They Kill Grandmothers, Don't They? Policing the Mentally Ill, and Is My Mother Next?

I usually write for and about hard to reach youth. But the recent police killing of an emotionally disturbed grandmother turned my attention to not only the on-going over-policing of Black people, but more so on my mother who is currently at the final stages of Alzheimer’s where unexpected outbursts are the norm and caring for her requires both the fortitude of a well-informed son and the patience of a monk. The kind of patience a short-fused police cadet may not necessarily learn in de-escalation training, but close enough when the objective is to avoid shooting an elderly. 66yrld Deborah Danner of the Bronx, this week’s victim of police terrorism, was shot and killed by an NYPD officer after allegedly lunging towards officers while wielding a pair of scissors and a baseball bat inside of her apartment. The fact that this happened in her home is just as relevant as what was in her hands, because it shows a distressed person in a space they ought to feel the safest. Why this senior citizen had scissors and a bat in her hands is still up for grabs. What we do know is that neighbors called police for help and told them she was an elderly woman with a history of mental illness. How popo went from courtesy, professionalism and respect or CPR, as indicated on their vehicles, to shoot the grandmother twice in the chest first then ask questions later is what Sgt. Hugh Barry has to explain to a nation exhausted from weekly police killings of Black bodies and a Community already victimized by generational trauma from having to witness their skin color and voice be treated without courtesy, professionalism or respect.  

The politics began when our Mayor and Police Commish reprimanded Sgt. Barry for not following protocol, but the questions were already lining up—Why didn’t he use his Taser instead? If he knew this wasn’t a robbery but a mentally ill senior, why didn’t he use his head? Did the dispatcher tell him she was emotionally disturbed? Does Barry have a history of not using his head? Was he promoted to sergeant anyway? With all the combat training a police cadet gets before earning his or her badge; much less, being promoted to Sergeant, did withdrawing back into the hallway and call for back up ever enter this officer’s mind? Back up here doesn’t mean the S.W.A.T. team and helicopter, but the help the afraid and panicking team. Do precincts have a division that addresses the mentally ill? Do they recognize over-policing as another form of mental illness? Do target practice images for police trainees look like Trayvon Martin or Justin Bieber? If Deborah Danner had been an emotionally disturbed old White lady, would he have shot her or reasoned with her? And if ISIL supporter, Ahmad Khan Rahami who reportedly detonated a bomb in Manhattan, planted another in Jersey while holding two states in hostage, got shot in the leg before NJ police was able to arrest him, why he is alive and not somebody’s grandmother? Nobody’s answering, but Black folk know. Hell, even woke White people know. The term ‘woke’ came out of the Black Lives Matter Movement. It means being socially conscious, not in denial; not avoiding reality, aware and talking about it; awake, not sleeping—woke.  Those of us who are ‘woke’ understand that the blame doesn’t stop at a trigger-happy cop, but police training or lack of. Because this isn’t the first time someone called the police for help where the response came in the form of bullets and not intervention. Look up another senior citizen, Eleanor Bumpurs who was murdered by NYPD and you’ll learn that her life was cut short because she totally lost it when her landlord wanted her out of her apartment for not keeping up with her rent payments. Just like Danner must’ve lost control when she saw it as an intrusion to have someone come in her home to try to get her out. Anyone who hasn’t been diagnosed with a mental disorder will lose it too when poverty, and years of feeling alienated and powerless get to be too much to keep wrapped up neatly and quietly for neighbors, landlords and a law enforcement that’s supposed to be there to protect them. 

...What is it about the badge that turns well-intentioned police trainees into complete action twits? And is my mother next? Because she looks like Ms. Danner. She’s at the last stages of Alzheimer’s and has panic attacks like Ms. Danner. She lives with me, but has been known to wander out into the streets talking to herself like Ms. Danner. At her best, my mother was an independent, proud home owner. She was a socialite and would have been an opera singer had her life had taken a different turn...

