Category Archives: The Life

Ocean of Emotion

Ocean of Emotion

I don’t think Frank Ocean’s recent revelation about his first love is the ‘coming out’ story we’ve tried to make it.  I’ve maintained since the first time a woman’s love pulled at my own heartstrings, that sexuality is more fluid than fixed.

Frank Ocean’s is the first voice you hear on Jay-Z and Kanye West’s ‘Watch the Throne’ album.  He’s a rising star.  So when I read his tumblr post yesterday morning, I knew right away it would shake things up in the hip hop world.  Folks talked themselves in circles and worked themselves into a fury trying to define Ocean:  oh, so that n*gga gay now; he’s bi; he’s on the down low.  I don’t know if he is any of those things, but either way, I don’t think that was the point of the post.

Frank’s  “thank you’s” speaks to the complexity of human emotion.  His letter was a love story, not one of homosexual discovery.  That the object of Frank’s affection was a man isn’t inconsequential, I can admit that.  I understand how difficult it is socially and culturally for a young Black man in the hip hop world to admit feelings that his contemporaries would probably never admit to themselves, or find the courage to share with the world.  Frank took a tremendous leap to let a piece of his truth live.

The intimacy shared between Frank Ocean and his male friend is more layered than the one-dimensional identity public opinion is trying to force.  Frank’s letter offers a more interesting take on love, namely that it isn’t picky about social variables.  It doesn’t take race, religion, income, gender, or political affiliation into consideration when it settles in.  When it hits you, it hits you.  And there’s nothing you can really do about the feeling, or that you felt it.  Frank said it beautifully:  “By the time I realized I was in love, it was malignant. It was hopeless. There was no escaping, no negotiating with the feeling. No choice. It was my first love, it changed my life.”  Yep, that’s how it goes.

The implications of same-sex attraction are always the hurdle.  But the attraction itself usually happens naturally.  And if you’ve never had one before, then your opinion lacks credibility on what it is, or what it feels like.  No one gets to decide for all of us what is and isn’t “natural.”  You just don’t.

Frank Ocean’s personal testimony is powerful because it’s so basic, and so common to the human experience.  Cats fall in love.  And for whatever reason, sometimes the cats they fall for can’t handle the pressure.  Frank’s story didn’t have to be activist to resonate.  It was a love story.  It was just a dude exposing his truth with personal freedom being the ultimate end.  That’s what makes the story all the more engrossing and courageous.

Frank’s letter and the reactions to it, also expose a few blind spots in our perceptions about sexuality and intimacy.  Attraction, in my experience, hasn’t been just about gender.  I accept that for most folks it is.  But sometimes gender is merely a variable, like good skin or pretty eyes.  Sometimes you fall for the person first, and his or her gender is an afterthought – a bridge you’ll cross when you come to it, if you ever have a need to.  Sometimes the love is all that matters.

Frank fell for a person who couldn’t fully reciprocate.  For Adam and Eve, or Adam and Steve, rejection is hard to take.  But four summers later, Frank had grown strong enough to share his secret and strong enough to move through it.  He’d grown strong enough to show, through his experience, that people are just people.  We have emotions and feel things we don’t expect.  But whether we expect them or understand them, doesn’t change the fact that they are.  They just are.

The ocean of emotion is vast.  If you find love out here – if you find someone who makes you feel genuine love and affection – you don’t look the gift horse in the mouth.   I’m grateful to Frank Ocean for being an ambassador of this idea.  I’m proud of him and I love him for his honesty and vulnerability.  In telling his story, he gives voice to many people who’ve experienced the same, but never had an ally.  Now they know.  People are just people, and we feel what we feel.  We just do.

 

Advertisements

Fantasyland

Fantasyland is where suspension of reality is reality. Whether you engage it – pop its g-string and tip it, or you dream it – seeing Idris Elba’s face giving you the business, instead of that bamma, Clyde, that you married, Fantasyland is your mind’s playground. Where wonderment can freely roam.

I was at a drag show recently and there may be no greater suspension of reality anywhere than that which exists at drag shows. Make no mistake about it, drag queens are dudes in dresses and makeup. Wearing heels and purses and sequins and things. But drag is also art, creativity, courage, and skill. You have to respect the work that goes into beating one’s face the way these queens do.

