The weakness of Kanye amidst the strength of Black people

(Note from BGIM: If for some reason you’ve managed to somehow not know what Kanye West has been up to lately praising Trump and blaming slaves for slavery, you might want to read this and/or this before taking in Sam’s piece below)


I’ve got one last thing to say about Kanye, but before I do…

The other day I was talking to a friend about genealogy. He’s really into tracing back his heritage. His father is from Bermuda and his mother is from Maine, so his journey is taking him all over the map.

Our conversation makes me think about all the things that have to happen to get us, as individuals, to where we are. All of the war and disease and natural disasters and various other apocalypses that created villages and tribes and states and pushed and pulled migration, all the while helping us to create in groups and out groups…

There’s a whole lot to consider in how we got here, but honestly, I’ve never really cared. I’m not saying it’s without value. Don’t get me wrong. I’m deep into my own heritage. I was raised that way. I grew up eating food made from recipes that were oral traditions because the originators weren’t even allowed to learn how to read and write. I grew up learning traditional dances that were passed down father to son for generations. I was taught to play traditional music that predates all audio recording technology. I am very much of my ancestors, but I just don’t think of my history how many Americans think of theirs.

I’ve said this before, but I see a lot of white Americans talk about being Irish or French or Italian and celebrating and identifying as such. It’s real weird to me. I mean, it’s just choosing to identify with a particular moment in time. Like, there were people who existed long before anyone ever titled land masses “Ireland” or “France” or “Italy,” but you don’t ever hear anyone bragging about being ¼ Visigoth.

“Well, my dad is a Gaul, so we’re big drinkers, but he’s from the Suessiones tribe, so, you know, I talk with my hands.”

You ain’t never heard that shit in your life.

As a Black American who is a descendant of enslaved peoples, my genealogical timeline is not that long. A white person may talk about their people originally coming from Ireland, but I can only say my people come from Texas. And I’m fine with that. It means that my heritage is uniquely American and I embrace that. I embrace the culture I was born into, as does most of the country. Just one look at the history of the banjo should tell you that Black culture is more influential than you probably thought. Unfortunately, it also exists within a context that the country has never really been ready for.

Black American artistic expression exists largely because we, as Black Americans were not allowed to express ourselves as citizens. In many ways, we’re still not, and that is where my personal emotions are connected to my ancestry.

The only problem I face with my ancestry is the way it is viewed by those who have power over me.

I mean, I guess it could be nice to find out I was related to an African king or whatever. It’s just that none of the cops that have ever pulled me over would have given a shit. Neither would any bank that continues to deny loans to POCs . Nor would any politician that will deny me my rights.

And that’s what brings me back to Kanye…

Almost. One more thing…

If you’re white, you may not know just how varied Black people are in this country. We are not just one group. We are not only urban. We are also suburban. We are also rural.

We are not only athletes and entertainers. We are also inventors and intellectuals. Sometimes we are all of the above.

We often agree on destinations and differ on routes. We are as complex as, if not more than any group in America. But the one thing we have in common is that this country has always found it necessary to separate us from our humanity, and therefore our rights.

It doesn’t matter if you live in New York or Mississippi, if you’re rich or poor, if you were born in 1650 or at this very moment. This country values Black people as less than any other group and it has never been secretive about it.

And so, here we are with Kanye, who is primarily three things: Black, egomaniacal, and rich. And he’s real rich. Like, private jet rich. And the thing about being rich is that the struggle can become invisible to you, especially if you are an egomaniac.

Kanye is not struggling. I don’t mean he doesn’t wrestle with inner demons. He clearly does; badly.

What I mean is that his personal drivers and security team see to it that he’s not pulled over for DWB or followed around a store for SWB. He doesn’t have to worry about not being hired because his name sounds a certain way. Predatory lending, red lining—these things do not affect him.

The thing is, though, plenty of Black men who are rich enough to avoid those struggles choose to face them head-on. They realize the power of their voice and understand their inherent responsibilities. And, most importantly, they have strength.

