I’ve been thinking recently about thought suppression. I’m pretty sure anyone who has been through a traumatic incident has done it, even if they’re not aware of it. Something painful or uncomfortable pops into your head, you reflexively think of something else to try to eliminate that painful feeling as quickly as possible. What may seem like general absentmindedness to the casual observer may actually be a lot more involved than that.
What’s my point? I’m not sure, actually. (updated: I guess my point was/is that I’ve spent a lot of time-particularly lately-suppressing a lot of thoughts regarding things unrelated to music and pop culture. Was a time when I had significantly less hesitation when it came to sharing personal details editorially, and that’s probably translated to real life as well. Not saying it’s good or bad. It’s probably both. Wow, my shrink is gonna have a field day if he ever reads this.)
I wanted to somehow tie that in to the lengthy list of thoughts I’ve had last night since a grand jury decided not to indict Ferguson, MO police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of teenager Michael Brown. Brown may or may not have stolen cigars, but that’s irrelevant in the grand scheme of things. The kid was unarmed, and he got shot multiple times. In the back. With his hands up. For anyone who follows the news, a Black person getting killed by a White cop isn’t exactly a rare occurrence. A White cop getting off for killing a Black person isn’t a rare occurrence, either. Regardless of what ethnicity you claim-if this doesn’t bother you, something is wrong.
I don’t know that there’s been much thought suppression going on there, specifically; I’d like to think that I’ve been angry but measured in my responses on social media.I do my best to think before I speak, even when I’m emotionally involved. Especially when I’m emotionally involved. Of course, then there’s the school of thought that says I shouldn’t be sharing my feelings on social media, which isn’t really a determination anyone should make besides me anyway. They’re my thoughts. I decide what to do with them.
This sequence of events has brought to the forefront a series of rhetorical questions in my head, many involving a bit of paranoia about how I’m viewed by others, and even more about race and the discussions that need to take place and are/but aren’t happening, depending on who you ask and how you feel that day. There’s a nagging voice inside my head-one of many- that thinks talking about this incident and somehow relating it to me is self-serving (which may or may not be true.) Am I angry because of the situation? Or is my anger a front for social media self-righteousness? How many friends of mine are staying off of social media because they “don’t want to talk about race” (or ignoring me for the same reason) and how does that translate into my 3-D dealings with them? (I was gonna say “real life,” but the internet IS real life, no matter what you may think.) The other voices are asking question after question-buzzwords like “empathy,” “privilege,” “ostracism,” “community” keep popping up, mixing in with worries about my external voice being heard and respected, worries about how I’m viewed by my white friends (angry Black man) and my Black friends (crossover Negro.) As someone who values companionship and friendship (and is probably desperate for it in ways that can be unbecoming at times,) am I pissing off all the wrong people with my politics, my thoughts? Am I being unnecessarily sanctimonious?-especially when I have more than a little dirt under my own fingernails? Indirect in my criticism? How does one find community when he/she feels like an ill-fit in almost any group he/she is a part of? Is the fact that people are pissing me off evidence of a character flaw when it comes to the judgment of others? Should I march in protest? Boycott Black Friday? Wear my “Educated Black Man” T-shirt? Donate to the Ferguson Public Library? Is someone from the company I work for going to get a bug in their ass about my social media posting and consider me a “problem” because of it? Do the words of my elders/mentors about not airing out racial particulars publicly have any value? What do I do with all of this? Who fucking knows? I don’t.
Here are some things I think I know, starting with a basic one: my anger’s not a front for social media self-righteousness. It took me a minute to remember it, but I spent a chunk of time last night trying to think of the last time an incident like this occurred and I was this angry. It might have been the Trayvon Martin/George Zimmerman verdict, but most of 2013 is foggy to me for a variety of reasons that I don’t care to discuss right now, so I can’t remember. When the Amadou Diallo verdict was announced in New York back in ’97 or ’98, I was off from work, sitting at home, listening to the radio. I don’t think I had a TV at that time, and I certainly didn’t have home internet. Obviously, social media didn’t exist back then. Stuck at home, alone, without a proper venue with which to vent, I seethed for a half hour or so before getting the hell out of my house and walking aimlessly around the city for hours, starting in my Queens neighborhood and eventually hopping on a train and making it to Times Square (if memory serves). If anything, the existence of social media in this particular instance gave me a forum in which to safely vent. Not that 38 year old 2014 me had any intention of going out in the middle of my very non-Black neighborhood and causing a ruckus, but being able to express my thoughts in a reasonably constructive manner at least got me to sleep a little better last night and not internalize more frustration or anger than I already do. I believe the professionals call this “self-care.”
