Doldrums

Listening, or the Art of Shutting the Fuck Up

Ask me twenty years ago and I might have said something edgy, or something un-ironically unprofound such as, “I’m not a feminist, but I do believe in equality.” As if they were two separate beasts.

No man is without sin. That much is clear. I still don’t call myself a feminist; that’s a title earned, not self-proclaimed. And there’s still a lot of self-realization that I need to accomplish before I get there – in my opinion, anyway. And while I may not call myself a feminist, I do believe in feminism. And I do try to learn from my mistakes – both past and present – because I want to be that better person, more than just an ally. An accomplice. But it isn’t for me to decide when I become one. 

When people accuse me of being a “good man,” I cringe. I’ve asked this to myself and to others around me: Am I a good person, or just a person who does good? Or even someone who tries to do good in this world. 

On Sunday, 27 March 2022, rapper-turned-actor Will Smith approached comedian Chris Rock and slapped him on live television to the shock and awe of audiences across the globe. Rock, who mocked Jada Pinkett Smith’s shaved head, was rightfully put in his place. Jada’s “hairstyle” is a result of alopecia areata, a medical condition that causes hair loss.

This sparked an outrage on the social media-sphere. Several people (most of them white) called out Will Smith’s actions as violent, demanding he be punished. Discussions were had, comparisons were made. One woman on TikTok even went as far as comparing Will Smith to Russian tyrant, Vladimir Putin – a comparison that is more than just a stretch.

However, no one was holding Chris Rock accountable for mocking a medical condition. The very same people who thought Donald Trump was unfit for president when he mocked Serge Kovaleski, a reporter with arthrogryposis, were now ignoring how Chris Rock openly mocked someone with an autoimmune disease.

My Facebook feed was filled with local activists and poets who were also condemning Will Smith without holding Chris Rock accountable. A few thought there was no violence behind his words, at least not in the same manner as a slap. Arguments were made in the case against Will Smith, and anything that countered that was pushed aside. 

Which is common when it comes to the discussion of violence against black women. 

So I did what anyone should do in this case: I listened to black creators, most of them women. 

While a time waste – for the most part – apps like TikTok has given marginalized people a platform. And I follow some amazing BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ creators. Most of whom have taught me more than I could ever hope for (see, how I brought this back to my introduction?). And they had something to say to nonblack individuals: Shut up and listen. (OK, I may have paraphrased that.)

It’s understandable to want to express your opinion on a particular subject. I’ve been there myself. However, it’s important that we step back and listen to who our opinion hurts. Intent doesn’t matter; it’s the impact that’s important. Your words can still be harmful even if you had the best intentions when expressing them. 

Maybe what Will Smith did was violent. Maybe he should have handled it better than he did. Maybe he should have spoken out against ableism or violence against black women (verbal or physical). Because that is what he did that night, regardless of how you saw it. But you don’t have to condone it. That is in your right. But to excuse Chris Rock and not hold him accountable? That’s where your argument breaks apart.

Because how can you condemn one form a violence, while standing up for another? 

So maybe it’s time we shut up and listen.

Afterthought:

When I discussed this subject with a coworker, she told me that it doesn’t surprise her how many of us missed the point. We’re sheltered here in the Valley. Which is true. Most of our population is Latine/White, and black people make up a small percentage – 0.60% according to this site. It’s true that the Latine community experiences discrimination and violence, but are our experiences the same as those within the black community? And this is not to get into the wrongs committed against the Afrolatino members, because that is another post in of itself.

We all have the right to our opinion, and this is just mine. I may have gotten some things wrong, but the difference here is – I’m not about to declare it’s time for the healing to begin. Because we’re so far away from that until all violence is cured. 

Photo by Lucxama Sylvain
Poetry Break

Poetry Break

After 9/11, I read a letter to the editor in a local newspaper. The writer, angry about the events that transpired, demanded answers on why Muhammad Ali could “draft dodge” the Vietnam War, stating that if Muslims didn’t believe in war, why were they waging war with us now? He demanded that Ali be recognized as the draft dodger he was. The writer ironically ignored the fact that George W. Bush had also not participated in the Vietnam War. But that’s besides the point.