Ms. Jujubee, Ms. Kenya Michaels, Ms. Nina Flowers

I’ve seen linebacker-built queens move with remarkable poise and grace in absurdly high heels .  I’ve even seen them drop into a split and pop it like a stripper with ease and precision. Drag queens are masterful at pushing the boundaries to create their perfect illusion. And the experience is especially dope if they have a personality dazzling enough to really pull it off.

I think what’s most fascinating to me about drag culture is folks’ reactions to drag performances – which sort of represents the success or failure of the queen’s illusion. My granny says the eyes never lie, and she’s right. What happens with fans at a drag show is the same thing that happens with fans at a concert – how, in my their fantasy, I they pretend that Beyoncé’s really singing ‘Speechless‘ to me them and me them only. The shoulders sway from side to side and the eyes are locked, all hazy and shit. Before you know it, it’s happened. You’re under her spell.

To me, there’s something deliciously intriguing about drag because no one studies women (for non-sexual purposes) like gay men and drag queens.  See the documentary film, Paris is Burning, if you don’t believe me.  It tells the story of drag and ball culture in the New York City’s Black and Latino LGBT communities during the late 1980s.  You can watch the entire film using the link above, and you really should.  The culture  and characters are so engrossing, you feel like you’ve gained insight into a whole other world.  In one ball scene, the emcee advises emphatically, “It is a KNOWN FACT, that a woman do carry an evening bag at dinnertime.”  How could you deny yourself this pleasure?  Go on and watch.  And the next time you see a professional queen lip syncing for her life to a Beyoncé tune, understand that only Beyoncé herself could do Bey better.

At drag shows, I also love watching folks stalk the stage, and stride up with their stack of ones in hand, ready to make it rain on a queen for being so fucking fierce. They think they got all the power, but soon find themselves up close and realize she’s this stunning projection of masculinity and femininity at the same time – stunning, maybe in the way women are.  But stunning, definitely, in the way a work of art can be.  In any case, the eyes are locked, and before they know it, they’re under her spell. The queen looks em in the eye, takes their lil ones, strokes the hand a bit. And keeps it movin. The power has been transferred.  The illusion was successful.

I suppose this magic is what all great performers hope to achieve – the ability to suspend reality and forge some connection in Fantasyland.  Or, perhaps, to be able to make the fantasy real and tangible for a moment.

Or maybe it’s enough just to wanna have a good time.  Whatever the case, Fantasyland allows you that freedom.  You get the green light to go ahead and go in.


Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? Me, Kinda.

I’m teaching a Black Politics course this summer, and I’m using Toure’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness? What it Means to Be Black Now as the primary textbook. Initially, I planned to take the traditional route – lecturing from works by the usual suspects: Manning Marable, Michael Dawson, Cornel West. But I decided in the end that I wanted to discuss race in a contemporary way, and Toure’s work allows me that freedom.

My class starts like Toure’s book does, with questions about the nature of identity. What exactly is Blackness in 2012? 50 years ago, varying shades of brown skin were sufficient determinations. If you couldn’t pass a brown paper bag test, then you were Black enough to experience the struggle, and on some level, you probably knew it personally. It was that – the struggle, the trauma narrative – of the Black American experience that was the rallying cry of Black Americans.

In 2012, however, with a biracial President of the United States who has chosen to identify culturally as Black, what now is the rallying cry? What now is the reason to rally for the race? Toure’s book argues that Blackness is multifaceted. Struggle, trauma, oppression, and racism are no longer qualifying characteristics of living while Black in America. Scholar and Harvard Professor Henry Louis Gates explains it this way: if there are 40 million Black Americans, then there are 40 million ways to be Black. Thus, poor, oppressed, and powerless is but one reality of Blackness. There are 40 million other ways to “do” it.

Last week, I asked my class to write a short paper about the way(s) they express Blackness. I wondered if it was fair for me to have the same expectation of my non-Black students. But I figured, fuck it. Writing the paper required all of them to soul search. They’d have figure out for themselves what it means to be Black and how they, as individuals, fit into that narrative. It’s an opportunity to process through a different prism.

In the beginning of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness, Touré lists his interview questions. There are some good ones designed to move the windmills of your mind and to jump-start dialogue. Touré asks: What does being Black mean to you? Does being Black mean something different today than it did 40 years ago? Would you feel comfortable eating fried chicken or watermelon around white people? My students and I talk about these questions, and we try to answer them too. I’ve noticed that the younger ones always respond in post-Black, individualistic ways. And the older students often answer from a collective perspective.