Some more things I think I know: any discussion about race is a valuable one, whether it has a direct correlation to Mike Brown/Darren Wilson/Ferguson or not. I don’t want anything like this to ever happen again, to anyone’s child, brother, sister, daughter, son, father, mother or grandchild. Being publicly angry about a specific incident does not (necessarily) equal ignorance or less anger about other incidents in the same vein. People need to stop being pussies, stop feeding into the news cycle (which is engineered to provoke outrage) and embrace independent thought. Saying “everyone should just love one another” is noble but dumb and impractical. Privilege (specifically as pertains to hetero white men) is a very real thing, and many privileged hetero white men will get extremely butt-hurt if you bring it up (as I’ve learned and re-learned several times in the last month or two.) Empathy is wonderful; no, we can’t say definitively what it’s like to be something other than ourselves, but we can imagine/surmise, and a lot of times, that goes a long way towards understanding. Never get into a discussion with a white educator who has a Michelle Pfeiffer/”Dangerous Minds” complex as it pertains to black and brown people. Imagining/pretending something is not there is not going to make it go away. Some people (across the spectrum) live in an alternative reality that I want no part of.
My rational mind (and my life experience) knows/proves that good people (and bad people) come in every size, shape and color although…and I’ll leave this part to my friend Ashley, who articulated this perfectly…”it is difficult (but doable) to rationally recognize all white people aren’t “trash” (to use Harper Lee’s word) and not fear their intentions when that same ability to use gross generalization has been perverted against black people in ways that leave them dead.”
I worry about that statement a little bit, because I don’t want it to be construed as “Mike hates white people.” If you know me even a little bit, you know that’s not the case. But it doesn’t mean that I’m not wary. Or distrustful. Or maybe sick and tired of constantly assuming the position of being the “black friend” (and, slightly off-topic, the “gay friend”) that has to “educate” people who are either too thick or too unwilling to be educated about what people with significantly different life experiences than them go through. Maybe I shouldn’t be so worried about what people think. That fear has kept me from saying and doing a whole lot over the course of my life. The people that get me will understand, and as for the people that don’t (or choose not to): maybe that’s their problem and not mine. Some frayed or cut ties aren’t worth recovering.
What I know definitively is that things have to change. I can’t say I’m confident that change will come immediately, or even soon. We’re having the same arguments we were having in 1985/1986 after Howard Beach, after James Byrd, after Sean Bell, after Diallo and Rodney King and Abner Louima. The fact that I can recite all of those names from memory should be enough to tell you that there is a problem (and if you don’t know who any of those people are, do some research.) As a society, we’ve made progress in a lot of ways. When it comes to valuing the lives of Black men, treating each other equally, and having open and honest dialogues about things including (but not limited to) racial and ethnic identity, the needle doesn’t seem to have moved very much, though.
In an ideal world, dialogues would lead to solutions. More than anything else, I’m wondering what my part is in contributing to the ultimate goal, which is change. That may take some time to figure out. I certainly don’t have all the answers-hell, most of the time I wonder if I even have one answer. I’ve certainly realized that there’s no guarantee something I say or do (or write) is going to make anyone think differently or do differently. Speaking to a casual real-life acquaintance (through Twitter), the phrase “do better” came up. It’s certainly not the first time that phrase has popped into my head-it’s a pretty constant refrain in my life (even if I may not follow through on that directive as much as I’d like.) The hope is that if everyone tries to do better—whether that means being more empathic towards people who aren’t like you, not shying away from situations/discussions that may make you uncomfortable, or just being a more engaged citizen-the needle may move a lot.) I can’t say for sure that it’ll work, but I can say that it’s worth trying.