On 12 June 2016, Omar Mateen entered the Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida, where he opened fire and killed 49 people and injured 53 others. It was labeled as the United States’ deadliest shootings by a single shooter. Mateen died in a shootout with local police.

When news of Mateen’s doings reached social network sites like Twitter, the conservative right was quick to remind us that Mateen was Muslim with possible connections to terrorist organizations.

The portrayal of Muslims (or any non-white criminals) in the media – be it social or mainstream media – is always the same. Mateen was violent because he was Muslim, not violent because he suffered from some mental condition. The idea of the lone wolf shooter exists only for white men.

We never hear about Stephen Paddock’s religion. Never a peep about what church James Holmes went to. We did hear about how troubled Adam Lanza was before entering Sandy Hook and killed 26 people, 20 of which were children. It’s never the onus of the white population to explain the hate or violent crimes carried by their own race, but they expect it from others.

In their poem, “Why Are Muslims So…,” poets Sakila and Hawa discuss what it’s like to be Muslim in America.

Books

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff

“That’s the horror, the most awful thing: to have a child the world wants to destroy and know that you’re helpless to help him. Nothing worse than that. Nothing worse,” writes Matt Ruff in “The Narrow House,” just one of the many interconnecting stories that make up his novel, Lovecraft Country. Set in Jim Crow era America, the novel tackles racism in a Lovecraftian way. It’s done so well, it can’t even be considered ironic—can it?Lovecraft Country

Unless you’re a delusional nutcase, there is no hiding the fact that H.P. Lovecraft had some unsavory opinions when it came to people who didn’t look like him (i.e. a white male). This can make it difficult for a person of color (or a woman, for that matter) to enjoy the book without the nagging realization that the author penned a poem called “On the Creation of Niggers.” Or that, in his story, “The Rats in the Walls,” the narrator’s cat is named Nigger Man.

There is no forgetting that the greatest monster this country has to offer isn’t some unknowable creature that lurks in the dark or some interplanetary beast with an insatiable appetite. In the title chapter/story, Atticus is pulled over by a state trooper for no other reason than being a black man in a predominately white county. In “The Narrow House,” Montrose remembers his father’s death during a race war. In “Jekyll in Hyde Park,” Ruby is given a job opportunity that allows her to shed her blackness in exchange for white skin and red hair. Amateur astronomer, Hippolyta Berry explores a planet only few humans have set foot upon in “Hippolyta Disturbs the Universe,” only to learn she’s been the pawn of a dead man’s game in order to further punish the black housekeeper he imprisoned there. And the interconnecting plot has Caleb Braithwhite using these African-American characters as pawns in his elaborate take over of natural philosophers.

The novel is reminiscent of the Lovecraftian tales mixed in with dark comedy within the pages. It’s a must read for those into weird tales and escapism. For those who loved the film Get Out, this is the book for you. And it’s not just because Jordan Peele is producing the TV treatment Lovecraft Country.

Well, until next time, keep on huntin’.

Doldrums

I Am (Not) Trayvon Martin

"I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It's when you know you're licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what." —Atticus Finch
“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin, but you begin anyway and see it through no matter what.” —Atticus Finch

I dated a girl who lived a few cities away. This was back in my youth. The drive there, by car, was about an hour. By bus, longer. Every Saturday, I’d walk to the bus stop at 6Am. And returned home every Sunday at midnight. A difference six hours makes, if you think about it. At six, I lingered the streets, pacing myself toward the bus stop. At midnight, I rushed home for fear of some unknown danger. I was eighteen, and I feared the darkness and all it held.

One autumn or winter night, I walked home wearing my signature black hoodie. Strapped to my shoulders, I carried my backpack carrying whatever my girlfriend sent home with me. A few houses away from my home, a beat up truck pulled along side me. The bearded driver stunk of cheap alcohol and failed machismo.

“Are you out robbing houses?” he asked twice as his slurred words fell awkwardly around me.

I’ve dealt with drunks my whole life. Ignore them and they usually go away. I shrugged and continued on.

