Dear Future Self — Part 1

Hey Bud,

You did it!!! You got married, son!!! Whaaaat?!

Life is crazy, right?

Congrats!

Anyway, the reason I’m writing this letter to you — umm, to us (??)– to me is that by all accounts marriage is hard. Every day won’t be a honeymoon. There will be times that you really don’t remember why you got married in the first place. You will fight. You will struggle. You will be challenged in ways you’ve never been challenged, but, by most accounts, it will be worth it, so I’m writing this letter as a reminder on those tough days why you got married.

Here it goes —

Days after you “swore off” online dating, you swiped on a woman that peaked your interest despite not seeming to have a ton in common and not being your typical petite brunette. It was an instant “match.” She was a “Domer,” a Notre Dame alum. You’ve dated them in the past and it has never worked out. There was always this smug, elitism that said “you will never be good enough for me,” even though we have the same education. On top of that, she was older than us. Again, a relationship theme that had never played out well before. Nevertheless, you sent her a message after a week of waffling, “Hey, did you go to Notre Dame?”

We exchanged a little banter and things were okay, but you were still set on removing yourself from the dating scene. Then she did it, she asked first, “so when are you going to take me out for a drink?”

Of course, you couldn’t say no after that. Even if the date sucked, her boldness earned it, so you made plans, joking that she might be your early birthday present. Your First date was November 4, 2015, beer and burgers at the Bad Apple. She had the Elvis, I think — something with peanut butter. We had something spicy with jelly, I think, seems like something we would have done. It never occurred to me how perfect a metaphor our food choices would be for our relationship. I mean literally peanut butter and jelly.

I don’t remember a word of what we talked about. I remember watching her mouth move, staring at her face and her hair, and feeling comfortable: like it wasn’t our first date, but the tenth, like we had known each other for much longer. After our date official date, we took a walk to the park. I saw a gazebo in the distance and knew I would plant my kiss there. We walked there hand in hand. I was usually unsure about how much physical contact to have on a first date. When we got to the gazebo, I spun her around and we danced to the music in our heads. Then we kissed, a lot. As it got later and later, I finally remembered that I had a dog at home that needed to go out, probably desperately at this point, so we moved the party to the train station, and then to the next one, and then back. I resolved myself to the mess I would inevitably have to clean up and pushed to stay the night. She said no, but not before one more kiss in her doorway.

We had three dates that week alone. On the third date, she drunkenly said she loved me. I laughed it off as drunken affection overblown. The next morning, she said it again and every day since. She said she wasn’t embarrassed to admit it even though it was sudden and too soon. It took me a bit longer to say it back. She wasn’t even my girlfriend yet, just a girl for whom I had considerable affection.

On my birthday, she showed up with a massive cake that my family later greatly appreciated after they got most of it, but first, she met my friends. She hung with the fellas as I drunkenly screamed karaoke at the top of my lungs in my birthday suit. Not my actual “birthday suit,” a few years back I took to always wearing a suit on my birthday. Yes, corny jokes abound on this side of the internet.

Sometime later, we became official.

It was nice — too nice.

I didn’t know what to do with myself. I wondered if I was being lulled into a false sense of security by her likability. In my prior experience, it wasn’t Love if it didn’t hurt constantly. If you weren’t constantly on the verge of ripping your heart from your chest and throwing it in the trash, why even bother.

The wounded puppy in me railed against the walls.

“What’s wrong with you, why aren’t you hurting me? And when will the other shoe drop?”

I flinched every time she lifted a finger. Truthfully, sometimes I still do. I wouldn’t be caught off guard. That’s when it happens. That’s when people hurt you, when you let your guard down. If you’ve read my blog or have ever dated anyone ever, you know that people are perfectly capable of hurting you no matter how dutifully you watch. But, she had a saintly level of patience and understanding. I envy it. Finally, when nothing happened, I went the other way.

“She’s too good for me.”

Prior to meeting my now fiancee, I adopted a 5-year dating-to-parenting policy: one year of dating, one year of living together, one year of engagement, one year of being married, then one year-ish of trying and being pregnant; and that is assuming a “perfect” relationship. She was a month short of 33 when we met. (Sorry, I had to mention it because it’s relevant. Don’t kill me!) Television and science had beaten into me the difficulty of getting pregnant after 35, and, under my life plan, we wouldn’t even start trying until she was 37 at the earliest.

I didn’t think it was fair to her to stay together if it meant she wouldn’t be able to have the kids she wanted because of me. I decided it would be better to let her go find someone who would be ready for a baby and kids before she would turn 35. Resolute, I packed up a bag of all of her stuff and hopped on the bus to her place.

It was the longest bus ride of my life.

I called everyone I could think of to help convince me that I was making the right call. I couldn’t reach anyone I usually talked to about stuff like that, none of my brothers, not my best friend, there wasn’t even a stranger at the bus stop to whom I could plead my case. Well, there was, but I was bawling like a weirdo, so the stranger opted to walk instead. I wished like hell I could talk to my dad, but he too was gone. I really missed him right then, and now, as I remember the story. I felt so lost. Deep down, I knew I was making a mistake, but it seemed like had already come too far.

Finally, I called my mom. I don’t usually call my mom for dating advice because her advice is usually, “call me when my grandbaby is here, dammit,” but I did it. I laid it all out: the age difference, the children, the monotony of a stable relationship; everything. In an unusual departure from her grandmother inquiries, she told me to wait. She said something along the lines of “you know I want you to have children, but at the end of the day, that’s up to you. I don’t know if you will or won’t have kids, but what I do know is that I haven’t seen you this happy in a long time. If this girl (who she had only met once) is making you happy, then you owe it to yourself to let this play out because kids grow up and leave, you need someone who makes you happy still after they’re gone,” and it was perfect. It was exactly what I needed to hear to talk me off the ledge.

I arrived at her apartment content with pretending nothing had happened, but… her stuff rattled in my bag and gave me away, so we had it out too. We didn’t argue. I told the story of my journey to her apartment that night. Her response, too, was perfect.

First, she checked me a bit. She reminded me that she was an independent woman who made her own decisions, of which I was one. I know I will lose feminist points for writing this “out loud,” but it never occurred to me that she was making her own choice to stay — not in the ‘I have such raw animal magnetism that she was helpless to resist’ way (obviously I do), in the ‘I kind of just thought relationships were something that just kind of happened to people’ way, like tripping and falling: sometimes it just happens.

It wasn’t just her, I never thought of myself as having been picked by anyone. I can think of a million places in my past that lesson would have come in handy, both for my confidence and sense of security, and the relationships themselves. In hindsight, in some ways, I should have been more grateful to my exes. God bless the broken road, right?

Second, she told me why she chose me. She was someone who spent the majority of her adult life waiting for the right man. She dated and stopped. Dated again and stopped. In the process, she lost faith in herself and gave up hope for a storybook future. A husband and family were no longer the goals, she just didn’t want to be lonely anymore. She said I gave her hope again, that I was worth taking a chance on because she saw something in me that she had long since given up on, and even if we didn’t work, she enjoyed the time we had.

Not the storybook speech you were expecting? Well, it was exactly what I needed. In my strict adherence to a five-year plan, I forgot about the love part — the part where you just enjoy being with the person and throw caution to the wind. I was trying to manufacture a fulfilling relationship instead of enjoying the one I was already in. She gave me permission to live in the moment and took away the burden of worrying about the distant future. I decided at that moment, I was staying for as long as she would have me. Lastly, and this is important, she CHOSE to let me stay after all of that. Things were tense for a while, but we survived and then we prospered.

Prior to our relationship, I started a pre-blog. I would periodically write about major events from my past: dating history, racism, etc. For my pre-blog, I dug up a few of my old dating profiles and shared them with my readers… on Facebook… I shared them on Facebook. In one of my profiles, I described my ideal partner. As I was reading it, I was struck by how much of it I already had in my life.

