Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live – Henry Van Dyke.
My view on the idea of black lives mattering has evolved over the last month. This is not at all a call-of-attention to black-on-black crimes, but in the wake of rising racial tensions across the country, I felt compelled to share my revelation.
The Biggest Hypocrite of 2016
I found myself at Kroger in a rougher (but not terrible) part of town. I had to return my Redbox movie–Anything to distract me from the dangers of being a black man in America. This was my home grocery store, and I’d been here many times over my life. I had grown up on streets just blocks away, (streets that some of my college associates referred to as “the ghetto,” “dangerous,” and “the dark side past the bridge”). My point is I was in familiar territory.
My car’s ignition switch needs rebuilding and is constantly in a triggered state. The consequence of this is that whenever I put it in park or neutral, there’s a loud cranking noise. It’s more of an embarrassment than anything, so I try to avoid it at all cost and especially when there are a lot of people around. That’s why when I pulled up to the Redbox that day, I just pulled up my parking brake while the car was still in drive. It was only going to take a minute, and I’d be right there to make sure nothing happened. My head was on a swivel. Again, I was familiar with this area.
While I returned my movie, I noticed the approach of a guy from off to the side where the bus stop was. On the surface, he was a little unkept. There are a lot of loiterers that hang out in the parking lot at this store. I immediately put my guard up and kept an eye on him. He walked up to me and asked “Hey man, can I use your phone?”
I was stand-offish. “I’m in a hurry fam. I’m sorry.”
“I’m just trying to get my groceries home man,” he went on. “I just need to call my little brother. I don’t want the frozen stuff to go bad.”
“I can’t even do it.”
“You be blessed,” he said before wandering back out into the parking lot looking for somebody who would be more willing to give him assistance. I finished returning my stuff and returned to my car, grateful that the guy had left me alone and that the situation didn’t escalate in any way.
I’d been listening to Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp A Butterfly. With all of the racial tensions in the air, I found peace and comfort in the unapologetic blackness of his sophomore project. Songs like “I”, “King Kunta”, “Alright” and “Wesley’s Theory” rejuvenated my spirit and reminded me to carry on strong in my identity as a black American.
In ways, the refrain of “For Free?” was the cousin to the “Black Lives Matter” chant. Earlier that day, I’d driven down the streets with it blaring from my car windows. “This dih ain’t free!” It was if I was reminding America that the oft-appropriated culture of black Americans was not for free. The country must also respect our humanity. Even if my singing wasn’t heard by any one body in particular, putting it into the atmosphere was therapeutic.
That said, it wasn’t any of those uplifting songs that came on when I got back into the car. I turned up my speakers just to hear “How Much A Dollar Cost” playing. In the song, Kendrick confronts the hypocrisy of his snobbery against his professed faith as he encounters God disguised as a homeless man.
In that moment, I felt surreal-ly convinced and compelled to confront my own hypocrisy. A man approached me, needing help and I was in a position to help him. On the surface, I could easily explain why I turned him away. The world that we live in is crazy, and anything can happen at any moment. He could have run off with my phone and car. He could have assaulted me. He could have been sick and spread his germs over to me. What it all ultimately boiled down to, was that for whatever reason, I did not respect his humanity. I’d forgotten the golden rule, to do unto others as they do unto you. Candidly speaking, I’ve reached a place of privilege where I felt better than him. The biggest hypocrite of 2016.
Black Lives Matter Always
When Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were both unjustly killed, I reacted along with the rest of the nation. Among the hodgepodge of emotions that I cycled through, there was great frustration, sadness, anger, fear, and helplessness. After Philando’s murder, I recalled going into work and venting that there was nothing that we (as black people in America) could do to escape the inevitable realities of a broken system that did not value the lives of people of color.
The promise that if we just obeyed the laws, complied with law enforcement, and practiced respectability politics, THEN we’d be good, was refuted. I don’t need to go too much into details because these feelings are well documented across the web and even here on FlyPaper. By now, we can all recite off the names-turned-hashtags like lyrics. The victims don’t even need last names because you know who I’m talking about. Tamir, Eric, Trayvonn, Sandra, Sean, Mike, and others.
The time has been passed for action. In the immediate aftermath of the murders of Philando and Alton, there was visible anger. Frustrated rhetoric filled the timelines of Twitter and Facebook. Thousands gathered to protest and march. Chants of “Black Lives Matter” rang through America’s consciousness, a reminder of a principle seemingly forgotten. For many, myself included, it felt like it was the same rehearsed behavior and that it was not enough.
