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I am in a room in my parent’s house. For brevity purposes, I’ll call it my room but it is not really mine and it was imperative of my parents to remind me of this at opportune times. This room is my home and my prison; a safe space at one moment and hell in another. It is fall, school has been in session for a few weeks and it is a dry, humid night in Tallahassee, Florida. I am writing in a composition notebook furiously, illegibly and incoherently: it is all earnest, dramatic emotion and self-indulgence in the way only teenagers can be. The world was out to get me and my only weapon were my words and my only support was the loud, fast, aggressively emotional emocore music that I’d been obsessed with.

When you’re a kid all you want is escape. Everyone and everything around you is dismissive towards you and ultimately interested in teaching you how to comply and how to follow orders. I grew up in a town that alternated between too humid and raining, where hanging out in an empty parking lot with friends was a reasonably good Saturday night and where the only thing that will ever matter in this life is what was happening at that very moment as far as we were concerned. I listened to a lot of rap but for all of rap’s brutal honesty, nothing I was exposed to identified with my embarrassing, navel-gazing immature ideas of being heartbroken as a teenager. At least not yet, that would come later, but at first it was all white sensitive males making power pop and punk-lite records about nostalgia, past mistakes and Salinger.

Emo is full-stop white dude tunnel vision and self-aggrandizement. It is almost comically open about feeling every kind of feeling and treating them all like scripture. It is self-involved in a way that is irresistible to a teenager that cannot see outside of themselves and to an adult that wants to remind themselves of those self-involved days every so often. You never forget the records you first obsessed over. The CDs you wear out until they can’t be played anymore, the lyrics you memorized like it was bible study, the way they made you feel every time they came one. I feel no shame in being obsessed with any of it. It all served a purpose. I knew every cringeworthy word on those Taking Back Sunday songs, I had my mental dictionary updated for every new Dashboard Confessional song I heard and I gleefully jumped into The Cure wormhole and wrapped myself in its esoteric grandiose.

A popular theme in a lot of this music (and music in general) is death. The ultimate go-to for every pedestrian poet: death is a game in this context and an excuse to bloviate in hyperbolic terms the tragedy of one’s own existence. Not to say that everyone is doing it for that purpose: depression is rampant in art and death is a valid focus and is capable of being used for genuine introspection. It’s also so tried and true that every artist thinks they can make death sound revolutionary. The ultimate protest to an unjust, ugly world. Sunny Day Real Estate made it sound like such a seductive choice and Nirvana made it feel like a sweet relief.

BALTIMORE, MD - APRIL 28: A man stops and yells at officers as they make their way through the crowd to help a person who needed medical attention near the intersection of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue as protestors walk for Freddie Gray on West North Avenue and protest around the city in Baltimore, MD on Tuesday April 28, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

BALTIMORE, MD – APRIL 28: A man stops and yells at officers as they make their way through the crowd to help a person who needed medical attention near the intersection of West North Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue as protestors walk for Freddie Gray on West North Avenue and protest around the city in Baltimore, MD on Tuesday April 28, 2015. Gray died from spinal injuries about a week after he was arrested and transported in a police van. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

The romanticization of death is a luxury and a privilege. It’s easy to fetishize and create a fantasy out of death when it’s not a real part of your life. In rap music, death is either expressed through hopelessness about the situation and life that you’ve been cursed with or it’s a tool used to shield the fear you walk with every day. What’s more gangster than convincing people you aren’t scared to die? It’s a lie of course, but you hold that front in the face of an unforgiving world. Death is at your front door and it can consume you or you can use it against others. The bands I obsessed over in that room didn’t know death in that way. Some of them were depressed and some knew what loss was, but by and large, death was foreign. It was foreign to me too: as a black kid in the suburbs, I got the sane luxury of finding the romance in death, using my depression not to search inward, but to make myself the hero of my own tragedy.

The past couple of years have been a hard one for this country and for Black people especially. There is news of black people being murdered by the state, by self-proclaimed vigilantes and by each other at a constant rate. A couple years ago, a gunmen unloaded at an elementary school and we as a country decided this was a price worth paying if it meant no regulation on our guns. A couple months back, 9 people lost their lives inside of a church; it was supposed to be their safe space and under the protection of God. There have been too many deaths to name and many more will probably come.

In the midst of this, one of the things making my skin crawl is the casualness with which we share videos of Black men, women and children being murdered on camera as though it’s the latest viral cat video. The news of murdered Americans is already becoming numbing to us and now we’re trying to make ourselves numb to the actual sight of their death. When this is not happening then the lives and bodies of these once alive, loved human beings are being used as mascots for the agendas of various people for both good and bad reasons. Whether it was intended, their death is now romanticized in service to something bigger. So it goes.