You are required to be strong to be Black in America. It takes strength to get out of bed every single day and carry around the knowledge that the state can legally murder you. It takes strength to attempt to navigate a world in which you are viewed with constant and irrational suspicion and fear. It even takes a certain amount of strength just to acknowledge those truths.

Kanye is weak. He’s as weak as a baby. He’s as weak as his baby-handed, racist-ass massa. It’s an especially pitiful kind of weakness, because unlike slavery, Kanye’s weakness is his choice.

So, in the end, am I saying that Kanye isn’t Black? That is a complex conversation to be had, but for now, I’ll direct you to this conversation, already in progress.


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The literal baggage of racism

I want to take this opportunity to thank a couple of Black people, but first, let me start back a ways…

The problem with person-to-person racism is that it’s stupid. I know that’s obvious, but it still gets to me. Like, it’s people just not thinking their shit through. Then systemic racism allows the stupid people to just run the fuck amok and then it’s up to us to tell them they’re stupid. But, you know, they’re stupid, so they don’t believe us.

And what’s so gaht-dam infuriating about all of it, is that they don’t even have to be stupid! You can Google literally, any information about race in America but since it’s slightly easier not to, they don’t. So they’re lazy, too.

Here, let me give you an example.

Since the election of our…ugh…“president”…ugh…I have been on an airplane 15 times. Out of those 15 flights, I have been “randomly selected” 16 times. That’s right. I have been singled out to have my belongings searched on every single flight, and on one of them it happened twice.

In case you don’t know what I look like, I’m bearded, bald, just barely fail the paper bag test and get mistaken for Common (by white people) so often, I should honestly consider changing careers.

But not in airports. Not at all. In airports, I am overwhelmingly middle eastern, and that is my best example of how fucking dumb and lazy racism is. The systemic and individual racism directed at me in an airport is so stupid it can’t even get my race right.

These fools.

An aside, to all y’all who look so relieved when I get pulled out of line, who look on approvingly as my bags are searched, I see you. Also, you should know that TSA doesn’t do shit.

But let me get to those thank-yous.

The last time I flew out, it went a little differently. I mean, it started the same: A white TSA agent looked at me and pulled my bag out to be searched, but he didn’t do the actual searching. Nope. Instead he waved over a different agent to do the dirty work. He also walked away before the other agent even got there. The other agent arrived. He was Black. And from the look of it, he gets asked to search non-white bags a lot. I say this because he just stared in the other agent’s direction, slowly looked over to me and without breaking eye contact, put both hands on my bag, pushed it toward me, gave me the nod and exhaustedly said, “You’re all set.”

Wherever you are, brother, thank you. I feel for you. We both know that, aside from outrageous racism, the TSA seriously doesn’t do shit. You’re doing the Lord’s work. And rest assured, you’re not the only one.

On my flight home, the dum-dum searching my bag was especially thorough. Thorough in such a way she—a white woman—seemed certain she was going to find me out. She was on the case and she was gonna crack it! In fact, she was such a remarkable detective that she drew the attention of her supervisor—a Black woman—who came over to join the investigation.

Unfortunately for her, it turns out that her supervisor didn’t share her investigative spirit. The supervisor asked her pointedly about every single action she had taken and then, one by one, told her that she was wrong for doing each and every thing she had done.

“Why are you testing that? It’s a plastic bottle of aspirin and you can just open it and look inside. Do you know how to open a bottle of aspirin? And this right here? You know that’s a false-positive. Can’t you see this X-ray right here in front of you? Why are you wasting this man’s time?”…and on and on it went. It was amongst the most brutal and joyous things I have ever witnessed and I wish my every future TSA stop to be just like that. Even better, I just wish not to be stopped anymore, but I’ll take what I can get.

Anyway, thank you TSA supervisor. Not only did you save me from yet another invasion and whatever unknown potential danger that can come from the wrath of TSA (an organization that doesn’t do sheeeeeeeit!), but you have perhaps also saved the next few people of color behind me.

