We were sharing food, which he had all but insisted on. I had been a tad unsure about it, not certain that it was entirely professional to be digging into a subject’s meal minutes after we met. But he seemed hampered by no such considerations. “Get in there, bro,” he said, gesturing to his plate in between discussions of whether or not people of color can be gentrifiers (his black female optician did not think so) and whether or not N.W.A. was, by any definition, “conscious rap” (an argument can be made, perhaps). I felt aware of a duality. On one hand, I was a professional reporter, trying my best to look as if I belonged where I was, doing what I was doing: sharp questions, clear thinking, research prepared. On the other hand, I was a black American man hanging out with a British-Pakistani man in a white cafe in what used to be a black neighborhood, chopping it up at a high level. On the third hand, I was a writer for a national magazine sharing a platform with an international film star while we talked about all the serpentine machinations of oppression and how they’ve woven and buried themselves in the very flesh of our lives. To dig haphazardly into his plate of quinoa or not? (more...)
Never mind that most of us had never been to Africa. The point was not verisimilitude or a precise accounting of Africa’s reality. It was the envisioning of a free self. Nina Simone once described freedom as the absence of fear, and as with all humans, the attempt of black Americans to picture a homeland, whether real or mythical, was an attempt to picture a place where there was no fear. This is why it doesn’t matter that Wakanda was an idea from a comic book, created by two Jewish artists. No one knows colonization better than the colonized, and black folks wasted no time in recolonizing Wakanda. No genocide or takeover of land was required. Wakanda is ours now. We do with it as we please. (more...)
In a few minutes, he will go home and relieve his wife of baby duty. On the way to my car, I think about how few people there are like him. A man who holds an Oscar and a man from whom people hide their jewelry. His daily work is to make a living by being twice as indestructible, twice as powerful, yet half as threatening as an average white man. He is a winner in a country that seems to want people like him to lose. (more...)
It is a blackness of a thousand dimensions. In one scene, his character is holding forth about the cosmic nature of love. In another, he's posted up in a claw-foot tub, bathing himself in water and sunlight, wearing nothing but a bandolero hat and playing with a toy boat. In still another, he is drunk and dry-humping the air, yelling obscenities at a former lover and her new partner. His blackness is unchecked and complex, layers of angry masculinity on a bed of rose petals and women’s perfume. His blackness is a golden fitted backless bodysuit on the taut, coiled frame of a bantamweight boxer. (more...)
We never have figured out how to stay. It is racism, but it’s bigger than racism. It’s cash, and ready access to it. It’s jobs that are handed down from family member to family member. It’s the time and space it takes to have your story told and recorded. It’s the fight for your humanity. It’s the spiritual pain of living at the very highest level you can, and still being just a servant. It’s going into battle against your fellow citizens, your government, capitalism, business while you also do battle against the momentum of time and the inevitability of decay. It’s about having to spend your life building your humanity brick by broken brick, rather than inheriting it as a birthright. (more...)
We drove back to California through the high desert in relative silence, listening to a podcast about the Manson murders and occasionally holding hands. We saw llamas in a parking lot and the mountains revealed more and more of themselves around every bend. Occasionally we’d emerge from a narrow pass onto a wide open road where we could gaze out on a vast and boundless plateau. The sky spread unendingly and the clouds and sun were making audacious patterns, strips of glowing embers and shimmering veils that caused me to mutter once or twice to myself "how is that possible?" while tears welled in my chest and threatened to burst forth in a flood. It was night by the time we arrived home. (more...)
It feels to Josh like they played all day. Miles would win a game. Tum would win one. Josh would win one. Afternoon turns to evening. But just like Miles used to do with his sister when he was a little kid, he keeps pushing them. He'd win one game, then say he needed to win two. He'd win two, say he needed to win four. Evening becomes night. (more...)
He looks less like a professional basketball player and more like that short, loud guy at the YMCA gym who unleashes a cascade of funny one-liners, entertaining the whole room, while crossing you up and draining 3s in your face. A guy like that usually has to make up for his lack of height with an abundance of some other quality. Speed. Kindness. Money. Or in the case of this one, intensity. I wouldn't say you could see it. Rather, it's that you can feel it. A Very Big Something going on just behind the eyes, in his wry half-smile, in the way he seems to be genuinely noticing you without actually looking at you. (more...)