There is no romance in death: there is only the fact of it and the inevitability that we will all be there. As I’ve gotten older my thought process has grown but so has my depression. I look back and reflect on the boy in that room who couldn’t wait to escape from it all with fondness and I roll my eyes at his self-obsession and his fixation on death as being beautiful and poetic. He doesn’t know better; that’s usually how all the best romances happen.

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martin

Here me out.

The first season of True Detective was a interesting concept and technical feat surrounded by smothering pretentiousness and often silly dialogue. The show was a work in progress from beginning to end but it was always somewhat entertaining and interesting. The most intriguing part of the series is that it’s limited: every season will bring a new story and a new cast. This season brought us Woody Harrelson growling and clinging on to some dated sense of masculinity while also wishing he cold give it up; it also brought us Matthew McConaughey’s jaded, College-junior level ruminations on the meaning and inherent hopelessness of life. It was ridiculous but also kind of fun and I think True Detective should continue down this path.

This is what leads to my opinion that season 2 should be about Marcus Burnett and Mike Lowrey, otherwise known as Martin Lawrence and Will Smith from the 1995 film Bad Boys. For those of you who remember, Bad Boys was the directorial debut of a flashy commercial and music video director by the name of Michael Bay. It has the benefit of being early in Bay’s career, before he figured out how to shove in 4,382 explosions into a 2 and a half hour movie while still making time for racist stereotype humor and gratuitous shots of women’s asses. Bad Boys as it stands is just a cheesy action movie that looks like a sleek early 90s music video that is propelled by two great performances made by two Black actors about to completely blow up.

All this said, there’s no two people I would rather watch discover the evil hidden in all men while trying to infiltrate a secret cult of white supremacist Miami club owners who sacrifice 20-something bottle girls for their satanic rituals than these men. Just imagine it for a second: Marcus Burnett, family man, watching his 37 kids grow up and growing distant from his wife but refusing to admit that it’s happening. He just wants to do his job and go home to wife to spend some quality time. Instead he’s got to put him with this secret cult bullshit. He blames Mike for this because he blames Mike for everything. As far as he’s concerned Mike is a magnet for this type of shit. Everywhere ol’ Mikey Mike goes, there’s a secret cult sacrificing women in satanic rituals. The truth is, he blames Mike because he envies Mike. Who the fuck is this trust fund cop anyways? He rides around in the nicest cars, fucks supermodels and uses this job as an excuse to live out his Commando dreams. Marcus’ resentment is understandable: nobody envisions a life unfulfilled, a marriage with a spark that has faded and children who treat you like you don’t matter. This job is the only thing that makes Marcus feel like a man, even if only for a moment, but it isn’t enough. Marcus would never cheat on his wife though–he just can’t bring himself to–so instead he accepts this life; a life of emasculation in a world where male truthers are desperately clinging onto the most basest, aggressive senses of male ego. In this world Marcus continues to make sense of it all.

And what of Mike Lowrey: rich kid, action cop who crashes cars into giant explosion piles and buys another one afterwards. Who cares? None of it matters anyway. Another impossibly hot woman comes to his beautiful condo in order to be pleasured by him and then never heard from again. He’s happy to oblige because he’s always happy to oblige, doesn’t mean anything to him anyways, just the same thing every single day. Mike loved someone once but it didn’t work out, maybe it was the toll the job took on him, maybe he just didn’t know anything about love or maybe after years of causal meaningless sex the concept of love is too foreign to ever be taken seriously. Love is probably imaginary anyways, he figures, just something to distract us as we die alone. Something is happening to Mike the deeper he gets into the cult of Miami club owners. Clubs used to be nothing more to him then a place for overly priced Hennessy and scantily clad women paid to entertain your advances. It never occurred to him that this place could harbor the worst qualities in man but now it only makes all too much sense. The animalistic masculinity and aggression on display mixed with the countless cases of sexual assault? Of course nightclubs could be linked to satanic rituals, if only he’d seen it earlier. If only he’d seen a lot of things earlier. Mike’s been obsessing over this case in between periods of reading nihilist works from Jim Crawford and Eugene Thacker. He’s been trying to make Marcus understand his newfound viewpoint but Marcus isn’t having it. “Now’s not the time Mike” he says; he always says this, because time is a flat circle and we’re doomed to repeat the same things. Mike has found himself obsessed with the boogie monster that leads this cult. He wants to understand how he thinks. He’s stopped shaving and keeping up appearances, Marcus doesn’t get why. Marcus never gets why. At least not until the time is opportune for him to get why (probably episode 8), at that point Marcus will have some insightful commentary about the meaning of life and our place in it and Mike will look at him with bated breath and proclaim, “NOW THAT’S HOW YOU ‘SPOSED TO PROGNOSTICATE THE FATE OF HUMANITY! FROM NOW ON, THAT’S HOW YOU PROGNOSTICATE THE FATE OF HUMANITY!”

