Can You Be Black, Woke and Date A White Person?

Earlier this week a woman asked me out on a date. Since I began my new job more than a month ago, we’ve come in contact on a few occasions and exchanged pleasantries, maybe even flirted a few times here and there. (Note: I don’t know that we’ve flirted. I’m kind of an awkward guy about flirting. I know I’ve said some shit, and she’s laughed at said shit, thus I’ve said more shit for her to laugh at, and she’s told me I’m funny in a flirty type of way. So I guess that’s flirting.) We don’t necessarily work together, but our jobs require us to interact on a weekly, sometimes daily basis. I should tell you that this woman is white, and I am a Black man.

It’s not the first time this has happened in my life. One cannot have had the experiences that I have and not caught the eye of females with fairer skin. After all, my name is Morgan McDaniel, I frequently play golf, enjoy the outdoors, love baseball, and grew up idolizing hockey players (most notably Steve Yzerman and Wayne Gretzky) and listening to The Offspring, Barenaked Ladies, and Hootie & The Blowfish.

Despite growing up in one of the Blackest cities in the America (Detroit, what up doe?!), my mother frequently thrust my twin brother and me into settings that featured us as the token Black kids. Whether it was music camps, Saturday morning art classes, or sleepovers at a friend’s house in Suburban Michigan, I could usually count the number of brown faces on one hand within my surroundings, my brother and I included. Maybe two hands if the overall population of the event we were attending was large enough. But never more than two. NEVER!

Furthermore, my voice sounds like a mashup between Bryant Gumble and Kermit The Frog. I prefer to dress in graphic tees or collared shirts and Levi’s with Nike SB Dunks. I’ve been told by many Black chicks, some who have curbed the shit out of me and others whom I’ve dated, that I “seem like I’d be into white girls,” whatever the fuck that means. My beloved family once predicted that I’d probably be the only descendant of the Williams clan to bring a non-Black woman to a family reunion.

But given the events of last week, and my life for that matter, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “Can a woke as fuck Black person date a white person?” Better yet, “Can a woke as fuck Black person date a non-Black person?”

For the record, I’m not a subscriber to the notion that people MUST exclusively date others of the same race. I don’t believe love sees color. Anyone can fall in love with somebody. Some of the most woke people I know, follow or admire either date or are married to non-Black folks. This includes a friend who received a degree in African-American Studies from FAMU, a few former coworkers, and celebrities Franchesca “Chescaleigh” Ramsey and Dave Chappelle. This afternoon, via Facebook, I read a touching delineation of a black man’s life and his harsh experiences with racism. According to his profile, he’s in a relationship with a white woman. Thus, it’s possible.

I guess the better question is, “Can I be woke as fuck and date a non-Black woman?” And the answer is, eh maybe. But it’s highly improbable. Damn near impossible. I love ALL women, and I am indeed attracted to a fair share of non-Black females. A few of my celebrity crushes include Zoey Deschanel, Brie Larson, Ashley Graham and the lovely Jennifer Lawrence. The chick that asked me out? I find her quite attractive too, as do most of the guys that work with me.

Plus, she passes my preliminary dating criteria of a White person seeking a relationship with a Black person; She believes that Black Lives Matter and knows that All Lives Matter is thinly veiled racist, bullshit. She appreciates the musical differences between hip-hop artists like The Roots, Kendrick Lamar and J. Cole, and clowns such as Desiigner, Fetty Wap and Rich Homie Quan. Lastly, she enjoys the film Malcolm X featuring Denzel Washington, thinks Idris Elba would be a suitable choice to adopt the role of James Bond, and is eagerly looking forward to Donald Glover’s upcoming show “Atlanta.” She may be pandering the fuck out of me to secure a date, much like Hilary Clinton does to secure the Black vote, but I highly fucking doubt it.

Either way, my biggest trepidation isn’t who she is, it’s my thorough appreciation for the strong Black women in my life. Hence, it frames my mindset and desire to be with a strong Black woman.

While my mother purposely put me in Caucasian-centric environments, she also instilled a great sense of Black pride, self-worth, and identity. My childhood home is beautifully decorated with African masks and paraphernalia. At age eleven, I was forced to watch Boyz N The Hood, Rosewood, and Roots. When I showed an interest in art, my mother emphasized that I know Black artists such as Romare Bearden, Gordon Parks, Charles White, Elizabeth Catlett, Annie Lee, Alma Thomas and Jean-Michel Basquiat before studying the likes of Picasso, Vincent Van Gogh, and Rembrandt.

I remember my grandmother telling me the excruciatingly brutal tales of Emmett Till, the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham and personal, racially motivated, tragedies she experienced growing up in rural Alabama. My aunt made sure my literary rotation included Alice Walker, James Baldwin, Walter Mosley and Richard Wright. I was raised by a catalog of beautiful God Mothers who taught me the importance of respecting women, even if they are “fast-tailed heffas who lack respect for themselves.”

And every time I experienced the slightest sense of failure, defeat or discrimination – like the time I was disqualified from a golf tournament for displaying “Black, thuggish behavior,” or told that I wouldn’t be Caddy of The Year because my boss preferred to give it to another white kid with close member ties (despite my exceptional performance), or most recently leaving my job and battling depression – they have all been there to stand by me, console me, and scold me, if necessary.

