Robert Lashley – Nailed Magazine https://nailedmagazine.com Thu, 12 Sep 2019 17:29:19 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.11 Grandaddy, What Do We Do? by Robert Lashley https://nailedmagazine.com/poetry/grandaddy-robert-lashley/ Tue, 22 Aug 2017 09:00:39 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=poetry&p=16614   A poem by Robert Lashley. + + + Grandaddy, What Do We Do?   Do not despair of the ship in spite of the journey. Do not despair of the toil in figured days ………………..in new-lit lakes of fire. Spend your days under watch for unseen eyes in spite of darkness and shelters. Do […]

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A poem by Robert Lashley.

+ + +

Grandaddy, What Do We Do?

 

Do not despair of the ship in spite of the journey.
Do not despair of the toil in figured days
………………..in new-lit lakes of fire.
Spend your days under watch for unseen eyes
in spite of darkness and shelters.

Do not despair of the arc with no sigh of the covenant.
Do not despair of the covenant with no sigh of the rainbow
………………..and its alms against a sea of troubles,
those rivers that burn in the known and unknowns
………………..in furnaces transfigured to tents.

Believe in getting up without sight of the morning.
Believe in sight without promise of the day.
Days have no homes, no tidings and kinfolk
………………..in the starless, icy sky.
The unseen will deliver what the body denies
………………..in the peril of what is visible.

Believe in the news that doesn’t transform to gallows.
Believe in the words that withstand through cohesion
………………..in how new and old they are,
the reverb that rises above plastic speakers
locked in the basins of their raised hands.
Lock nothing of your soul in despair of the wrecks
………………..but make the journey back to babel,
the way out of no way in the blindly led hour
in books writ from humanism’s Bic.
In towers broke, rebuild with the stock
that contains life’s muscle memory.

Do not despair of the lost tree of life.
Do not weep for its rarified air.
Till the garden and the food you grew
………………..and the moments you were there.

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Header image courtesy of Kwesi Abbensetts. To view his photo essay, “Blood Memory,” go here.

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Could You Please Go by Robert Lashley https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/please-go-robert-lashley/ Mon, 14 Aug 2017 09:00:38 +0000 https://nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=16605 A personal essay by Robert Lashley. + + + He wore a pork pie hat, tweed jacket, and liked turtle neck shirts. Almost every day, you could see him with a soup and six-inch in the downtown Tacoma subway. A skeptical democrat, he would go to meetings at Tully’s coffeehouse, where I would argue with […]

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A personal essay by Robert Lashley.

+ + +

He wore a pork pie hat, tweed jacket, and liked turtle neck shirts. Almost every day, you could see him with a soup and six-inch in the downtown Tacoma subway. A skeptical democrat, he would go to meetings at Tully’s coffeehouse, where I would argue with him on every issue that inconvenienced me. Like everyone with sense in downtown Tacoma, he liked my ex-girlfriend more than he liked me.

I was a different intellectual bird then. I was a wounded man-baby who would emotionally lash out at the slightest criticism of any black man because “nobody knew how hard it was.” Like so many people who had traumas, I thought they were the cards I could play to get out of living an examined life. The networks that fostered late 90’s/early 00’s hip hop and R&B journalism gave me a place where I could act them out in an intellectual macho man persona. I couldn’t deal with the real pain in my life, yes, but I didn’t deal with the real pain in my life, and I take responsibility for the jerk I was at the time.

My neighbor and I had many dispiriting conversations. He didn’t give a gold star to everything about 90’s hip hop culture, asked questions about the civil rights movement, and didn’t think everybody was against me. I called him a racist a lot. By December of 2001, he had had enough. A month before, I had broken the heart of my ex for the last time by cheating on her again. I had a breakdown that night and went to my grandfather ask him for help in making me a better man, but people in the Tacoma arts scene had a right to still think I was a loud, self-pitying jerk.

It was in the middle of December when I saw him last. There was a core part of my person who knew I wasn’t shit and knew I had to leave town to process my life, so I had decided to move to Bellingham to start my life over. That day was unusually warm; and in the middle of moving, I decided to take a break to get some grape soda. A week before, I had read Bernard Malamud’s The Tenants, a book he recommended to me as a sort of literary forbearance of our friendship. The novel is about two writers in the projects: one black, one Jewish, and how they grew from racial hate to respect then went back to human hatred on the account of avarices that transcended skin color. It’s not a masterpiece: Malamud had a hard time writing women and his prototypical literary nihilist had become sort of a formula. What it is, however, is but a book that gets a lot out of the conflicts both men have with each other, and Malamud’s unwillingness to write political tract.

Then, however, I only saw a black writer being portrayed bad. And I went into him as he was leaving Subway. And five sentences into my harangue he snapped, “ALRIGHT! ALRIGHT! EVERY BLACK MAN WHO WALKS THE FACE OF THIS EARTH SHOULD NEVER GET CRITICIZED. EVERY WHITE PERSON WHO CRITICIZES YOU IS A RACIST. EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM. YOU DESERVE ALL THE TOYS YOU WANT IN THE WORLD, BUT WILL YOU PLEASE GO AWAY. JUST FUCKING GO AWAY. WHAT DO I HAVE TO DO TO MAKE YOU GO AWAY?”

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In the next fifteen years, that conversation has never left my head. In that time, I began to take responsibility for my life and go into therapy to deal with the neighborhood and sexual traumas that had happened to me. I molded myself after my grandfather, and began to conduct myself in a better way as a man. I came to terms with my aunts’ and mother’s lost friendship, stopped being angry at them for not being together anymore, and went back to what they taught me as a child. I grew up, and became a very likable person, and my ex and I are good friends now. (I also, as many of you know, became a somewhat recognizable figure in poetry scenes.)

The sadness I have over my self-pitying fuck-ups guides me in every issue. I’m not a moderate or a conservative: my beliefs fit more in the classical liberal spectrum. But I am always scared to have a set opinion on most things outside basic principles. I debate, debate, and debate almost every issue in my head, and I always hang out with people who aren’t afraid to tell me that they disagree with me. Because of this, and because of the iconoclastic aspects of my poetry, I’m seen as a literary figure people can talk to. And in the last two years, I’ve discussed politics with a lot of people who feel they don’t have that many people with which to talk politics.