So yes, this absolutely needs to be True Detective season 2.

It dawns on me that I haven’t really spent much time talking about Fruitvale Station, the tragic story of Oscar Grant‘s last day before getting killed by the BART officers in Oakland, CA. It’s a hard movie to watch; it’s eerie, grim and will bring anyone with a conscience close to tears. It’s not exactly perfect: there are scenes that feel shoveled in that may not be accurate and a lot of the emotions it elicits have more to the with the actual story (and its relation to the similar death of Trayvon Martin) but it is important, and sometimes an important movie is enough to overcome any shortcomings. Fruitvale Station opened on the weekend George Zimmerman was acquitted for killing Trayvon. It’s a eerily familiar reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same. The problem isn’t with the verdict really–based on the mess that is Florida law, there wasn’t really enough evidence to convict Zimmerman of a crime–the problem was the case itself. Rather than address the killing of Trayvon Martin, the case became the story of the scary black teenager who threatened the nice neighborhood watchmen and how, despite being an unarmed kid who weighed less than the MMA-trained watchmen, you would be just as scared too.

What makes Fruitvale important are all the things that shouldn’t make it important. It’s a story that happens too often and will continue to happen. It’s the story of kids who are born suspects and aren’t allowed to make mistakes or grow up to be better men because of the world they live in. A world where a jury declares a man innocent not because of evidence but because they understand his fear.

The story of Adam and Eve eating the apple is interpreted as the story of delving into sin and suffering the repercussions of it. Fair enough; to me though, it’s the story of knowledge. The story of sinking your teeth into what’s really happening in the world around you and finally seeing it for what it is: a complicated, hypocritical mess steeped in violence and power. In Florida right now, you have the Dream Defenders making their voices heard at the governor’s office. You have a post-internet world that deals with racism in the most confrontational, ugly way and you have opinion writers and news personalities engaging and attacking each other in order to prove that their worldview is right. People often say we need to have a discussion on race, but we’ve always been having a discussion on race–and it’s getting louder and louder. It’s rough and hard to swallow at times, yes; but it’s the convo we need. There are people who will justify what’s wrong as there always tends to be but the good will always outweigh them. We are no longer pretending the apple isn’t there hanging from the tree, we’re grabbing it and finally deciding whether to eat it or not (and this is with everything, not just race). There is no place anymore for people like Don Lemon to pretend that being “good negroes” will save us from death. There is no more tolerance for people like Richard Cohen to talk about the justified fear of young black men. Your Rush Limbaughs, Sean Hannitys and Bill O’Reillys are nothing more  than passe’ racists yelling at clouds. It’s no longer ok for successful black men like Jay Z to embrace their privilege with arrogance and call their time “charity”. We see the world around us and we can no longer pretend that we don’t.

That’s the world we live in at the time of Fruitvale Station. While this film, by the young, first-time director Ryan Coogler, is a lot of things–warm, lovely, disturbing and actually pretty funny–it’s first and foremost important. It’s the film we need right now to remind us of how much farther we have to go. Who’s bad enough to take a bite.

 

Big news on this morning: as I may have mentioned here before, I’ve been volunteering my services to the greater good of getting shows by black creators made in some form or fashion. The show in question: Quarter Century, a show about mid-to-late 20s young professionals in DC, by FAMU alumna Shayla Racquel (@ShaylaRacquel). The show is really well done and getting better each episode (and I’m not just saying that) and just recently HBCU Digest, popular online magazine about the goings on in historically black schools, recently named it one of its top 5 web series.

You can read the article here and check out episode 1 and episode 2 right now. While you’re at it, go ahead and follow the series creator and the show itself (@QCwebseries). In the words of Ron Howard: “Please tell your friends about this show”. Man, I can’t wait for Arrested Development to get here already.

One of the big issues about HBO’s Girls was the lack of diversity on the show. Is it noticeable? Yeah, but not to the point that it actually matters to the show. It’s a reflection of the creator, i.e. a show about entitled rich kids dealing with life away from their parent’s checkbook. It doesn’t really bother me who is or isn’t on the show. What this debate did do though was remind me how we still don’t have enough black directors, writers and other behind-the-scenes workers. It’s amusing how the self-righteous on these predominantly white blogs and magazines call out shows like Girls for their exclusionary practices while ignoring the lack of diversity in their own site (no the one black guy you get to talk about hip-hop and review Tyler Perry movies doesn’t make you progressive).

