Everything in this country is about race

“Everything in this country is about race.”

Even though it’s a cliché at this point, you’ve probably heard that and said to yourself, “Well, not everything.”

Now, look, I’m obviously not going to itemize every single thing that’s racist. But to give you the single best example I can, to give you just a peek at how deep it goes, I’m to talk about something so basic, so omnipresent and so eternal that you would think it couldn’t possibly have anything to do with race.

But first, let me start at the beginning:

How we experience time is relative, but generally, we all have a similar sense of how it passes. Things start of as simple and as time goes on, they become more complex. Seeds, babies, ideas, technology all grow in complexity with the passing of time.

As an individual, being attached to a sense of time allows for growth and advancement and it defines expectations and practicalities. We’re taught this from the moment we learn to stand, as is evidenced by the children’s names and dates marked up and down our door frames.

As it works for the individual, so does it work for the society. In this country, there is a national sense of time to which we also attach ideas of growth and advancement as well as definitions of expectations and practicalities.

OK. Now, I’m going to need any old bigots reading this to get their CPT jokes (CPT is “colored people time” for the uninitiated or those living under rocks) out of the way because I’m about to explain how…

In the United States of America, even time is racist.

That’s right, white people are allowed to experience time in ways that Black people are not.

See, generally, white people experience time much in the way I just described. Things start off simple and become more complex as time passes. Black people, on the other hand, experience time in a much more disjointed and convoluted way.

When it comes to social problems, Black people generally live in the future—until white people catch up. Then Black people stay in the past while white people move ahead.

The opioid crisis is a current example of this. It’s hitting white people hard right now, and the solution that’s been presented is to treat addiction medically. I think that is the proper solution, but that is not how it went with the crack epidemic.

The crack epidemic was killing black people 30+ years before the opioid crisis arrived, and the solution presented was to treat addiction with prison sentences.

Black people live in the future, experiencing a social problem before white people and being punished for experiencing that problem. Once white people experience that problem, however, they are not punished. Instead a solution is presented that allows them to move ahead. This leaves black people stuck in the past with their future taken, and white people moving forward with a future protected.

The examples are everywhere. Just last week, a video was released showing Mesa, Arizona, police officer Philip Brailsford killing Daniel Shaver, a 26-year-old, unarmed, white man. Already, I am hearing new, white voices speak up that had been previously silent while Black Americans have had to relive the same moment countless times. While this has not played out yet, these new, white voices are much more likely to spark some sort of police reform, as the Black voices from the past remain unheard.

Too abstract? Well, so is time, so let’s keep going.

For white people, an effect of how they experience time is a fondness for the past. I see it constantly and am always puzzled by it, especially when they play that time machine fantasy game. You know the one:

“If you could go back to any era, which one would you pick?”

Professionally, I perform music inspired by Black American folk traditions, so “Wouldn’t it be great to go back to a time when this music was just starting out?” is how I am usually asked.

“Motherfucker, are you out of your goddamn mind?” is how I usually respond.

Would it be great to visit a time in which all white people were allowed to kill all the Black people in a neighborhood and burn the whole thing to the ground just because they felt like it?

No, I do not think that would not be great.

From kids playing cowboys & Indians to adults watching period-piece movies, so much of contemporary white culture tries to exist in the past. But that past is a fantasy in which, like so many real places in the actual past, people of color are just not allowed.

(By the way, seeing American kids playing cowboys & Indians should be just as disturbing as seeing German kids playing Nazis & Jews. But that’s a whole other conversation. But for now, let’s just talk about that cowboy…)

From John Wayne to Johnny Cash, the image of the cowboy is immeasurably important to American culture. The cowboy is America. He hearkens back to a time in which white nobility blanketed the countryside with the pleasant, stoic beauty of a winter’s first dusting of snow.

But there was no such time.

In reality John Wayne was an admitted white supremacist, one in four cowboys were Black and so was Johnny Cash’s first wife.