In clubs, colleges, and festivals, I’ve talked to a lot of people who had no room in their peer groups for inquiry. People who get judged as soulless, calculating centrists because they don’t agree with an opinion “in extremis.”  When they didn’t want Nazis to doxx and injure students on their own dime, they were told they didn’t care about freedom of speech. When they wanted to defend the first amendment rights of speakers they vehemently disagreed with, they were told they were against social justice.

When they bristled at outsider artists disrespecting the high standards of the culture they held dear, they were told they were against cultural appropriation. When they cherished outsider artists who exceeded those standards and used forms to bridge cultures masterfully, they were told they hated their own culture. When they were hesitant to verbally flay a person for not being performatively woke 100 percent of the time, they were told they couldn’t possibly be aware of the damaging effects of oppression in society. When they offered criticism to (more than a few) segments of white people, they were told they were militants who were the single solitary reasons that Trump won.

This din that haunts those students has dovetailed painfully well with the two extremes of my social media feed. The first, a tribe of overwhelmingly white leftists who love the Chapo Trap House, still think Julian Assange is a hero and not a sexual predator, think rape jokes are funny, and expect Clinton voters to (as a commentator in CTH said) “bend their knee” to them. Another side of the tribe mostly consists of the nether ends of straight black Twitter and the woke white bros who love them; a tribe who has been defending Chris Brown’s, R Kelly’s, and OJ Simpson’s abusive antics, but–as highlighted recently by theroot.com–feel compelled to openly call Stevie Wonder to be excommunicated from black America because he said black people shouldn’t kill each other.

When they are not in their id, both sides (and their cross cultural, either provocateur or woke sycophants) have their valid points. Yes, we need to broaden the dialogue on class in this country and re-acquaint with old activist traditions that were the foundations of liberalism for a long time. Yes, racism is graphically real, graphically awful, and telling non-white men to be kinder to Trump voters isn’t a tangible public policy or strategy to fight oppression.

The problem is that–in regard to persuading somebody who doesn’t already agree with them–most people on both extremes of my social media sides couldn’t give away ice water in hell. The absence of grace, of understanding a person as a sum and not a hasty take, hangs very heavy through discourses I see and try to avoid. Also devoid in these discussions is the absence of dialogue, persuasion, and the complex glory of being wrong and learning from it. No, too often social media has been two lanes of a performatively woke or performatively transgressive sewer, and the second that I (a published author who needs to sell books) don’t need it anymore, it will be gone from my life.

Over the past year, I’ve burrowed in to do my own mentoring work, and I see friends who are doing the same thing as well: marching, calling, making moves behind the scenes, and not expecting cookies for it. If the democratic experiment has any chance to be salvaged in the next 2-4 years, it will come from them and other like-minded people. People more interested in showing who they are instead of telling people on social media and shaming people to look good. Because if there is some good to come out in the next two years, it will come from none of the members of the tribes I just mentioned. Only time will tell whether both sides are putting a social media stamp on the American Experiment’s ebb or its extinction.

But hey! What do I know? I have a disdain for Chapo Trap House. I don’t think student movements are above critique. I’ll punch a Nazi, but I’ll do it for the right for someone to express their opinion (even if I don’t like the opinion). I believe that Assange is an anarchist predator and so was Huey Newton. I will critique Mayer Hawthorne for playing his trade in soul music poorly and champion Amy Winehouse for being brilliant at it.

I have a grab bag of opinions, and if you disagree, I welcome to hear you out. If you are offended by me, however, I don’t care anymore. I’m a neo liberal. I’m a radical. I’m a black conservative. I’m a raving militant. You’re totally right about me. Everybody who believes exactly what you believe should never be criticized. Everyone who criticizes you is a racist/social justice warrior/fascist/neo liberal scum. Every single one of them. You deserve all the toys in the world, but will you please go away? Just fucking go away. What will it take for me to get you to go away?

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Header image courtesy of Eric Mack. Eric Mack received his BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1998. Since, he has held several group and solo exhibitions throughout the world and his work is widely collected. As an abstract painter employing a specific two-dimensional vocabulary, Mack aims to reinterpret the system-based environment that we inhabit. View more of his work here.

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Poetry Suite by Robert Lashley https://nailedmagazine.com/poetry/poetry-suite-by-robert-lashley-3/ Mon, 20 Mar 2017 16:42:28 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=poetry&p=16050 L.L., April 7th, 3:17PM (TW) (or, When the Doctor Asked Why the Homeboy Stabbed Himself, He Responded in Stanzas)   Someday, my blood will never be a sunset. Someday, my brain will not be used up. Someday, I’ll wake and know where the time went. “The needle took her,” the text message sent so I […]

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L.L., April 7th, 3:17PM (TW)
(or, When the Doctor Asked Why the Homeboy Stabbed Himself, He Responded in Stanzas)

 

Someday, my blood will never be a sunset.
Someday, my brain will not be used up.
Someday, I’ll wake and know where the time went.
“The needle took her,” the text message sent
so I pleaded my skin with scissors and cup.
Someday, my blood will never be a sunset.
Away from this world, her needle bent.
Away from life, I left, in drip by drip.
Someday, I’ll wake and know where the time went.
I wanted to go. But what I meant
was I wanted to see her in one last trip.
Someday, my blood will never be a sunset.
Without her, everyday is lent,
everyday away from her arms and lips.
Someday, I’ll wake and know where the time went.
In the wilderness I live-write-repent—
In wilderness away from death’s sharp tip.
Someday, my blood will never be a sunset.
Someday, I’ll wake and know where the time went.

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The Death of Spartacus on the Strip: Elders Watching the Holmes-Ali Fight
(I lift two lines from “The Hollow Men”)

I.
Rib Plates become homegoing wreaths
the memorex has told over a thousand deaths
as old men kneel and clap and hum
tribunal lines—fades in screen become
the gallows in the middle of the palace
……………“And Holmes continues… systematic, methodical purposeful”
The ring is the end of every revolution.
The young guard jabs
with direct weeping eyes
then crosses him with the length of his wingspan.
The slave soldier crosses to death’s sister kingdom
as lights put out heat but no sun.
……………His hands no longer busy
……….his feet no longer swift.