We did crazy things together all of the time. We were total goofballs. I was there when she changed jobs. She has been with me through all of my job chaos. She believed in me when I doubted myself. I credit her with a lot of the strength behind settling my first case. She pushed me to start this very blog. We watch nearly every Notre Dame game together, and she was a bigger fan than me. We cook together, even though it’s been a learning process. That first date really did change everything.

After realizing that, I knew I needed a ring.

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Third Time’s The Charm

I’m just over 20 days from my wedding, and, understandably, I am nervous, but not for the reasons you might think. I’m nervous because this is my third engagement and *fingers crossed* my first marriage.

I would like to believe every wedding that didn’t happen wasn’t meant to happen and probably would have ended poorly anyway — in the case of my first two wedding attempts, I’m sure that is the case — but I have to wonder, “what if it is me?” What if I’m not meant to be married and I’m just fighting against the tides of fate? What if I lack the long-term relationship gene? Hell, what if I’m cursed?

I’m not a particularly superstitious person, but… I may actually be cursed.

For awhile, I chalked up my bad luck in love to an ill-advised tattoo I got in my mid-to-late-twenties commemorating my rolling stone ways. I “reasoned,” and I use that term loosely, that since I had given myself a literal tramp stamp I was doomed to be one forever. Again, I’m not usually this superstitious, but I got a second tattoo to reverse my luck. That didn’t work either. It seemed that no matter what I did and no matter what I wanted, periodically my life would get tossed around and I would move; they, my girlfriends, would move; or some other calamitous event would happen sending the relationship spiraling toward an end.

One day I realized that my first two failed engagements were before I got that tattoo, so that couldn’t be it, but then I remembered a supernatural event from my childhood. A Haitian woman with a neighborhood reputation for being a voodoo priestess cursed me and said I would have a harder time with love than most or something along those lines. Or maybe she was just predicting it. I don’t fully remember it. I was too busy running away from her. That must’ve been it. I couldn’t possibly be that bad at being husband material, right?

Or, maybe I was just a dickhead back then.

I am the last person to claim perfection in a relationship. I know myself. I know what I have and haven’t done. Sometimes I flat out wasn’t deserving of the love I had been given, but at the end of the day I always tried to be a good man… a better one, at least. Who knows, maybe there is a blog out there dedicated to how awful I was to date, no need for me to steal clicks from their diss blog by confessing everything here myself now then, right? Cool, glad we’re on the same page.

The first time I was engaged I was so young that I no longer count it as “real,”though it was as real and sincere as two teenagers promising to stay together forever as they head off to separate colleges — sincere, but unlikely to happen. I was 16, she was 18. I had game… and she had been held back when she was a kid, so there’s that. Like every great love story, our romance began when she was in love with someone else, my best friend to be exact. Our bond formed over after-class chats about my best friend’s interests, how terrible our parents were (in hindsight, mine weren’t that bad), and sports.

She towered over me. My family joked that she picked me up to kiss me and carried my around in a baby Bjorn. The difference wasn’t quite that dramatic, but she was definitely taller. That joke was pretty much the only merriment she shared with my family. They hated each other and I didn’t understand, nor could I have, I was a teenager trying to have sex for the first time and my vision was clouded. You could say that I only had one eye on the situation.

My family made rules specifically to keep her away, set visiting hours, warned me about public perceptions, and asked peculiar questions that I never thought to ask, but they also kept two pink elephant-sized secrets from me. She was bullying my brother in the halls at school, taking liberties with our relationship to take out her own angst on my family, and she was coming to my house when I wasn’t home and demanding to be let in to wait, sometimes for hours at a time. That would’ve been a red flag, if I had known it.

We had our own secret. I bought an engagement necklace instead of a ring because I couldn’t have afforded it on my wages from cutting grasses and doing nothing else and we would need all $300 for an apartment. Math wasn’t our strong suit, neither was resilience because we didn’t even survive our first fight and needless to say we never eloped.

In hindsight, she fought with just about everyone she ever met, everyone but me. Our very first fight was also the last and it happened over email that I set-up just to keep in touch with her. (Cellphones barely existed then.) Three weeks before, she moved away to live with the only family that would still have her, her half-sister’s father, who wasn’t her own. She had been through her mother, and her grandfather, and even spent a stint with me despite my family’s reticence. It wasn’t all her fault, but she wasn’t perfectly innocent either.

A couple of heated email exchanges and it was over.

It was the first time in my life that I cried over a girl. I was lost. I was angry. I was bitter… I was vengeful, so I dated the girl I knew she hated most. There was no coming back from that.

Other women have always been my nail in the coffin.

She called me the week I left for college. We talked about what could have been and wasn’t, cleared the air of rumors that had been spread, and finally said goodbye.

We spoke again when I got to grad school in her state. We agreed to meet, but never did. Everything we needed to say had already been said, every experience had already been lived, and that chapter stayed closed.

The next chapter started seven years later. I was older and wiser, more battered and bruised, but still no more ready for a wedding than I was before. Like all classic love stories, this one began when I was in love with someone else, my ex to be exact. Our bond grew over balcony-side chats of classes, long lost loves, and sex, as she slept with but didn’t love my roommate and quasi friend.

Finally found a way to incorporate some anime into this Blerd’s blog.

“Et tu Brute,” he said less artfully as he stood drunkenly screaming at me in my place of work. I moved out after that. What none of us understood at the time was this path was sealed long before our first kiss. It was set in the summer between semesters when she would come to sleep in my bed when she had a rough night. It was set in the fall, when she slept beside my bed when I was too drunk to sleep alone. It was set in the balcony-side chats, listening as I talked about my love of another.

Fittingly, it would end in much the same way.

We got engaged during a storm of our own making. She partied too hard and slept in strange places, so I did the same. In the wake of our storm, she wanted an assurance that we were still sailing together, so we put a silver bandaid on and acted as if nothing ever happened. As time went on, the space between the ring and her finger grew large enough for someone else to slip in.

Their love story began with late night study sessions, in Facebook messages, and nights probably spent in his bed. Our engagement was downgraded to a promise to promise then to a chain and symbol of my patriarchy, apparently. I watched it all happen, the worst love story I ever saw. It was like being trapped behind a glass that shrank the more I tried to break it. I was helpless to stop it. I just kept thinking that if we could survive this, we would make it, but we couldn’t even make it to setting a date. By the end, the only boundary left was sex. He was her fiance and I was the sex, so I laid in my coffin and put the nail in it once again.

Nothing was the same after, certainly not me. I dated but didn’t love for nearly five years, with few exceptions. I learned to never invest in someone. I became unrecognizable. I was far from the days of dreaming of one woman forever, far from my childhood dreams of being a pastor, far from the vision I had of myself in my early 30s, far from being anyone’s husband or father. I was a stranger to myself, a Frankenstein’s monster of heart-broken pieces.

I had given up on love.

And then, one day, I met her — my future — and I could see my old self again, but, at the same time, I am different.

I don’t want to lose this.

Now, I’m nervous, understandably so.

I can’t lose her.

I can’t watch her fall slowly into someone else’s arms.

I can’t wake up in the middle of the night to find that she’s gone.

I won’t.

I can’t have this… this gift and then suddenly not have it. It would break the rest of my pieces, and I can’t let that happen.

I won’t.

I have made my mistakes.

I have learned my lessons.

I will fight for us.

I will fight for this like it is the last beating piece of my humanity, like you are the last good thing I will ever know.

I am ready.

Marry me.

Third time is the charm.

Dear Comment Section Racists

Awhile back, I learned my lesson about commenting on posts on the internet. I commented what was in my opinion a sincere, well thought out and evenhanded statement on the Cam Newton – Peyton Manning debate — the “debate” being people coming out in mass to label Cam Newton a “thug” or just flat out calling him racial slurs. Then, the internet went nuts.

