He was looking for his car keys when my brother pointed to the ottoman and said “there.”
“No, those aren’t the right keys,” he replied.
“Nah said, my brother. “I meant the phone. Grab your phone!”
“Yes, grab your phone baby. ALWAYS take your phone!!!”, I reiterated in a calm but serious tone.
As they walked down the stairs, I heard them speak on how much they both hated the NEED to take their phones everywhere they go. They were going to the store and it was two blocks up the street. It should be ok for them to drive two blocks up the street without a cell phone but the truth is, for a black man in america, simply standing on a square of public concrete could get you killed. To be black is like being blood in an endless ocean and maybe there’s a shark in the water. . .
…so you must always carry your phone because never know when it will be the only eye witness.
On this night, I had gathered with some of my close friends as well as my partner in an effort to decompress our spirits from the Alton Sterling video and collectively generate enough love in the room to soothe all of our spirits, even if just for that moment. We talked and laughed and of course, the conversation made its way to the racial tension that was heating up and the video of Alton’s murder. Little did we know that the very next day we would once again be drained of the energy we assembled together. There were five of us; two women and three men and everyone in the room was in a committed relationship, married or otherwise. We are all good friends so the vulnerabilities were palpable.
Time and time again I have written about the plights of black women. I push for our respect and our right to be free-spirited, life-givers who are in control of our own minds and bodies. I speak often of our softer side and our empathetic nature. But on this night with my friends, I saw black men unlike I’ve ever seen them before and it put a spotlight on how quiet I’ve been in regards to the literary love I type up and share. Right in the comfort of my chill space, I saw three black men worn out and tired from the american race for personal freedom of black people. It’s a race you don’t sign up for; you are born into. You have the choice to not participate and actively fight alongside your brothers and sisters, but you won’t be excused from the results.
Men = strong unattainable beings that lack empathy.
That about sums up my formative years with men; I either struggled to find and maintain a personable connection (stepdad, brother) or they were absent (my father). But then there are men like my uncle, who I never questioned his love for me but I also saw how he emotionally abused my aunt and my grandfather who was proud to call me his granddaughter. But even he was shrouded in darkness and damaging secrets. It’s pretty predictable what this resulted in for my dating life so as you can see, I’ve not had many healthy examples of men. I’ve had some hits, lots of misses and a lifetime of questions. Becoming part of the arts community exposed me to me black men who don’t shy away from emotions and taught me that they are just as scared as women are sometimes. I’ve been able to see behind the mask and the hardened exterior. It’s something I’ve long needed to witness. After all, it is rather unhealthy to think that an entire gender lacks the ability to feel. Through poetry, I channeled feelings and emotions within myself that surprised me. I wrote about the plight of black men. I pushed them from behind using my stanza’s as hands and I gave them tight embraces by way of poetry. I loved them loudly on stages and spoke of them as Kings. I spoke to them like Kings.
“I need for you to stand for yourself Black Man…”
I tried to be their reminder.
“…for each one of you who have let go of the block and rock uniforms, time cards and minimum wages as compared to the streets/still you keep your feet planted in solid soil/often covering up your desire to relapse back to the hood in the same way aluminum foil shelters Sunday leftovers…/” ~For You I Write
I had to write for the health of black men as much as I wrote about everything else because what if there was a shark in the water, and my poetry was the only ship to safety. I tried to write them to safety….so to speak. Somewhere that stopped. There was a turning point where my writings became less inclusive of black men upliftment. The more I spoke to women, the less I spoke to (and for) men. And honestly, the more I got hurt, the less uplifting I felt like doing in the black man’s honor. It was not intentional shade or nothing; it’s just not where I was in my life or in my writings. Now I’m finding myself making a full circle evolution because as I listened to and watched these three men lay their hearts on my floor, it tapped into that part of me that used to write for them. I was reminded that black people are all blood in the water. Our melanin attracts the sharks and the sharks are armed with guns, tasers and cell phones that they use to make anonymous phone calls to 911 that result in our deaths. One phone call can lead to our death and the caller need not even stick around to watch. It’s usually more innocent black people witnessing (and recording) and getting psychologically damaged in the process. Can you imagine being the person who shot the video of Alton Sterling? Or Eric Garner? Mentally what happens to these people who just stepped out for a Sprite and some cigarettes and end up witnessing a homicide (aside from being harassed by police, locked up on trumped up charges and other bullshit to derail the case and the life of the witness)?