Tonight, the ropes produce no magic
the young blood is the ax man cometh.
The bell ends a fugue of punches and punches
then renders his silence a sound.
The rollers that leave and the fans that cannot move
renders his silence a sound.
Cries that form concentric circles from the screen
render his silence a sound.
………………………Brothers, brothers, niggas, niggas
………………………let’s go to the burying ground.

II.
Below the hill, the nelson building is a shadow.
The sea harbor’s work is a fetid smell.
and store ruins are crackhead temples.
Harbor roughnecks pain is chopped and proof
in the second life in flickers in the walls.
………………………Brothers, brothers, niggas, niggas
In the back of the bodega
the elders rewitness:
not to testify to art or squalor
but to claim his name in the side room,
to honor all old pug’s upturned graves
and fleeting memories in the tapes.
Tapes show their repeated rainbow sign
through smokers and Saturday cathedrals,
their witness to the sacrifice by glittery hearth
of death-strewn means and ends,
their rite—through contract—to quickly transcend
pyric ends that linger after the TV.
………………………Brothers, brothers, niggas, niggas
………………………let’s go to the burying ground.

III.
Lights that transformed his life to a myth
transform myth to a landscape of the physical.
……………“Angelo is telling the referee to stop it…”
The tape is a fractal to a thousand Sisyphean deaths
yet the old men stay solemn in the ritual.
The old screen loops, then fuzzes then fuzzes
yet they sit in spell of the audio
……………“Bundini is arguing with him.
………………………Brothers, brothers, niggas, niggas”
Lights fray, and the echo of crowds lay still
a hush over the makeshift bungalow
from the meat room to the bar.
The old men pass the Boones farm and scarves
in the pocket of the bootleg Gunicelli’s
they got at the swap meet.
The broadcast—frayed—becomes a jittery chant.
…………...“He would not… he would not give in, Angelo Dundee.
………….He cared about his fighter! Too much!
……………The way Eddie Futch cared about Joe Frazier! Too much!
……………In 1975 in Manilla! Too Much!”
In Vegas, the gladiator’s life is a funeral.
The old men kneel their head in benediction
and the continued sacrifice of the body.
………………………Let’s go to the burying ground.
………………………Let’s go to the burying ground.

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The Funeral Procession for Aunt Helen at Her Favorite Swap Meet

 

The train envelope’s everything and nothing,
an accent-bass toned-over church bound cadences,
thick trombones dissonant
………in the telling and retelling of exodus.
The continuum of Gabriel and the Northwest Unlimited
charges—recharges—cleaves and moulds
………church bottoms upon bottoms
assorts them in stations, signposts and gates.

It provides a scale for her seashell man
calling with his corner horn
………as his trinkets dance above the table plastic.
It is the pattern of her fry cook
and her breaded pagan altars
………that delivered her from various deltas.
It is the choir for the bootleg man
and his trick bag of songs
………Transparent and undeciphered.

And as the train passes the bridge and river
they move and talk of an elusive land
………of quiet rest and impassioned sanctuary
in praise songs that run through the vacant lot
………and about their entire bodies
their instruments—in a triangle, in triad, in unison
are played in their timbers beyond age and wear
as morning trains still head for a home.

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A Father’s 20th Funeral Anniversary

 

Aside no church, thugs hear invisible chimes
and yellow tape fluttering in the leaves.
………The old man’s dust
recolors everything around it
in an oblong powder light.

By the fence, the dope boys
barely make their stomps.
Unresponsive service lines
do not move in cadences
but away and straight off buses.
Quarter words of sayers
transposed with heretics
are a blur past layers of dirts.

The old man claps, and particles
become a flock of nightbirds.
Ruins of a playground
are not ruins nor a playground.
The arcs of the busted jungle gym
lift and resheath their metal swords.
and the swing set chain stops its hanging.
Yellow flags flutter above the hill
………and the jetstream
and piles on the sidewalk give witness.

In chalk, the old man makes his ash interact
the bounce off rock after rocks
smoke sieves and reforms
among disjointed bricks
as the dope boys leer around, nervous.

At night, the chalk line
is body-grained specter.
A sister lays her rosary beads.
In a vestibule of space after space
Dope boys are awash
in their root keys to a land
where they cannot think anymore.
White sage sinks to become burnt out strands

and them niggas fall to the floor.

+ + +

Drake’s Progress
(or, Why I Can’t Cry for My Wannabe Gangsta Cousin Living on the Block Now, and Feel Like an Asshole About It)

 

Your final picture of him cannot lay still.
Revenge—in all its sophistries—cannot warm your heart,
and ice takes reincarnation in all forms.
Bred wolves and killaz make everything bedlam
and the sad boy has tears beyond tats.

What is a king to a god of caught weight?
What is a god to a man-boy defrocked of status
in a paradise he imagined but never saw?
In a Byzantium of bright shiny grain leaden picnics
in fields only safe in HD screens.
Poor houses are jumping from the block to the (food) bank
but the gilded trap boy roams in a stasis,
a trap-debtors prison of time and calumny
as functionless as corner spots are fluid,
as spun as the smoke and the lean he dreamed
but now becomes him like a nightmare.

Masses have snatched from him all that resembles gold.
Outfits—outlandish once—are now his smudged markers
across the dirt of his Alabama starter jersey.
Shadows that bedeviled you are in the whites of his eyes.
Black guards here replenish and replenish again
and the rich boy cannot leave the scene.
The mountain you climbed that he tumbled toward
is too dark now, and here comes the 8 bus.

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Header image courtesy of Alexandre Farto AKA VHILS. To view a feature of his art on NAILED, go here.

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Actual Space (In the Age of Trump): Moses Done Gone by Robert Lashley https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/actual-space-age-trump-moses-done-gone-robert-lashley/ Mon, 23 Jan 2017 21:38:43 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15767 “Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, […]

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“Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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The first thing the election did was take every bit of youth away from my body. More than that, it aged me to the point of crisis: I officially have a bad heart, and several complications from complex PTSD.

The second thing I realized was that thinking I could talk about serious issues on social media sites was the biggest mistake I ever made as a writer. As I tried to do things to regain my health and take the pain out of my heart; social media began to resemble more of a passive aggressive death cult. People who had yelled at me and other liberals for voting in October were gleefully organizing shows and accounts to “fight the resistance.” Male feminists who insisted their anger toward Hillary was principled were insisting to me that a doxing predator like Julian Assange was principled. Anarchists who were so breathtakingly uncool with Clinton not being pure became breathtaking cool with their praise for Fidel Castro (with his history of concentration camps for gay people and dissidents). And every day, as my rights and my friends’ rights get axed or placed on the chopping block, former friends were more concerned with settling social media “scores” with me over a 9-month-old primary.

