Thursday, June 22, 2017

Do not pull the Race Card

At 9, I had an Filipino teacher that clearly did not like her Black students while constantly showing favoritism towards any Asian students. On more than one occasion she made it clear she expected the Black kids to fail. The one exception was a Black girl who was half Japanese. Early in the school year, when I did well on tests or managed to write a story that she thought was exceptional, she would ask if I was adopted or mixed with something. But don't pull the Race Card.

At 10, I watched a cop, a White woman, slam a Black teenage girl on the hood of her car for the brazen, life-threatening offense of “having a smart mouth”. She then casually explained to her partner that, “the Black ones grew big quickly and could not be treated like children”. They laughed together as she finished with. “I wonder what they are feeding them?” But don't pull the Race Card.

At 15, two of my closest friends were Lakshmi a Black girl, and Cassandra a White girl. We frequently hung out together at the latter's house together after classes and I often conversed with her father on a number of topics. It seemed we were on friendly terms. One rainy afternoon Cassandra, Lakshmi and I were watching the new Bone Thugs video “Crossroads” when the father returned home from work. Lakshmi and I were sitting to the left of the living room so we were not visible from the garage entrance. Angered by the music and seeing only Cassandra, her father angrily yelled from the kitchen, “Hey. Turn that off. I told you I don't want you listening to that street thug, nigger shit.” Cassandra turned off the television and stared at the floor with a mortified expression. When her father walked into the front room he froze upon spotting Lakshmi and I. He tried to apologize but we both picked up oue backpacks and left. But don't pull the Race Card.

Again at 15, my cousin, a friend, and I were walking on our way to a pizza parlor when a motorcycle cop, without warning or provocation, made a u-turn from rush hour traffic, pulled over to the curb, drew his sidearm and demanded we get get on the ground. We were forced to lie there on the hot sidewalk for nearly a half an hour before being nonchalantly dismissed without as much as an apology. But don't pull the Race Card.

At 16, I was on my way to visit a girl I had a crush on when I found myself suddenly surrounded by 3 to 4 cops brandishing their sidearms. They demanded I keep my hands where they could be seen. After being roughly slammed to the ground and handcuffed I was told I was positively identified as someone who vandalized something. To this day I still have no clear understanding what crime I was actually accused of. All I know is that an old White woman said I did something there for I did it. I was given a public defender who did not care and told me to take a plea bargain or my mother would be forced to pay for all the damages. So I did. But don't pull the Race Card.

At 19, I was desperately searching for work to support my daughter. After what felt like countless applications and calls I finally received a call back. I was incredibly excited by this prospect. The manager was an older White woman who initially seemed courteous and professional. We spoke for at least 10 minutes sometimes joking and laughing whereupon she invited me for an interview because she had a strong feeling I would be perfect for the job. But upon introducing myself in person at the office her smile faded and she became cold and aloof. We barely spoke for a full minute before she apologized and said the job was no longer available. My disappointment must have been clearly visible because as I leaving an older White man briefly pulled me to the side and gave me a couple of business cards to try else where. He tried to smile but looked embarrassed. “She's not a bad person. She's just really old fashion about some things. She just thought you were something else when you spoke on the phone because of how you sounded. You know what I mean? Don't take it personal.” But don't pull the Race Card.

At 21, I enrolled in a class called the Tragedies of Shakespeare. I noted I was the only POC in the class but thought little of it. At the end of class the professor waited until most of the students had left and asked to speak with me whereupon he questioned if I were in the right class. When I inquired as to why he was asking he explained that Black students never took his classes so he wanted to make certain I was not making a mistake. When I asked him if he thought such a line of questioning was appropriate he apologized and the matter seemed settled. However, later that week he referred to me as a Moor in the middle of a lecture causing a number of students to audibly gasp. We had a long talk with the Dean after that. But don't pull the Race Card.

At 22, I was asked again, on the same college campus, by two other professors if I was in the right class because I was the only Black student. But don't pull the Race Card.

At 24, during the end of the semester in one of my favorite classes, I had a professor speak to me in private as to apologize. As it turns out she secretly believed I would fail because I was Black. That was deeply disappointing. But the good news is I inadvertently taught her something about herself... so there is that. But don't pull the Race Card.

People of color are told time and time again, "Do not pull the Race Card". The final insult being it is an ineffectual card forced upon us, placed in a stacked deck, held in a rigged game, and being hosted in a corrupt casino. Its a card where all your failures are doubled as yours alone and any achievements are blamed on affirmative action.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Purity and Sin

I faithfully attended Bible study until about the age of 16 or 17. One Friday evening, during youth bible study a guest pastor was introduced to us. There was nothing unusual or special about this as it was customary for young pastors to occasionally visit as guests speakers while honing their craft. He was 20ish, tall, blond, and clean shaven, wearing a dark suit without a tie. This guest youth pastor was communicative, friendly, quick to smile, and laughed easily. All were merits that lent themselves well to quickly winning over the group of teens.

After a short sermon, the boys and girls separated. The girls went off with a married couple who were nearly at the end of their studies to become pastors. Us guys went with the visiting youth pastor because he said he wanted to “rap with just the fellas”. His words. Not mine. After taking our seats the evening's sermon began. The youth pastor said he wanted to talk openly about sex and dating. Not exactly something I was eagerly anticipating.