The first person commented within minutes. Being no stranger to nuanced discussions of race, I engaged. The comments were all very racially tinged — lots of “you people” this and that. I was furious, but I knew better than to be aggressive, so I would pummel him with logic, or so I hoped.

Eight hours later, I was still arguing with trolls in the comment section, each repeating arguments I had already dispelled. Two days later, I made a decision to stop responding for the sake of my sanity and at-work productivity, but that didn’t stop me from reading the comments — terrible idea. Always, always a terrible idea; I do not recommend it ever. After awhile I was getting so many responses that I thought my phone might actually break because of all the vibration, that and my now fiancee was becoming worried about how it was affecting me, so I turned the notifications off. For whatever reason, that didn’t work, so eventually I ended up going back to delete the entire post.

The internet had won.

Like every self-respecting millenial man, I took to my diary to write about the experience. That diary was Facebook, more specifically, my private Facebook full of like-minded liberal friends. I wanted to post my rant publicly and yell at the world for being so awful, but I didn’t. I didn’t want to go through that again, but I never forgot what I wanted to say. I think about it every time I go to post something.

Here’s what I wanted to say:

ME: This complex racial issue was at least partially racially motivated.

Internet Troll 1 (IT1): Geez, not everything is about race!

Me: But some things are. It is a complex issue rooted in the historical and social structure of pretty much our entire history up until about 60 years ago and, arguably, given my previous generic statement, is still going on now.

IT2: Hundreds of thousands of white people died fighting to free slaves.

Me: That’s true, and I am very appreciative of that fact actually. However, hundreds of thousands of white people also died fighting to continue enslaving people. Good people and bad people hopefully counterbalance each other. It doesn’t mean they make the other non-existent.

IT3: Racism wouldn’t exist if people stopped talking about race so much.

Me: It isn’t the speech the creates the racism. Speech is just the verbal expression of it. Following a black person around a store would still be racist, even if you didn’t do it while shouting racial slurs at them. Though, please don’t do that either. Slavery was racism, though the word didn’t exist until after slavery ended, I think, if only there were some sort of technology for researching this. Oh well.

IT4: I’m not racist and I disagree with generic statement, so it must not be true.

Me: Cool! Did you know you also become invisible when you close your eyes?

I’m not anti-Semitic, but I believe the holocaust happened. Choosing not to believe something doesn’t make it any less real to the people actually experiencing it. The world is a big place with a lot of, one might even say too many, shitty people. There are very valid reasons that you might disagree that have nothing to do with race, however, you don’t speak for everyone. Neither do I. For some people, specifically the ones using the slurs, it is absolutely about race.

Also, are you sure you aren’t a racist? How did you ignore all of those racist comments and still end up on that side of the table?

Asking for a friend. Me. I’m asking for me.

IT5: Racism exists and it’s your fault, you people, with your urban crime, drugs, and welfare.

Me: Whoa! Slow down, Mr. Duke.

Ugh, where do I start. I could write you a book on this subject, but I highly doubt you would read it, so I will try to keep it to a series of tweets:

@IT5 Crime, poverty and education are extremely linked. Prevalence in black pop. are the products of segregation. #ReadAboutIt

@IT5 Drug use is equal. The majority of all crime is intra-racial, among members of the same ethnicity.

#blackonblackcrimemyths

@IT5 Welfare use is a factor of poverty, which again has a large historical basis. #learningshit

@IT5 There is no “you people,” it’s all people. We are a conglomeration of individuals all dealing with our own shit.

#micdrop

Also what does any of that have to do with this generic statement? It’s almost like you were saving that up for the first time someone mentioned race.

IT6: Slavery was so long ago. We had a black president. Racism is over.

Me: Wahoo!! Yeaa! I guess all of this was a waste. I take back generic statement… wait…. except we had a black president that people wanted to lynch, routinely depicted in racist caricature and some legitimately believe is the anti-christ and kick-started the beginning of the end of the world. Given who was elected after him in some sort of nationwide racist backlash, maybe they’re right??? Thanks, Obama.

Slavery wasn’t that long ago in the grand scheme of things, two average lifespans ago. Your grandmother’s grandmother may have owned slaves.

Not that there was a seamless transition from slavery. Segregation ran pretty much from the end of slavery to within our parents’ life times. We have made significant progress in a relatively short amount of time, but we still have far to go.

Black IT: Fuck all white people. (actual comment from The Daily Show posting)

Me: Whoa! Dude, calm down. I hope that is not the message people are drawing from this. This is a complex issue. It affects people differently. There are a lot of competing factors, though I do understand your anger. But, blanket hatred is not the answer. You won’t convince your enemy to drop the knife at your throat by holding a knife to his.

I want people to understand each other. I think that the real answer is open dialogue and acceptance of reality. As hard as this is to accept, the truth is that all racist people aren’t bad.

*gag*

It bothers me to say this and I am the one writing it. The world isn’t so neatly labeled good and evil. The truth is we all have people in our lives that we disagree with ideologically. We all have that friend that is a little bit too militant, too hateful, too ignorant — maybe it’s not race, but religion or sexuality or sexism — yet we love them. Many of them raised us. We see their darker sides, but we also see their light and we hope we can bring them closer to it. Sometimes we can’t and we have to leave before they pull us into the darkness, but that is a battle for another post.

Also Me: Look, people, I am not trying to attack you by existing. I am not blaming every evil in the world on white people or even racism for that matter. I am saying racism exists. Period. I am saying that sometimes people are strictly motivated by racism and hate. Race relations suck in this country, generally, I’m just trying to do my part to bridge the divide. This is my home. You are my family. However militant and ignorant you may be at times, I see the light in you and I want us to shine together.

I’m Not Angry, I’m Afraid

Okay, actually, it’s both. I am angry, but I am angry that I have to be afraid. This life has been a series of skin-based punishments and it’s exhausting– it’s aggravating. I wish that I could just break free from my fears and live my way, but there’s so much to fear.

I am afraid to wear hoodies. I won’t do it even when it rains because, apparently, simply wearing one is enough to justify my murder. I am afraid to wear baggy clothing. First, because I don’t think I’ve ever been stylish enough to pull it off and it just wouldn’t look good on me, like glasses and a muscle shirt; and second, because black men in baggy clothes are perceived as a dangerous. I haven’t owned a pair of jogging pants since the late 90s because baggy clothes are enough to get you casually stopped and frisked… like you were asking for it by wearing such provocative clothing — In the moment, you feel helpless. Afterwards, you feel violated… dirty… yet no amount of washing will change the color of your skin to make sure this won’t happen again. Meanwhile, people around you begin to speculate that this must have been your fault somehow. If this invokes some uncomfortable feelings, then at least you are listening.

I am afraid to be seen with too many black people because we will be labeled as trouble. Four black men is the largest group of guys I will travel with, and even then, we expect to get denied entry into places like it’s the 1960’s again. We stand outside of clubs and bars strategizing going in in separate pairs, separated by half an hour, which is problematic because I have six brothers, so the night is half-over when we all finally get in.

I am afraid of having a car that is too nice or too ratty because both make me a target for the police. I am afraid to listen to rap in public, so I turn the volume down to barely audible in my car because god forbid I enjoy it loudly and be perceived as everything it has been imagined to represent just as, by some twist of fate, “F*ck The Police” just happens to play as I get pulled over anyway, which is weird because I don’t even own that song, but I am afraid of the possibility.

I am afraid of the police, even though I have done nothing wrong, even though I go out of my way to do nothing wrong. By “wrong,” I mostly just mean “black.”

I go out of my way to avoid being perceived as “too black,” though my very existence often seems to qualify. I don’t grow out my hair because braids and dreads are seen as a threat and Afros are unprofessional, yet white guys can where mullets, long hair, faux hawks and mo-hawks, and when shaved heads used to symbolize a direct threat to me, my hair growth is perceived as a threat to white people. Ironic. I feel like a black, modern day Samson.