On the morning of Trump’s Inauguration, I decided I was going to get a mass of work done, be super effective, and be supportive of my friends if need be. I turned on Aretha Franklin on Spotify and proceeded to have a breakdown. The song was her cover of Mahalia Jackson’s “How I Got Over,” an epochal, progressive rendition of her thinly veiled protest gospel anthem.

To understand the power of Aretha’s cover, one must understand how Jackson made the original one of the most devastating moments in the history of American music. With poetic symbolism deeply connected to negro spirituals, “How I Got Over” brought black anger about slavery to music without white people even knowing it. On paper, it is a song about overcoming struggle and going to heaven. In Mahalia’s voice is the closest a song ever came to encompassing a singular black experience. The question of the title (tell me how I made it over??!!!?) overflows with a rage so deep you wonder why it doesn’t explode, but it doesn’t. In waves that veer between rage and coping, Mahalia holds more than any song and any singer I have ever heard.

I still believe that Franklin’s “How I Got Over” is the shining moment of the most shining career black music has ever seen. It is a frenetic joy march where Jackson’s was a dirge with no hope. It is Aretha in her very best idiom, gospel music, and the record that it comes from (Amazing Grace) stands along with Innervisions and What’s Going On as the best black music has got in the second half of the 20th century.

But Aretha’s “How I Got Over” had the resonance of the Civil Rights Movement, new freedom, and the promised land something more concrete than not. That’s gone now. I and my friends will fight bitter bloody battles over fights I long thought we won, fights with Trump supporters, fights with black male strongmen and preachers happy they once again got stature and swag in the big house, and fights with white moderate liberals who want us to go slow once again (and speak in soft words doing so).

That realization broke me. Tomorrow, I will fight again, and fight for the best verities of the liberal reformation (reason, understanding, dialogue, and creation). As I write this, however, I grieve one last time; and Mahalia—with her mixture of stoicism and unbelievable rage—becomes so painfully relevant. There is no happy ending glow of the Civil Rights Movement. There is no promised land. Beneath Wi-Fi and keyboard gangsterism, there is nothing but the blind and dark journey. And they said unto Moses, because there were no graves in Egypt, hast thou taken us away to die in the wilderness? Wherefore hast thou dealt thus with us, to carry us forth out of Egypt?

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Header image courtesy of Eric Mack. Eric Mack received his BFA from the Atlanta College of Art in 1998. Since, he has held several group and solo exhibitions throughout the world and his work is widely collected. As an abstract painter employing a specific two-dimensional vocabulary, Mack aims to reinterpret the system-based environment that we inhabit. View more of his work here.

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Actual Space: How to Breathe in a Tunnel by Anna Doogan https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/actual-space-breathe-tunnel-anna-doogan/ Thu, 05 Jan 2017 10:00:01 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15673   “Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be […]

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“Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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At a gas station in Cleveland in July, sweat is running down my back as I pump gas into the car. Summer is the only time I consider chopping off my dreadlocks, when they feel so hot and heavy on my head and neck. On the way inside to pay, I avoid looking at the newspaper with Alton Sterling on the front page. Philando Castile. The images that I can’t get out of my head. I can’t read any more articles. I’ve spent too many days crying over the news, then being angry. Too many hours arguing on Facebook, deleting and blocking friends.

A black man comes out of the store wearing a shirt: I AM A PERSON, TOO. In the parking lot, another black man is wearing a bullet-proof vest as he gets in his car, just in case. We’re not taking chances anymore. All day long I’ve found myself holding my breath.

The clerk gives me a handful of bills and change before I step back out to the east coast humidity.

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I wonder about this when I’m sleeping sometimes.

Who saw me take my first breath?

Who will watch me take my last?

In this country, some breathe more freely than others.

In the darkness of a tunnel, you don’t breathe at all.

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Growing up in Pennsylvania, road trips were a regular part of the summer.

“Tunnel!” we’d scream out as kids when our car approached one. Then we’d gulp in big exaggerated breaths and puff our cheeks out.

At 6,070 feet, The Allegheny Mountain Tunnel is the longest tunnel on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

That’s well over a mile to practice holding your breath.

As a kid, holding your breath that long was difficult unless you cheated. If you wanted to cheat, you’d subtly breathe in and out through your nose while pretending to look strained. Then, after the car had sped through the dark and neon lights of the tunnel, pressing against the wind, you’d make a wish, then blow out the air in a loud dramatic exhale and laugh, like maybe you almost fainted. Maybe you almost died.

“You breathed!” we’d accuse each other, pointing.

Holding your breath for the entire 6,070 feet was the ultimate triumph.

In a tunnel, the world closes in around you. Dark, just waiting. Until suddenly, hopefully, you emerge on the other side.

This is how life feels to me sometimes. Just holding your breath and hoping that you make it.

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The doctor for my third baby had no bedside manner. I thought about this at every checkup while I stared up at the ceiling, at a poster of butterflies in a green field, placed strategically to keep patients distracted and calm. She silently squirted a blob of gel on my belly to start the ultrasound. “This will be cold,” she said, never making eye contact. I thought she was rude.

On the morning of an appointment a few weeks before my due date, I decided I was going to ask for a different doctor. In the waiting room, I practiced how I would tell her. I’d just be more comfortable seeing someone else.

The appointment was running late, well over time. I saw Dr. Lee rush out of the clinic without speaking to anyone, stone-faced. Finally the receptionist approached me. She had long bangs that fell in her face.

“We have to reschedule you. There was an emergency. Dr. Lee had to go save a baby.”

At the next appointment, she told me the baby had survived. I took it as a sign and didn’t change doctors.

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At the gas station, I open the door for a girl in a pink tank top and sandals, chomping on gum. The sun has reddened her pale skin, and her long blonde hair falls over her shoulder. The cold blast of air conditioning hits her skin and she smiles as she comes inside.

“Can’t breathe out there,” she says.

I don’t say anything, but I think about Eric Garner in that moment. His murder, his last breaths captured now in screenshots of videos, in hashtags, in newscasts. His last words. I can’t breathe.