After clipping off a piece of scotch tape, he carefully folded the strip so that the adhesive was on both sides, then asked us to pass it around twice. Despite finding the request peculiar everyone followed his instructions. By the second pass, most of the adhesive was not only noticeably absent but fingerprints also visibly smeared the entire surface.

“Do you see this fellas?” The youth pastor began with some noticeable amusement as he took the strip back from us. “Not exactly clean, is it?”

Everyone agreed with obvious puzzlement and confused laughter.

“And you might notice,” He attached one end of the tape to the top of the paper and then attempted to hang the other on the wall, but the worn tape could purchase no hold, and it all fell to the floor. “It is not only dirty. It is also no longer reliable, is it?” He retrieved the paper, crumpling it up. “Now, I'm going to be straight-up with you all here. This is exactly what a loose woman is like. Unclean, unreliable, and of no use to God-fearing men. You keep this filthy, used tape in mind when any of those girls start throwing themselves at you.”

I sat there staring at him in stunned disbelief. I quickly deduced this incredibly mean-spirited example was obviously some sort of test. Clearly, he was baiting us for some sort of clever lesson. He would wait until we began agreeing with him. He was patiently waiting for us all to begin casting our stones, then he would call us out on the hypocrisy of judging. After convincing myself of this scenario I anxiously waited.

The youth pastor talked more about the lost value of loose women. He explained why women who traded in their precious virginity for earthly pleasure before marriage could never make a good wife. Many of the boys laughed and agreed. But there were those few that seemed as uncomfortable and puzzled as I was. Maybe they were waiting for a big secret reveal as well. One that it was increasingly clear was not coming.

Perhaps, I would have remained locked in my stunned silence if the sermon had ended there. Yet, he continued on and it was the last comparison that struck something deep within me as he equated the situation to taking someone's used, worn running shoes. My disbelief began to evaporate under the roiling intensity of a new emotion burning through me. My thoughts and words occurred unbidden as I stood from my seat.

“I have a question,” I announced interrupting his sermon.

“Sure. I'm here to answer anything you need to know, brotha.” He said as he turned and smiled at me.

Throughout his Q & A, he used the term 'brother' frequently when addressing each of us. I suppose it was an attempt at camaraderie by declaring a sort of spiritual brotherhood through Christ. While that is all well and good, I also quickly noted he referred to all the White kids as “brother”, and me alone as “brotha”. Some would find this inconsequential. But much the same way of hearing a joke that was not funny the first time, repeated over and over throughout your life, it is a situation that grows incredibly annoying. As a Black person it is extremely irritating when dealing with a White person, who is clearly speaking properly with other Whites, yet when they begin directly addressing you, suddenly slide into either partial or full 'Ebonics'. I had to bite my tongue. This was irksome but it was not the thing I wanted to address. So I let it roll off of me and continued.

“Yes,” I began after a quiet breath out in an attempt to control myself. “Do you think it's right to compare actual living, feeling human beings to inanimate objects?”

The laughing in the room died off as everyone began looking between us. The atmosphere was suddenly a lot less jovial.

“I can clearly see this upset you.” The youth pastor began more seriously. “But what is wrong with calling out sin? Or truly confronting just how ugly the consequences are?”

“But I thought this was supposed to be done with love and compassion?” I asked.

“And it is. I am warning each of you out of love.” Explained the youth pastor.

“By warning us that any woman who has had per-martial sex is as worthless as a filthy pair of sneakers?” I asked with continued disbelief.

“It is clearly just an analogy to drive home the message, brotha.” The youth pastor laughed in a way that felt dismissive.

By then one of the youth pastors, Lauma, had arrived to watch from the doorway with crossed arms and a concerned expression. She normally taught the girls during evening Bible study. Perhaps she was passing by and heard what was happening.

“Regardless. You could have chosen any other way to explain this but you took the sickest route possible.” I continued. “Why?”

“Frankly, it is my lesson so I can choose how to teach it. And I believe you are so focused on the analogy that you are missing the message.” The youth pastor replied.

“So, any woman who has basically had pre-martial sex is just basically a whore?” I asked.

“I think we both know what is written in the good book about loose women,” He began with less patience. “You may not like it. You do not have to like it for it to be true.”

“What about your wife, pastor? Are you certain she was not a loose woman before you met? What about your mother? Or your sisters? Would you call them filthy if you found out any of them had per-martial sex?” I demanded.

“I think you are out of line.” The youth pastor's face visibly reddened with his tightening jaw.

“Walter!” Lauma gasped audibly. “You stop this!”

“How so?” I continued on with the youth pastor. “It is alright to cast harsh judgment on every woman, everywhere, ever? Except those who you love?”

“Stop it! Stop it, right now!” Lauma raised her voice as she stepped further into the room.

“What?” I asked with feigned confusion as I turned to her. “Me and the pastor are just rappin back and forth?” I looked back at him. “Isn't that right, brotha? I mean, isn't that what brothas do?”

“This is disrespectful. What has gotten into you?” Lauma asked with a disapproving scowl.

“Right. I'm the one saying crazy stuff.” I shook my head. Suddenly I felt this deep and nearly overwhelming disappointment swelling up inside of me. I was genuinely disappointed by this exchange. I thought better of him.

“You should apologize,” Lauma added as she continued watching me.

I looked at her and the youth pastor. Then I gathered my stuff and walked out of the room without another word.