Black people are essentially erased from history, but it’s so much more than not having your story told, which is bad enough. No, being erased from history means not being allowed into the identity of a nation that would never have, and could not continue, to exist without you.

As a group, an effect of not being tethered to an historic past is that Black people create the cultural future. For example, look at all forms of popular music throughout American history. Blues, jazz, rock, funk, soul, R&B, rap, and yes, even country were created by Black people. Eventually white people catch up to us, at which point we create the next. On and on. This is evidenced by the fact that all of those forms of music are now primarily white. Except rap, but even that is changing in this very moment.

As an individual, an effect of being misplaced in time is that Black expectations and practicalities can be incomprehensible to white people.

For instance, the last presidential election…

Most of the Black people I know thought it would turn out how it did. And most of the white people I know are still baffled. This is because a Black expectation is that racism will continue to run this country, so it would only be practical to think that the loudest racist would win.

Now, I know that some white people still don’t believe that racism was why he won, so let me say this, plainly:

For five years, an obviously stupid man who was a known racist and admitted sexual predator got on TV at every opportunity, pointed to the Black president and talked that same, old, this-nigger-ain’t-from-around-here bullshit. Then, without any policy or experience, the obviously stupid, racist sexual predator attained the presidency by winning the white vote in every single category—including white women.

But, in the end it was the racist institution of the electoral college that gave us our common bigot of a president.

And most of the white people I know continue to be shocked at just how destructive he is. But that’s only because they’ve been living in Black peoples’ past. Black people have known the destruction caused by racist institutions and common bigots for a very long time, and I hate to tell you this, but, while it will certainly get more complex, it is not going to get any better.

Welcome to the future.


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No, we aren’t the same; change starts with an acceptance of truth

All too often, a white person says to me, “Black people and white people aren’t so different.”

I understand that there can be a positive sentiment somewhere in that statement, but even when that sentiment is there, there is a lack of acceptance of a very real difference.

My usual response to that statement is to open my mouth slightly, take in a breath in order to begin speaking, then remember how these conversations usually go, then close my mouth and shove what I was going to say into a place deep within my soul that, at this point, is so full that my left eye probably won’t ever stop twitching.

But, for right now, I think I’ll take this opportunity to stray from my usual response, left eye be damned, and I’ll start with a story.

Did I ever tell you about the time my father lost everything he owned, except for his car and a bag of groceries?

Well, once upon a time in the 1980s in the far away land of Tucson, Arizona, my father left his apartment to go to the grocery store. Upon returning, he found his apartment to be locked from the inside. He banged on the door over and over until someone opened it. What he saw inside was a handful of guys cooking up drugs! They informed him that his apartment was now their apartment and that was the time my father lost everything he owned except for his car and a bag of groceries.

Maybe you were expecting a different ending.

Perhaps you were expecting that he might call the landlord or the police? Ah, well, the landlord never answers and at that particular time, the police did not go to that particular neighborhood. Maybe it was because a politician’s crime stats would be thrown into disarray. Maybe it was because that particular neighborhood was too dangerous for the police to feel safe patrolling. Maybe it was because there were no white people in that particular neighborhood. I don’t know, but the particulars didn’t really matter much to my father.

The police obviously aren’t the only particular problem here. Even if they had come down to his neighborhood and arrested the trespassers, those trespassers would be out in a day, they knew how to get into his apartment and my father had to sleep sometime.

When I tell this story, oftentimes a white person brings up statistics about how we’re all doing so much better now than we were then. In case you’re thinking that very thing right now, a problem with statistics is that there are often specific, intended readers for those statistics. There’s a target audience.  My father was never part of that target audience. And my father’s old neighborhood isn’t part of any statistics. Its economy isn’t part of “The Economy.” Its people aren’t part of any group this country chooses to identify as. For all those reasons, and probably a few others, we have no idea how many places are just like it all over the country. And honestly, I don’t think we really want to know.

Usually now is when white people start talking about class, but before we get into that, let me tell you another story. 