I am angry.

I am angry that my short hair and sharp suits aren’t enough to keep me from getting pulled over, frisked, and asked about my involvement in a robbery four blocks away in the direction I was walking. (True story.)

I am angry that I have to be afraid to spend time with my family out in public.

I am angry that our educations, careers, families and innocence haven’t been enough to keep cops’ guns out of our faces.

I am angry that no version of me is safe and free, angry that no amount of costumery will hide the color of my skin that makes me “dangerous” to the rest of the world, angry that every plea for my right to continued existence is met with hatred and arguments for extermination. I am angry that I am still a slave to a system that labels me less human, only with fewer chains.

No, I am not just angry.

I am hurt.

I am afraid.

In The Wake of White Supremacy

First, my angry rant: I don’t give a flying fuck about your white supremacy. I don’t give a fuck about your jobs. I don’t give a fuck about your education. I don’t care that the “White man is losing status in the U.S.” I don’t give a fuck about your xenophobia and nationalism masquerading around as patriotism. I don’t give a fuck about your fear that your tiny pricks aren’t satisfying your women anymore or whatever else is causing you to march through Charlottesville or whatever city you march through next. Fuck your white supremacy! Fuck your unjustified sense of entitlement! Because that’s what this is really all about, isn’t it?  I just want to live. Why does that bother you so much?

wp-image-1478049107

Okay, I’m good now. I just needed to get that out.

Here’s my take on white supremacy in America:

Many of you (meaning the generic and overly broad “white” people “you”)  grew up in neighborhoods with good schools where restrictive covenants were made to keep people like me out, a neighborhood where the police frisked my family members on their way to work and put my father in the hospital, literally; a neighborhood where neighbors burned crosses as lawn ornaments when the rare negro got approved for a mortgage.  For decades, you got into college because your parents went there too at a time when tuition was $300 per year and my parents were not even allowed to attend. The G.I. bill that paid for your grandfather’s college had an exception for the Jim Crow Laws preventing my family from getting an education. You pledge loyalty to a fraternity that forbade black admissions and chanted just two years ago how “there would never be a nigger in SAE,” or one that held the same beliefs, only silently.

Many of you got jobs in the same factories your father worked and his father before him in a time when my parents weren’t allowed to occupy those jobs, and if they were, they were paid cents on the dollar for the same work. Every member of your family worked for the same company regardless of their credentials and they kept their jobs regardless of their fuck-ups. And, when you left the family business, you got a job because your dad knew a guy who knew a guy when my dad is the grandson of a slave.

Of course, this looks like supremacy. You were killing it when everything was yours for the taking just by being white. You got on a bus and others moved. You had special whites only drinking fountains and jobs reserved for white people only. At any given time, you could do the most heinous thing you could think of to a minority and wouldn’t even be prosecuted. Being white in America meant you were pretty untouchable.

I’m sure it felt great. I’m not saying you didn’t work hard. I’m not saying you didn’t accomplish anything. I am not throwing out every accomplishment made by “white” America. What I’m saying is there is nothing supreme about winning in a system that was built to cater to you. There is nothing supreme about accepting what was freely given. There is nothing supreme about playing playing in a whites only baseball league when others are blasting fastballs out of the park in an integrated league.

I get it, you’re afraid. You don’t know where your place in the world is anymore. The U.S. population is looking a bit more “tan” than when you grew up. Women are working. Gay people exist. The America in front of you looks less and less like the one you knew. You want to make America great again. You want to go back to a time when America looked great to you. Well, too bad. That time is over. Grow up and get used to it.  You complain about the liberal, leftist snowflakes protesting for rights and social justice, but, really, you are afraid of change because you are coddled, weak and unprepared.

While you were passing the mantle from father to son in perpetuity, minorities have been fighting and clawing to achieve anything. When you were going to college for free, minorities were sending only the best and brightest. When you denied us opportunities, minorities made our own. Everything you took for granted, we cherished. We fought for the dreams and promise of this country when you fought to keep it from us. When you were given rights, we became strong enough to take them.

We were forged in the fires of the very torches you carry to intimidate us. Your torches have set the world ablaze around you. They have lit our path in the darkness. They have made it easier to see the enemy even in the darkness. They have us a goal to work toward.When you worked hard, we worked harder. You fought hard, we fought harder. When our resume thrown in the garbage because recruiters didn’t want to learn our names, we improved our resumes until they couldn’t be ignored. When we were denied housing because of our color, we made our neighborhoods prosper. When we were told we we needed to be twice as good to be considered half as good, we went for six times better.  We became stronger under the weight of your heel. So, thank you???

Our success is your success. You still win. We aren’t your ancestors. We aren’t even ours. We are the children of the oppressed who understand suffering in ways that you never could, and we have no intention of inflicting that suffering upon anyone else. We don’t fight for human rights because we want to undermine the traditional American values, we fight for human rights because we understand the value of a diverse and inclusive world. We will build a system that provides opportunities to everyone who is willing to work for them, a system that protects the weak, coddled, and unprepared as much as it protects those who have been systematically oppressed. We will make America great. So, you’re welcome.

Your rallies, your violence, your protests are the panic of a dying animal, but where you fall, something greater will grow.

 

An Athiest And A Preacher Walked Into A Bar

…. and I dated both of them.

Two months from my wedding to neither of these women, what better time to start dishing on my exes, right? (My attorneys have advised me to clear this post with my fiancée before posting this… okay, we’re good!)

Also, Warning: This is going to be long!

First came the atheist, a remnant from my most successful dating profile ever, she was perfect on paper, but anything but in real life. Perhaps she will have the same criticism of me. She was perfect on paper, but in real life we couldn’t see eye to eye where it mattered most. She hit all the check points: Adventurous — check; Atheist — check; intelligent — check; bleeding heart liberal — check; attractive — check; dancing — check; timing — eh, not so much, but whatevs (yea, I said “whatevs,” like a teenage girl). The only place that we didn’t really click was on our relationship expectations.

Not her.

Not her.

I used to say, half-jokingly, that her version of a relationship was a lot like my version of being single. She went on a number of “meetings” that many people would have called dates. She would grind on strangers at clubs and stayed out with random guys until early in the morning. She intentionally led guys on for attention and had visible crushes on friends. Obviously, I was not okay with this, but I tried to tolerate it to avoid being called jealous, which I do have a problem with. The only difference between her version of a relationship and my version of being single was the physical intimacy with someone else outside of the relationship: that was her line — and even those the lines were kind of blurry at times, but, on paper, she was perfect. That’s probably why I fought so hard.

Her life wasn’t perfect either. I don’t mean to vilify her. (I mean, I’m okay with it if that happens, but that’s not my sole intent. :-p) She was going through her own things at the time — same as everyone else: family drama, work drama, exes and fake friends, plus a recent divorce. She was married young and hadn’t really had the life most of us got to have by that age. I was turning 30 and she was stuck at 23, mentally. At the risk of overgeneralizing, people in their early twenties can be pretty self-centered. It was like she restarted her post-divorce-life at the age when she first got married. I kept thinking that if I could hold out, she would grow out of it, like it was just a phase. The longer we were together the more I realized that it wasn’t a phase, it was the real her.

Nevertheless, I gave, and I gave, and I gave. I begged for reciprocity. Every inch was a battle. Every request was too much. She passed within three blocks of my house, daily, but refused to drop me off when I slept over. Normally, that relationship would have never reached relationship status and would have ended after she stood me up on our second date because she was day-drinking, but I was in a bad place and I was grateful to anyone who wanted me. I stayed because she was the first real hope I had since I had been engaged five years before. She was the first to accept me when I was depressed, poor, and living at home again. I was grateful because I barely liked me then.