It is because of them that I still exist. It is because of them that I am the man that I am. It is because of them that I am drawn to women who display their traits, most of which are uniquely exclusive to Black women.

I declined the invitation to go on a date with the female I mentioned earlier. I’m sure she’s a swell person, or at least she seems like one. But following my last relationship, I’m in a place where I don’t feel like laboring through the song and dance of getting to know someone’s likes, dislikes, pet peeves, favorite colors, birthdays, or other nuances. I can do without that shit for now. But when I am ready to love again, I want to fall in love with a beautiful Black woman, who’s into the same millennial, outdoorsy, sci-fi, sports-centric, dry humor, Christian, Black power shit that I am.

Because while love doesn’t see color, it’s important that we do. It’s important that my future mate and I see the world through the same lens. It’s imperative that we readily embrace and support each other unconditionally. It’s pivotal that we bask in each other’s auras and share corny-ass inside jokes. It’s crucial that we battle systemic issues and racial biases as one cohesive unit. And while I may find this in a non-Black person, given the level of my unapologetic Blackness, it’s highly unlikely. Black love is beautiful.

Advertisements

I’m Getting Sick of This Shit

When I was younger, my Uncle Howard used to tell me these wondrous stories about his extraordinary life. Some were hilarious yarns about how he’d escaped imminent ass whippings during his childhood courtesy of his quick wit and unsuspecting humor. Others were grim details about his otherwise uneventful service in Vietnam.

One story that stuck with me was a story about the brutal racism black men encountered in the south, specifically the dangers of DWBing (Driving While Black) in Alabama and Mississippi once the sun set.
I can’t recall the exact details, but I remember the angst he displayed when telling me his disturbing account about how colored folks were viciously attacked by law enforcement. His eyes were almost lifeless. His voice was ghastly. It was a depressing story, one that my Aunt Cheryl would always insist shouldn’t be told to teenagers. Howard would resist this assertion, insisting that it was imperative my twin brother and I understood the perils of racism.

He would usually follow up this parable with some “nigga” joke reminiscent of Richard Pryor. His arsenal was full of them. And they were all hilarious.

Since then I’ve had my fair share of unexpected encounters with the police. In high school, as a passenger, I was once stopped and aggressively told to put my hands in plain sight. Myself, along with my brother, and a group of our friends (5 Black males in an SUV), we were headed to see a movie or something in a predominantly white neighborhood before being pulled over for displaying “suspicious behavior.”

In college, I was detained for carrying a golf club in a park during broad daylight, while practicing golf. According to the officer, he had received a call about a “large, suspicious man wielding a dangerous object, possibly destroying property.”

I’ve even been stopped under suspicion of “engaging in legal activity” for driving around in a parking lot. Apparently the lot I pulled into was a cesspool for organized crime, and my red, late model Chevy hatchback was threatening. (Note: This event happened just moments after being the victim of a break-in, while on the phone with my mother.)

But all of this pales in comparison to what I experienced last night. In fact, it was perhaps the most frightening shit that I’ve ever experienced in my life. To put things in perspective, I’m from Detroit and have had a gun pointed in my direction on more than a few occasions. While my parents did a fantastic job of shielding me, and my brother, from the ghettos of the Motor City, given the noxious nature of “The Crib” I was bound to experience some foul shit.

Also, I’m probably one of the least treacherous black people on the face of the Earth. I grew up participating in Boy Scouts and Saturday morning art classes. My summers were filled with family road trips to Mackinaw Island and Niagra Falls. My hobbies include playing golf, reading John Grisham novels, watching HBO (Game of Thrones, The Wire, Silicon Valley and Veep are my shit), collecting Star Wars t-shirts and completing wooden puzzles with my toddler son. I indulge in foodie shit like baking cornbread and finding ways to make cauliflower edible. And I drive a 2012 Ford Focus. I’m as threatening as Wayne Brady, and Carlton Banks, combined.

Nevertheless, none of this mattered at approximately 10:30 pm on May 31st, 2016. I was heading eastbound on I-20, traveling back to Atlanta, GA from Birmingham, AL. Earlier in the day I arrived at my former apartment to finish packing my belongings and complete a walk-through. (I’ma need that security deposit back, and I don’t want no surprises, b!). It had been an exhausting day.

After stopping by Panera Bread to write a quick post (again, I’m sorry, but Harambe had to die) and complete a qualifying sample SAT exam (I’m trying to tutor some youngins out here), I didn’t get on the road until about 9:30 pm. Against the counsel of my theatrical uncle, I frequently traveled through the Alabama darkness on many occasions without incident.

About 30 minutes into my drive, just outside of Lincoln, AL, I was pulled over by an Alabama State Trooper. His justification for ushering my vehicle to the highway’s shoulder was suspicion of intoxication. Apparently, a few miles prior, I was driving too erratic. I probably was, but only slightly. I was fumbling around with my auxiliary cord as I desperately needed some tunes to stay awake. (Preferably Wu-Tang Clan’s, 36 Chambers. It gets my blood flowing.)

