My journey on this… Earth. Is one that I often refer to as an omnipresent search for God’s face. Admittedly, this journey has been a redemptive one, in that I’ve been compelled to face my faults and contradictions with a humble expectation of exiting from the other side unburdened, fortified and ready to do what has been mandated for me.
At the time of this writing, I am still waiting.
It has been said that it gets more difficult as you come closer to the shores of victory, but it is my hope that being cognizant of this fact ensures that I won’t drown in those shallow waters.
My faith in humanity has been shaken on a number of occasions, but I am comforted in the realization that this is the lot of humanity… our consistent inconsistency.
Over the course of the past year I have been attacked by forces beyond the realm of my comprehension that have left me tumbling in the wake of death, loss, disillusionment and the putrid stench of man’s inhumanity towards man.
I wrote a missive last month about the police being called. On myself and two of my colleagues, the person who made the call made an assumption that we were attacking our female compatriot.
Three people in business attire talking, outside of a car, in a business district was interpreted as threatening.
On the surface this would seem to be nothing short of bewildering, but my life experiences have painted a far darker picture.
I had to learn early on… that my skin would be interpreted as a threat, an unwanted visage of sorts that I was a threat to the order of things.
My childhood often consisted of finding creative ways to dodge and/or absorb the darts of racism, bigotry and intolerance. Truth be told, those serial interruptions by the spirit of racism still lingers to this day and in retrospect but it has been my adaptions to racism that has allowed me to survive and in many cases, thrive.
However, there is a place in my psyche that serves a proverbial bookmark and I recall the event as if it were yesterday.
My best friend in the 1st grade was a boy named (I’ll call him Joe), who was of Asian ancestry, there was a hullabaloo in class about his upcoming birthday and many of our classmates had invitations to the party.
Puzzled about why I hadn’t received an invitation, I asked him about it and he informed me that I wouldn’t be able to come because his parents didn’t like Black people… “they say you steal” he said plainly, there was a stunned silence of sorts on my part as I was powerless to respond and I continued on, not bothering to ask why, but knowing… that was just the way things are.
In retrospect, it was moments like this that lead to enveloping myself in the “shield” as a defense mechanism which served to protect my sanity and sense of self.
This shield that I’m alluding to is a mechanism that allows me to be reflective and nonplussed when confronted by the litany of micro-aggressions that are the norm rather than the exception for many a Black man.
Why is a shield required?
Is this merely wordplay, metaphorical nuance?
I only wish that this was the case.
As a young man and even now, there was/is this “otherness” that defines being Black that is laughable in its ridiculousness – this idea of Blackness or being Black means being part and parcel of this mysterious, yet exotic monolithic group but nothing could be further from the truth.
However, there is a common denominator that echoes, loudly.
Being Black in America comes at a steep cost.
This truth does not anger or cause me any sadness… it comes with the territory. As I stated earlier, those emotions faded from the horizon long ago but less than a week ago something endeavored to break the “shield” my vaunted survival strategy one which had served me with efficiency for more than three decades… and it sent me back to that bubbling cauldron of disaffection that I was submerged in on that fateful afternoon when I was declined an invitation to (Joe’s) birthday party.
Fast forwarding 3 decades and some change later.
When my son left for college in the Fall, it was a bittersweet realization of the fact that everything that my wife and I had prepared him for was going to be put to the test, that we would have come to terms with the baby bird leaving the nest.
I was confident that this young man of mine would dispatch of anything that came his way with the same maturity that always left me awestruck.
I got a call from my son in late November, his voice was loaded with an apprehension that immediately caused my body to tense up:
“Dad, I was walking back to my dorm room after class and the guys across the hall have their door draped in a confederate flag!”
Somehow I was able to stammer out:
And he said: “Dad, I’m gonna rip it down.”
I was able to blurt out: “Don’t… Leave it there!”
We went back and forth on the phone for what seemed like an eternity, before I was able to convince him to leave this vile piece of cloth hanging where it was.
I had him send me a picture and when it flashed across my phone, I seethed and bemoaned the fact that I wasn’t able to protect my son.
I double checked the date and confirmed that it was 2016, but strangely enough my son was seemingly forced to fight the Civil War all over again which was ironic considering that I had discovered earlier that year that our ancestor, my 3rd Great Grandfather, had took up arms on the behalf of the Union Army during the Civil War… against this flag that many proclaim is reflective of their “heritage”.
The actions of the University were lukewarm at best – my entreaties to the Director of Student Conduct were addressed via email with a dry declaration that:
“….the situation has been resolved.”
Once again my son’s maturity assuaged my concerns – as he told me that he couldn’t be bothered, because he had a degree to earn, so I explained this incident away under my mental database of “this is the South”.
And yet… A couple months later.
My “shield” went offline during the last week of February – and I was left at the mercy of this ugly world, unprotected. He sent me another picture and I sat there dumbfounded, wrestling with a host of emotions. Words escaped me, anger governed me and I debated the efficacy of facing ugly with ugly.
It was a threat of violence tendered towards a sizable population of the student body scrawled on the door of the room of the same room that had was draped in the Confederate flag months before.
Hate can’t be met with a hopeful dialogue only, inclusion is the cousin of healing, but the iron fist of discipline must be wielded and repercussions must be felt.
In effect it was the inaction by the administration that emboldened the individuals to take their actions to far uglier level. That being said the institution…. is just as complicit in the act as the parents of these young people.
Am I expected to stay silent and allow platitudes to take the place of justice?
My search for God’s face tells me, I cannot.
And I shiver, as it is cold out in this ugly world, realizing that my shield is still offline.
If you read this missive in its entirety, don’t say sorry and don’t bemoan the ignorance that seems to have an immortality complex.
I encourage you to be better, to be empowered enough to be contagious and push back at the confines of what my shield always protected me against.
Be infectious, be good.