After weeks of reflection, I now realize, that we were right: it WAS rehearsed behavior and therein lies the problem because it IS NOT enough. Civic involvement revolves around several key events: the murder of an unarmed citizen by a member of the law, the failure to arrest/charge the offender, and the lack of conviction when criminal charges are presented. Make no mistake, in each of these instances, public outcry is very necessary. The criminal justice system, as it stands, is broken and needs to be fixed. Our police forces are too militarized. The relationship between police and community is too disconnected and needs to be bridged. Until that work is done, we as a collective public need to continue to demonstrate and lobby our political representation and push forward the civil rights agenda.
The issue that I’ve come to have is that we only remember that “Black Lives Matter” when a black person loses their life and that’s a problem. What I realized in that Kroger parking lot was that I needed a perspective shift. From my observations, the devaluation of black lives is not exclusive to police interactions, and it does not just come from white people. On the streets, we (black people) don’t greet strangers with friendliness. On social media, black people are ran through the mud and made into a spectacle.
Black-owned businesses aren’t patronized because of the anticipation of receiving bad service OR people ask for hook-ups and discounts on the strength of (insert reason here). HBCU’s that aren’t named Howard, Hampton, Morehouse, and Spelman are oft frowned upon. When a black person speaks with intelligence, diction, and poise, they are chastised as ‘talking white’. Black parties are relegated as rowdy, out-of-control, and dangerous. Black events are under-attended.
Natural black hair is shamed on both men and women. Black history is relegated to the second month of the year. Mainstream black music in large part is reduced to being about sex and drugs. Black movies are under-budgeted and black actors are under-employed. Sidestepping black-on-black crime for obvious reasons, the crab-in-a-barrel in-fighting runs rampant in all levels of our community, both in legal and illegal endeavors. The list goes on and on. Internalized concepts of ‘white is right’ permeate minority communities.
What do we do?
This letter is not to put the onus on black people, to do better. There is systemic oppression that work against minority populations every day, and the work must not stop until those are removed. For example, we still need to get justice for Henry Green. This is a separate conversation. The question–the-elephant-in-the-room–is what do we do? I propose two things: 1) Remember to love and cherish each other every day; and 2) to stay active politically, financially, and socially.
Keep the Momentum Going With Love and Acknowledgement
It’s not all doom and gloom. Especially in recent years, there has been a rise in black consciousness (that is separate and apart from the woke individuals from the lands of Hotep). From my vantage point, the tide has already begun to shift back towards pride in original black culture. On Twitter, for example, every week it seems to be a new hashtag celebrating black excellence in one way or another from #BlackMenGreetings, to #BlackWomenDidThat and all of the #BreakTheInternet memes.
What we need to do now is continue to push forward that agenda, deliberately. That comes from changing things on a microscopic level with the way that we look at ourselves. I started with the man in the mirror. I found that guy in the Kroger parking lot and let him use my phone. The look of relief on his face after he hung up with his brother will stay with me forever. On To Pimp A Butterfly, guest-rapper Rhapsody chimed in, “call all my sisters queen and my brothers magnificent.” Let’s bring back saying “hi” to strangers and holding open the doors. It’s a lifestyle.
The second tier is to remain active. We cannot let these waves ebb and flow. It’s impractical to call for marches and rallies on a regular basis, but that’s not the only way to stay active. I am not one of the people who thinks that hashtag activism is pointless. Hashtags and trending topics were created with the very purpose of creating visibility. When you see things going on, you know that things are going on.
Know who your political representatives are and vote in every single election, especially the local ones. The laws that most directly affect our communities are made by people who are relatively accessible to us. At FlyPaper, we are working on ways to create even more awareness about local and state politics to make it easier for you to participate.
Telling somebody that you see what they’re doing is great but support with more than just your words. Attend events held in the city. There are things to do that extend beyond Columbus nightlife. Support with your presence, pay money for it and tell others about them as well. Buy local products. Patronize small businesses. Listen to local musicians and purchase art. Make known that these things matter, by being a customer.
A crucial objective of FlyPaper under my leadership is to report on the black culture in Columbus. We document and spread the word that there is important work being done here. As we continue to build this community, let’s remember that “Black Lives Matter” is not a flash point moment of controversy, but instead an on-going lifestyle. Practice every day. I’m starting with me.
Editor of FlyPaper Magazine