The trooper gave the customary instructions (license, registration and proof of insurance), to which I promptly obliged. That’s when a second vehicle pulled up. Another officer alerted to the situation approached my vehicle from the rear passenger side stopping at the back door. While the first officer was busy relaying my credentials to the dispatcher, the second officer began surveying the contents of my vehicle. I don’t have tinted windows (add this to the growing list of being a non-threatening black man), so anyone can easily see what’s inside.

After getting an all-clear from the dispatcher (no warrants, outstanding tickets, unpaid child support, etc.), the first officer then looked towards the second, who from what I could tell, is still standing on the rear passenger side of my vehicle.

Here’s where things escalate quickly. The initial officer then sternly asks, “Do you have anything illegal in the vehicle or any weapons?”

I replied, “Nope.”

Displeased by this response, the officer seeks affirmation to his inquiry. “Are you sure?” he asks. “You have a lot of stuff in there. Nothing illegal?”

Again I replied, “No. I have nothing illegal.” The first officer then looks in the direction of the second, who hasn’t moved from his position since arriving at the scene. I couldn’t see what the second officer gestured towards the first, but whatever it was provided cause enough for him to clutch his firearm and command me to place my hands on the steering wheel.

“Keep your hands where I can see them,” he shouted. Now I’m beginning to freak the fuck out. Another vehicle pulls up.

A third and fourth officer are now at the scene and rush to the front of my car. The first officer shouts, “Slowly turn off your vehicle and place keys and your hands out of the window.”

I moved slower than molasses in December. I didn’t want to become a national spectacle. I didn’t want news crews showering my distraught mother with media requests. I dropped my keys and held my hands in plain sight.

“Now, slowly open the door and step out of the vehicle.” Again, I comply as if my life depends on it, because at this very moment, it does.

Exiting my vehicle, I glanced in the direction of the second officer. His firearm is withdrawn with the barrel pointed at me. Officers Three and Four immediately tackle me from behind and cuff me while Officer One begins to search my vehicle unlawfully. I am then dragged by my arms towards the front of my car, further into the unkempt, grassy shoulder. Officer Three commands me to stay put while Two and Four began assisting One with identifying the contents of my red hatchback.

Face down in the dirt I attempted to look up and witness the commotion. Immediately, Three thrusts his knee into my back, saying, “Don’t you dare fucking move.”

I calmly begin to ask, “Can I at least know…”

“JUST RELAX AND SHUT THE FUCK UP! DO NOT RESIST,” Officer Three screams. It sounds as if he’s saying “Do not resist,” to seek justification in the event he does something further, like shoot me.

Some time goes by – feels like 30 minutes, but could have been less – when One finally says to Two, “I don’t see anything. What did you see?”

“Must’ve been the golf clubs. I thought it was the barrel of a rifle or something,” he replies. The way my car is set up, my driver and 3-wood were laying across two boxes in my back seat.

“Alright, let him up,” One says to Three. He attempts pull me up, forcefully yanking my arm with his hand partially clutched around my left bicep. It’s a strenuous task (I’m 5’11, 250-pounds and not cooperating) and he asks Four to assist.

As I regain my balance with Three now uncuffing my wrists, One walks towards me and says, “Just had to make sure nothing illegal was in there. You be safe on your way to Atlanta.” Barring this bullshit I was safely on my way to Atlanta. He hands me my credentials and retreats to his vehicle. Two, Three and Four follow suit.

So there I stood in front of my car, clenched fists, dirty as fuck, boiling with anger from the violation that just occurred. I slowly walked towards my vehicle and retrieved my keys from the ground where I dropped them.

I sat in my car for a little while after the officers departed. I cried and screamed as loud is I could. I unleashed my budding rage upon the steering wheel causing the horn to sound sporadically. It was now 1:13 am. I drove another 15 minutes to Oxford, AL before deciding that tonight’s events had been enough to compel me to stay the fuck off the road until daybreak. I checked into a Holiday Inn Express and attempted to get some rest.

Side note: Hotels fill up hella quick in Oxford. Both the Hampton Inn, my preferred choice, and Courtyard Marriott (I earn points with their dubious credit card) were both sold out.

For approximately an hour and a half, four white officers acted as if I was smuggling their daughters across state lines with a sawed-off shotgun with no just cause. And it was seemingly okay.

This event won’t make national headlines. Al Sharpton isn’t going to call me and lend his unwanted support. There won’t be any public demonstrations of solidarity. For all I can tell, there isn’t even an official record of what transpired last night. (I wasn’t given a citation or even a warning.)

But my uneasiness is real. I have an unwavering legitimate fear that my life could one day end at the hands of those who are sworn to protect and serve. (For the record, I don’t think all cops are bad. It’s a dangerous job, and I profoundly respect the men and women who take their oath seriously and carry out their tasks judiciously. But the rest of you racist, bigoted pigs can fucking kick rocks). It exists because of the systemic, perpetuated bullshit that black men, women, and children are dangerous. Especially at night, and certainly in Alabama.

Imagine being too scared to drive, or walk, or fucking exist. Do you know how paralyzing that is? I sat in a Panera Bread this morning tucked away in a booth and didn’t move for 3 fucking hours because I was that shook. (Note: This one was in Oxford. I really like Panera. Their green tea is amazing and they have free wifi. You better get you some mini strawberry-rhubarb cakes and stop playing out here.) It’s bullshit.