Only she didn’t actually accept me. The facts of my circumstances were annoyances that went in one ear and out the other, like, “I don’t care about your mother’s cancer, just move out.” And I did, as soon as she got better, but even that wasn’t good enough for her. When I moved she refused to sleepover because, and I quote, “you don’t have paper towels yet,” which was really a pretext for “I made plans for after I leave here.” No surprise we broke up not even two weeks later.

I left because I was lonely.

I was a sex toy in the nightstand, the card in her back pocket, a man on a shelf that she played with whenever she needed attention but would never love. Real couples fight, we never did. Fighting with toys is crazy. I pushed the box she kept me in to the edge of the shelf, but I was too afraid to fall, until I did. The fall hurt. I was scarred and dirty, but real, like The Velveteen Rabbit.

‘Sometimes,’ said the Skin Horse, for he was always truthful. ‘When you are Real you don’t mind being hurt.’ – Margery Williams Bianco, The Velveteen Rabbit

I won’t say that she never cared for me. In her own way, she did.  I met her parents, vacationed with her grandmother, and she even introduced me to her ex-husband. She wanted to move-in together, eventually, and we even talked about having a family someday.  She wasn’t a monster. She was selfish and I was a distant, distant second.

At the end of the relationship, I vowed she would never be a page in Sean Adams’ history, yet here is in a chapter of my life I’m calling “Shelfish.”

So naturally…(huh?)… the very next person I dated was a female pastor?

Also not her

I wanted to get as far away from my ex as humanly possible, so I jumped at the chance to date the pastor. Honestly, I thought at worst, it would make a great story. Ironically, I met her with my “Naked Skydiving” profile. When she first messaged me, I thought it was an attempt at conversion, and I wondered if she read the part of my profile where I switched my religion from “spiritual but not religious” to “atheist.” She was an interesting character. She was an outdoorsy person and a poet, a liberal feminist and a pastor, sexual but conflicted.

I never fully understood how complicated the interplay between religion, feminism, and human sexuality was for women. I guess I still don’t, but never was that more clear than when I dated the female pastor. The sheer fact that I have to specifically identify her as the “female pastor,” instead of just “the pastor” should speak volumes about the complexity of being her.

I had been on the verge of leaving religion for awhile. I bounced from religion to religion before deciding that I was “spiritual but not religious,” then it a leap of faith — forgive me — to finally admit that I was an atheist. (I will write about it someday.) Obviously, that would present some obstacles to dating a pastor; though, ironically, my atheism was a relief to her. She sought me out on purpose. She told me that it was easier to date an atheist than a religious person because there was less pressure for her to be a perfect Christian, a perfect Mennonite at that.

She also self-identified as a feminist.

The two labels together had perplexed me even before I became an atheist. She wanted to be a sexually liberated, modern woman, while simultaneously preaching to girls in her congregation the value of modesty and abstinence. She often talked about how conflicted she felt. Her congregation wanted her married, but at the same time, they didn’t want her to date. They wanted her to find a husband in the modern world, while adhering to the strictest of religious tenets.

She cried all of the time. It was hard to watch. I felt guilty for knowing her. I felt guilty that every day spent with me was a wedge between her and her faith. At times, I worried for her safety. The weight of the world was especially heavy on her shoulders.

Also, not her.

Fortunately, she found relief in her poetry, where she took on a new identity, and really became a new person. The feminist shined through as she chose her mother’s maiden name for the stage. The meek, insecure pastor was a lion on the stage, who spoke with confidence and swagger. I would have liked to have known that side of her better.

 

Ultimately, things just never really clicked between us. I was beyond sexless relationships and she was always so morally conflicted about it. It wasn’t a question of if we would have sex, it was a question of why. I still don’t actually know the answer to that. I never pushed for it. I was still a little weird-ed out by the concept of a dating a pastor and I didn’t want to force a commitment. She initiated it, then pulled back, then initiated, and pulled back. At one point she contemplated abstinence again months into the relationship.

I felt like a constant mistake.

I stayed out of a sense of obligation. I was afraid of what would happen if I left. I didn’t want to be the one to drive her from faith. I didn’t want to be a user, I didn’t want to use her. Dating a pastor was awkward enough, but to break up with her? I couldn’t. So, I waited until she came to it on her own, with some help.

How could she give a sermon in front of a congregation that her husband would never attend?

That question did it. When she finally ended it, I said “I knew it wouldn’t work.” I should have let it go. She hated me for weeks for not ending it sooner and letting her wrack herself with guilt, but eventually she forgave me. It was never really about me. I was her exploration of self. By forgiving me she forgave herself for being human enough to love.

After this relationship, I shut down my dating profile, not because it was a bad relationship, but because the system was flawed. Both of these women, who couldn’t be more different, were matched with me in high 90’s percent compatibility, according to OkCupid. The subtle flaw in the system was that compatibility was based on the number of questions answered, so if I answered 100 questions and the girl only answered 10, but we matched on 9 of those 10, we would show up as a 90% compatibility. The bigger problem is that words don’t mean anything, or rather, they mean different things to different people. The word relationship has a different meaning to different people. Faith means different things to different people. I learned that the person on paper and the person in real life may not be the same person you think they are because you interpret things differently.

I also learned a lot about myself in those relationships. I learned that I love singing karaoke. I became more active in social justice issues. Love of my giant, goofy dog was a barometer for the length of a relationship. Neither woman liked him and he was the most important non-person in my life. I rediscovered my love of poetry and writing from heartache and pain.

I learned that I can fight desperately to for someone with all of my heart and it still won’t work out, but that’s for the best. If you give it your all, and you keep coming up short, move on. It’s not you, it really is them. I learned that I am deserving of real love despite my circumstance. I learned that I have value and I shouldn’t let anyone take me for granted. I learned that you can’t force yourself to like someone no matter how nice they are and that staying can be more cruel than leaving. I learned that religion isn’t as big of a barrier as it seems, it’s about respect and acceptance, not conformity. I learned that the artificial barriers I had set to weed out people, were meaningless. I could be impressed by a woman I reluctantly agreed to go out with or have my heart dashed by a woman who looked so perfect on paper.  I learned to open myself up.

Nearly a year later, I met my now fiancee on Tinder (see my love letter to Tinder.) because I was open. And by the way, she loves my our dogs, plural.

I’m Not Black, I’m O.J.

“I’m not black, I’m O.J.,” says, perhaps, the first black man in the entire history of the United States convinced that his celebrity had transcended American racism when charged with any crime, let alone the most grievous crime a black man could commit– the murder of a blonde, white woman.

In my opinion, he did it. Let’s get that out the way. He absolutely did it. I don’t know many honest, serious people who believe otherwise. Then ten-year-old me knew he did it, and I had less info than I know now. People cheering the verdict knew it. The car chase, the near-suicide attempt, the mountain of evidence, all of the signs were there. Innocence didn’t save O.J., neither did his celebrity status. Being black saved O.J. For what is likely the first time in American History, being black saved a black man from the vengeance of the American justice system, and the people cheered.

The O.J. trial came in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the LA riots. It was proven that racist cops really were planting evidence on black people after decades of black people protesting the same. The air was tense. Truthfully, the climate wasn’t that dissimilar from now. After incidence after incidence of primarily white police officers getting away with progressively more and more egregious highly publicized civil rights violations, the black community was at a breaking point. White America was afraid of more violence and a seemingly inevitable cultural war. The climate was uniquely right for O.J. to squeeze through, and then there was Fugerman. O.J. should have said, “I’m not just black, I’m lucky.”

