The Teacher That Broke My heart

I was a teacher’s pet, an apple-bringing, brown-nosed teacher’s pet. I lived for that gold star on the board next to my name. Class monitor all year! I was proud of it, smug even. I enjoyed the power of knowing if I mentioned a name, that kid got in trouble. I was that kid in a lot of my classes — I grew out of it, I think — but no class was like my third-grade teacher’s class. Ms. Smith was a pretty, mid-twenties, white, former college volleyball player. If I’m honest, I probably had a crush on her. I went through all of the third grade without incident. It was great. Leaving her class was one the hardest times of my pre-puberty life. I may have even cried a little. When I went to fourth grade, I would stop by to visit her class anyway. That year, my little brother was in her class and that was the year she broke my heart.

It wasn’t something that happened to me directly. In fact, this story is probably more my brother’s than mine, but he’s not a blogger, so I get to tell it. Let me backtrack a bit. We are a black family. (I thought that’d be clear by now.) We grew up in the Mexican part of a predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood on the west side of Chicago. Its nickname is “Murderwood.” The population was large enough where three murders didn’t make the news, yet small enough that no one cared. There were more than three murders. I knew those three personally. I wrote one of the obituaries. (Now that my street cred has been established…) When we were kids, my dad took out a second mortgage on the house to send us to a private school in the safe, affluent, white suburb next door, where police routinely waited at the border to intercept and interrogate would-be black trespassers.

When my little brother was in third grade, my brothers and I made up literally twenty percent of the school’s black population. We’re not quite the Duggars, but we were 4 out of the schools 20 black children, so when my brother and his black best friend got into trouble, they represented a statistical sample of the black population, apparently. When any number of black people do anything bad, it brings out the worst in a statistically high number of white people as well. A lot of things went down at that school — pre-teen race riots, the sleepover incident, and the Rosa Parks statement that broke my heart.

One day, I assume, during the obligatory Black History Month lessons, my then favorite teacher ever got too comfortable and said what she truly thought. “If Rosa Parks had just sat her black butt at the back of the bus, then none of this mess would have ever happened,” she declared to a room full of mostly white third graders. So much to unpack. “[H]ad just.” Two words that mean both so little and so much at the same time. “Had just” implies a simplicity, a natural state, a resignation to one’s fate, like it was an easy thing to do and she was defying the natural order. If Rosa Parks had only done what she was supposed to, then nothing would have changed. America would still be great? (I’m making assumptions.)

“If Rosa Parks had just sat her black butt…” We all know she meant “black ass,” which means she had the presence of mind not to say “ass” in front of a room full of third graders, but deprecating on Rosa Parks was fine. Got it.

None of this “MESS” would have ever happened. Mess? Really? Mess. What mess do you think started with Rosa Parks refusing to sit at the back of the bus? Oh yea, desegregation! This mess is that she wouldn’t have to deal with defiant black children in her would-be whites only classroom. We would barely be allowed in the city and the police would… continue… stopping black people at the city limits.

This mess is the pieces of this small black child’s heart and identity that you tossed in the air like confetti when you were busy celebrating white supremacy.

In the weeks to follow, the school would make excuse after excuse. “She didn’t grow up around black people.” “She’s a young, mid-twenties.” “She didn’t mean that offensively.” “No one else took offense.” “She’s not a racist.” But they never fired her. And slowly, black family by black family, most of us left. In a way, I guess she got exactly what she wanted.

It wasn’t just the statement that broke my heart. It was the fact that I had adored her. It was that I “had just” sat my little black ass in my chair like I was told, every time, without needing to be told. I was obedient like a well-trained German Shepard, like an overseer. It was that she made me an example of everything that was wrong with my brother, everything that was wrong with the color of my skin. It was that the only thing she liked about me was how I wasn’t like everyone else like me.

It was that no matter how well I did, how loyally I worshipped her, how perfect I tried to be; to her, I belonged at the back of the bus.

 

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Is “Pocahontas” A Slur?

No.

Period.

Take that liberal media, always looking to make something out of nothing.

I have murdered racism!!! Well, some racism. Kinda. Eh. I have definitely shaken my finger at it, sternly. Guess this will be a short post.

I mean there is a difference between something being a “slur” and something being “derogatory.” A slur is “a derogatory or disrespectful nickname for a racial group, used without restraint.”   Hmm… okay, not going to lie, it is starting to sound similar, especially when used by Trump. That “used without restraint” part had Trump all over it, and he uses it as a nickname for Elizabeth Warren, though she is not technically a “group of people.” And, and, it says “derogatory” in the definition. Everyone knows you can’t use the word to define itself.