Shit like this doesn’t happen to everyone. Just the ones lucky enough to have darker pigment. Or have different religious views. Or possess any threat to the established regime of supremacy. (White, rich and privileged.)

And frankly I’m sick of this shit. BLACK LIVES MATTER. MY LIFE MATTERS. MY SONS’ LIVES MATTERS. And if you think otherwise – that either All Lives Matter, or Gorilla Lives Matter, or any other thinly veiled racist bullshit – then you’re part of the goddamn problem.

 

 

Harambe Had To Die

This past holiday weekend a child somehow found their way into a gorilla enclosure which resulted in the death of a rare, 17-year-old, silverback gorilla.

Since then, there’s been a huge outcry — either from assholes who don’t have kids, don’t give a fuck about other people’s kids, or don’t give a fuck about black kids and are otherwise terrible people — over who’s at fault for the gorilla’s death. Some idiots are placing blame on the zoo. Most of the vilification is directed towards the parents and their lack of “effective parenting.” So much so that I now have a cursory knowledge of a terrorized father’s criminal record (Wait, did he run up on the gorilla with an AK-47?), and a distraught mother is getting death threats. (Because of course that’s logical.)

While I understand what occurred was a terrible ordeal, there shouldn’t be any debate over the end result. The gorilla had to die because safety protocol dictated that it had to die. That is to say; HUMAN LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN THAT OF AN ANIMAL BECAUSE WE ARE HUMANS.

Shit happens. A parent’s greatest fear is that something grave is going to happen to their child. I’m not interested in examining how the boy fell into the fucking moat or the animal’s motives. (How about I throw your dumb ass in that exhibit and let a 400-pound behemoth “protect” you by dragging you around?) As a parent of a beautiful, hardly functional (he poops on himself), fun sized (he’s 20 months old) human being, I understand that it’s hard to keep track of their every move. Even if you’re skilled enough to commit hours of completely unbroken surveillance (which is nearly impossible), there’s still a chance that something undesirable may occur. Kids are extremely unpredictable, as is the world in which we live.

We’d all like to think that we would never let something like this Harambe situation happen to our cherished offspring (or theoretical child), but the fact is we don’t know. The only thing we can do is give a valiant effort and pray that the Holy water our local Pastor placed upon the crown of their head, or the benevolent goodness of the cosmic universe, protects them.

While some of y’all busy condemning this woman as the worst mother known to man, y’all are doing irresponsible shit too. Like letting little Jimmy smack you in the damn face because he demands fruit snacks and an iPad. Or completely forgetting to pick Susie up from daycare. Or leaving your infant to die in a car so you can attend a fucking meeting. Or texting while driving with your kids in the backseat on national fucking television. (Some of y’all do this shit every day. STOP!) Or even letting your child slip into a gorilla exhibit. (Yes, this also happened 20 years ago.)

Fun fact: My dad once lost me in a creepy ass Sears, when I was 3. This was circa 1989 when pedophiles were readily sitting in white vans waiting to snatch kids just for sport. According to my mother, she told my pops five times to hold my hand and keep an eye on me, which he did. Yet, I still got loose. Because I was 3. I was small, quick as hell, and thought it was a fabulous idea to hide for 15 minutes underneath an apparel fixture. This doesn’t make my dad “a derelict piece of shit” or mean that “stupid people breed stupid babies.” (Just a few of the ridiculous comments I have read about this boy and his mother.) It only means that SHIT HAPPENS.

And let’s stop pretending that half you faux animal rights activists care about this gorilla. You don’t. You didn’t even know of his existence let alone that Cincinnati had a zoo. (I’ve been there, and it’s kind of a cool zoo.) If you gave a fuck about this gorilla, you’d protest the senseless killing of animals everywhere. Folks out here still recreationally hunting lions, rhinos, and bears, but you mad about this shit?

Luckily there are safety parameters in place to ensure our well-being should shit go south in a hurry. Whether you’re eating a sandwich at Panera Bread or enjoying a day at the zoo, there exists a protocol for worst-case scenarios. And they all prioritize the safety and well-being of HUMANS. The Cincinnati Zoo promptly followed those procedures to prevent the worst possible outcome, a dead child.

The argument whether tranquilizers should have been used is mute and dumb as shit too. Contrary to the honorary degree you think you earned from the University of Google or knowledge you gained from a pet-detective named Ace Ventura, sleeping agents don’t work instantly. In the time, it would have taken for the tranquilizers to take effect who’s to say the gorilla wouldn’t have smashed this child’s skull as if it were a Tahitian coconut? We don’t. Thus, you don’t leave situations like this to chance.

There’s no doubt in my mind that if this boy were white, the mother and child would have a calendar full of invites to every morning talk show. They’d be sitting there cackling it up with Ellen, as she brought out a little monkey for the toddler to play with. The boy would then talk about the valuable lesson he learned. I should have listened to my mother. Also, gorillas are huge as shit and better viewed from afar. We’d hear stories of the torment and agony both the mother and child endured during those horrific 10 minutes. We’d witness empathy and support as mothers’ rights groups would condemn the zoo for its ineffective of barriers. Hell, people would probably even question the need for gorillas being kept captive in a zoo altogether. These dangerous, menaces to the jungle need to go back where they came from.