Sharks are swimming circles around us and we can’t act like we don’t know it anymore. Coming together isn’t an OPTION; it’s necessity. Humbling myself and quieting my arrogance so that I may speak to and for Black men with the same passion I use to speak about strippers being equals and women deserving respect is pertinent to my growth as much as it is to our growth as a people. Black women, children, teenagers, and men are all swimming in these treacherous oceans, but black men (boys) are especially singled out and targeted. They need to be loved on and lifted higher. They are in need of a network of people to push them to continue to fight and excel because this society is not going to do it. It is up to us to help strengthen each other. The inhumane treatment of black people is condoned and appreciated by a society that fears them yet wants so badly to BE them. They want that smooth chocolate skin, the confidence, the [alleged] big dick, the baritone voice, the cool factor …
Black men are hunted…and wanted. Who am I to excuse myself from writing to and for them, especially in such troublesome times?
Sitting there with my friends, I listened to my partner and two men I consider brothers speak their fears in the comfort of me and my sisterfriend (wife of one of my brothers). Black men are taught not to be frightened of anything. It is suggested that they don’t show too much sensitivity and where there is no father in the home, there is no man to be the demonstration of balancing testosterone and feelings. During slavery, when the men would get whippings, many of them took it on the chin, meaning they wouldn’t let the ‘master’ see the pain he was inflicted. For them to scream or cry out in agony meant it was so unbearable that it surpassed their ability to save face. Black men have been holding strong since. They are instructed not to express their emotions but no one tells them that they won’t feel, which is a good thing because they absolutely WILL feel all kinds of shit! You don’t get to tap out of how the reality of some situations makes you feel because you are a man. It doesn’t matter if it’s death of a loved one, stress from work or lack of work or trying to be the best provider possible for your children (which is another set of potential stressful FEELINGS), everybody gets a case of #TheFeels sometimes. Even black men. You can hold it in and pretend to be unbothered but deep down, when something upsets you, that disruption of peace has to be dealt with in some way: art, talking with friends and family, vacation, drugs, killing sprees –
-because what you feel doesn’t just disappear simply because you refuse to appropriately acknowledge it.
While growing black boys are being taught to disregard their feelings, white boys can cry and throw temper tantrums all over the room and the white mother will ignore it and keep it moving. Black mothers halt that crying at the first tear. Many black fathers do as well. We teach young boys (and raise young men who turn into adults) that when you feel like crying, DON’T! When you feel angry, punch something if you need to but don’t whine, bitch, complain, cry, or ‘act like a little bitch;’ suck that shit up and be strong in the face!!! Who can blame them for the times they choose unhealthy coping mechanisms, and even when they go postal? What else can they do? Even when they come to us as their ‘missing rib’, we (women) demand that they be put together enough to help us deal with our own shit. We need them to be strong, emotionally present but not crybabies, patient, in control of self, mentally healthy, job, house, car, no more than X-Kids (or none), etc… But WHO is being THAT for them? Seriously, who has allowed them to be mentally OK? Who has suggested or given them a healthy outlet for their feelings so that they be whatever it is we as women need them to be for us? Unless they are artists with an actual outlet they’ve tapped into, they are often men with a world of exacerbated endurance inside of them.
The black man is a threat to this society and his murder is almost always justified unless it’s at the hands of another black man. When that’s the case, as long the murderer is caught, there is hardly a problem with gaining a conviction. If there is anything this system likes more than killing black men, it’s locking them up. When his death is at the hands of the police or even random, local white citizens, it seems the burden of proof rises and even clear, videotaped evidence isn’t enough to prove an unjustifiable homicide. The death of Alton Sterling was a death we’ve seen far too many times in the last three years alone. With technology continuing to advance and bring us mini-laptops to our fingertips and calling them phones, seeing death in progress is no longer something reserved for those working the crime scene. And black death is trending like tribal print shirts at the Black Expo. If people could wear the body of a dead black man, I have no doubts in my mind they would. They would hang his head above their cherry wood furniture and make a hat out of his locs, while using his skin to create a luxe-high-end leather for shoes and purses.