So, what is “derogatory?” Derogatory is “tending to lessen the merit or reputation of a person or thing; disparaging; depreciatory.” I think that fits. Trump wasn’t calling Warren “Pocahontas” because he believes she is Native American and he wanted to apply the term to all Native Americans; he’s doing it precisely because he doesn’t believe it (and he has the maturity of a racist 8-year-old). He just wanted to disparage her and take her down some pegs. Kind of like when I was at that sleepover in third grade and two of the white kids got into a fight and started calling each other niggers. I mean, that moment sucked, even though it wasn’t directed at me, because it told me exactly what they really thought about me… but, nevermind that, we’re talking about Trump.

I think in order to be a racial slur, it should be used against a member of the group to which the slur pertains, otherwise, it wouldn’t make much sense. I mean, no one has ever called me a “sand nigger,” which, let’s be honest, is just lazy racism. Since the jury is still out on Warren’s native status, it’s not a racial slur.  Trump was just being derogatory. Sweet?

Besides, Pocahontas was the name of an actual person. Can a name really be a racial slur — I mean, other than Nigger Jim? I don’t think so. (Side note: People always give Mark Twain a pass on that one saying, “it was a different time,” but it really wasn’t. Slaves had names too. People didn’t call their slaves “Nigger Tom” and “Nigger Sally.” They didn’t even call Kunta Kinte “Nigger Toby” in a movie about the Middle Passage. I people theorize that he did it deliberately to rub it in the faces of the slaveholders, but he wrote it at a time when his audience probably wouldn’t have cared about that. I digress.)

A name can be used derogatorily, though. Calling Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas” as a generic name for a Native American is the same kind of quasi-racism as calling every Hispanic person “Jose” regardless of his actual name. While it’s not quite a slur, it definitely shows a lack of respect for the person and a general disdain for the ethnic group to which that person belongs. It shows that there is some sort of racist archetype to which you subscribe about that name, like calling every Muslim person “Achmed” or every black person “Tyrone.”  Yes, those are real names, but that’s not why you said them. You said them because those names convey specific stereotypes in your head and you want to prove to those people they will never be more than that.

So maybe a racial slur isn’t the same as a derogatory statement. So what. You can still be a racist POS without ever uttering a slur, but using them is a pretty good indicator anyway. You can still be a fake-tanned, orange, bigoted jackass without ever using a derogatory term, but the use of them still blows in the wind, calling out to the dogs that nip at the heels of progress like some sort of dog whistle.

Hate & Basketball

I am fat.

It’s okay.

I am very self-aware. No need to sugarcoat it. I am fighting a battle against genetics, my own poor choices, and, yes, you guessed it, racism.

Don’t worry, I’ll explain.

When I got the motivation to write this, I was explaining to my wife that I know I need to get up and work out, but I’m afraid to run in public. When black people run, white people, typically, get nervous. It doesn’t matter if I’m running through brightly lit city blocks in the daytime, on an outdoor track, or on a public path, also in the daylight. It doesn’t matter if I’m a disgusting blob, clearly trying to get back in shape, or a toned athlete keeping up with his daily routine. Black people running always seems to invite investigation. Black people doing just about anything in public always seems to invite investigation.

I was reminded of a “thing” that happened to me when I was in grad school. It was probably around 2 p.m. and summer time. I had some time to kill, so I went to the park to shoot around. The park was literally about 1500 feet from my apartment — just follow the running trail and you were there. I took my school-branded ball with my last name scribbled all over in permanent marker and I set off to the park. When I first got there, a mixed group of guys was playing a full court game, so I shot around when the ball was on the other end of the lone court. I was hoping to play, but they all left after their game ended, so I decided to practice my fundamentals.

I am not an exceptionally good basketball player. I am average, at best, like absolute best. There is nothing exciting about watching me play. I’m not dunking. The handles aren’t great. The shooting is inconsistent. It is exactly as exciting as it sounds. So when the police showed up to watch me, I knew it meant trouble.

Panic set in as I wondered what exactly happened. I was shooting around, alone, in the middle of the day, in a public park. I wasn’t walking through a strange neighborhood. I could still hear the sound of traffic passing on the street that bordered the park, the street that separated my apartment from the park. I had worn the proper attire, an outfit specifically designed to convey my intentions — athletic shorts bearing the name of my school and a sleeveless shirt with the name of my undergrad. I wasn’t drinking or smoking weed. I wasn’t “posting up.” I was playing basketball. Nonetheless, someone called the police to report me. I say that because the basketball court was a bit out of the way for normal driving — single lane roads, bridges, a troll with a riddle — not a place you go unintentionally.

