racism-prevention-tips

Courage Under Lonerism

theloner

Image courtesy of directorsnotes.com

I sat in a leather chair at the EXIT Theatre among a packed crowd of four-dozen people facing the stage of a black box theater, waiting for actors to be called. Some of us, writers, eagerly anticipated how our words, monologues thrown together with Pi Day and murder-inspired prompts given 30 minutes prior, would be interpreted by the performer. Others, holding the pages of words written by strangers, wondered how their enactment would be received by the crowd. As player after player read the pieces, I was nervous about how my work would go over; I hadn’t heard the word “monologue” until well after the assignments were finished, so my piece was a three-person, one-act play, with only one person to play all three roles. And I wondered whether to slink out the door and not suffer embarrassment — let alone how I ended up there in the first place.

***

I was always a shy person, but I had friends in childhood. But I became more withdrawn in junior high and high school as the combination of isolation due to being ostracized at school and feeling helpless at home due to a pestering brother and increasingly absent father led me to shut myself off in my bedroom. It took finding a voice in writing in my junior year of high school to feel like I had something to look forward to after classes, and a few good friends senior year of high school became my light out of the emptiness. But then I went away to college, and it took a few weeks to find a solid group of friends to bring me out of my dorm room.

This pattern persisted throughout my early 20s, relying upon friends to dictate my social life. But within a year of moving to Phoenix from the Chicago area, I realized that I had to be the catalyst to have fun. And so I found myself indulging in more activities on my own, from concerts and movies to long drives and comedy shows, and there were many days and nights at home playing video games or watching movies. I started trying activities that I previously thought impossible, such as longform improv and sketch writing.

There was (and is) that part of me that still relied on friends to feel like I had place to belong. But the longer my tenure into Arizona, the lonelier I felt. And when I finally moved to San Francisco, I hoped that those Phoenix friends that blazed the trail to the Bay Area would have more time to hang out. Again, I found myself twiddling my thumbs at home most nights. I quickly realized that I would once again have to find my own path to amusement — this time in a new city. So I turned to the internet for recommendations and felt overwhelmed with the culture, entertainment and food at my disposal. Being an introvert with a frugal streak, I found that careful selection of activities would ensure having something to look forward to as well as downtime to re-cooperate after a long workday; free events one night a week sandwiched between maximum chill time was my new way to live.

One of those lifelines was Funcheap SF, a website that clues city folk into the happening spots and events on a daily basis. I found that comedy events and absurd one-offs (like a “Real Housewives”-inspired table-flipping contest) appealed to my unique sensibilities. And a few days ago, I learned of a writing event that involved drafting a script based on a prompt given by the organizers. I added it to my calendar, but as the hours wound down to the event, I started getting cold feet and debated making it another movie night. But I pulled myself off the couch and onto the bus to take me

***
Staring down potential awkwardness in front of a live audience, the actor tasked with reading my lines figuring out how to pull off all three characters of what was supposed to be a one-person monologue, and hearing great works fired off in unison, I fought the urge to flee. And sure enough, the actor for my “monologue” was called last. And he was great, giving my words life and wringing laughs out of a mash-up of a murderous Pillsbury executive and the prompt “what do you mean it’s no bake.”
As the audience laughed and clapped, I was happy that I didn’t chicken out of staying for the performance — let alone leaving the house. I felt that while I didn’t follow the rules to a T, basically playing out like a lot of things in life, I could get over the hump and accomplish what seemed to be insurmountable tasks. And now I feel empowered to find my way out more often — with a bit of downtime for good measure.

10 Suggested “Chappie” Review Headlines

chappie-promo

Image courtesy of moviepilot.com

With 2015 already burying people in snow and bad movies with singular titles (“Mortdecai”), “District 9″ and “Elysium” director Neil Blomkamp served critics up a fat softball over the plate with the easily pun-worthy movie “Chappie”. Already, movie writers and critical wannabes are teeing off on the title but they need to step their game up.

Observe:

  • “Chappie”? More like “CARPIE”! (Named for the noxious freshwater fish)
  • “Chappie”? More like “RAPPIE”! (I’m guessing this critic doesn’t like the rap music.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “DAMPIE”! (Really, who likes being damp?)
  • “Chappie”? More like “NAPPIE”! (The movie made you so tired, you drooled on the lip-locked couple next to you.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “GLAMPIE”! (Making fun of the glamping trend, which is a dumb and ignorant activity to engage in.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “SLAPSIE”! (A damaging commentary on NBC’s show, “The Slap”.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “PAP-SIE”! (Comparing the movie to a pap smear? A sexist burn.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “BAPS-IE”! (If you’ve seen the Halle Berry movie “B*A*P*S”, I’m truly sorry.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “SCRAPPIE”! (Named for Scrappy-Doo, one of the most annoying cartoon characters in history.)
  • “Chappie”? More like “SHITTIE”! (The defense rests.)