It always starts this way though. No one likes to admit that they still subscribe to a trauma narrative about the Black American experience. That they still wear “the struggle,” and are still caught up in it. Post-Blackness gives folks license to slough off that trauma, and move on. In a way, it’s like a second Emancipation Proclamation. This time though, Blacks are liberated from an imposed responsibility for advancing the race. You get to just “do you,” without worrying about whether it helps or hurts Us-at-large. “Us” is not your priority; you are. Post-Blackness allows Blackness to be embraced in a continuum, where Clarence Thomas-types can be at one end and Angela Davis-types can be at the other. And it’s all the same. Angela Davis hasn’t kept it real, and Clarence Thomas hasn’t sold out. Each of them performs Blackness in their own way, and each expression of Blackness is as legitimate, and as authentic as the other.

Post-Blackness represents the freedom to be an individual. To that end, it’s possible no one embodies the Post-Black pathology ideology quite like Dave Chappelle. “Chappelle Show” was absolutely fearless in the way it handled the social and cultural constructions of race in America. The third chapter of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness is titled “The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King”. In it, Touré presents several of Chappelle’s most hilarious, most provocative, and most brilliant comedy sketches cum social commentaries on race. But they’re so much better in video. See for yourself.

The Niggar Family

Frontline – Clayton Bigsby, Black White Supremacist

These sketches worked because they made it seem like we could actually be evolved and mature in discussing race – so conscious, as it were, that we could even be irreverent about it.

Roots Outtakes

But alas, as I mentioned, Chapter 3 of ‘Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness’ is titled “The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King.” Remember, Dave Chappelle walked away from “Chappelle’s Show” and away from his $50 million contract with Comedy Central because he felt like folks no longer laughed with him. Whereas initially, the point was to be funny and if somewhere along the way, a sentient message about race relations emerged, that was even better. But in the end, Chappelle felt more responsibility than that. In other words, the irreverence for Blackness that Post-Blackness encourages and excuses is cool until it’s not – that is, honestly, until white folks laugh a little too hard at depictions of slavery, or get too comfortable misunderstanding nigga/nigger. “You start to realize that these sketches, in the wrong hands, are dangerous.”

The history of race relations in America makes discussions of race slippery and uncomfortable. Being able to laugh about it certainly lightens things up, but the sore still festers if we really aren’t yet evolved and mature enough to also recognize the blues of it all.

The blues of the Black American experience are still palpable for a good number of folks because, although some of us have managed to exorcise ourselves from the charge of race consciousness by standing proudly as Post-Black, the world in which we live, unfortunately, isn’t so evolved.

Clever. Renege is spelled differently, but I’m sure they already knew that.

Post-Blackness, in the wrong hands, is also dangerous. And in the Trayvon Martin case, I think Touré saw that too.

Alabama, the Beautiful

I spent most of last week in Alabama, my home state. And I think, somewhere along the way, I began a love affair with it.

As y’all know, I’m hard on the South, particularly because I grew up in Alabama, and because, in a way, I guess I grew out of Alabama. As I write this now, I understand that in the process, I lost some appreciation for what Alabama has meant to me. Today, I want to rectify that.

Women’s Leadership Institute – Auburn, Alabama

I spent Monday through Thursday with the Women’s Leadership Institute (WLI) at Auburn University. It was a week of sessions and workshops dedicated to telling a different story about women and girls – that our value goes deeper, and stretches beyond our bodies and pretty faces.

The WLI Class of 2012 included a diverse group of dynamic women from all over the southeast. They came to us at various stages in their careers, education, and in their personal lives. Some had grown children, others had babies. Some had earned their Bachelor’s Degrees just days or weeks before we met, while others were working on Doctorates or their second or third Master’s Degrees. It was, for sure, an impressive group.  We celebrated the courage it takes to face your fears, to lead a team, to trust your team, and to trust your leader. We recognized our power, and we acknowledged the ways in which it is brokered – either for some greater good, or because tradition/genetics/culture dictates that we should.

Throughout the course of our lives, women bear unique burdens and take on responsibilities that our male counterparts simply don’t. Man-struggles, though they exist and are no less challenging to the individual, aren’t even within striking distance of women’s uphill battles for respect, for power, for voice, for equality.  For autonomy. Men’s opportunities aren’t limited by their chromosomal make up. Rather, they are expanded by it. Infinite possibilities await if you happen to be born XY instead of XX. For men, the range of human emotion isn’t considered a liability. Questions about work/life balance, and who takes care of the babies while you chase ambition are realities men rarely face. For women, these features of life aren’t really optional. If you’re born with a uterus, limitations come standard.

