The picture I chose for this post is me passed out (circa 2012) at a friend’s apartment in Knoxville Tennessee #collegedayz. You’ll notice right above my head is a poster of Muhammad Ali and above him…a rebel flag. Yes I know, an oxymoron…to say the least.
I intentionally dug through my Facebook archives and found this photo because it represents a lot; mainly where I was in my life when it was taken (both physically and mentally).
You see, I’ve never been much of a conformist. I’m more of the ‘march to the beat of your own drum’ type. This mindset has proven to be most beneficial, but at times inconvenient. The positive is, the character trait has allotted me the privilege to engage in different social circles, learn new things and step outside of my comfort zone on many occasions. The flip side to that is, it has forced me to be extremely self-aware and have to see myself through the eyes of others and also through the lens of the particular group/circle I’m in at any given time ( W.E.B. Dubois referenced this as Double consciousness). Usually, its enlightening and I get the opportunity to grow and learn. However, on rare occasions-its not so much.
Case and point:
Last year, I went to my first music festival (Beale street music festival to be exact) and I was uber excited! It was my first one and I was ready to jam out and have a good ole time with my friends. In the mix of all the excitement, I checked in and a friend and I immediately started to search for porta-potties (I had to go numero-uno really bad). Thankfully, we found a few nearby and proceeded to take care of business. Shortly after we were done, we proceeded to meet back up with the larger group we came with at an agreed location. But before that could happen, out-of-no-where I heard someone yell “GET YOUR ASS UP AGAINST THE FENCE”. My immediate thought was “WOW, someone is about to get it!”, so I turn to look and see what’s going on and before I could even gather myself, I realized the voice was that of a cop and he was yelling at us!
Immediately, my friend and I do as we’re told all the while attempting to vocalize to the police officer that there must be some mistake. But instead of allowing us to talk the officer continued yelling and berating us. At this point, I realized that the officer didn’t plan to follow any type of protocol and that someone needed to intervene, so I made eye contact with a festival worker. She then comes over and asks “what’s going on?” The cop tells her, “I was radioed that two young black men snuck into the festival…” and basically that we had fit the description. She then asked if we had tickets, to which we respond in unison, “YES”. She states that she can scan our tickets and check; from appearance, she confirms our tickets are legit and scans them to reveal we had actually checked in 10 minutes ago. The cop then tells us unapologetically, “you can go.”
All too often do we hear stories on the news about police brutality; and I’ll admit, my “seat at the table” gives me a level of privilege to distance myself from the core of it all. But in reality, stories like mine and countless other people are all just social-justice issues and conversation topics until it happens to you.
Nevertheless, I reference this not to play victim but to highlight my own experience of being criminalized in a system that is supposed to serve and protect me. Because I love my country, I have often shied away from touchy topics such as this. But love doesn’t/ shouldn’t exclude us from constructive criticism.
With that being said, I do grasp and understand the dynamic of American history. For example, the English men came to North America for religious and political freedom. Then followed years later by the immigration of Irish, Italian etc. with each group receiving their own level of “hazing”, respectively. However, the Black/African-American experience is soundly different. African-Americans have been in America since the start, but still, seem to struggle with mass-acceptance. Almost like a key ingredient regularly forgotten, blackness in America hasn’t quite made it into our great melting pot and I can’t help but think it has less to do with actual black people and more to do with the perception of black people.
But any John Doe or internet troll can point out a problem. The real issue is figuring out a solution.
To such a complex problem, you’d think it would require a complex solution. But we’re neither math, numbers nor equations-we are people…and the solution lies within us. The answer, I believe wholeheartedly to be is love. And not the romanticized love that Disney sells you on but real love. Love for your neighbor…love for yourself. You see, when you truly love, you fly above all those levels of prejudices that are ingrained from cultural conditioning or even in some cases taught, and you see the person for who they are in living color. If I could argue for one fix, I would argue for people to love more. For as the good book says, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.’ –1 Peter 4:8