I want to tell her that no one can really breathe here anymore, but I just hold the door.

 

We used to hold our breath when we drove past cemeteries, too. That was the rule.

“Graveyard!” someone would yell as we drove past one. Then you’d have to inhale and hold it. Past mossy tombstones and crumbling graves and wilted flowers. Holding breath as we sped past until we could exhale loudly and laugh.

The superstition was that you would die if you didn’t hold your breath. I never really believed that. I thought that maybe the ghosts would fly into my mouth somehow, get caught in my throat. That the evil would somehow end up choking you into nothing.

 

Eric Garner’s murder was caught on film. Who thinks that they will live out their last breaths that way? Caught on camera as you choke out your last words. I watched that clip and it haunted me. Thinking, over and over.

I. Can’t. Breathe.

A woman in the grocery store compliments my daughter’s beauty. “She just takes your breath away.” Suddenly the expression makes me uncomfortable.

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While I was pushing from the hospital bed, we knew something was wrong. My water had broken early that morning, a warm gush of liquid suddenly soaking the bed while I was sleeping. But things had stalled. I felt it running through me, heavy on my pelvis.

In the hospital, Dr. Lee told me the cord was wrapped tight around the baby’s neck.

“Every time you push, he’s being choked,” she explained in her blunt manner. The hospital smelled like cleaner and air conditioning.

There was an emergency resuscitation team in the delivery room while I pushed. They stood at the back of the room waiting, three of them, just in case. Stoic, not moving, with their equipment in red plastic boxes that reminded me of toolkits.

In the final push, I saw Dr. Lee’s hands moving swiftly, like small wings, cutting the tightly wrapped cord off my baby’s neck. We waited for him to breathe. Waited more.

He took a sputtering breath and I cried.

Two hours later, my mother in law brought our older two children to visit. My daughter had a handful of lilacs picked from our front yard.

After that, I always checked to make sure my son was breathing, every time he slept. Just staring for a few minutes. A hand on his chest while he rested. Just making sure.

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The thing is, my son is still breathing.

When I think of parents grieving stolen breaths of their children, the children grieving stolen breaths of their parents, my chest feels empty. Hollow and brittle. Lives taken away at someone else’s hands.

Today on the news, more names added. More protests. More headlines. More grieving.

You can switch out the names, but we get the same message.

When the air is not equal, your right to breathe is uncertain.

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Header image courtesy of Phillip Simpson. To view an interview with the artist on NAILED, go here.

Anna Doogan, writer, essay on racial injusticeAnna Doogan is a writer, dancer, and mother of three. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming in Hip Mama, MUTHA Magazine, The Literary Kitchen, Arcadia’s Online Sundries, Threadcount Magazine, and The Boiler Journal. Her short story “Fires” won 1st Place in the Hip Mama/Unchaste Readers Writing Contest in 2015. She lives in Portland, Oregon.

 

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Actual Space: Black Everyday by Rushelle Frazier https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/actual-space-black-everyday-rushelle-frazier/ Wed, 30 Nov 2016 10:00:21 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15526 “Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, […]

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“Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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When did you realize you were Black?

I believe I was in the third or fourth grade. Public school. Only black girl in my class, maybe one of three at best. Not good at sports. Complete Lack of coordination. I was assuming that the teasing I got from my peers was because of that, mostly, but there were often times where the teasing was also racialized. I had weird hair. My gums weren’t pink. I was pressed into reading out crazy parts of Mark Twain stories, and I wish somebody had told me I should have charged for my services during the whole month of February. Or when I wanted to fake sick when I knew we were going to discuss chattel slavery in History class.

One teacher just assumed I knew about Kwanzaa (my family is full of Christmas-and-Easter sort of Christians and weren’t studying a new holiday) and at least by then I played along (my family is full of deeply sarcastic people) in order to get out of math class. The only black kid that had paid me any attention at that point of my recent memory was the jerk who teased me mercilessly in middle school. Was I the first black girl to fall into this trap? I didn’t have too many black friends to speak with in private, it was almost like I was the only black girl I knew going through this.

In Central Mass, the white people don’t quit. In my teens and early twenties, I was being introduced as friend to these families of predominantly white people who only knew Predominately White people so often, I would just get to the point that I’d assumed there’s just this age group in white boys on the East coast that meant they were going to bring Someone Ethnic home for dinner, FOR THE FIRST TIME. The same way most white girls I knew went through a ponies phase or Jonathan Taylor Thomas phase (Yes, I did buy a couple Tiger Beat back in my day, but it was mostly to relate to my peers and check for that dude in Boy Meets World that was checkin for black girls).

I would do my best to chalk it up as material to write about, but in those moments where I came to the x-realization that

  1. A) This white lady is surprised I’m Black
  2. B) _____ didn’t tell her I’m Black. I’m surprised
  3. C) Is this some fucking joke
  4. D) Why the fuck are they a family that this is a thing
  5. E) Oh my god they grew up in a house of racists
  6. F) I need to text my cousin my location right quick
  7. G) This shit again

!) Why didn’t _______ deal with the shit before I got here

The wall you hit is abrasive. And I simultaneously remember that I remember I am Black Everyday, and that means that these people I am about to eat dinner with, chances are, only know of my ancestry as beginning in chains and in relationship to fuckwit manifest destiny. And, because I am the one remembering I am Black right now, aren’t I once again going to be the problem if I bring it up? Push around the casserole, complement the meal.

I ate a lot of grief for a really long time before I gave myself permission to live in my power. Before I could leave my home state and surround myself with supportive, loving, and politically aware Black people who would facilitate me waking the hell up.

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Header image courtesy of  by Maha Alasaker. To view more of her work, go here.

Rushelle Frazier writer NAILED MagazineRushelle Frazier is a permaculture designer, gardener, herbalist, teacher, spoken word and visual artist based in Worcester, MA. Born in Queens, NY, she has been involved with poetry–page and stage–for the past decade, hosting poetry readings, workshops, and other cultural events throughout the East coast for over a decade. Rushelle is a member of the 2002 and 2015 Worcester Adult Slam Team, co-coach of the 2004 Worcester Youth Slam Team and the 2010 Savannah Youth Slam Team. Rushelle was voted Best Female Poet at the 2006 Savannah Spoken Word Festival. Rushelle founded Savannah, GA’s Tongue! Open Mouth and Music Show, as well as Worcester, MA’s Dirty Gerund Poetry Show and is co-founder of The Ladyface Players, a women’s performance troupe. She is the host of The Hot Spot at Nine Dot Gallery in Worcester, MA. She has been facilitating permaculture workshops and apprentice teaching design courses for the past four years, and has self-published seven chapbooks and recorded one poetry CD. Her latest release, Heavy Honey, is for sale at Doublebunny Press. Rushelle is the owner of Neighborhood Botanicals.