For centuries, women have shattered false conceptions about their abilities to achieve great success outside of the home. The untrustworthy prism of sexism conveniently forgets that it was Harriet Tubman who risked her life returning to the South on missions that rescued more than 70 slaves. And it was Cleopatra who tactically employed beauty and charm as she ruled Egypt and was the alluring, elusive mistress to Rome. Queen Cleopatra and Harriet Tubman were merely women, and yet they succeeded in altering the course of world history. There’s nothing “mere,” minimum, or paltry about such a feat.

In the same way, women have enjoyed success in every facet of human life: family, business, science, medicine, and technology, the arts, research, and politics. But the psychology of sexism persists. Though the glass ceiling may be cracked in several places, it remains firmly in tact.

And chief among the reasons why, I think, is women’s lack of control over narratives about their own lives – their needs and ideas based in the context of their life experiences.  On Monday night, we watched the documentary, “Miss Representation.” The film lifts the veil from media’s influence on the way we value women. Media messages would have you believe that women are, or should be, “forever 29” or younger, size 4 or smaller, married and mothering or laying looking under every Tom, Dick, and Harry to chase that dream.

It’s hard to be a girl, and then to grow up and be a woman. You’re measured against a standard that doesn’t exist. Perfection, as determined by men who never stray too far from their inner 13 year-old boy, isn’t an achievable goal. Media pushes the message that you need to be as close as possible to perfect to have value, and the market creates the illusion that you can actually buy your way into the mirage. But it’s a ruse. A clever, disheartening and disastrous ruse. Because the truth is that imperfection – the differences among us – that appeal to those among us, that’s “perfection.” Perfect. Defined by me, for me.

This was the second time I served as a Faculty in Residence with WLI. And, just like the last time, I came away inspired. The Residential Intensive Training week at WLI reminds you that women are powerful, brilliant, courageous, AND nurturing, beautiful, sexual beings. And it gives you license to be that, without contradiction.

Here’s my favorite photo from my week with WLI. It is what teamwork and sisterhood looks like.

No matter what you’re going through, sister, I’m determined to get you over this wall. The mission isn’t complete until we all make it over.

Tuskegee University – Tuskegee, Alabama

The base of the statue reads: “There is no defence or security for any of us except in the highest intelligence and development of all”

Like many ‘Skegee Alum, before I ever enrolled at Tuskegee University, I already had roots there. My dad, uncle and auntie had already taken the journey. So in August 1999 , when I showed up with the FAMU bumper sticker on my car, I wasn’t the most enthusiastic Golden Tiger.

But a couple of months later, I met a person who changed life as I knew it. And not long after that, I went to my first football game (as a student), and I saw my first probate show – it was Alpha Phi Alpha, the Fall ’99 line. And then I experienced my first Homecoming. Despite my best efforts, I began to let the “Tuskegee Experience” seep in. It was one of the best decisions I never made.

It just kind of happened one day, and I remember it so clearly. I was leaving the Union wearing yellow Old Navy flip-flops. I stopped at the top of the stairs for two seconds, and realized that I belonged there. Not on the stairs, of course. But on campus, that campus.

I felt the same way when I visited last Thursday. My dad’s roots are there, and now, so are mine. My best friend is a Tuskegee alumna, and my girlfriend is a double Tuskegee alum. I’m lucky. I get to have a little Crimson and Old Gold with me always. Last week though, it was nice to be there – to smell it, to see the caf, the yard, the valley, the ave, and the monument one more time.

Say what you wanna about my alma mater.  It is in the middle of nowhere.  It is  country.  And it is dysfunctional at times.  It’s also amazing and majestic in a way.  And for that reason, I wouldn’t trade my Tuskegee experience for your college’s any day.

“I’m so glad I went to ‘Skegee U.”

Mike & Ed’s – Phenix City & Auburn, Alabama

If you’re one of those people who proudly doesn’t eat pork, then go on ahead and skip this part. If, however, you appreciate swine for its delicious contributions to humankind, then you understand my love of good barbecue. I’m talking about ribs, friends. Ribs.