It’s now fairly well-known that in the middle of the O.J. trial, his defense team redecorated his mansion, stripping his home of everything “white,” and re-imagining him as “super black,”dashiki-wearing, black panther, Swahili black. They sold it to the jury to hammer home how poorly white America was treating black America, and how this “black king” was being railroaded by the white supremacist American justice system, but he wasn’t. He wasn’t a “black king,” he resented being black and viewed it as something lesser, something to be overcome. “I’m not black, I’m O.J.” What he really said was, “I am better than that. Don’t lump me in with the rest of the black world. White people like me and I’m rich, I am not black anymore.” The not guilty verdict sealed in his mind his ascension.

Screenshot_20170731-155237

Then the civil trial robbed him of everything — his homes, his money; and even his trophies, his last claim to divinity. The severity of the civil judgment was the judicial embodiment of the white rage at his acquittal, but again he was lucky to escape with his life. History is littered with the bodies of black men who have been accused of less. Emmett Till was murdered for allegedly whistling. Rosewood was burned to the ground over a rape that never happened. Jack Johnson was imprisoned under a law designed specifically to entrap him for sleeping with white women.

O.J. actually did it, but peace hung on his acquittal. We needed him to be innocent, we really did. But, as people who have sampled ambrosia often do, he got greedy. He went back for seconds. He was dumb enough to commit a second crime with none of the original taint. The courts threw the book at him. Justice was finally served, a king was dethroned and the systemic injustices got another pass, because they were right about him all along.

For the rest of black America, we were left in our current early-1990’s-Los-Angeles-like status, being beaten in the middle of the road, as police officers take turns violating us as jury after jury acquits them, while tensions continue to mount. The verdict was a temporary break in the rise of racial tensions, in that black people felt vindicated by the justice system for once. On the other hand, the O.J. verdict gave white America a moral license to resume its lifelong war against black America, leaving some members of white America saying, “…but we gave you the O.J. verdict, so now we’re even,” like that single case was a trade for all of America’s historic oppression.

We aren’t all O.J!

In fact, fuck O.J!

Not only did he deny being part of black America, he took for granted his freedom that was earned on the backs of innocent black bodies that set the political climate that freed him. I would have rather seen a guilty high profile “black” celebrity go to prison for crimes he committed than watch thousands of nameless black people imprisoned for things they didn’t. His acquittal left the rest of us pleading for the lives of everyday black people to matter for their own sake in world that said “but we gave you O.J.”

We got crime bills and the renewed war on drugs… but at least we got O.J., right?

Being black in America is inescapable — it doesn’t matter your wealth, your celebrity, your notoriety, or your innocence, or lack thereof. Ask the Harvard professor arrested for trespass at his own home, or the tennis star who was tackled outside of his hotel, or Chris Rock who filmed himself being pulled over three times in his own car in his own neighborhood, or Trevor Noah, an immigrant, who has been pulled over eight times in his two years in the States. I don’t fault O.J. for wanting to escape the stigma and the pain associated with being black in America. I blame him for kicking dirt at the rest of us. Being black is not some thing to be overcome, it is something you are born, and with it comes a long, often painful history that only becomes greater when powerful black figures take up the mantle and hold it in high regard instead of seeking to cast it away.

Tall, Dark, and Handsome, But, Like, Not Too Dark

Probably my entire life, I’ve heard from women in books and on television and from girls emulating them this notion of the tall, dark, and handsome guy, so obviously my life’s goal was to be this tall, dark, and handsome guy.  Admittedly, there were some miscalculations: I’m not particularly tall, but I am average height, so I could date a shorter woman and appear “tall” to her; I’m far from devilishly handsome, but I have been described as “cute” a time or two, so maybe I’ll get a pass on handsome; dark, I’m black, so nailed that one, right?

No?

Dark doesn’t mean skin tone? Oh, it doesn’t mean MY skin tone.

Being black disqualified me from being handsome?

Oh.

Being average height and black makes me tall, and being tall and black makes me dangerous?

Whoa.

So tall,  dark, and handsome can never be me?

Actual Google search. Yes, there’s Boris and about 3 other black men in the first 100+ results. So yay??

First, of course, there are at least two interpretations of the term “dark” in this context.  There’s the literal sense that typically suggests a tan; and there is the stormy and brooding sort of dark. Still, the thing is that neither is ever really used with respect to an actual black person. It’s like the average black person cannot be considered attractive, or, at the very least, they are off limits. I came up with a name for women with this affliction, I call them “ABBY,” which is an acronym for “Anyone But the Blackie.”

There is a not-so-secret rule in a lot of non-black households that you can date anyone you want, as long as they are not black. This is a sentiment that I’ve heard from white people, Indian and Middle Eastern people, Hispanics, Asians, and even some other black people. It ranges from zero interaction to friendship only to, in more liberal circles, “you can even fuck them, just don’t marry one.” It’s not only black people that these rules apply to, but we are usually the final straw, resting at the bottom of the acceptability pyramid, falling below coming out of the closet,  joining a cult, and being homeless, just ask the cop who is on his third mistrial for murdering his daughter’s black boyfriend.

There is a long list of celebrities who have gotten in trouble for saying it out loud. Just this year, George Lopez was heckled by a group of audience members for saying the only two rules of a Latino household are, in this order, “Don’t marry somebody black… and don’t park in front of our house.” In Bend It Like Beckham, the main character, a British Indian woman, completely without controversy and protest, set up a hierarchy of people she would be allowed to marry, black was on the absolutely prohibited list. And even Donald Sterling told his black girlfriend that she can fuck black guys… but he didn’t want her being seen in pictures with them. Priorities, amiright?

Odds are you’ve heard it from one of your own family members and didn’t need my examples. It is such a normalized concept that good, close friends of mine have said it to me without batting an eye, including a friend that is MARRIED to a black person.

“It’s just something you don’t do,” she said.

This coming from a foreign citizen from a country with a black population smaller than my Facebook friends list. To her credit, she knew the stigma and stereotypes and still chose to marry a black man against the protest of her family, and they are still happily married. Her family came around, too, eventually. Grandkids have a way of doing that.

There are a lot of complex layers to this phenomenon.  Seeing as though, I don’t have a PhD in sociology, I will attempt to address them as broadly and incompletely as possible.

Kidding…not kidding.

The most far right end of it is just plain ol’ racism, with the hard R. I’m bored with racism. Racism has been a vastly unchanging cornerstone of  human existence.  I’m sick of it.  Racism is essentially people with the wealth of scientific discovery for the last two thousand years, sitting in a cave declaring themselves to be at the center of the universe. I don’t have time for these kinds of people anymore.  I just don’t. Nothing I say will reach them anyway.

The next category is a mixture of things.  It largely falls into the ‘ignorant bias’ pile. The pile is a giant mix of historical biases, tribalism, and media influence — it’s social conditioning.  It’s is the people who have never had a bad interaction with a black person, who may even have black friends, who still feel a bit weird around them for no other reason than their skin color and aren’t quite sure why. It’s people who say “Greeks marry Greeks” and talk about preserving the culture because someone of another culture wouldn’t understand or value your culture the same way. It’s someone who says “our people have always had problems with those people.”

(Side note: any time anyone says we have always done anything as an excuse for continuing to do it, remember my center of the universe analogy and slap them with it, metaphorically, of course, unless they really really deserve it.)

It’s people  who watch too much Fox News or read Breitbart articles and believe it without venturing to dig deeper. I’m just saying if you are going to talk about crime in black neighborhoods, also talk about redlining, poverty, and segregation. That’s it, Fox. That’s it. You’ve come so close at times. Just say it.

And just fuck you, Breitbart!

But I digress…

It’s people who will make an exception for every good and upstanding member of another ethnicity that they encounter,  while still clinging to their biases about the group as a whole.

It’s people who say, “you’re one of the good ones,” like I’m supposed to ignore the insinuation that the rest of my people are the bad ones.

 

These people are lazy. I can’t fault them for that completely because I’m lazy too at times. It is easier to stay in your small world where you are sure of everything, than risk going out into a bigger world and learning how foolish you were before. It’s less risky to sit back and speculate about the shadows on the cave wall than to go outside and investigate them, but it’s also dishonest and cheap.