Did I ever tell you about that time when I was a kid that an old, white lady with bad eyesight accused me of a crime that was committed by a totally different Black kid? I’ll cut to the chase and tell you that the whole thing ended with my public defender pleading me out against my will. 

How about that other time when I was a kid and I got jumped? During the process, I got beat up pretty badly and my bike was destroyed. After the responsible parties were found and admitted guilt, the police told me they weren’t going to do anything about it because, “They said you were running your mouth.”

And there was the time in elementary school when Officer Friendly put the cuffs on me to show the class what it looked like, against my will, while he laughed…

There was the time the police falsely accused me of breaking tombstones… Shooting out street lights…

I could go on.

Now, here’s the part that may surprise you. Without even counting any of those incidents, I have been stopped by the police (while driving, walking, standing still and yes—a couple times in the ‘90s—while rollerblading) 38 times, while somehow, only ever getting one ticket.

Two of those 38 times were in front of my own apartment. One was when a cop put his spotlight on me and began hollering because he thought I was about to attack a white girl entering her apartment.

The reality was that my girlfriend and I were just walking into our apartment together

The other was when a plain-clothes cop tried to buy drugs from me as I stood there, shirtless, in my running shorts sweating and breathing heavily…Because I’d just been running, not because I was high…Maybe a runner’s high…Yeah, he didn’t like that joke either.

Those two particular times stick out for me because, like my father, I also live in a neighborhood where the cops don’t go.

But the reasons for absent police are very different. 

For the last seven years, I have lived on a short, quiet street in a residential neighborhood that’s gentrifying so quickly that I might be white by the time I finish writing this.

Seriously, though. I probably see a cop on my street once a year. Maybe.

I’ve already told you about two of those annual sightings, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

So, it is fair to say that I live in a middle-class neighborhood, and my father did not. Does that class difference make my life easier? Absolutely. Does that class difference erase the racism?

Not at all.

This past weekend, in my beautiful, white, middle-class, gentrifying neighborhood, someone broke into my brand-new truck. They smashed up my console, stole my toll money and a few other things.

My insurance company said I could file a claim without filing a police report, so that’s exactly what I did.

Maybe you were expecting a different ending.

Perhaps you thought I would call the police.

I informed my neighbors, but I’m just not going to call the cops.

See, professionally, I am a musician, so my job requires late nights and loading my gear in and out of a vehicle. If this gentrification has its way and I turn white, maybe a few extra patrols might leave me feeling a little bit safer doing that. But, right now, as the only Black person in a five-block radius, the last thing I want is a cop rolling up on me in the middle of the night, seeing me load things in and out of a brand-new truck.

Maybe you’d still call the police. Maybe color is a difficult thing for you to see here, so let me put it another way.

If you have had vast, personal experience with police and that experience has only ever been 100% negative, it doesn’t matter what opposing statistics say. It doesn’t matter what social class you’re in. It doesn’t even matter what’s written on the side of the police car. You would be a fool to ask for help from someone who has only ever tried to harm you.

And just in case you think my life is some sort of exception, or that I’m some sort of outlier, that’s my exact point. My story may be practically unheard of for white people, but it is all too common for Black people. Philando Castile had been stopped by the police more than 50 times before a police officer eventually pulled him over and murdered him in front of his family.

Black people and white people live in very different worlds and because of that, we are very different peoples.

To dismiss that difference is to not only dismiss the suffering of a people, but also your own opportunity to help.

So, please, if you’re interested in helping, acceptance is the first step.


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Of a crumbling house and bended knees

We can all agree that this country is not perfect. Some parts work very well. Other parts are very broken. Naturally, because we want a more perfect union, we want to fix what is broken. Because there are so many of us, it is difficult for all of us to see all of the problems. The first step in solving a problem is recognizing it. Awareness. But because there are so many of us, sometimes it takes a lot of us to solve a problem. We need to spread awareness. One of the many ways we do that is through protest.

“Why are all those people in the street?”

“What does that picket sign say?

“Why is that man kneeling?”