Oh, black man….you can’t be worn but you can be looped. We are bombarded with images of his death-in-progress that we can rewatch and YouTube as much as our hearts can stand. Major news stations and award-winning journalists use their platforms to showcase his dead body on covers of papers and tv screens while the weather data scrolls beneath his picture.
Black death is porn and some of the tabs are: black man death, black woman death, black teenager death, black kids with toys death, black man running away death, black man hands up death, black woman mental illness death and the extra sickening, black couple killed , Black couple shot at 137 times death, black couple w/baby in car death.
As I listened to my brothers and my guy talk, I noticed how the tears alternated from one set of eyes to the next. Some fell, others were stranded on the brinks of their eyes, almost as if afraid to drop. This time, it wasn’t the women who were emotional. It wasn’t about us. As much as it INCLUDES us, it wasn’t about us that night. Our men were scared. They were scared for their sons. Scared to say they were scared. They were scared as and for Black Men. As providers, husbands, sons, companions and fathers. They were scared….AS FUCK. Sure we’ve seen a story similar to Alton Brown’s many times before. It was a bit reminiscent of Eric Garner. But something about this one stung unlike anything else. Something about ALTON hit home with thousands of black men. We always say ‘it could be me/it could be us’, but Alton Sterling put that notion on blast. Watching his son break down in his grief at the press conference was another factor that took it over the edge for most folks. It was direct insight on what grieving children look like.
In the privacy of my house, my guy, and my fam spoke in freestyles and conversation about being blood in the ocean. We didn’t heavily discuss the video and Alton; instead, the conversation lingered on personal uneasiness. One of them shared a video of his son singing the words to Kendrick Lamar’s “We Gon’ Be Alright.” The room quickly lit up at the young black child who even in his singing is still so oblivious to the destructive nature of this world. It was a piercing reminder of what we stand to lose. It gave the room light yet we all felt the sting of reality: we are blood in an ocean. And maybe there’s a shark in the water.
To be black is to be a threat. A problem. A beast. A monster.
As I stated in one of the other blogs in this series, we aren’t considered human. But the night of Alton Sterling’s death, I sat in my room with my circle, dubbed ‘the circle of light’, and on that day, there was no better place to be than within the presence of friends and God. We took shots to help with numbness. We laughed at silly jokes that went on for longer than they should have. We exhaled together for as long as we could.
But the men that night –
-they seemed out of place despite being in a home where they had always been welcomed. It wasn’t about being at my house; they are out of place in America. The hairs on their arms were sticking up and the red in their eyes painted an obvious story of brotherly grief and close possibilities. You are as close to being Alton Brown as you are black. None of them want to trade places with Alton. Or Philando, who we would all wake up to. They work with the youth, they cut grass, know how to cook and they are all raising sons. They love their women and are involved in the arts, the neighborhood, church and mentoring. All three of them exceed the ceiling white America has placed over their heads. Pillars in the community is an understatement to who they are. They are beautiful black men deserving of life, deserving of love and rightfully, respectfully HUMAN.
It stung me to see them in grief. The body language wasn’t its usually jovial openness despite us managing to have a great time fellowshipping amongst each other. But the low hanging eyes and the wear and tear on their heart was at high visibility. They were saddened for Alton and his family. They hurt for his sons. They feared for their wives.
They cried for themselves. And I hurt deep within for all of us; especially them. The boys who may have been raised to hold their emotions like secrets, who were now sitting with melancholy faces and a hand full of tested faith.
We can march and chant and protest and boycott all we want; none of it effects the racist who’s hand hold a gun pointed a black life that they don’t think matters. What we do when we fight back is to incite concern and change in society…as a whole unit.
But nothing can prevent an individual’s actions except that individual’s conscious. You’ll be hard pressed to find a conscious floating in the sea. So no matter where you go, even if it’s only a mile up the street and back, remember to always take your phone.
Because being black in America is like being blood in the ocean. . .
… you always have to watch your back, your sides, your front AND your people-
because maybe there’s a shark in the water.
…and that’s the scariest part of it all.
**NOTE: I would like to challenge us all, especially women, to be a source of Light and comfort for the black men in and around your lives. This is no way gives anyone the permission to mistreat you, mislead you or use you. But as much as we need them to be strong for us, we need to allow them to be vulnerable in front of us.