You don’t yet know that your marriage is over. These thoughts don’t fully register. They float in and out like small pieces of trash in between chunkier, more graspable thoughts like “we need more eggs” or “I should call someone about the sound the dryer is making”. So when the end finally materializes, it is like finally coming face to face with a horrifying and yet entirely predictable demon. It was in the house the whole time. And once it is freed, it attacks your body in slow motion, the grief of it devouring you seemingly cell by aching cell. (more...)
The first time I listened to The John Coltrane Quintet’s majestic 1965 album A Love Supreme, I was a teenager taking the city bus from one side of L.A. to the other. This is a journey that sometimes involves entire hours of your life creeping away as you crawl block by block. The bus in Los Angeles is a fever dream, a meditation on waiting, on sitting, on sweating. On shit-brown and dull, blood-red monotony, on gang tags etched in plexiglass; the balm of partially dried urine at your feet. I had nodded off somewhere on the east end of Santa Monica Boulevard, letting the music play, my head pressed against the window, beads of sweat dotting my brow, a parade of fruit carts and strip malls drifting past my view until I finally gave in and closed my eyes.
I saw you at family reunions and the occasional Christmas. Each time, you were smaller. Darker. Your smile emptier. Your face more gaunt. Your eyes more baggy. The hollowness so much larger. I remember you sitting in a side room of your house, all the windows and doors shut, the curtains drawn. Mournful as death even though it was a party. I was 26. You offered me a cigarette while gently chiding me for smoking; we watched TV in silence while people laughed and ate in the next room. Neither of us liked crowds any more. Both of us had in common that we preferred to be alone. (more...)
It's hard to continue. I wish it was my kids' bedtime. I wish the dishes were done. I wish the house was clean. I wish America wasn't racist. I wish Mike Brown was in police custody. I wish Darren Wilson admitted guilt. I wish America admitted guilt. I post on Facebook "How do you parent on a night like this?" People respond with advice about how to talk to kids about race. Well-meaning, but missing the point. I don't mean what do you say. I mean how do you go on. How do you go on.
How do you make lunch for tomorrow and sweep and handle bath time? How do you parent with a permanently broken heart? (more...)
Seven Sisters For Brittany Howard-MTV News
As a parent, all you want for your kids is that they feel free to be themselves and be loved. But the problem, especially raising a girl and most especially raising a girl of color, is that you can say you love and accept them until you are unable to speak anymore, but this will eventually be drowned out by a world that tells them in thundering and certain terms: “There are a lot of parts of you — honest, beautiful, and vulnerable parts — that we don’t have any place for.” The limits placed on a person’s humanity are already great by the time that person is a 10-year-old girl. (more...)
The Only Black Punter In The NFL- The New Yorker
It is, in some respects, a familiar story. As racism becomes more difficult to explicitly identify, it becomes more impossible to challenge. How can anyone complain that racism is connected to the dearth of black punters in the N.F.L. when there are black coaches and general managers? When no one has thrown cups of beer at Marquette King or called him the N-word as he took the field? Still, the story of his journey is one of a man overcoming remarkable odds through sheer force of will. And while it would be difficult to argue that those odds had nothing to do with his race, the fact that he did overcome lends an ironic credence, for some, to the idea that race no longer need hinder anyone’s success; that all anyone needs to do is what Marquette King and Greg Coleman did—which is to say, the near impossible. This narrative holds particular sway in professional sports, which rely so heavily on extreme discipline and the mythology of the self-made warrior. (more...)
The Two Lives Of Michael Jackson- The New Yorker
This is what makes us obsess over the horror of Michael Jackson. We must know whether he is an angel or beast. The concerts in front of millions, the humans reduced to tears at the mere sight of his hand, the way his voice can soften the hardest and most frightened parts of us—these things convince us that he is the former. But maybe that version of him is simply too fanciful, too naïve for us, mired as we are in the muck of our human struggle. Maybe we cannot or will not accept the existence of the kind of unblemished love he claimed to represent. We have a deep and consuming desire to capture the divine and somehow align it with our human selves. Jackson was a vehicle for something divine, and so, perhaps, we find it pleasing to tether him more firmly to our world, by proving that he is exactly as shoddy and vulgar as we all are. (more...)