I think the last category of people are the most fascinating and to a degree, the most honest. These are the people who understand how the world treats black people, judges it to be unfair, and then actively decide that they don’t want that kind of life for their own children. They may not harbor a racist bone in their bodies. They teach at inner-city schools and volunteer to tutor children. They coach predominantly black teams, and take racial slights against their teams personally.  They marched at a BLM protest. They are “woke,” in modem parlance, but at the end of the day they are still willing to say “it is okay for them, but not my own children.”

It is honest.

Truthfully, I don’t know how to take it.

How much further can you ask someone to spread themselves?  How long before your coach or teacher becomes a martyr?  Is that something you should even expect? Isn’t the goal of a parent to give their child a better world than they had? Would you condemn your own children, grandchildren to a life of strife, even if through no fault of their own?

The clear answer is no, even if it meant saying ABB and appearing  to be a racist at worst or hypocrite in the best light, but things dealing with race are very rarely clear. To give up is to give in to an ideology you don’t believe in. You must fight, but to what end?

I don’t know.

Life is complex. Love is complex. Attraction is complex.

I don’t have all of the answers. Everything I’ve said here I could be completely wrong. I’m just trying to figure it out like everyone else. It may be a mixture of all of the above and more. It may be people who have actually had bad experiences who are now passing it down like a family recipe. There is, of course, some degree of pure unadulterated personal preference, though that is in part subject to conditioning too. There’s infighting and reluctant acceptance.  There’s the threat and actuality of being disowned and cut from the family will, and the fear of losing touch with the community that raised you. I can only present you with more questions, the most important of which is why? Why should the color of someone’s skin seal their fate on life, love, and happiness?

I am a proud black man. If I could choose and do life over, I would be black all over again. I would take every slur, slight, and fist fight again, but I worry about my fiancée. I worry about her future, her safety, and her comfort.

Last year, I took her on a trip to Ireland, which overall was amazing, except for one part. We went to a nice restaurant, where we were effectively denied service. They greeted us, told us that no tables were ready, then took us to an area to wait.  Then another couple came and they were sat immediately. First, I chalked it up to a reservation.  They were dressed nicely, like maybe they had a plan. Then another couple came, they were clearly walking in off the street, and they were sat immediately too. Then the person who sat us came over and said it would be another 10 to 15 minutes.  I knew immediately was was happening. They wouldn’t say they wouldn’t serve us, they would just keep skipping us until we chose to leave or they closed.  I’ve seen it before. So we left.

I was furious.  Of course, I was.  But not just because it happened to me, but because it happened to her.  I was angry that she had to go through that because of me. I was embarrassed… embarrassed that racism was something she would have to learn to deal with because of me, like racism was some drunk uncle who she should expect to drop by unannounced, like it was a normal and inconvenient part of loving me. I wondered for the first time in our relationship if she would have been better off dating someone white who wouldn’t have to go through that. I like to believe the answer is no because no one, white, black or green, would love her the way I do, but I worry.

I worry about our future children.  I worry about my sons and the potential dangers they will face, because I have faced them. I worry about my daughters in a world of uncertainty and dangers I don’t even know to expect yet… but maybe–maybe I could I save them some measure of pain by saying “anything but black?”

Or, will I say love, even though it hurts?

What will you say?

Black Loves Blank

Today is a love day, so get your tissues ready.

I love “love,” romantically. I am infatuated with it.  I call it in the middle of the night to hear its voice. I drive passed its house.  I stand outside its window with my boom box playing emo love songs.  I love love.

Because I love love, I don’t accept that love has boundaries or barriers — not race, not religion, not gender. When you love, it is a force of nature outside of your control, like gravity. You are attracted and you fall. Sometimes you land harder than you hoped, but eventually you rise and fall again. You don’t fall for someone of a different hue and suddenly gain the ability to turn love on and off like a light switch, no more than can you force yourself to love someone you don’t. Though, I’m sure we could all agree on how handy that switch would have been with some of our exes, amiright?

I have fallen for a few girls in the different shades of gray.  I run too headstrong to stop and think about the complications until I’m already too deep into it to put on the brakes. When you date within the spectrum of the rainbow, there is always a fear that you won’t be accepted because you are the wrong hue. Occasionally, it happens… more than occasionally, it happens. And it sucks. There is nothing worse than loving someone who loves you back and not being able to be together. I imagine it feels something like when you hold two magnets apart. You can feel how badly they want to be together, the sense of urgency, the raw magnetism, the air literally becomes electric. Then you place a glass barrier between them, and if you let go, they will shatter the glass into a million pieces to be together.

Sometimes the glass is too thick to break, and the magnets slowly lose their charge and fall back into the pile of metal. Other times,  no matter how thin the veil, the two sides can’t connect, the attraction just isn’t there. I have experienced both.

Emma was white, very Christian, and from a conservative family in Tennessee.  I am a black man from Chicago. Our home lives couldn’t have been more different, but we met in a different country where the rules at home didn’t apply. Friendship came easily, love was hard. Long walks from class with friends on our study abroad quickly turned into awkward moments where our friends pretended not to notice how into each other we were.  As the program ran down, we were pushed to make a move. I had been reluctant because of the distance back at home because I knew she was someone I would want to keep seeing. She was reluctant because she grew up in a family where race-mixing was considered a sin.

The air between us was tense with love and guilt. She broke down into tears after our first kiss, then she explained why we could never work — her family would disown her over my color. After that, we had a two-week long goodbye, where, instead of separating, we only grew closer. We grew bolder, too, and more hopeful. We decided to try the long distance thing. We strategically leaked details about me to her family for weeks, so they would like me color-blindedly. “He goes to a top ranked university… and he is going to grad school in the fall… and has a great big family…and he writes poetry… and he’s everything to me.” I eagerly awaited updates on how the conversations went.

“And he’s black…” she said.

The conversations ended after that. Her mother cried and ran out of the room. Her father threatened her with physical abuse… so much for those Christian values. Things ended in an email. She wrote that our relationship couldn’t continue because she needed her parents’ financial support. I understood and I didn’t pursue her, we would never cross that barrier. And just like that it was all over.  No closure,  no clandestine meetings, no further communications, just like a light switch, who knew that gravity could be shut off.

The next girl I dated was black, by design. I never wanted to experience what I experienced again, so I made it a point not to. It was simpler to date “my own.” Ashley was black, but grew up in a predominantly white town, then went to a predominantly white college. I was her first black boyfriend. She wasn’t my first black girlfriend, but she was the first in awhile. At our predominantly white college, the black dating pool was small.

At first, it was nice not to stand out. It was nice not to have to fight about race. We appreciated the visible congruence, but that was all we had in common. My blackness was one of Ashley’s favorite things about me. She brought it up constantly. She loved how we looked together, but the longer we were together, the more I saw how dissimilar we were. My blackness was as important to her as it was to Emma but for the exact opposite reason, I gave her a protective cover.

After a month, it became obvious that we weren’t building a home together, we were building shelter. We didn’t talk. We didn’t enjoy each other. I was arm candy, a chocolate covered trophy. We were a reaction to our own individual hurt. Ashley’s last boyfriend would get angry and call her the n-word, my ex couldn’t date me because to her family I was one. The barrier between me and Ashley was a band-aid, yet we could never get close enough.  There was no grand attraction. It was a compromise to love without pain — it wasn’t love, it was convenient. It was settling for what’s available instead of seeking out happiness. I couldn’t live like that, so I ended it.  I would rather have hardship with someone I cared about than comfort with someone I didn’t. I would fight the next time and every time from then on.