Will I Buy The New Chris Brown x Tyga Album?

fan-of-a-fan-spotify

Image courtesy of Spotify

They may as well given the album an alternate title:

mario-lopez-worst

White History Month Food!

 

Image courtesy of theroot.com/Twitter

Whenever a racist complains that there’s no White History Month, usually around February for some unexplained reason (Black History Month coincidentally happens in February), several things come to mind: the fact that white history is literally every day in America; that the same person uses the same faulty questioning as to why there’s no White Entertainment Television (not true; have you watched Fox News?); and that misguided logic leads to stuff pictured above.

True, it probably wasn’t a hillbilly racist that concocts Black History Month menus or “doesn’t know” the meaning the word “jigaboo,” but the lack of knowledge, combined with the brazen ignorance of an asshole, leads to such examples of racial embarrassment.

And I’m here to join in.

Hey, if we’re POST-RACIAL, that means that a black person can make off-kilter assumptions about what white people eat. Hell, people mistake me for a gun-toting, violent thug, so why can’t I dare dream up scenarios where gullets are pumped full of stuff that I can only believe is food? In fact, here’s my theoretical menu for White History Month, which takes place January 1 – December 31:

  • Green bean casserole
  • Kale with nothing to disguise how terrible kale tastes
  • A tall glass of milk
  • Mayonnaise
  • Dog slobber
  • Bottomless mimosas
  • Brussell sprouts
  • Lavender
  • Something ethnic that was popular 10 years ago
  • A mug of sriracha (see above)
  • Anything worth standing in line for
  • Stuffing made with white bread
  • White bread — the least nutritious, fragile of breads
  • Water (to dip white bread in)

Am I missing anything? Add to the list in the comments below! We’ll get White History Month right, dang nabbit!

16 Titles for Alvin and the Chipmunks Sequels

chipmunks tony hale

Image courtesy of The AV Club

With the baffling news recently that a new “Alvin and the Chipmunks” movie, “Alvin and the Chipmunks: Road Chip”, the pun-tastic film series managed to outdo itself in the most baffling, lazy way possible. (“Road Chip”? C’mon.)  It’s hard to top subtitles like “The Squeakquel” and “Chipwrecked” in sheer carelessness, but I expected more. I EXPECTED MORE!

So because everyone on the internet has an opinion and voice, I thought I would do pro bono work for 20th Century Fox and give them more subtitle options for the inevitable (direct-to-video?) squeakquels:

  • Chippentales
  • Straight Outta Chipton
  • Squeaknik in Hot-lanta
  • Pirates of the Chippibean
  • Men’s Rights Act-chip-vists
  • Squeak It Off
  • Brick Chiphouse
  • Chipfaced
  • Fifty Chips of Grey
  • Chipped in the A
  • Chiplash
  • Chippy Crush Saga
  • Chippa Please!
  • American Snipmunk
  • The Munk, the Munk, the Whole Munk, Nothin’ but the Munk
  • Dave Seville’s Adult-Time Touch Dungeon

YOU’RE WELCOME.

An Ode to Shitcan, My Car

Jan. 23 was the 12th birthday of my car, a 2003 Volkswagen Golf affectionately nicknamed Shitcan.

shitcan

Life was very different when Shitcan came into my life. She was the third car I had owned in five years — the first being a 1986 Ford Tempo purchased from a family friend — and the first new car I purchased.

I bought Shitcan — with my mom as my co-signer — on Jan. 23, 2003. I was fresh out of college (well, eight months out), working a part-time job at the local library and living at home. I settled on who would come to be known as Shitcan after an exhaustive search — which included sporty wagons (Mazda Protege 5), mediocre sedans (Hyundai Elantra) and a car that had a smoking engine during the test drive (Mercury Cougar) — that was a comprehensive mixture of sporty-like handling, a tight turning radius, hauling versatility, and a relatively cheap price.

Going in, I knew that fuel economy and overall reliability were not in the car’s favor, but dammit, I could afford it. Also, I let my brother have my previous car, a 12-year-old Chevrolet Cavalier (that replaced my Tempo in 1998) that had a smoking engine two years prior. (There are some trends here.)

My resolve was almost immediately tested when I got my first full-time job a little over a month later: scraping the bottom of my car over a curb on the way to work to a blood-curdling sound, I panicked when I heard the cost of the repair bill — something that I relayed to my mom by payphone. The nickname Shitcan was born that day.