All in all, thank you, Black TSA.

I see you and I love you.


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Accidental experiment: Getting the “white” treatment from police as a Black man

Whenever I see a police officer I get a feeling of dread. It’s happened to me as far back as I can remember. Most of my white friends are completely unfamiliar with this feeling. Some of them even feel safe around police. I never understood that, until last week.

But now I get it.

Let me explain…

Last April I bought a brand new vehicle. While there are a lot of choices to consider in making such a purchase, I had the hardest time deciding whether or not to have my windows tinted. While I’d only ever received one traffic ticket, at that point in my life I’d been stopped by the police 38 times. I wasn’t sure if tinting my windows would help or hurt, but in the end, I did it. I figured a cop isn’t going to pull me over for being Black if he can’t even see my face.

Luckily, I was right.

Since its purchase, I’ve driven a lot. Multiple trips to Boston and New York, a tour to West Virginia and back, and not once did I get pulled over! I almost made it a year.

Then, last week I was picking up a friend from work. The plan was to go out for dinner, but first he needed to drop something off at another building. He’s a University of Southern Maine professor and so this errand involved driving around the campus.

Even though I’ve had a lot of involvement with USM over the years, I’ve never really driven around the campus, which, as it turns out, like most colleges, is a goddamned maze.

So, we’re driving all around these little roads and paths until we got as close to the building as possible, at which point my friend hopped out and ran in.

Then a cop car pulled up next to me.

This is the point where I freeze.

I don’t freeze out of fear. I freeze to take everything into account. I try to take all of my environment in. I try to remember the previous five minutes in as much detail as I can. I do this because I need to be as knowledgeable, focused and unflappable as possible in this one moment. And the reason I need such clarity of thought is to follow the one and only rule in dealing with police: Do not scare them. This can be difficult because many are already scared just by the color of my skin, so some are just gonna do what they’re gonna do. But if I can de-escalate a situation before it begins, you bet your ass that’s what I’m gonna do. And no, campus cops are not an exception.

Anyway, so I look over at the cop and he’s still in his car, but he’s motioning for me to roll down my window.

Now, since I have tinted windows and this is all happening at night, I’m certain that he can’t see that I’m Black. The problems could come once I roll down my window. Luckily, with the positioning of the streetlights and the amount of winter gear I was wearing, as long as I took the bass out of my voice and didn’t stick my head out the window, the officer will probably assume I’m white and should be able to remain calm.

So, with the goal of keeping him in his car, I rolled down my tinted window, remained in the shadows and let out a friendly, positive, nasally, “Hi there!”

It worked.

He quickly responded with a very surprising, “Did you just drive down that walking path?”

Now, look. I’m going to be honest with you. My new vehicle? The one with the tinted windows that I was sitting in at that very moment? It’s a Jeep Wrangler and ever since I got it, the line between what is and isn’t a road has blurred a little. There were no pedestrians or street signs, so anything with pavement seemed perfectly drivable. So, I said, “I don’t know. I’ve never driven around here before.”

“Well, you did,” he answered.

“Sorry about that, officer.”

“Don’t do it again.”

“Thanks!”

“You’re welcome.”

He drove away, I rolled up my window and smiled, basking in my privilege disguise and the knowledge of how fun it can be to get pulled over while not Black!

In all seriousness, was that cop racist? I mean, yes, but was he going to kill me out of fear once he saw the color of my skin? I don’t know, but I do know this: Thirty-eight of the times I’ve been stopped by police it’s felt like playing some kind of negative lottery I can only hope to never win.

But that last time didn’t entirely feel like that. Aside from keeping him thinking I was default-white, it felt kind of good. I kind of liked feeling like this cop was protecting the campus from reckless drivers. It almost made me feel safe. In fact, if it wasn’t for the other 38 times in which it felt like the police were trying to protect white people from me, it probably would have made me feel safe.

But now I get it. I mean, I don’t care; it’s myopically destructive and selfish and xenophobic and racist as a motherfucker, but, you know, now I get it.


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.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

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