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Actual Space: From My Mother’s Eyes by Emmett Wheatfall https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/actual-space-from-my-mothers-eyes-by-emmett-wheatfall/ Thu, 27 Oct 2016 09:00:01 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15372   “Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be […]

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“Actual Space” is a regular column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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I realized I was black at birth. Gazing into my mother’s eyes, her skin color, her smell, her touch, as well as a host of other attributes introduced me to blackness. All these characteristics were accentuated by the way she carried herself, her lack of education, her meanness, her warrior spirit, her Moms Mabley humor (e.g. Big Mama, Madea, etc), the tenor and brilliance of her cursing, her wisdom, and her breathtaking beauty. Her whole ethos was a product of her blackness, the racism of her day, its segregation, her personal story, her pain, her lack of triumph and so forth. Yet, despite these things, I was baptized in her love, accountability, especially her burden of maternal responsibility.

My father–a soldier. A tall and strong Negro. Fierce in discipline. Loyal to a racist nation and a Purple Heart recipient grievously wounded in Vietnam. A man who was always gone, either to war or to train for war, to defend America’s ideals and its liberties, both just and unjust; ideals codified in a Constitution written in black ink upon white paper, but now, a tarnished brown. The irony? Go figure.

Everything in America, the land of my fore-fathers and mothers who precede my parents, reminds me–I’m black. There has never been a day wherein I did not know or was not made aware of my being black. Thank God for the late great James Brown who gave voice and life to being black. To the millions of Negroes who paid the price for my identity being something to be proud of. I do tip my hat in gratitude.

When I awake every morning, and proceed to wash my face, I’m reminded–I’m black. White people and every other ethnic group in America remind me–I’m black. The glazed stare, or two-face, especially the outright vitriol of white men reminds me–I’m black. The white women who clutch their purse, who have mace/pepper spray readied in hand affixed to car keys, who cannot look me in my eyes when approaching for fear, reminds me–I’m black. My absence in cinema and television, stereotypical characters played by whites, reminds me–I’m black. I could go on and on, but you know, you know.

Even black people remind me I’m black linguistically, culturally, artistically, socially, economically, even religiously. Either I’m in or I’m out. If educated–that’s a N-Word trying to be white. Conversely, if inarticulate, culturally misaligned with white culture, or assimilated by white culture, then I’m still a N-Word. Professionally, I am a second class citizen despite my great intellect, knowledge, qualification, experience, moral character, and fortitude. If I fight for black people, eventually we fight each other. If I stand alone, then I’m disloyal to my tribe, ethnic group, my people. Even among black people I’m reminded–I’m black.

Life itself and the United States of America remind me daily–I’m black. So, the answer to the question [When did you first know you were black?] is, “I’ve always known–I’m black.”

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Header image courtesy of Dean Mitchell. To view his Artist Feature, go here.

Emmett Wheatfall Essay Nailed MagazineEmmett Wheatfall lives in Portland, Oregon where he reads, writes, and performs poetry. He has published five books of poetry, released one non-lyrical poetry CD and three lyrical poetry CDs. His latest release is titled Them Poetry Blues (2013), and is a compilation of great poetry contextualize in blues and jazz music. It’s an album featuring some of Oregon’s finest jazz and blues musicians.
In 2014 and 2016 he served on the Nomination Committee for the selection of Oregon’s Poet Laureate. He was a featured poet at the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the March on Washington—Portland Event, wherein he delivered his original poem for the occasion entitled “Miles to Go before We Sleep.” He also was the keynote speaker at the Oregon Historical Society’s Oregon Black History Series “March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom Fifth Anniversary Programs” screening of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech on August 28, 2013.

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Actual Space: Love’s Limit by Monet Thomas https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/actual-space-loves-limit-by-monet-thomas/ Fri, 14 Oct 2016 09:00:19 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15296   “Actual Space” is a monthly column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to […]

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“Actual Space” is a monthly column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how you cope with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Anyone who wants to be honest, give your own particular witness, and go deeper within yourself with something only you can write; there will be space for you. You may also send art and photography concerning blackness, to be considered for a header image. Email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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The summer my white boyfriend of three years and I moved to Portland, Oregon was the summer Mike Brown was left to die on a street in Ferguson, Missouri. Our reactions to Brown’s murder, the subsequent rioting, and the general unease that settled over our country like smoke fire, were vastly different. For him, Mike Brown was an isolated, albeit sad incident, but not a reason to protest by blocking traffic or destroying property. He asked what Mike Brown had done, sited his criminal record, and just like that I was sleeping with all of white America. As a black woman from the South I’d learned young to move through the world aware of how even my resting body could betray me and get me raped or killed. A quirked eyebrow could be seen as aggressive or angry, a voice raised could be a threat. My hips were an open invitation to white desire. And long before the death of Mike Brown, I knew, as all black people know, that innocent people were being killed by police. But for my boyfriend, even our relationship was not enough to make him see how every day for me was an act of survival.

It was not that before Mike Brown and Ferguson we hadn’t encountered hate toward our relationship or I hadn’t experienced acts fueled by racism or ignorance. One night, we were in a bar in northern Idaho when suddenly we had to leave, because he recognized before I did that we were getting ugly stares. And it is not that he isn’t an understanding person or a caring partner. He had been with me when I had straight, relaxed hair and when I transitioned to my own naturally kinky hair, the process was fraught with challenges and I had to face self-doubt as I unlearned a lifetime of American beauty stands. Yet he never once made me feel less attractive.

