“They Shootin’”: A History Lesson

They don’t teach you how to shoot in school. There are no books for that where I come from. That is learned from obtuse gang footage found in the basement of ya’ poppa’s .45 biting the waistline of the barely showing boxer briefs. The movies teach us young. The corner will copy. Because they can quickly put guns in your pocket as quickly as you can lift your hands into them. There are no “how-to” tutorials painted and pixilated or diagrams of men in square shouldered suits shouldering assault rifles…or, are there? There are no classes for this.

They all look like us. Us, with the distant look, looking into the camera, stone for eyes, glacier ice and dust around the webbing in-between the fingers. Asking for sugar water and loosies. Cotton mouth. Kool-Aid and light and sweet coffee. Shake the cup upside down for the saccharin. This was not in a classroom. No. We buttered our fingers to slip into the role. This behavior was learned. Earned instinct to aim a weapon. Our local box office, I remember.

He didn’t want to pay for the malt liquor. The bottle broke after the bullets.

Or, was that the other flick?

After he snorted all the drugs and ate all their shots.


It was him and the homie on the roof but he couldn’t save him.

Coulda’ been when they turned the corner and he called out his name and the sawed off sought his chest out.

That time too, when he asked if he was his brother’s keeper. Glass dicks dumping poison out.

This was not dinner conversation. More of conversion to metrics on plates tipping. The kids that I went to that art school with didn’t see this. Ken showed me a pomegranate. Him and James once jumped in that Columbus Circle fountain. They ate sushi and talked about dead white people music stolen from black men with names like Leadbelly and Muddy and Richard Penniman.

I didn’t do none of that.

My skin has limits, you know? You know. Went into Jennifer Convertibles and they sat on the furniture. Not me. But, I was chased from Fordham Road to 161st some time ago. Ran for mad long. They didn’t know that, though. My sweats watered, death or tears. Niggaz stole my bus pass. I cried the shit out of me for it, and told them my moms was dying of cancer. You lie to save your soul, if you can. Niggaz tried to steal my Timbs, but nah. Niggaz always sized me up. Niggaz always nigga the same. All look the same. Smell the same. Like…like…b-ball handcourts and missing daddies and ass whoopings in whatever language was native to their mamas. Born in tunnels, we sometimes ate the Tang powder.

There is no history chalkboard for that. That will not put that in our chapters marked “For Coloreds Only”. There are colors for us. They give us names based on spectrums of edges of rainbow’s light. We are speckled some sort of different. We have poses we do when you are watching. Hood camouflage. They look like frozen dance steps. We once practiced in boats. Now the same is done in prison suits. Meat soup, they may feed you that. Heavy carbs. Wake up. Ball. Lift. Shit. Pull-ups. Push-Ups. Write niggaz. Stab niggaz. Call niggaz. Cut niggaz. Fuck niggaz. Fuck. Niggaz. FUCK. Nigga! Get cut. What block you on? Shit the same here, too. Learned that early. Rockefellers. Kennedys. Bushs. Kochs. Same niggaz…those types. Pilgrims killed Indians. Christianity equal sign slave ship. They still burning churches. Mad terrorism happening. But nah, he was troubled. Mental health. Shoot up a theater. You crazy. Hold a wallet, you a nigger. “You probably shoot-up” is what they’ll say on that news station. I would shoot-up maybe if they killed my daughter with her hands up. Find heroin syringes laying under my pillow like dimes for tooth fairies.

Black is bad. That’s what they teach us. Black cats cross ya’ path, double down and skin it live. Bury it in the projects. But, lemme tell you what black magic looks like: Single mother. Three boys on Creston Avenue. Raising them brighter than comet. Working a night shift for years. On a bus to visit the eldest up top where names are DIN’s. And them staying alive. Through it all.

But, nah. They won’t teach you that.

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