Sometimes being just blue or just red suits you and you don’t need to be anything else. That is fine, too. Maybe you have found the perfect shade of red to match your red. Love is great wherever you find it, but until you find your match,  keep an open palette. “Red” is confining when you are more of a rose color, but “red” is the only label you have been allowed. You don’t have to be colorblind. Don’t put yourself into a box that you don’t fit in. My favorite color is purple — it is the coming together of opposites into something new.  It is the classic example of love, whether your blue is Capulet or Christian and their red is Muslim or Montague.

I fell in love with a purple. I love the way she loves. I love the way she exists in both worlds. I couldn’t imagine my world without her. I love better because of her. I love love again because of her.

To love love is to give yourself to whoever love sends your way. It is both the ultimate duty and the ultimate freedom — love for the sake of love.  Love the person who loves you back, despite your differences. Love the person who makes you laugh, intentionally and not.  Love the person who challenges you and is challenging at times that you can’t see yourself without. Love the person who makes you desire the future.  Love the person who puts up with your snoring because they would rather barely sleep beside you than sleep without you. Love the person that pushes you into adventure, the person that makes you a better person, and the person that makes you want to be still better. Love them like it is your calling, like it stirs you from your sleep and begs you to put words to page lest you forget them. Don’t love the person you’re supposed to, love the one you do.

Love her.

Then marry her this October.

Or, you know, whenever 🙂

How I Fell in Love With Hip-Hop

I didn’t grow up with rap music. Despite growing up in a predominantly black neighborhood, I went to a Christian private school in a conservative white suburb where rap music was frowned upon —  where being black in general was frowned upon.

Side note: My phone auto-corrected “rap music” to “real music.” That made me smile. 

I don’t recall if anyone ever said it out loud, but, there, rap music was associated with gangs, drugs and violence, and every other stereotypical black behavior conservative white people hated. Rap was the worst thing in the world. I was a “good” kid, so I didn’t want to be associated with that either, so I rejected it, too. I learned to love R&B instead: Boyz II Men, Dru Hill, 112, Az Yet, Shai, Bel Biv Devoe, R. Kelly, Jodeci, Blackstreet, and classic soul —  that was my “black” music. Will Smith may have been floating around then too, but I never really counted him.  He was safe. He didn’t curse,  wasn’t a “gang banger,” was generally upstanding… he was the Carlton of 90’s rap. 

I thought N.W.A. was too antagonistic and they were awash with controversy in the periphery of my childhood. Snoop just didn’t make any sense to me at that time. My father would listen to Regulate by Warren G on repeat for a decade, but that was his music, not mine. Though, I still can’t hear “mount up” without rapping the whole song.

Coolio’s Gangsta’s Paradise was the first rap song that I really loved. I fell in love with it after watching Dangerous Minds. Though it’s a classic “white savior” movie, it hit at the exact right time in my life. I was getting ready to transition from my life in the white suburbs to the hood, and I had been relatively sheltered. My father tried to protect us by keeping us locked in doors. We pretty much only played in our own yard with kids my dad permitted in. If we went out, we had to be home within in 20 minutes of the street lights coming on. If it took us too long, we’d find our dad walking to come find us. We lived surrounded by gangs, drugs, and violence and I was oblivious. We got dressed every morning, drove to the white suburb, and put on our best “white masks” and tried to blend in. We went to school there. We played there. Our friends lived there. Home was the foreign space.

The masks began to crack in fistfights with bullies. They always knew how black we were and they never let us forget. I don’t know what it was with white kids and spitting, but it was a popular form of antagonism. Fortunately, the white kids were afraid of my older brother. He was always getting into fights and they wanted nothing to do with him. Things got worse when he graduated. We lost our bulldog and I still had two little brothers to protect on my own. I looked to rap to show me how to act tougher. For nearly two years after my brother graduated, we got into fights nearly every day. The school never suspended or expelled anyone. They were too afraid of the bad press  following from the miniature race riots unfolding on the school playground. 

The mask finally broke when my favorite teacher told my younger brother’s third grade class that “if Rosa Parks had just sat her black butt at the back of the bus none of this MESS would have ever happened.”  Word spread quickly among the school’s few black families. The school was in a uproar. Our calls for her to be fired were met with platitudes and excuses. Instead, of firing her, they hired a black pastor, only they made him split his sermons with the white pastor. Then after complaints about his style, he was fired after only a few weeks, but still she stayed.

We couldn’t stay after that. 

I had to re-think my identity after that. My favorite teacher hated black people, she hated me and everything that I was, and I had spent a year worshiping her. My former favorite teacher broke my heart, and, in doing so,  condemned us to public school in the same poor neighborhood in which my parents tried to pretend we didn’t live. Dangerous Minds was a video representation of what I thought we were walking into, so I watched it like a documentary. Gangsta’s Paradise was the signature song to the movie, so I made it my battle hymn, and I loved it like a soldier loves the National Anthem.

Life was nothing like I thought it would be.  It was an underfunded school with sub-par facilities and outdated classroom materials, and all of the white faces were replaced by black ones. I was terrified. For the first time in my life the teachers, the students, and the community were mostly black, and I had spent most of my life until then hearing about how terrible other black people were and trying to be more white. After a few weeks of adjustment, I learned most things were the same — that most people were the same. Most kids cared more about rap and “footworking” than boy bands, but they still liked the boy bands, and I stood out for doing “white things” instead of my skin color. The only white girl in the class “talked black” and I was accused of “talking white.” The world was very different from my last one, but not as different as I thought it’d be.

There were fights, but far less frequently than I had been in before. There were gang bangers, who were mostly high school students hanging out on porches. Most kids did their best to avoid them, crossing streets, skipping various blocks, and running if necessary. Some kids would end up in gangs, but at school, we were all friends. It never really seemed like being in a gang was a choice, rather, it was something that just kind of happened. You lived in an area with a gang, your friends were in that gang, maybe your family, and it was safer to be in the gang than to be on your own, so you joined too. It was just a fact of life.

As an attention-starves preteen looking for acceptance, I did everything I could to fit in, short of joining a gang. I played sports. I hung out with the cool kids. I pretended to smoke weed once. I dated a black classmate I wasn’t interested in because the girls in the room decided that we were a couple, so I just went with it. (That’s just what middle-schoolers do: they randomly pair off into political alliance couples — it’s Game of Thrones with less murder and more drama.) I tried to learn how to dance “black,” even practicing in the mirror at home alone. I studied rap music to a point where I could carry on debates about the greats. I played the game until I didn’t stand out at all. At some point I stopped pretending to be “black” and became black, my own way, and in the process,  I fell in love. 

I fell in love with hip-hop when I fell in love with black people,  when I fell in love with myself. I had been living in a white world that was constantly telling me everything that was wrong about being black, so I avoided being “black,” stereotypically black. Then I lived in a black world with black people who loved being black and my world changed. It wasn’t a stereotype, it was a culture. It was our story. It was the story of the grind, the chaos, the oppression, the love, the strength and the perseverance.  I fell in love with hip-hop when I realized that I was only hearing one side of the story, told by people who would never live it, and would never care.  I fell in love with the story hip-hop told. It was real life. Someone once famously said that “rap was the CNN of the ghetto” or something like that. Hip-hop was my every day life. It was music, women, style, poverty,  violence, and the pursuit of a “good day” despite the struggle of my surroundings. 

It was real. 

I think Tupac was the realest of the real, a rap legend, the living representation of life in the ghetto. He rapped about the internal turmoil of love and violence, survival and morality, getting out and loving where you came from. His death was a perfect poetic irony.

Because of Tupac, I learned about Biggie. From Biggie, I learned of Nas. From Nas, I found Outkast. From Outkast, the floodgates opened. Wyclef, Coolio, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and 504 Boyz  became my “black music.” They paved the way for the Kendricks, Commons, and Kanyes, the Drakes, Childish Bambinos and Chance The Rappers. They were laying down tracks about a different black narrative to which I could march to my own beat and tell my own story. I fell in love with myself when I fell in love with hip-hop.