I love animals. Love them. I’ve had two dogs and cried (real tears) when they were no longer my loyal companion. But if it ever came down to the safety of my child and the life of my dog, I’d chose my child every time. If it was your child’s life and my dog’s, I’m still killing my dog. Because it doesn’t matter if you’re White, Black, or Blue. We’re human beings. And our safety is always the priority.

Fellas, That “Love Yourself” Shit Is For You Too

It’s Memorial Day! Time to indulge in some meaty animal carcasses, potato salad (so long as the preparer is officially ordained), spirited fellowship (I’m not interested in small talk, just prepare to get whooped in Spades/Horseshoes/Dominoes), and dranks.

Aside from the Super Bowl (or The NBA Finals, or any other masculine major sporting event), summer is the most joyous time to be a dude. Ladies are wearing sundresses, bikinis, and not much of anything else. The weather is gorgeous. (Global warming is melting my ass though.) And grilling season is here. (Don’t bring that wack shit ’round here if you ain’t got skills. Seriously, not every testicle having human being can grill. Stop burning meat, slapping Sweet Baby Ray’s on it and calling it barbecue. Nah, bruh.)

But now that warmer climate is upon us and fun times are in full bloom, another annoying trend has reared its ugly head. Everyone is trying to get their “summer body.” From social media posts (telling people you’re about to be stuntin’ won’t help you reveal your abs), to crowded gyms (yo’ ass ain’t been there since January, the last time you were supposed to transform yourself) errbody out here trying to get their “beach body.”

Never mind that we’re two days removed from June (you had at least six months bruh, rushing now ain’t gon’ get it no faster), people still starving themselves and aimlessly cycling through ineffective exercises. And for what? To look good naked? To fit into some old shit you wore in high school?

To make matters worse, while females are on the decline with indulging in this fruitless habit, dudes are Jonesing bad to look like an Abercrombie model. Thanks to campaigns and bloggers (shout out to Gabi Fresh) celebrating curves, and loving oneself, women are giving fewer fucks about chasing the antiquated, unrealistic, superficial definition of beauty. Rolls, stretch marks, saggy tits, it doesn’t matter. These marvelous queens are out here living and enjoying themselves despite whatever you may think. It’s a beautiful thing. (Y’all look good too. Ladies, if this isn’t you you better get in on this.)

Meanwhile, I’m witnessing far too many testosterone-driven, meat-sacks out here chasing the same tiresome bullshit we’ve been prone to following for years. Dudes are out here trying to emulate Terry Crews, Zach Efron, or Channing Tatum. Here’s a news flash fellas: STOP THAT SHIT!!! Channing Tatum doesn’t even look like Channing Tatum half the time. (He’s an actor gotdammit. He’s paid to look good. You’re an accountant. You’re paid to do numbers. DO NUMBERS!!!)

Just last week, after a few games of pickup basketball (I hoop a lot, ball is life) one of my homeboys showed me an Instagram photo of some shirtless negro he was trying to look like by his birthday. Pause. You screenshot another dude and carry it around with you as motivation? NOPE! Not even remotely okay.

I get it. Everyone wants to be “healthier” and would care to avoid being the comedic muse of fat jokes. I hear fat jokes all the time. (I also clap back with the quickness. If you come for me, I will ruin you. Can’t nobody save your feelings.) I’ve put on some weight and had to buy some bigger Levi’s. So fucking what.

Sure, I’d like to be leaner so I can do shit like dunk on unsuspecting opponents, and dust fools who wanna test me in flag football. But I legitimately don’t give a damn about my belly. I don’t. I still walk outside with my shirt off occasionally. (It’s hot gotdammit.) When I take my son to the pool, my shirt is off. (If you’re over the age of 5 and you’re wearing a shirt to the pool, STOP.) If you’re looking at me, cool. If not that’s cool too, no fucks are given either way. Neither should you! (Keep your fucks to your self. Be stingy with those fuckers.)

Being healthy should be a lifestyle, not some fad diet Dr. Oz concocted. You should be practicing daily habits that help you achieve the results that you want to see for a lifetime, not just a season. (After 21 days what’s next? You gon’ cut off a limb to lose the next 30 pounds? Then get fat again when the temperature drops? That’s fucking stupid!)

The bottom line is we’re too grown to let other people’s expectations dictate our happiness. That includes how we look. And it includes you too fellas.

So have some Crown and Vernor’s (what up doe?!), eat some gotdamn wings, laugh as much as possible, and don’t get caught reneging on the Spades table. Your summer body is already here because summer is already here. A wise man once told me, “When you’re ready to go to the gym, it’ll still be there.” Enjoy yo’self.

The Crippling Ghost of Depression

In October 2015, during a pickup basketball game, I experienced an uncharacteristic amount of built up anger, animosity and sadness. I remember shouting at one of my homeboys for not passing me the ball after I managed to get free for a wide open three-point shot. It didn’t matter that he scored on an easy drive to the basket. I still lit into his ass. I yelled and berated the living shit out of him over the next three games (somehow we kept winning, and he managed to refrain from kicking my ass). It was a colossal overreaction (but he should’ve passed me the ball dammit).