Forget anything you’ve ever heard about DC or Maryland barbecue – that is, if anyone’s ever raved about DC or Maryland barbecue.

I had to go home to get a decent rib dinner. And if I’m going home, then I’m going to my favorite barbecue spot in the world, Mike & Ed’s. The original, and best one, is located in my hometown, Phenix City, Alabama. The building looks exactly like it did the first time my mom took me there for a chipped sandwich, when I was 5ish. The sweet hickory sauce still tastes the same. The thick-cut pickles are still the perfect accompaniment to ribs drizzled with their vinegary hot sauce. And they still serve white bread with a dinner.

The one in Auburn serves sweet tea in a garbage can container – with a spigot on it. I fucking love Alabama.

🙂

My Family – Phenix City, Alabama

I gotta be honest. I struggled with whether I would visit my family on this trip. But my favorite auntie said, “You’re this close. Go see your parents.” So I did.

And I’m glad I did. I needed to see their faces and feel their hugs. I needed to feel them squeeze me like they missed me. And I needed to squeeze back so they knew I missed them too.

We caught up on the last few months, and we resolved the respect issue. However, my mom is still my mom, and my dad is still my dad. And things are still rough and sensitive. But I realized that’s ok. I don’t need it to be more than it is anymore. It was just nice to see my parents and hold them again. That works for now.

And the bonus was that I got to hang out with Granny for a while.

Alabama fed my soul last week. It is indeed a beautiful place.


The Romanticized South Redux: I’m Looking at You, North Carolina

Jennifer Cockrham, a nurse from Walkertown, N.C., holds her hand over her heart for the Pledge of Allegiance during a rally supporting a constitutional ban on gay marriage in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday, April 20, 2012. Voters will decide May 8 whether North Carolina will remain the only state in the South without such a constitutional ban. (AP Photo/Allen Breed) *sigh*

Being a Southerner in a major city has made me acutely aware of what I appreciate about my heritage, and those qualities I loathe about it. When I moved to the DC metro area 5 years ago, folks knew immediately that I wasn’t from around here. I learned quickly that the ease of my smile was welcomed precisely because warmth is an unfamiliar character trait around these parts. Likewise, the first time I visited New York a few years ago, I thanked a man for information and he called me back over to where he was standing to ask where I was from. When I told him I hailed from the great state of Alabama, he said to his comrades, “Told ya she wasn’t from here.”

Moments like these provide great perspective. Because to Yankees, southern hospitality represents a kind of charm and grace that you just don’t get everywhere. We say “please” and “thank you” and “ma’am” because somebody along the way told us that’s how decent people treat people. Now that I’ve had the chance to experience being Southern from the outside looking in, I’ll shred my usual diplomacy for what my parents called “constructive criticism.” Dear Dixie, I’m only telling you what I see because I still love you.

And what I see most often is a purposeful acceptance of ignorance that flows as mightily as the Mississippi. Sure, there’s some up North too, but Yankee know-nothings are more frequently confronted with the manifestations of their ignorance. It’s more difficult to degrade a person or a group of persons when you have to interact with them on a basic level everyday. It’s difficult to assume that all Arab-looking people are terrorists when one has invited you to his family’s home to celebrate a special occasion. It’s more difficult to conclude that all Spanish-speaking people are “Mexican” when you work with a gang of Guatemalans.

On the other hand, it’s easy to be against something that you don’t already know or understand. It is both easy and cowardly to convince yourself that you’re protecting tradition by discriminating against people who practice life differently than you.

Yet, not understanding or not knowing is never the ultimate offense; life is an exercise in trial and error, and triumph. The true crime lies in the South’s prideful incredulity about change and progress. There’s an undercurrent of “this is how we do it down here; this is how we’ve always done it; this is how we’ll always do it.”

The former governor of Alabama echoed a similar refrain in 1963. George Wallace stood in the doorway of the University of Alabama blocking the path of progress, both literally and figuratively, for Black Americans and for Southerners. I imagine that Wallace hoped to prevent Black students from integrating the University of Alabama, and White social psyches by proxy. Because it’s difficult to perpetuate the “lazy,” “stupid” narrative about Blacks when they sit right beside you in Chemistry class — when they have the same opportunity as you to succeed just as much as you. As soon as just one of “them” graduates with honors and just one of “y’all” doesn’t, then the superiority and entitlement you’ve grown so comfortable toting around, has holes in it. So does your superiority narrative.

Racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-elitism — these are but one aspect of the issue. I mentioned decency earlier, and I believe that’s the common delusion about southern hospitality. It’s not unconditional; you get it unless and until who you are is something different from what they (the majority) have deemed “normal,” and therefore acceptable.

Yesterday, voters in North Carolina voted to amend their state constitution to ban same-sex marriage. And to be fair, North Carolina isn’t the first state to pass a constitutional amendment discriminating against ordinary Americans in this way. There are at least 30 others. But we expected more from the Tar Heels. From a state that boasts pillars of higher learning and advancement like Duke and Wake Forest Universities, the University of North Carolina, and from a state that grows increasingly culturally diverse with metropolitan areas like Charlotte, we expected better from North Carolina.

Amendment 1 is not only disrespectful of human difference, it is unconstitutional, make no mistake about it. Reverend William J. Barber II, a pastor in North Carolina and head of the local NAACP, laid it out beautifully. “However you feel about same-sex marriage, ” he says, “religiously or personally or morally; you can be for or against, you should always be against division and hatred and discrimination being written into the constitution.”

The intolerance for difference in the South is a tradition, as is the comfort with not knowing or caring about what an amorphous “they” do wherever “they” are. In my view, the South goes kicking and screaming into the 21st century, and to its own peril, as it lags in virtually every indicator of intellectual, social, and cultural upward mobility. There are pockets of progress, but Atlanta simply isn’t synonymous for Georgia, neither is Houston for Texas, nor Charlotte for North Carolina.

Honestly, how much more “organizing,” hand-holding, pandering, and there-thereing do we need in the south before we just say ‘you are wrong’? Your traditions, like marching a Confederate flag across the football field at halftime (which I experienced in high school), are wrong. Can you imagine how it feels, as a Black woman, to be immersed in a celebration of the Confederacy when your intention was to show up for a football game?

I can’t keep giving out passes for incredulity about growth and social maturity. The south consistently votes against its own interests. “They don’t know no better” doesn’t work as an excuse in this case; these are conscious choices. If you’ll drift with me down memory lane, you’ll remember that Eddie Long and T.D. Jakes sure did lead Black folks to the George W. Bush promised land in 2004 precisely because G.W. was an avowed opponent of marriage equality. Bush wasn’t saying much about the dwindling prospects for middle- and lower middle-income Americans, but that was neither here nor there. At least he would ensure that the gays couldn’t marry. Unclouded by the haze of religious rhetoric, folks might have seen that GDubs’ ideological perspective would also ensure that they couldn’t marry either — because they couldn’t afford to once the economy tanked while they marched in opposition to a matter that had absolutely no bearing on their own lives.

Since I left home, I’ve been asked many times if I would ever move back, and the answer has consistently been no. I can’t. I don’t want to. I can’t live in a place where my personhood, the way I love, and the relationship I’ve built isn’t protected; where discrimination is tolerated because the majority is comfortable with it. I don’t begrudge anyone who has the courage to go back and fix what’s wrong where we’re from. However, the first step – the most important one – is acknowledging that there is a problem.

The challenge and triumph of diversity allows to you to see objectively. You’re able to measure who you are and what you think against something different. And while you may not always agree, at least the experience of meeting someone who looks, speaks, or thinks differently than you has opened you up some. It makes clear that how you do it, and how it’s always been done isn’t the only way to do it, nor is it always the right way.


Am I My Brother’s Keeper? Maybe…

Yes indeed. Do respect loyalty.

A friend of mine recently went through a bad break-up. As is often the case with friends and lovers, friends’ lovers become your friends too. And unfortunately, if and when the lovin’ goes sour, friends get caught in the middle and are left to choose sides.

In the break-up melee, I got a message that was like: it’s sad to see friendships dissolved because we are loyal to one side or the other. That got me thinking about this term, loyalty, and about the things and people to which we pledge our allegiance.

You should know that I’ve learned everything I ever want to know about the streets from The First 48, and a few colorful characters I’ve encountered on life’s journey. The cats who get caught up in shemminy sham in the show’s featured cities are but a sampling of the derelicts that probably lurk in the nooks and crannies of all cities. And it seems the constant is this: it never occurs to said derelicts that the principles to which they adhere, and the loyalties they display are probably the reason the popos showed up at their mama’s door in the first place.

