Years ago, as I walked the southern streets of Randleman, NC, I never thought that other Black boys as myself dealt with the same issues. Of course, the handful that lived in the same St. Peters neighborhood were understood to me to be from two parent homes, albeit very lower class financially. I actually thought that that was where the similarities ended. And as growing men we didn’t discuss issues that bothered us because in the hood that was opening yourself up to be ridiculed for being “weak, a punk, a pussy, or worst yet the soft one of the neighborhood.” Because we didn’t communicate in that manner with one another, we never knew issues that the others came into contact with. We wore the unspoken code of “being a man” on our sleeves and never discussed anything outside of Spike Lee movies or the occasional porn flick that one of us could pinch from our parent’s stash, that we would all gather and watch while downing Bacardi shots and MD 20/20 Orange Jubilee in the attic of a friend’s house. But in any event, the conversation never occurred.
Now, just so you know, I am the type of person that enjoys being the wallflower around a lively issue. It allows me to hear other perspectives and then critique them in my own special manner, normally through blogging. lol I remain absent from conversations of politics, race, finances and child-rearing for the mere fact of not wanting to hear a statement from someone that I have held in high regard, only to be let down by their close-mindedness or asinine views. But recently I was on the peripheral of a conversation that was centered around race and the Zimmerman verdict. I take that all of us, regardless of our position on the matter, can agree that the situation is a tragedy for all involved; a young teen is no longer full of life, a man has had his life changed forever with the pull of a trigger and a community, as well as a Nation, has been divided yet again because of an issue involving race. It’s a sad state of affairs. I feel deeply for all parties and families involved. But you know what? This type of situation happens daily as someone takes a particular dress style or bravado as being a menacing act. Now, the outcomes are not always as horrific as the Zimmerman-Martin case has been, but they still produce just as life-changing events for those involved.
At the tender age of 10, I never knew what racism was because it was something that wasn’t discussed in my household (as many things were not discussed in my dysfunctional family that NEEDED to be, and were not, but I digress). My first taste of realizing that I could and would be treated differently came when I desired to play the lead in a western-themed play that I can’t for the life of me recall the name of. Being the only student that actually knew the lines from memory as well as being a student of the three main television channels that were offered to us back then, I was a student of every Clint Eastwood, Bette Davis, Steve McQueen, Michael J. Fox offering there was. After garnering the lead, I was shot back down from my lofty height of floating on cloud 9 and back to earth when white students protested to the music teacher, Ms. Moyers. I remember their words like it was yesterday as they bickered, “He can’t play the part. HE’S BLACK!” Never had I been so floored in my life. I felt like I had been hit in the stomach by Lou Ferrigno himself. But I picked my face up off the floor and slumped home with the heartfelt disgust of Charlie Brown. GOOD GRIEF!
Flash forward 5 years to the age of 15, complete with an impressive afro, hair on my upper lip and thanks to Joe Weider (Coach Ferguson most of all) an impressive pair of chiseled arms and legs at my disposal. Physically, I was a fit and finally pleased young man with who I was growing up to be until I stepped into the same proximity of an older white woman in Freeman’s Drug Store. As I entered the door and went to reach for a stool, she immediately jumped up, grabbed her purse and told me with fear in her eyes, “I don’t have nothing for you to take, Nigger. My husband is right outside.” WOWWW. So in reply, I flew off the handle and screamed back “Who gives a fuck where your husband is, Bitch. I don’t want your pancake ass or your cheap, empty ass, purse,” as I reached into my pocket and tossed a handful of five, tens and twenty dollar bills at her face. I felt as if I had exercised that demon right on the spot by yelling back at her, but honestly I felt far worse. To say the least, I was blown away and had no idea why I deserved her designation of the “N-word”on me, but from that day on I wore that undeserved moniker and mental video of that moment inside on my emotions for some twenty years until I was able to understand that I didn’t have to be what someone else felt I was. But other interactions aided in that growth, as well as damaging a youth on his path of maturity.
Lastly, my final example occurred at the ripe old age of 21 years old. Back in the 80’s/90’s kids in Randleman used to park, smoke joints, drink 22’s of Budweiser and make out. At this point of my life, tired of years of being called “good……for a Black quarterback,” “fast as a field monkey,” “smarter than the average negra,” or my personal favorite “it makes no sense that you are the only nigger that doesn’t like watermelon,” I did what I wanted and dared anyone to correct me. So with my affinity for white females with flowing blond hair and blue eyes, there I sat in the front seat, parked on a dirt road in Sophia, NC, with a young woman, Lori, that I knew from Randleman High. As we kissed and felt one another up, the more the windows of her Isuzu I-Mark fogged up with perspiration of the heat between the both of us and the cold outside air. As many times as I had been on those back roads with other women, drinking, smoking weed, having sex in the woods and enjoying being almost legal, never had we ever experienced what would come next. As her car filled with blue lights, I was suddenly extracted from the vehicle, slammed into the side panel and then taken back behind the car where I was pressed cheek down onto the hood of the local Sheriff’s Department cruiser. The harder I fought, the stronger the grip of the deputy got. As I tried to swing with the strength of Mike Tyson, kicking and bucking like a mule, the more I realized that at any time this man could shoot me and say I resisted. I eventually adapted the movements of the 60’s Berkley protestors and simply went limp. Let me tell you, skin versus hot hood is no battle at all. Hot hood wins out every time, as I learned, feeling my face began to go numb as it began to adhere to the hood like a medium-rare piece of steak being seared on the local Sizzler grille racks. As one deputy was giving me the business, my friend was screaming and crying and their first words to her were, “Are you ok? Did he rape you? Did he hurt you?” As she pleaded, “Stop beating him. I’m fine. We were just parking,”disgust filled their faces as they both turned, looked at me and proclaimed, “Darkee, you got lucky tonight. Now get your ass outta here and take that nigger-lover with you before we come back and make sure you will never be able to use that cock again. NOW GONN….GET!” They spoke to me as if I were a stray dog that they had encountered going through their trash. Why? Because of the color of skin. Lori and I saw each other many times after, but “the incident” was NEVER discussed. Yet another missed opportunity for change.
Me and my friends never discussed the racist things that happened to us. But maybe we are part of the blame for the strife that exists at this point between black males and those they encounter. Maybe if we had talked, we would have been able to steer the angst many feel for Black males now in a different direction, way back then. Now I am not indicting anyone of racist views because of what happened to me. But because of what I have encountered I can add some relevant examples to what life trials can be for you when you wear the piece of attire that you can’t take off or bleach (sorry Michael J). Black Skin. If fellow students, a mother, as well as those that protect and serve could have an impression of a man like me based simply on my race and sex, then the Zimmerman-Martin matter should be viewed as the utmost of issues that we are confronted with on a daily basis, that require change. Regardless of whether the jury delivered the correct/incorrect verdict, the matter should be utilized as an opportunity for discussion on the issue, instead of arguments, finger pointing and name calling back and forth. Progress remains a sinking ship when the discussion does not involve how we can learn to accept one another, but instead is mired in blame from one side to another. As I mentioned earlier, I feel regret and sorrow for both sides of the Zimmerman-Martin issue, but now is as good a time as any to take a look at both sides of the fence and begin dialogue in all communities that will produce a change in how we view others. The world is changing by the hour and soon there will be another issue that captures the hearts and front pages of America, pressing Zimmerman and Martin back into the depths of media coverage and conversation, just as the Paula Deen fiasco has been. But before that issue presents itself can’t we all just take a moment and become part of the dialogue of what it is to be a Black male in America is like? I promise you that it will be of great help to us all.
I am a Black male and these are my thoughts ….