A few hours later, after downing a six-pack of Cayman Jack’s margaritas, I found myself crying in the parking deck of an emergency room with thoughts of suicide. This is the story of my battle with depression.

I can’t recall what catapulted me into this dire state of mental agony. I suppose it’s important to understand the source of what caused this downward spiral, but honestly, I can’t pinpoint a single scenario.

It could have been work-related stress and the pressure to live up to the gaudy expectations of others (back then I’d recently received a promotion and felt I needed to out-work my self-inflicted, exaggerated hype). It could have been anxiety over my place in society and the growing desire to have a bigger impact on those around me (I wanted to do more than peddle t-shirts and sneakers). I could even attribute my feelings of despair to the unnecessary racism and unwarranted police attention that I encountered on a daily basis while living in Birmingham, Alabama. (How many times do you have to be called a nigger before it starts to bother you?) In retrospect, it was probably all of it, and then some.

IMG_2016An actual text message from an unknown associate.

I tried to talk to a few people about my head space (my fiancé, close family, and friends) but they brushed it off as simply being down. They all made a concerted effort to draw my attention to the many great things that were present in my life. If I even dared to mention the dreaded “S” word I was condemned as being a poor Christian, or worst, over dramatic. They simply couldn’t understand how a decent looking, intelligent, funny, father of two, with a great job, a clean bill of health and an impressive sneaker collection could be sad, let alone depressed.

They told me to pray and offered their prayers as reinforcement. They showered me with text messages containing Bible verses and positive quotes. It was hard for me not to channel my inner Hannibal Buress in response to this outpour of support. “So you ain’t gon’ do shit for me then,” I remember thinking (an anecdote from one of Hannibal’s stand-up routines). “You just gon’ sit there and send some fucking memes and Jesus quotes, huh?”

giphy
It’s not that I didn’t appreciate their concern. Deep down, I genuinely did. They were all doing what they thought would help, providing their best form of encouragement. Unfortunately, their lack of understanding, coupled with my deteriorating mental state, only made the situation worse.

I found myself becoming increasingly estranged from the very people who cared the most. In some instances, I stopped communicating altogether. I bottled everything up, put on a faux smile and went about my business. I may not have felt better, but I was going to put on a facade as if I were. Fake it ’til you make it, right?

After all, I am a Black male. Melanin-rich, penis having motherfuckers, are not allowed to be depressed. This was reserved for Kevin Spacey-like dudes from American Beauty. Or spoiled, pretentious suburbanites who can’t come to terms with their vast entitlement.

Moreover, I wasn’t a victim of abuse, I didn’t experience a grave loss, and I didn’t suffer from a traumatic brain injury. Frankly, I was just overwhelmed and extremely stressed. Given the current climate of our society, I wasn’t experiencing anything unusual.

As you might expect, internalizing the struggle only exacerbated things. Soon everything became a laborious chore. I suffered from severe bouts of insomnia and didn’t sleep for days at a time. I drudged through simple, monotonous tasks at work. I had trouble focusing, and on occasion, became completely detached in intimate settings – mostly, in the presence of my beautiful infant son.

Soon my mental problems began to manifest into “real” physical issues. First, I began to suffer from chronic migraines and extreme sensitivity to light. Then came the increasingly frequent lash outs against others. That was followed by excessive weight gain and erratic weight loss, various gastrointestinal illnesses that flared up without warning and finally short-term memory loss. I was losing mind to the point where I had become unrecognizable to myself and those around me.

I once visited with a psychiatrist who was determined to assist me in recognizing my illness. She said to me, “If there were a zombie apocalypse that occurred right now you’d probably just walk out there and let them eat you. Your adrenaline has declined so much that your innate will to survive doesn’t exist. This isn’t a bad dream or some dark fairytale. Depression is real. It doesn’t discriminate based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation or even socioeconomic status. It infects your mind and leaves you in doubt. It robs you of your character and your best intentions. And if you’re not careful, it will kill you.You need help.”

I’d like to say that my point of awakening came shortly after this conversation, or following some other life altering event. I had certainly experienced my fair share of them. Over the course of a year, I saw my romantic relationship deteriorate, put on 50 pounds, developed an unhealthy drinking habit, was in jeopardy of losing my job and tragically lost a friend to a car accident caused by a drunk driver. Any of these should have woke me the fuck up. But they didn’t. My struggle persisted.

Oddly enough, my personal reflection didn’t come until about two months ago following an episode of Game of Thrones. In it, there is a scene in which Tyrion Lannister (played by Peter Dinklage) is speaking with his brother, Jaimie, and says, “Death is so final whereas life is full of possibilities.” For some reason, the line resonated and stuck with me. Its simplicity was incredibly jarring.

tyrion-dancing

Though I’ve pursued counseling as a means to slay my personal demons, I found my greatest refuge comes in talking and reading about the struggles of others with similar problems. One author, in particular, is Alexandra L. Smith (more commonly known as Alex Elle). Her book, ‘Words From A Wanderer”, gave me some perspective. There was also my close friend who had experienced the same depths of hell I was enduring.