It was never love at first sight with Shitcan. Before the test drive, the dealer had to jump-start the battery, as the Midwestern winter had culled the long-idled car. (The dealer took delivery of Shitcan on Oct. 8, 2012.) Even after the test drive, the salesman tried to tempt us with a slightly pricier, used four-door Golf with a moonroof (zounds!) before I cut through the bull and signed the dotted line. That higher-optioned Golf wasn’t the only temptress for my car heart; if I had the means (money), I would have bought a Mazda6 sedan, the mix of athletic looks, handling, and enthusiast cache that I longed for — the spiritual successor to my first real car love, the 1993 Ford Probe (also Mazda-based).

And the Mazda6 called me back time after time, most memorably on a rain-soaked night within the first few months of owning Shitcan. Pacing back and forth in my mom’s den, I thought out loud about trading the Golf — and taking the depreciation hit, which I didn’t think about at the time — for what I REALLY wanted. But I’m lucky that common sense got through to me, as my emotional state would have led to a decision in the vein of my father, who had traded in a two-year-old SUV for the newest model despite not having any issues. I didn’t want to be my father, and the panic subsided.

Shitcan would become a valuable ally from that point on, carrying the load for when I moved out of my mom’s house and into my first condo, hauling furniture and a counter-top (with my brother tightly holding on each time), and carrying my life when I moved onto the next stage of my life in Arizona. Shitcan was there when I needed her most.

But I lamented the expensive upkeep and repairs, which came on stronger and with more tenacity. I hated having my car go into limp mode on a major highway, cursed when the car would jerk into another gear, and sighed when the car would suddenly and briefly lose power above 60 miles-per-hour. Constant fuel leaks, a broken airbag, and belts and hoses and fuel pumps and filters and all the parts that added up to sums of money I hated forking over. Oh, and I can’t forget the black sludge from the door sills that oozed out every hot summer, coating the bottom of the car and my pants in an oily mess.

There was a brief period when the nickname Shitcan was sidelined. When I dated my now-ex, she suggested a new name for the car: “Black Beauty.” It was sweet, adorable and good-natured — all things I attributed to the woman who stole my heart. But I couldn’t commit to the new name; I knew Shitcan better than my lady did. And when the relationship ended, so did the lip service to Black Beauty. Like the relationship, I had my regrets of how things occurred with Shitcan and the flirtation with the Mazda6; I finally got extended time with the 6 as a rental, and it was out of my league — big turning radius, slightly too large for city parking. It wouldn’t have worked, but I could love it from afar.

Despite the whining and the troubles with the car, the dings and missing hubcaps, Shitcan took on more than 125,000 miles before she would take her last big road trip: assisting with the uprooting of my life once more, this time to San Francisco. But her life was on borrowed time; a month before the move, a dealer tuneup revealed a whopping $2,100 in needed repairs. Knowing that my car’s value was less than that, I had vowed months before to not exceed the car’s value in upkeep for a calendar year. And so, car loaded to the gills, I tested fate with a 12-hour, 800-mile journey. And once more, Shitcan shined.

When I arrived in the city, I gave Shitcan the semi-retirement she needed, as public transit and working primarily from home relieved her of daily commuting duties. Driving Shitcan on weekends and occasional trips is a more joyful experience, knowing that her presence alone is a luxury (keeping a car in the city, with parking permits and high insurance costs, is a challenge in itself). And when Jan. 23 approached, I knew I had to treat her right; a few days later, I got her washed — the first time since the previous dealer visit — in what would be a half-assed attempt by the nearby gas station. Seeing the remaining dirt amused me; even when I wanted to do right by her, Shitcan managed to get dinged in some sort of way.

But it was the thought that counted, and my 12 years with Shitcan have been a testament to taking care of something that would be pivotal in my life. Lots of thoughts guided her travels as well as her place in my trajectory. And knowing that her time with me is coming to a close, I am treasuring every day with her. When she is inevitably towed away to car heaven (the scrapyard), probably this year, as my cars last about 12 years, I will mourn the loss but be grateful for the years I had with her. And that is something you can only get with something you love — terrible nickname and all.

My Inspirational Picture of False Platitudes

Go to any store that sells art prints — framed or otherwise — and you’re likely to see one with broad phrases that may seem to apply to your daily life. These empty, soulless platitudes are as bland as the oatmeal likely sold a few aisles down.

art print target

Seen at Target and never forgotten

And that shit sells for money — $33.24 at Target!

My friend Jessica challenged me to make one of these vague things that assholes buy. So I thought to myself, “Can I make one of these shitty pictures and get that sweet, sweet dumb people cash?” And I realized, “Oh, I CAN MAKE THESE SHITTY PICTURES AND GET THAT SWEET, SWEET DUMB PEOPLE CASH!”

Here goes!

inspirational picture

Is that the sound of dump trucks backing up to my apartment with enough money to make Scrooge McDuck jealous? Yes. Yes it is.

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