Kenneth* was a Muslim.

He was also a Crip. He was also an art major at La Guardia High School. I always found that to be somewhat paradoxical. This man who praised Allah and believed in the tenets, who drew portraits, but was also used to throwing gang signs and lifting niggas upside down to shake the change out of their pockets. His hands — rocks, stones, pillars. But, we liked M.O.P. We were both artists. He would draw, I acted (me, on and off stage at times). We were both in 9th grade. We both shared similar friends and shared academic classes. We were also both Black, clinging to this ideal and this skin like a lasso. What is it about Black folks that make us search out the commonalities between us? We look for these identifiers that will link us, those shared experiences that allow us to say “Yes, you and I are one because of where we’ve been”? Perhaps it’s the leftovers of the transatlantic coming home to bear it’s fruit in us, that separation of a people from their homes and their families, that forces us to see the reflection of our skin in others, and pray that they too see the mirrors that we hope we create between us.

I only had one Black G.I. Joe growing up.

Funny how the things we hold onto shape, shift, shackle, shimmer, strike, and sugar, our backs. Backs of past. Blasts of Black and broad strokes backing us up. Blacking us up. Backing us around. To the backs of buses and pews and lines. Blacking us down. To the socks. Like Biggie in a Coogi. Like Kanye in some Gucci.

The day the word “nigger” became a term of endearment, I was eating Lunchables in my mama’s living room watching Video Music Box, Ralph McDaniels prepping to introduce the next, newest rap video. Or maybe it was the roof in Lakeland, Florida when Dan differentiated between “nigger” or “nagger”. Maybe the Youtube comment post that called me a “Dirty hipster Black nigger”. Or the time recording for David when the lady downstairs asked me who was I there to see, as if I owed her the right to question my existence in her space. Could have been the time my dad quit his job as a steam engineer because his boss chose him to be the one to get the staff coffee. My dad got nobody’s coffee…

Big Mike told me he makes himself smaller to fit into the space he inhabits when he’s around you. I told him I too share that sentiment. We were outside shooting shit for this commercial I was in that wasn’t relevant to anything going on in or around the world and we stood outside while others chatted about sexy things not pertaining to Black bodies born under duress and how it feels like hell to leave the womb warm into a world that will never want you as is but will want to confirm their hate for you by dictating the terms of your living without your consent and make you conform, transform your body and tone for your sins and your pleasure and your peace. Where is my peace?

Being with any other woman who is not a Black woman feels like failure, like an insult to my flesh. Feels like suicide. Like death. But, I have been known to embrace death like some sort of tribal benefactor. Why is that? I will tell myself easy lies like our roots all are intertwined and one in the same and that the olive branches and the vines all grow the same, and can be traced, sketched even, by the hands of time. I will as surely love the lily White girls who will listen to trap and will love me and my proportions with an enthusiasm that is endearing and frightening…and sexual, and borderline intoxicating…and stupid. The White women with far too much time on their hands and prim and proper tennis skirts and golf clubs and tennis rackets with their ten credit cards, who close the “Mandingo” Redtube page on their laptops when their mother approaches. The Dominican ones who will make me mangu and offer me reasons why their mother distrusts my tone, as if I chose to be this. But, they will always fall short. Always.

I only had one Black G.I Joe growing up. He was my only option. Ernie Hudson, I read recently, was disappointed in how they limited his role in Ghostbusters. Kobe Bryant was loved once. Wayne Brady doing the Chappelle Show gave him the Black credibility he seeked. They say Russell Wilson isn’t Black enough. Look at RG III and his White woman. Poor Tiger Woods. O.J. got caught up, they whisper. Poor Taye Diggs. “Come back home”, they will say. What is home? What is home when they will whitewash your soul? When we will defend you until we deem it no longer needed because you left “home”? How do you define shelter? What makes the sleep sound serene, or simple, now that the naked is out for us to bear?

Bare me. Show me the idleness of where your Black soul hole lies. Can you be Black and a feminist? Trayvon and white? A dandy and masculine? Where are the borders? Where are the lines? In-between faults and margins and lies and no fucks to be given, they may say. Lives don’t matter, they say.

We are all matter, they say.

Our lives. Black lives. Scattered.

Quietly.

*Name not changed to protect anyone

Written by

he/him. i tell stories for black people. work: @taylorstrategy @nike @twitter @gatesfoundation @ted @hbo @ethelsclub @medium @newsweek @twloha #BXFOREVER

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