But over the next two years I struggled in our relationship. Most interracial couples, I believe, must come to an understanding early on, which essentially takes their races off the table. It is only when the outside world interferes do they have to remember who they are. We’d always had stereotypical, straight couple problems: him not putting the toilet seat down, me being a snarling monster when I PMS, him being tight-lipped about his feelings and me wanting to break down everything that had ever happened between us. But after Ferguson, every day we woke up together was a day of being black and white. I began to ask myself how I could be with a man who didn’t have to confront his whiteness on a daily basis like I have to confront my blackness. I wondered if I was suffering unnecessarily, if love could really overcome such different life experiences. Is it my job, I wondered, to teach the man I love to see the injustices that people of color face every day? And even further, could I raise children with such a man and in such a world as ours?

Outside of our relationship, I started making an effort to address racist comments or day-to-day microagressions. I noticed my white friends becoming more vocal on social media, even going so far as condemning police violence, and it seemed like some of white America was waking up from the nightmare that black people had been living in since we’d been brought over on slave ships. It was almost amusing to see the realization come over them, the kind of ironic amusement Shakespearean heroes experience when they understand how fucked they are when it’s too late. Well-meaning friends asked me what they could do, how they could help. But it was exhausting to add comforting them to my daily regimen of survival. I tried, gently at first, to prod them in the direction of self-reflection. And when that wasn’t enough I suggested that instead of speaking about racism to a person who knows, to maybe speak to another white person who doesn’t.

Black people continued to die, executed without trial by police who were then found innocent of murder. My boyfriend stopped feigning surprise when I told him about another tragic life lost. I wonder now if I’m taking on too much responsibility, martyring myself with thinking my love should have the power to change a man or teach him. What are the limits of love? What should I be expected to bear? And what should he? Even as our country barrels toward an election that feels apocalyptic, even as I question the longevity of our relationship, he is and has been for as long as we’ve been together, my rock. But I don’t know if that’s enough.

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Header image courtesy of Michel Nguie. To view his photo essay “Memento Mori,” go here.

Monet Thomas Essay Nailed MagazineMonet P. Thomas is a reluctant Southerner. She earned an MFA in poetry from the Inland Northwest Center for Writers at Eastern Washington University in Spokane, Washington. Her writing can be found online at Word Riot, Hobart, Split Lip Magazine, and a few others. She writes a weekly letter called, “While You Were Sleeping,” which you can subscribe to here. And she can found on Twitter, @monetwithlove, wasting time she should be writing.

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Goodnight, Hawk: Aaron Pryor 1955-2016 https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/goodnight-hawk-aaron-pryor-1955-2016/ Wed, 12 Oct 2016 09:00:59 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15305   Fighters have had a greater importance in disadvantaged communities because they are a manifestation of the counter-punches they want to land on oppressive structures. Their narratives–where they came from, and how society responds to them when they become nationally known figures–become intensified. Because their events are so personal and singular, staged in large arenas, […]

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Fighters have had a greater importance in disadvantaged communities because they are a manifestation of the counter-punches they want to land on oppressive structures. Their narratives–where they came from, and how society responds to them when they become nationally known figures–become intensified. Because their events are so personal and singular, staged in large arenas, prone to a physicality more suited for grand theater, their memories linger longer than almost any team sports athletes. Their successes and failures conflate in a narrative in which the world is stacked against them.

Aaron “The Hawk” Pryor might not have had the grandest narrative of any boxer in the 20th century, and he might not have been the most known fighter. In the Black communities I grew up in (and the drug infested housing project of Hillside Terrace) no fighter’s story resonated more. Pryor was the most openly “ghetto” athlete in the early 80’s, a wounded street kid who didn’t have any crossover social graces, an easy mark for respectability politicans who wanted to make cheap moralist statements about the blacks. Pryor didn’t have any trait to make people forget that he came from the most haunting of backgrounds, and it became easier for people to just shame him.

It also became easier to forget–and I’m speaking of his sober prime of the 80’s–that he was one of the greatest fighters in the last 50 years. Even his style was intellectually discounted: basic fight critics only saw a wild volume of punches of every round, but beneath it was a frenetic sense of theory. Using his boxing skills, movement and footwork, Pryor threw every punch from an unorthodox angle. In boxing, the hardest punches are the ones you don’t see coming, and what made Pryor devastating was that everything that came from him was a surprise.

What made Pryor’s story devastating was his fall. He became most known for his fights with Alexis Arguello, a brilliant fighter most known for his sportsmanship and own horrific upbringing. Their first fight was one of the greatest fights the sport has ever seen. Their second fight, Pryor put on one of the greatest performances the sport has ever seen. Immediately afterword, people were finally comparing him to one of the greatest fighters of all time. A few days afterword (in Pryor’s own words) he tried freebase cocaine. Five years later he was homeless and mentally ill.

Yet his fall was so public, so examined, and in so many stages filled with people who would rather take pictures of his decline than try to get him into rehab, that it was impossible for people who have had their lives affected by drugs to feel for him. In the crack era, when public policy amounted to nothing but mass incarceration and public shaming of poor people, Pryor’s fall became something more than just about Aaron Pryor. His story, morality porn for so many people, became a parable on how little people valued poor people, and how disingenuous people are when we fall.

But dear god, Pryor didn’t stay down. After his frightening 10-year decent into drug addiction, Pryor got clean, got the family love he never received as a young person, and spent the last 23 years a model father, grandfather, and citizen. The beautiful irony of his last act was that it was so tranquilly private, peerless, and un-shameable that it couldn’t help but force the sporting public to reexamine his legacy. He spent the last years of his life recognized by so many people as (next to Sugar Ray Leonard) the greatest American fighter since Muhammad Ali. More than that, he spent them happy, and loved.

Good night, Hawk. The streets loved you even when you were on the ground. May we jack Gabriel trumpets and blow happy sounds on you getting back up and flying home.

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Header image courtesy of Dan Witz. To view a gallery of his painting, go here.

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Actual Space: That’s When I Became Black by Omar Willey https://nailedmagazine.com/editors-choice/actual-space-thats-when-i-became-black-omar-willey/ Mon, 26 Sep 2016 09:00:08 +0000 http://www.nailedmagazine.com/?post_type=ec&p=15207   “Actual Space” is a monthly column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how one copes with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Edited and curated by […]

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“Actual Space” is a monthly column for black voices. It is a forum to tell your story, and answer questions on a variety of topics concerning how one copes with being black, what concerns you about race, what you wished you learned, and what gives you hope for the future. Edited and curated by Robert Lashley, for NAILED Magazine. To obtain a prompt or question to write for “Actual Space,” email Robert at robert@nailedmagazine.com.