For nearly an hour, the police sat watching me.

I had already been there for over an hour when the police pulled up. I had been planning to leave soon, but “you never leave on a miss,” so I kept shooting around. When they pulled up, they didn’t say anything. They didn’t get out of the car. They just sat there watching me. I thought it would look suspicious if I suddenly left after they got there, so I continued shooting around. I thought they would leave if I didn’t do anything suspicious. 15 minutes later, they were still there, watching me. Then thirty minutes. I was exhausted. I wanted nothing more than to go home, but I was afraid that anything I did would give them cause to stop me. A second squad car pulled up. I was sure “it” was going down then. I would be stopped, questioned, beaten, and arrested, hopefully, if not worse.

Obviously, not them. 

Then forty minutes passed and still nothing. I wanted to go up and ask the officer if I had done anything wrong, but I knew in my heart that would be a mistake. I felt like a hamster on a wheel being forced to run until my heart gave out. I was exhausted. So exhausted that I was starting to make myself sick. I had a choice to make: leave knowing it would force an encounter with the police or keep shooting around until they got so tired of watching me that they finally left.

Fifty minutes passed. The second squad car left. I saw the window for my escape fading quickly, so I picked up my stuff and walked slowly toward the path home, still dribbling the ball. I didn’t want to break character for one second. The cop didn’t look at me, he looked through me. His glare said, “stop resisting arrest” as he imagined putting me down to prevent future crimes, I assume. Either way, there was nothing friendly or polite about the way he stared me down. He looked annoyed that I hadn’t done anything wrong.
I walked the long path back home looking over my shoulder constantly. I was sure that I would hear the sounds of a siren pulling me over or a police officer yelling at me to get on the ground, but it never came. I got to the end of the path where my street intersected the path, fully expecting the second squad car to be there waiting for me in some sort of trap, but there was no car. I paused before crossing the street back to my home. I was afraid to let the police know where I lived. The police.

All of this and I hadn’t done a single thing wrong. I played basketball, in public, in the middle of the afternoon, an earshot from my home.

At this point, you are probably thinking, “what’s the big deal? So what, the police watched you.

It may seem harmless to you non-black readers, but being alone in the park surrounded by police is one of the scariest things that can happen to anyone. There is virtually no good reason for being alone and surrounded by police, for anyone, but especially not if you are black. Historically, that exact situation has gone pretty poorly for a lot of black people and I was nearly another. I was afraid. Any wrong move could mean the end. No move at all could mean the end. My life was no longer in my hands and there was nothing I could do about it. There was nothing I did to cause that. Just being black was enough to call out the cavalry and the cavalry was eager to respond.

When I got home, I posted about it on Facebook. I was heartbroken and I wanted to share my pain. A friend who worked as a police dispatcher chimed in. “You wouldn’t believe half of the stuff people call in about. Just a bunch of racist, old white people calling the police literally any time they see a black person.”

That was my park.

Mine.

And I never went back.

I never felt safe there again. In fact, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve been to any park alone since.

That brings me back to my original statement — I am fat.

I need to get out of the house. I need to run and exercise, but the thought of going for a jog sends me right back to that park in grad school where a crotchety old racist called the police on me just for existing in public. I think about all of the eyes on me. I wonder who, if anyone, is the one placing the anonymous call to the police. I think about the police. I think about their guns. I think about that officer and his blind hatred of me. I think about running until my heart gives out and I fall dead on the pavement just so the police don’t find me suspicious. Funny how that is the only time I escape suspicion.

I think about all of these things and I stay home.

And before you comment, “Blue lives matter” or “#NotAllPolice,” I know that. I know a lot of good cops, my brother was one of them. I have a handful of police officer friends even now. There were at least three in my wedding in some form or fashion. I was afraid for my life because of THIS cop, the one who watched me play basketball for an hour, waiting for me to slip up, staring at me like I had just murdered his family then gingerly went to play basketball. The knowledge that 99% of cops are good didn’t stop this one from being a threat. I didn’t keep playing because I thought 99% of cops wouldn’t kill me, I kept playing because I thought this one would.

Police brutality doesn’t start with a gunshot. It doesn’t start with the swing of a baton. It doesn’t start with a “tough” interrogation. It starts in the mind. It starts with a phone call and a dehumanizing stare.

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.

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?

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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.

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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.