Why is that man kneeling? I’m glad you asked. So many people don’t.

In broad terms, the kneeling man is a citizen who sees a problem with the country that, unfortunately, a lot of other citizens don’t yet see.

“What is the problem he sees?”

He sees that a system, while lauded for its equality, actually serves and protects some while brutalizing and victimizing others.

He’s drawing attention to an emergency.

He wants the country to be better.

He strives for a more perfect union.

You’re an American. You want that.

“Is it the right time?”

There’s an emergency affecting Americans. It needs to be fixed as quickly as possible. Now is always the time to help a fellow American. It is always the time to make this a better country. Plus, that’s the thing about emergencies: they’re…inconvenient.

“Oh, but it’s not so much the ‘when’ as it is the ‘where’.”

Ah, well, again, that’s the thing about emergencies.

“Well, it’s more the ‘how.’ It’s the method of communication.”

OK. Listen, if you get a text that someone’s breaking into your car, and you decide not to do anything because that’s not the kind of thing you like to get texts about…Honestly, you’re starting to sound like you’re not very patriotic.

I mean, you’re being told there’s a crack in the foundation of your house. And I’d hate to think you’re saying that, not only do you not want to fix the crack or even address the crack, you don’t want anyone to even tell you about the crack.

I’d hate to think that you would rather live in a house on the verge of collapse than even hear someone talk about fixing it.

I’d hate to think you had such a self-destructive mind set. That would mean you didn’t care about this country at all. That much would be obvious, but that wouldn’t even be the problem. I mean, if you had that self-destructive mind-set, it would also be obvious that you didn’t care about your fellow Americans. But that also wouldn’t be the problem.

I’d hate to think you had that self-destructive mindset because it would mean that you didn’t even care about yourself.

For the rest of us it won’t matter much. We’ll fix the foundation. It’ll take longer without you, but one way or the other it’ll get fixed.

But for you, you’d be lost. Your fellow citizens would have a difficult time seeing your value. You’d be abandoned and alienated. Your self-destructive behavior would invalidate even your opinions.

I’d hate to think that could happen.

What’s that? It sounded like you said that you believe in his right to protest, but you disagree with the message. It sounded like you said that he can tell everyone about it as much as he wants, but Black people should continue to die in the street– Did I say “Black”? I don’t mean to make this political. Some people don’t like to discuss politics or have their views known. Some people wear their politics on their skin, a skin that loudly shouts their views, even while they sleep.

I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.

“It’s not about me. This is offensive to the veterans.”

Honestly, if you’re going to bring up the veterans as though you are defending them, I can only hope that you are actually defending them as well. I can only hope that you’re donating your time and money to veterans’ issues. I can only hope that you’re donating your time and money to fight homelessness. I can only hope you’re donating your time and money to suicide prevention. Because if you’re not actually defending the veterans, but instead only invoking the idea of veterans so you can garner pity for yourself…well, that would mean you value being pitied above being an American. That would mean that using nothing but your own putrid bigotry, you’d reduced yourself to just a vulgar thing…

I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.

You know, my father’s favorite athletes, like a lot of men of his generation, were Jackie Robinson and Tommie Smith and John Carlos and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and Muhammed Ali…

My father was a veteran.

While serving in Viet Nam, he was wounded physically, mentally and emotionally. Those wounds never healed. They bled the rest of his 71 years. Those wounds bled so people could enjoy the full benefits of this country– Pardon me, his wounds bled so some people could enjoy the full benefits of this country.

But he was not one of those people.

My father was Black.

I hope you’re not saying that his wounds bled so you could point to them as evidence that he was undeserving of the same rights you possess. I hope you’re not saying that the blood from his wounds only serves as a currency for your convenience, but does not even signify his own humanity. I hope you’re not saying that the only use for nigger blood is to ensure and sustain white leisure…because I’ve heard that before.

We’ve all heard that before.

But that’s probably not what you’re saying and if it is, I’m sure you didn’t mean it like that.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

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