I’d like to think that everything is better now, and I’m completely cured. But I’m not. I still have good days and bad days. Some are worse than others, but they’re few and far between. I find that my faith helps, and I still have a strong support system to rely on should I desperately need them. Most importantly, I feel like myself again. I find joy and happiness in everyday activities, like giving my son a bath or playing a frustrating round of golf.

I’m not penning this to seek any pity or support. Frankly, this isn’t for me. I’m writing this because along this journey I’ve discovered that there are other people out there, just like me, fighting this internal battle every single day. The age of social media has made it difficult to see the warning signs. Everyone seems to have their shit together. But beneath this digital veil, deep down inside, a lot of us don’t.

Some of us are wrangling with the darkest inner thoughts, aimlessly clinging to any glimmer of hope. If this is you, I implore you to get some help. Seek out what works for you and come to terms with your battle. You don’t have to endure this pain alone. I hate to sound cliche, but there really is a light at the end of the tunnel, even if it feels pitch black. After all “Death is so final whereas life is full of possibilities.”

“Like Mike” My Ass

A couple of months ago, while scouring the internet for sneakers and nearby sushi restaurants, I stumbled across a headline; “Michael Jordan Opens Community Center.”

To the average person, this would be innocuous. Why on earth would anyone give two shits about a retired billionaire athlete giving back to the community? Me, that’s who. This was gold. Finally, Michael was giving back to black folks. He was making us proud by proving that he never forgot where he came from.

I immediately began to ponder what metropolis this inaugural community center would debut in. Could it be Chicago, the city where he cemented his legacy as the GOAT en-route to claiming a metric-ass ton of accolades and superlatives, but now finds itself experiencing an epidemic of catastrophic proportions with respect to gang-violence and poverty? Or maybe it would be located in Charlotte, a place where he has deep ties and currently serves as owner of the hometown Hornets.

Either way, it didn’t matter. This was something for us. Jordan was extending a subtle gesture of appreciation to his underprivileged fans for supporting him. It was his way of saying, “Thanks for buying my inflated, recycled sneakers all these years while I lined my pockets with profit, despite the many lives that have been ruined, or even lost, in pursuit of my products.” FINALLY, he was recognizing us as being critical to his success.

I clicked the link, eager to read about what brought about this sudden benevolence. What could possibly delineate this generosity? And then it hit me, like a Bill Lambeer foul in the 1990 Eastern Conference Finals. “Michael Jordan Set to Open Community Center In China.” Really? REALLY?

After all these years of us, BLACK PEOPLE, hoarding retros in an attempt to stay fly. After standing in ridiculously long lines, for a chance to irresponsibly purchase sneakers beyond our means. After enduring the excruciating wait, staring at our computer screens for hours, combating bots and resellers, to obtain a piece of nostalgic bliss, you’re opening a community center in China? CHINA?! Really Jordan?

We’ve always supported Jordan. We rushed to box offices to see Space Jam. We drank Gatorade and took jump shots with our tongues out. We purchased Hanes t-shirts and underwear despite his ill-advised Hilter mustache.

michael_jordan

All because we believed in HIM. A black man, from Wilmington, North Carolina. A black man who revolutionized the game of basketball. A black man who turned a professional basketball career into a financial empire. And yet, despite all this, instead of showing his appreciation for our devout fanhood, he’s opening a place of solace and refuge to kids across the pond? Naw, negro.

Now before I continue my rant, allow me to clarify a few things. First, Jordan’s not opening a community center, per se. He’s aligning his WINGS initiative with Youth Outreach, a Hong Kong-based community center that provides mentorship to at-risk youth. While the headline was misleading, it’s still a big deal as this is the first time the Jordan Brand has committed to a permanent philanthropic initiative.

Second, I get it. This is about money. Last year Jordan controlled 58% of the U.S. basketball footwear market with $2.6 billion in sales. It’s important to note that Nike, Jordan’s parent company, saw a 30% increase in revenue within China.

Moreover, Jordan took a rare loss when Chinese officials declared Qiaodan, a knockoff company predicated on replicating “His Airness,” was not infringing upon his famed brand by using his likeness. Thus, what better way to build upon Nike’s momentum and Jordan’s global presence, while saying “fuck you Qiaodan,” than to gain some positive publicity in the land of billions? It’s a smart business plan.

But all that’s beyond the point. What matters here is that Michael Jeffrey Jordan is choosing greed over principles. He’s ignoring the plight of those who’ve invested in him to maximize his capital.

While the FAMU educated economist within me understands this move as a sound financial strategy, the 29 year-old born and raised in Detroit, Michigan thinks this is complete and utter bullshit.

After all these years, we still idolize Jordan as if he’s a black super hero. We exalt him as an example of what someone with brown skin (dark brown at that) can achieve if they work hard and stay committed.

Yet, in a time when we need him most, amidst rampant racism and the persistent disenfranchisement of African-American youth, he seems more interested in satisfying his desire to substantiate his empire.

He would rather improve the life of a Hong Kong teenager, who probably labors for a shitty wage, cobbling his shoes in a sweatshop that’s barely compliant, and hardly regulated, than assist a black kid from Chicago’s south side who’s at risk of being gunned down while wearing them. That’s bullshit.