To be sure, there is no honor among thieves. It took me forever to understand that conceptually, and to process its implications. There is no honor among cats who don’t respect honor, dignity, or life. Folks try to rob you of your good sense every day, insisting that you be “ride or die,” or that you don’t snitch if they snatch an old lady’s purse and accidentally develop itchy trigger finger while the caper’s in progress. Fuck that brand of loyalty. I got a Granny. What if it was her purse, and she who was on the receiving end of the “accident?” The truth is that derelicts don’t care whose Granny is whose; to them, a mark is just a mark.

So then, how can I trust you around anything that means anything to me if all you respect is street logic? How can I be loyal to that?

I wonder how many families and communities have been torn asunder because a Ray-Ray decided to do some foul shit, and then expected folks to just let him cook. His daddy aint around; he don’t get enough attention at home; a motherfucker looked at him funny; a girl broke his lil heart; he lost the last fight. Whatever the excuse, in Ray-Ray’s mind, it entitles him to pillage and terrorize. And everybody else should just deal – in silence – until he feels satisfied. To whom are we loyal in this case? How did we all end up in a ride or die relationship with Ray-Ray? And is there some sort of waiver of responsibility? Because if I know Ray-Ray’s raggedy whereabouts, I’m tellin’. I don’t really do fear and intimidation. And I’m averse to setting precedents for accepting ridiculous behavior.

What’s worse is that Ray-Ray types stay emboldened by some perverse sense of respect that they claim to be protecting when terrorizing folks’ communities and daring the neighbors to speak up about it. But when the damage is done and the dust settles, where is Ray-Ray?

Cowering. Hiding somewhere. On the run. Under the radar. Low key for a lil while.

How does such a bitchass move follow one so brazen, one which is supposed to be viewed as a frightening but impressive display of power, prowess, and principle?

Upending someone’s world and then running and hiding is a precise mark of gutlessness. And who’s comfortable being ride or die for a coward? And loyal to a menace? If you answer “me! me!” then what does that make you in the end?

***

I responded to the break-up melee message, asserting my understanding of the word loyalty. I’m loyal to people who respect and honor the dignity of life, and those who can handle emotion like adults without resorting to sandbox resolutions – pulling hair, kicking dirt on shoes, and destroying our toys. I’m loyal to actions and principles which are motivated by love. And yes, by survival too – within reason and reasonable context. For example, in parts of New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, the options were steal or starve. If ever the exception is to become the rule, then the matter of survival, in my view, is a reasonable impetus.

So yeah. Am I my brother’s keeper? Sure. Absolutely. I got your back, bro.

“…now don’t fuck it up.”


Brown Sugar

Today, countless will convene in celebration of her majesty, Lady Mary Jane.

For some, it is indeed a love relationship, a matter a matrimony – in good times and in bad, forsaking all other drugs, til death do they part, the stoner remains committed to his Mary Jane.

What is it about weed that engenders such fidelity? And also vexes society so?

I suspect Mary’s a good girl who hasn’t the haziest idea why her reputation is so maligned. Especially considering her comrades in vice.

In the same way, I find it absurd that a cat could be arrested for smoking a j in the park even whilst his bench mate guzzles swill from a brown paper bag unscathed.

**Before we go farther down this road, I’ll offer the disclaimer that, of course, clean livin’ is best. Exercise regularly; eat good food; drink water. Stay away from vices. However. If you must vice, then let us have this conversation. We can pick back up with the clean livin’ if ever raw kale snacks and runners’ highs are the subject at hand.**

In February, the Washingtonian ran a cover story titled “High Society: Washington’s Love Affair with Marijuana.” The article pokes at Washington’s weed subculture – a segment of the population that apparently includes high society regulars like political operatives and politicians, lawyers, millionaires, and stay-at-home moms like Ann Romney. Not to worry though, as one mother explains:

“Never in front of the kids … [they] will be with a babysitter and we’ll go to someone’s house, play Wii, and pass a bowl around. Or smoke while we’re at a barbecue, making dinner, or having margaritas.”

Imagine that. Ann Romney types puffin on whiteboys and passing ’em around the breakfast nook.