Remember when they were beating Rodney King? You yelled at me in the morning from the living room while I was trying to get ready for school. Come out here you said. They’re beating this man on television. Hurry up. But I didn’t want to hurry up. I was a teenager. You can’t hurry when your mom says hurry when you’re a teenager. You have to take your time. You have to act like everything she says is the stupidest, most unnecessary and most annoying thing in the history of people. You have to believe she’s exaggerating, mom. There’s no way they’re beating a man on television. (more...)
Unlike other artists whose juxtaposition of hip-hop bluster with confessional vulnerability feels like shtick, Kendrick does not do performative honesty. Rather, he performs honestly. And expertly. Do not buy it when critics will inevitably try to sell you that his work is rough or unbridled, the magic work of a hood savant. It is precise and skilled, as perfect in technical execution as it is uninhibited in content. Butterfly is not the recording of a natural genius. It is the record of a working artist who has been visited by genius and who has a deep and earned mastery of his form. (more...)
He was a street performer. His schtick was dressing up as the Scream dude and freaking out tourists before posing with them for photos. Police were responding to a report of a stabbing. They arrived, saw the man, and he apparently approached them. In 2014, we learned that this could mean anything. Did he turn toward them when they called out? Did he start toward them to explain that he was a performer? Did he turn into a superhuman and run through fire and bullets while tearing his shirt off? We don’t know. All we know is that he had a Swiss Army knife, and a group of trained officers felt that their lives were in danger. So, as an LAPD spokeswoman put it in the noncommittal cop speak to which we’ve all become woefully accustomed, " 'an officer-involved shooting occurred. (more...)
...Not just if you're black, but also if you're poor or if you are the victim of oppression, violence, murders, systemic destruction. If you're a refugee. If you don't have running water. If you don't have shoes. If your family is in prison. If you're a veteran. If you don't know where you're going to sleep tonight. If you might get killed for saying no. If you're struggling to live—not struggling to make meaning of life, but struggling to live, like, bottom-level Maslow shit. If, in other words, you're most people on the planet, then yeah, hipsterism was never for you (more...)
When a dark-skinned teen wearing a hoodie is holding a gun in a movie, we are comfortable because it's a normal movie thing. It's the Italian grandmother saying "you should eat." It's the middle-aged Jewish guy having a hilarious existential crisis. It's a trope. Devoid of specificity and therefore bankrupt in meaning. But when a human child is holding a gun, it is something else entirely. It is fear. It is hate. It hurts. In movies, a black kid holding a gun is nowhere near as meaningful as a human kid holding one. And that's the goal of Famuyiwa's brilliant genre play—to trick the audience into seeing Malcolm as the human that he actually is. It shouldn't require a trick. But it does. And that's the point. (more...)
Imagine you have been taken a long long way from home. Imagine you work on a plantation or a prison farm. Imagine you are a black man or woman living in the rural south in the 1910s. It would be fair to say, wouldn’t it, that beneath your daily experiences of love, loss, birth, life, death, victories, and failures, there would be a deep and persistent undercurrent of grief, of sadness for your inability to be free or to be human. The mantle of oppression would rest heavily on you and everyone you knew. If you were to resist or be aggressive or even overly confident, you may find yourself descended upon by mobs of people who may physically tear your body apart and hang your corpse from a tree. You may have even seen it happen. (more...)
They say it was over a jacket.
But they lie. No one shoots anyone in the heart over a jacket.
Gunshots in the heart are over power. They are over fear. They are over despair. They are over hatred for oneself and one's place in the world. They are over an inability to connect to what is left of your humanity because that human, that child, that heart that beats within you, has no safe place in your reality. That's what you shoot someone in the heart over. An inability to be human. Not a jacket. (more...)
This idea, that Santa needs help, is entirely new to me. And hearing it makes me realize why the traditional Santa story never made sense in the first place. We are taught that Santa simply grants wishes. Our only job was to 'be good' and we would get what we wanted. This strikes me now as a remarkably privileged world view. One that suggests that simply having a pleasant personality will make things go your way.
But what we wanted was freedom from racism, poverty, violence. We wanted safety. We wanted to thrive in a world that seemed to want us to die. These are not things that come from “being good.” Real life taught us that being good guaranteed very little and that nothing worthwhile came of wishing. The world we wanted was something that we’d have to build together. (more...)