But maybe we shouldn’t be that flabbergasted. After all it’s not like MJ has ever used his increasingly powerful presence to advance the social agendas of those who share his pigment. It’s not like he didn’t know aggressively pricing his deliberately scarce products would lead to an insatiable demand, thereby driving heinous actions to obtain them. It’s not like he even bothered to show up to his own “WINGS for The Furture” event in Inglewood, CA to provide a glimmer of hope to deprived aspirants.

Over the years, Jordan has continually showed us how little we mean to him. And despite the many ways he’s told us that we’re not the target demographic for his products, we still desire them, and foolishly provide our unyielding support.

So I suppose the real surprise is that I assumed this new community initiative would be different. I suppose I was mistaken in my belief that Jordan would assist those who sought to follow in his footsteps. But if shadowing MJ leads to greed and power as our sole purpose for existence, maybe its best that our youth aren’t “Like Mike.”

 

 

22 Years Later….

“When I grow up, I want to be an author!” This is me, age seven, probably on a cold, rainy day in the middle of September, speaking with my mother. It was a bold declaration then, one most likely influenced by the language arts class that I was enamored with which included creating a hand-stitched, Crayola illustrated book.

According to my mother’s recount of the conversation, she smiled and shrugged knowing that I was easily swayed by the various new topics or events that I encountered. Apparently, the following February (Black History month), after reading literature on Malcolm X, and subsequently watching Spike Lee’s biopic featuring Denzel Washington’s tour de force performance, I told her I wanted to be a civil rights activist. Again, I was seven.

Nevertheless, I can still recall the euphoric sense of jubilation and accomplishment I felt as I marched up to my 2nd-grade teacher to turn in my masterpiece. I didn’t know many authors other than Dr. Suess and R.L. Stine, but I knew my novel game was killin’ ’em.

My book was centered around a boy, his dog and his quest to become the ultimate champion on Nickelodeon’s hit show, Guts. He was a beast, as he trained hard to master bungee basketball and dodge foam rocks, eventually realizing his destiny and taking his place as the victor on the throne of the Super Aggro Crag.

Though the plot was extremely thin, with virtually no character development and grammatical errors galore, it marked the first time that I presented my thoughts and ideas to the world. Nothing could have felt better.

As I grew older my passion and subsequent goals aimlessly shifted as one might expect given the maturation process of adolescents. Like most boys embarking on puberty, over the next several years I directed my aspirations towards becoming a professional athlete thanks to Michael Jordan, Barry Sanders, Ken Griffey Jr and Tiger Woods.

I went so far as to design my personal trademark furnished with a Nike Swoosh. I even remember rehearsing a fictional interview with my childhood crush Ananda Lewis for a feature episode of MTV Cribs. Crazy shit right?

Nevertheless, as time passed and priorities shifted, life became less about chasing what I wanted to become and more about what I was willing to settle for. My dreams were replaced with societal expectations. Aspirations manifested into burdening responsibilities.

What was once a fantasized, illustrious career as an author, or professional athlete, or even a Black Nationalist leader, had dissipated into a meandering existence as an uninspired retail store manager. Not exactly how the childhood version of myself thought things would turn out.

But then something amazing happened. Not too long ago I took a trip to my hometown of Detroit. My parents needed some help around the house as they transitioned into their blissful new lives as retired folks, but if I’m being honest, I relished the opportunity to spend a few days in the Motor City. I hadn’t been “home” in a little over 5 years and nostalgia had taken its toll. I yearned to see family, friends and, weirdly enough, my childhood dentist.

I craved Buddy’s Pizza, L. George’s chili cheese dogs and baklava from Greektown much like Captain Planet’s urge to save Mother Earth. Hell, I was even ecstatic at the mere thought of being at the intersection of 7 Mile and Greenfield witnessing Farrakhan’s disciples from the Nation of Islam sell bean pies.

As I rummaged through my childhood home, reminiscing on my life that was, I stumbled across the tattered remains of my hand-crafted work of fiction. Flipping through the fragile, water-colored pages brought back a familiar rush. The seven-year-old child began to take the place of the twenty-nine-year-old man he had become. And suddenly it hit me like a cliché poster in a public library. Was I really meant to be an author? Could this have been a premonition that I’ve avoided for the past 22 years?

I immediately began to search for validation of my childhood claim. I dug up previously published articles during my time at Florida A&M. I reviewed work I completed while enrolled in a technical report writing class. I even reread email correspondence I sent to my retail peers illustrating the importance using mobile registers.

I then sought advice from close friends, my fiancé, my mentor and even my former boss. Though the sample of work was vast and incredibly varied, my feelings and the feedback I received were homogeneous; I love doing this, and I’m pretty good at it.

Thus, I made my assertion once again. “I want to be an author.” Or at the very least, a professional writer. My seven-year-old self would be proud. And that’s what brings me here, to this moment, on this site right now. I’m following my passion, writing about any, and almost everything I encounter.

Whether it’s my thoughts on current events, personal reviews of movies and music, culinary exploits I discover, or info about the outfit I wore last Tuesday, I want to write about it, and I hope you read it, and subsequently enjoy it. Because despite the detours that life may bring and the conflicting priorities we may endure, it’s never too late to become who you want to be.