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It was 1976 when I first had my head split open.

I was minding my own business. Kiddie-corner to my house on Main Street, some kids were having a rock fight, and they apparently decided I needed to be part of it. They couldn’t find any small rocks, though, for warning shots, so one picked up a broken corner from the cement foundation of the house they were using as a fortress and threw it at me.

My back was turned. In went the triangular shaped rock, like an arrowhead raining down from the sky into my skull.

At first I felt the shock. Then it was the pain. Then it was the trickle of blood running down my ear. I pulled the rock out of my head, which brought the trickle of blood to a small gusher, stuck my hand over the gash and scrambled home across the street. I went into my house, put down my coat and bag and sat down at the kitchen table.

It had hurt like hell at first, but then the pain had subsided. I became clinical. What could I do to stop the bleeding? Did I need to disinfect it? Did I need to go to the hospital to get shots, like I had for tetanus when I stepped on those three rusty nails in spring? I went to the bathroom and looked for the hydrogen peroxide. I washed my wound with about half the bottle, then felt my head and noticed the growing bump.

About ten minutes later Mom came home after riding the always-late #10 bus. She noticed the trail of blood and screamed at me, as I sat calmly on the couch holding my head. When I told her I got into a fight and explained the details, she looked at my head and noticed the gash. It was not trivial. The blood had started to congeal from the peroxide, but she could still see white bone beneath it.

So off I went to the hospital. Eight stitches later, they released me back home in time for The Outer Limits on KSTW.

The important thing was that I did not cry. That I was tough.

That’s when I became black.

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For the entire school week after I got my eight stitches, kids both black and white were fascinated by my head. Not what was in it — I’d been told Black folks didn’t care about that stuff — but what was on it: a sizable welt and some interlaced red nylon thread.

“Does it hurt?”

“Man, how’d you handle that?”

“Wow, that’s a huge bump!”

Mostly I felt like a geek at a freak show that week. But I noticed something very odd to me. Black kids that never said hi to me even though we lived three or four houses away, started to talk to me. They asked me all kinds of things about how I got my injury and how I reacted. It was just kids being curious, I thought. At least I thought so until finally someone said it.

Even though I was in second grade, half the day at Leschi I went to class with the fifth and sixth graders for science and reading. During reading period, an older classmate, tall and dark-skinned, came over to me and said:

“I heard you didn’t even cry when they stuck the needle in you. You all right with me, little man.”

It was innocent enough. But after a couple days of fielding questions based on genuine curiosity, this wasn’t a question at all. It was a statement about my identity. Suddenly I was “tough” and “cool” and “all right.”

And therefore, I was finally good enough to be Black.

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With that seemingly innocuous statement, I was thrust into a world where being Black is to perform Blackness for the benefit of White folks.

One of the superobjectives of that performance is always, always, always convey the appearance of implacable strength. Especially whenever White folks are within earshot, this is goal number one. If you can’t prove that you are “tougher” than White folks, your community has no use for you. Everything the community uses to hold itself together — folkways, situational morals, sport, art, music — reinforces this superobjective. We are strong, fierce, powerful, resistant…and, oh yeah, we’re great lovers, too.

But what happens when White folks finally believe this performance as reality? One bitter consequence is that they make policy based on the performance rather than the reality. In the medical field, for instance, doctors and researchers regularly minimize the reality that blacks do, in fact, feel pain. According to one study from the University of Virginia, over 40% of medical students sampled believed that blacks have thicker skin and fewer nerve endings and are thus less in need of medication for pain, even in the case of broken bones. Even black children with appendicitis receive far less treatment than white children because of this mythology.

Worse still is that many blacks will begin to believe the performance, too, and in turn will reduce other blacks to physical tools. John Milton Hoberman’s book _Darwin’s Athletes: How Sport Has Damaged Black America and Preserved the Myth of Race_ makes for a troubling read about how the racist theories of black physiology have become talking points for blacks themselves about why they are such superior athletes. One point in particular is that the supposed “racial aptitude” of blacks for athletics leads both whites and blacks to denigrate education in anything else. It’s extremely bothersome to hear someone like Olympic gold medalist Lee Evans — himself a Fulbright scholar — to give the bogus Middle Passage explanation for black athletic aptitude when surely he knows better. It’s a sign how deep that mythos of our Black Toughness runs.

And what of all those tasks in life where it isn’t physical strength that’s required, but intellectual flexibility or emotional sensitivity? The insistence on Black Toughness disparages them by saying that they aren’t Black concerns, or simply elides them entirely by reframing the discussion in terms of strength — “emotional” strength or “mental” toughness.

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This was the world to which the seven-year-old me had been introduced by that Leschi sixth-grader. And I had been fortunate to pass this particular exam of Blackness. But it wasn’t through endeavor, or through performance.

Undoubtedly many readers were impressed at the beginning of this piece with how seven-year-old me staunched his own wounds, cleaned himself up, and sat down for some television, all the while without crying. It might well have struck them as Black Toughness personified. But the truth is that I didn’t cry while having needles stuck in me because I’d already had needles stuck in me all my life. I survived spinal meningitis when I was only two years old, a bizarre strain of yellow fever after that, tetanus, and other things. I’d scarred my forehead when I fell off the roof of a car where my sister had left me. I didn’t cry when needles were stuck in me not because I was brave or tough. I didn’t cry because it was all so routine for me. It was personal history. It wasn’t Blackness.

And yet, in the emergency room, my mom, too, in one of her few moments of weakness told me something that showed just how deep and broad the rhizomes of that culture run. As I sat there having my head sewn back together, I sat wincing. Mom held my hand. After it was all over, she walked out with me and smiled.

“I’m proud of you for not crying.”

That is one thing in my life of which I will never, ever be proud.

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Header image courtesy of Kamau Wainaina, to see his photo essay, “My Perspective,” go here.

Omar Willey, Actual Space, That's When I Became BlackOmar Willey was born and raised in a Seattle that no longer exists. After making six feature films and a dozen short films, he decided to return to his roots in still photography, which he pursues to this day. Mr. Willey also publishes The Seattle Star, an online Creative Commons-based journal of arts and culture that continues his twenty-five-year non-career of writing about performance and sequential art.

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The post Actual Space: That’s When I Became Black by Omar Willey appeared first on Nailed Magazine.

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