I understand personal experience shapes perception. But, you don’t gotta touch fat meat to know it’s greasy*.  You may not know weed, but we’re all familiar with the ills of more socially acceptable vices. So then, why privilege alcohol, cigarettes, and prescription pills – each, in excess, has proven more dangerous to the individual, physiologically, than weed ever has. The Washingtonian article I mentioned earlier also highlights a study conducted at Claremont Graduate University which tested the point at which various drugs – including marijuana, alcohol, prozac, ecstacy, and cocaine – become lethal. For alcohol, for example, 2 shots of vodka would likely be effective in getting you tipsy; 20 shots, however, would kill you.  So researchers divided a drug’s lethal dose by its effective dose, and that figure was the drug’s “safety margin.”

“For alcohol, the margin is 10, because ten times the effective dose will likely kill you.” For marijuana, the margin is 1,000. This means if one j gets you where you need to be, then you’d have to smoke 999 more before your life is effectively in jeopardy.

This brings me back to Mary Jane’s bad reputation.  So I asked some brilliant smokers I know to clear the air.

First, I asked each participant to self-identify – would they describe themselves as “professionals” (gainfully employed and making some contribution to job and/or society) or “slackers” (ain’t got no job, and primarily supported by someone else)? And then I asked the following:

  • What do you think is the general perception of marijuana smokers? Why do you think that is?
  • Why do you smoke?
  • Do folks judge you for smoking when they find out you do? If so, how do you defend yourself?
  • What are your feelings on marijuana as the “gateway drug”? Does smoking marijuana ever make you want a higher high from a more illicit drug?
  • Do you think smoking marijuana impairs your ability to be great? Has it kept you from accomplishing your goals?
  • How often do you smoke?

Everyone identified as professionals.  And everyone – each one of them – said they smoke daily – several times a day – or would if they had some left in the stash every day.

To question 1, the consensus was that the perception of pot smokers is largely negative. They are “unmotivated” “underachievers” who are “listless…bumping from one blunt to the next.” Most believe media perpetuates this stereotype because “it’s funny to rag the hapless stoner, who’s vice has become his identity rather than just something he does.”

On question 2, one might assume “professionals” would be loath to get down and dirty with Mary Jane because of how bad y’all talk about her. But they aint. One respondent began smoking purely out of rebellion. “I cannot stand being told what I can and cannot do,” she said. Moreover, folk treat smoking sessions like happy hours – toking “for recreation or to be social with friends.” For others, in addition to enjoyment as a general proposition, they also smoke to relax and alleviate pain, for “deep contemplation,” and spiritual connections – meditation and focus. “I enjoy being taken out of (or falling deeper into) my own head for an hour. Like I’m borrowing someone else’s senses.” I dig that.

For question 3, responses about what happens when/if people judge you ranged from “I don’t know because I don’t give a fuck what people think of me” to confronting the negative with “yea, but it’s ok to drink a pint of whiskey and smoke a pack of cigarettes everyday?” Touché, I say. Touché.

On question 4, my respondents unanimously agreed that, to them, marijuana was more like the “gateway” to enlightenment and relaxation than the threshold of bigger, badder drugs. The choice to go harder, it was assumed, was a mechanism for masking some deeper issue that hasn’t yet been unaddressed. One respondent called the gateway argument a “cop out, ” as she believes “folks who were going to smoke crack or shoot heroin were going to do it regardless of if they started with weed.” And another added, “I can smoke pot and feel totally … content with the feeling that it gives me…. I’ve been smoking for over 15 years and I haven’t had the urge or need to try anything else.”

On the last question, I asked whether anyone felt smoking marijuana obstructed their ability to accomplish great things. In each case, the answer was a resounding no.  But for flavor, here’s a gem:   “If anything, my greatness and ability has been improved and enhanced….Abstract thought and feeling is a big part of what I do, and the ability to explore different ideas is aided by being able to at least contemplate and think outside of the box, which smoking helps me do.”  And this one was my favorite:  “I will admit that I’ve thought of how much MORE awesome I could be if I didn’t smoke. Like could I have finished my PhD in 2 years instead of 3 if I wasn’t a smoker? Probably not but I’ve wondered….”  I love it.

Before today, you may not have realized that folks can have legitimate, respectable reasons for why they spark up from time to time, or even all the time.  You may not have realized that one can be both a stoner, and a scholar.  And you may not have known that desperate housewives in the swanky enclaves of suburbia host cyphers just to celebrate life.  But now you do.

Hey, I’m not your pusher.  I’m just here to provide a different perspective.

Happy 420, monkeys.

spotify:track:3tyUh8UpK0PVu00AjbP1UG