“Hey! I’m fucking talking to you!” he barked. He roared the engine and the vision of him spinning the ninteen-eightysomething Ford pick up and gunning it in my direction filled with me dread. “Come back here so I can kick your ass!”

“Go the fuck home!” I called, continuing toward the house and hoping my fear didn’t get the better of me because I knew, even then, that running is an admittance to guilt. “You’re drunk and you need to go home!”

He revved he engined and continued to fire off obscenities until realizing I wasn’t going to play along. He idled too long at the yield sign. As I approached the driveway, he gunned his truck and vanished into the midnight street. And until 16 months ago, I never wondered or even catered the thought of how things would’ve played differently if he carried a gun.

I am not Trayvon Martin. My assailant, a drunkard, made no effort to pursue me that night. He made no attempt to get out of the truck. He didn’t even bother to phone 911 about my suspicious attire. What he did was continue on his drunken way. A drunkard made a better decision than a sober George Zimmerman.

Conservatives have mounted Zimmerman on the wall. The poster child of the misguided, vague stand your ground law. They pushed to vilify the victim. Trayvon Martin the thug. Trayvon Martin the thief, the junky, the expelled student. One reporter went as far as placing the blame on him because he wore a hoodie that night. They pushed and steered your attention away. They posted images of a high school teen posing with his middle fingers thrown at the camera. They spun his record to paint a boy with no actual future, ignoring the fact that because of George Zimmerman—their hero—Trayvon Martin is a boy with no future. Because of George Zimmerman, Trayvon Martin will never graduate high school. He will never attend college. Never start a career, meet a girl, get married, or have children of his own.

Instead of acknowledging any of that, my conservative friends have used Antonio Santiago as the face of true racial injustice.

As reported by Sherry West, Antonio Santiago’s mother, on 21 March 2013, 17-year-old De’Marquise Elkins and Dominique Lang, 15, made an attempt to rob her as she pushed her son in his stroller down the street. When the attempted mugging failed, it resulted—according to West—in the fatal shooting of Antonio Santiago. Both Elkins and Lang stood before a judge. They were arrested for their crime. They will be tried as adults, despite their age. But, according to one conservative-made meme, neither will get a death sentence due to their age.

As of late, however, a Susan Smith twist is coming to light as both parents of the slain have tested positive for gun powder residue. Sherry West has reason for testing positive—she was shot, too. But what about Antonio’s father, whom West has stated wasn’t there?

It’s sickening that my conservative friends and so-called men like Robert Zimmerman Jr.—George’s brother—are using such a tragic tale to justify the slaying of an innocent young man. “Lib media,” tweeted Robert Zimmerman Jr., “shld[sic] ask if what these2[sic] black teens did 2 a woman&baby[sic] is the reason ppl[sic] think blacks mighB[sic] risky.”

But Trayvon Martin wasn’t mugging a woman or shooting a child. He wasn’t armed with a deadly weapon. He wasn’t antagonizing George Zimmerman. His only crime, according to Robert Zimmerman Jr.’s comparison, is being black and having a penchant for flipping off the camera (which I also did several times as a high school student). No, like me all those nights ago, Trayvon Martin was walking home. And like the drunk who approached me, Zimmerman carried a stench—not of alcohol or machismo—of cowardice, hate, and failure.

George Zimmerman, a man who once wanted to become a judge one day, stalked a young man. He instigated a fight. A fight he found himself losing. Because Trayvon Martin fought back. Because if Travyon didn’t fight—if he ran as so many of my friends insist was an option for him, it would be an admittance of guilt. So Trayvon Martin, taking Florida’s law (whether he knew it or not) to heart, stood his ground. And for that, he was murdered. And Zimmerman’s former dream came true. He stood there, smoking gun in hand, as judge and jury of a now futureless Trayon Martin.

I am not Trayvon Martin because I am alive. Because I graduated college. Because I became a parent. I am not Trayvon Martin because I have a future. Because I am not black. Because I’ve never truly been exposed to racism or prejudice outside high school norms.

I am not Travyon Martin because I know the system failed in giving him justice, a wrong I’m glad he’ll never know.

And I am not George Zimmerman, because, even though we’re both free men, his freedom is only an illusion.