Truth be told, I don’t really care how many black people you put on screen on your mostly white show, I care more about how many minorities in general are getting hired to write and direct–or even getting a shot to make their own show. Since the Telecommunications Act of 1996 there’s been no country for nonwhites–particularly for network television. For those not up to speed, the act basically allows corporations and ad agencies to be involved with entertainment production–basically taco bell and coca-cola can decide what you watch and SURPRISE! being white and looking like you have even moderate wealth sells products inadvertently to a lot of people. This explains why not only are there barely any shows led by all minority casts, it also explains why blue collar families (like the ones on Roseanne and Malcolm In The Middle) are rarely seen anymore. Companies are in the business of selling a lifestyle now more than ever and that means catering to the people they actually want buying their bullshit.

Knowing this and understanding the world we’ve always lived in, the only thing I truly want to see in the world are black and (other minority) creators. No more rappers, no more “vixens”, no more athletes. Tyler Perry and people who want to be like Tyler Perry aren’t going to cut it. What I’d give for the days of those early Eddie Murphy, Keenan Ivory Wayans and Robert Townsend days. Black directors and writers creating movies that happened to be black rather than being “black films”. Movies that respected the intelligence of the viewer instead of steeping down to the lowest common denominator in order to trick people into laughing at buffoonery.

The talent is out there, they’re just not being given their due. I understand that but frankly at this point, we all have to use whatever avenue we have. They have the internet which has always been a haven of true artistic integrity as long as it’s done with earnestness. There are still shows on the air that actually show minority faces in somewhat entertaining lights–The Mindy Project, Key & Peele, The Eric Andre Show, Totally Biased–even Community features a diverse background. It’s not all lost but it’s not exactly good or showing signs of getting better. As long as we keep looking at race from a thin microscope based on what we saw that one time from that one minority person, we aren’t really going to get anywhere… and if we don’t want to get anywhere then we have to force our way in. As a somewhat tolerable writer, I’m making my own place the best I can in this business. If I make it, I make it and if I don’t then… well, the game is the game.

My whole issue is that I want something more than faces of different colors holding hands under some misguided white liberal worldview that if we all play nice then race won’t matter. I just want to create, we all should want that and we all should get a fair shake. To quote the great Paul Mooney: “I don’t want a piece of the pie, I want the fuckin’ recipe.”

 

-I realize this mostly reflects a black view, I can only speak for my own race but there definitely need to be representation from all people.

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The Scary Black Chronicles is a new column that takes a comedic and introspective look on stereotypes, assumptions and preconceived notions. It’s all about open minds and understanding why we think the way we do and getting over these notions. Enjoy.

Here’s the thing about walking in a public place by yourself: it’s kind of scary. Not in a frightening, cover-your-eyes way, just in a… be aware of your surroundings way. So I get the impulse not to trust people walking behind you–I do it myself. With that being said, it’s kind of funny to look at people and notice their behavior in these situations. They’ll usually give you the “slightly behind the shoulder” stare to make sure you don’t make any moves; this is fine, as I said I do it too but there’s always a tinge of racially charged emotions when it’s done to me no matter who’s doing it (there’s a good chance it’s the same reverse). The worse though is the lane shift. Dude, unless you have no trust in your heart at all, you can’t even pretend that’s not racist. I won’t stop you from doing it though, at the end of the day most folks will do what they think is necessary to survive, I secretly just pretend you feel really bad about it afterwards (but I’m glass half-full at heart y’know).
When I first moved to DC I stayed just outside of the hood in northeast where I abused this act too many times. Even when I didn’t hear footsteps I still looked back every minute almost. It kind of sucks not trusting people who look like you but, before race comes into the picture we’re people– and people have always been and always will be shitty-besides, I was an out-of-towner. Nobody knew me therefore I didn’t really register with them.
The latest commitment of this act took place today at my job where an older white woman was walking in front of me as I was headed back to my cubicle. First of all, I will admit that I was probably closer than I should’ve been to her, so that probably made it more awkward. She did the quick turn around to see who’s there followed by the awkward courtesy hello. For the record, I still haven’t decided if that makes things better or worse; it’s just kinda like going “hey! Just checking you out strange person behind me. Let me be nice in order to see if you are a nice person.” This is all well and good. The thing is though is that we work in a federal building, with cameras everywhere. I’d like to think that if I was a criminal, I wouldn’t be dumb enough to commit a crime in a federal office. But as I pointed out it, it’s human nature. We’re always on guard and reactionary–plus for a woman it must be doubly so. I’m sure my race plays into it (you don’t have to watch the local news for 10 minutes to know why), but I learned long ago not to take things personally.

 

 

 

 

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