There’s also the question of repeated visits to Ms. Danner’s home by police during her psychiatric episodes; and each time she was escorted to the hospital, so they knew her or at least knew of her. The Police Chief knows what I know; and that’s that people who suffer from mental disorders don’t like to take their medication. Was the officer aware of this? Was it part of his de-escalation training? Does schizophrenia, paranoia, depression, dementia and Alzheimer’s ever come up? What are cadets’ reactions when learning that being a police officer is not just about bang bang, shoot’em up but actually about protecting citizens? I have a neighbor who told me a police officer had driven by his house, saw him taking things out of his car from his own driveway and proceeded to ask him if he actually lived there? The cop was Black, but he was so busy showing solidarity with Blue that he forgot his melanin. A few weeks later he was encountered by the same robo-cop at the train station while dropping off his wife for work. It’s unclear whether the officer recognized him or not, but he kept flashing his patrol car headlights into my neighbor’s eyes. He then got out of his CPR and told my neighbor who has a medical eye impediment that he was parked on the wrong side of the station. When my neighbor told him that the headlights were hurting his eyes, the officer got annoyed and called for backup.  Fortunately, no one laid dead on the ground that day, but words like I was gonna give you a warning until you complained left my neighbor feeling embarrassed for the insecure cop. Because only a powerless man inside needs to bully people without badges in order to feel like he has power on the outside.

What is it about the badge that turns well-intentioned police trainees into complete action twits? And is my mother next? Because she looks like Ms. Danner. She’s at the last stages of Alzheimer’s and has panic attacks like Ms. Danner. She lives with me, but has been known to wander out into the streets talking to herself like Ms. Danner. At her best, my mother was an independent, proud home owner. She was a socialite and would have been an opera singer had her life had taken a different turn. But she loved dancing with my father who transitioned before I could learn to appreciate him. Dad may have taught me to have vision and to think out of the Black box, but mom still shows me what gentility, self-respect and determination looks like. Her mental challenges are mere distractions to who she still is behind all her episodes of confusion, fixation, compulsion, depression, memory loss, hysteria and yes, the flare-ups. The same type of outbursts all aging soldiers express when they’re feeling cornered and helpless; forgotten and disoriented. So disoriented that they find power in their lashing out. Without her medication, mom turns into a police statistic waiting to be added to the long list of either misunderstood or ignored Black faces that don’t get to tell their stories before bullets tell it for them. When I hold her by the hand, it’s not just a good son’s duty but a mutual awareness that either of us can be next on the mere basis of our skin color that seems to be intensely threatening to the one who resents the magic and power of people of African descent. Killing us makes us stronger. That is the thing that continues to be so mystical about us. Some of us haven’t been made aware of such, so they prey on their own because this is the only way they know how to lash out.

If not mystical, I find it interesting that Deborah Danner kept a public journal. “I smile rarely, but I am surviving,” she’s said to have written on social media. She’d been documenting her experiences with alternate realities since her 30s and maybe before then. My mother remembered her favorite poems by writing them down. Her collection is still to this day a piece of artwork, to me. Because of her penmanship and in the refined French language Haitians of her generation were taught in school prior to leaving the island for better opportunities. She has since lost her interest in French poetry and is now losing her ability to put letters together on paper. But she still sings and I record her voice every chance I get. If not for me, then for her granddaughter. She never wrote nor sings about the absence of family members at her side. But Ms. Danner made sure to let all of us know that mental illness caused her family and friends to distant themselves from her. Mom’s early retirement may not have looked like Ms. Danner’s inability to keep jobs. And leaving your beloved home to create a new one in a country that’s still trying to keep her promise isn’t the same as being placed in psychiatric care in ten different ways under a medical system that doesn’t include the on-going trauma that keeps Black people from ever leaving our scenes of the Crime. Certainly, when we talk about healing Black people the most important theory to adopt and apply is the one that considers institutional racism, mass unemployment, mass incarceration, miseducation, unaffordable healthcare, religious indoctrination and the doing away of cultural norms that helped unite and define our purpose on this planet. This is not a political statement. This is at the root of why young Black men and women feel a need to publically express their rage. They’ve watched their parents scream behind closed doors for the sake of assimilation and holding a job.

Deborah Danner also asked questions. She asked her social media followers why more wasn’t being done to house and treat the mentally ill; if prisons consider the mental health of their inmates; why so many veterans are being misdiagnosed when the label leans more on the emotional and not the fanatic? Questions a very sane person would ask. She’d often times describe her daily struggles with depression, flashbacks, sudden panic attacks, and the stigma she felt from having the tendency of crossing realities in such a profound way that she actually gained notoriety even before she was killed. This crossing of realities is something we Haitians don’t necessarily see as problematic. We see emotional disturbance as a spiritual maladjustment. This is why when my mother says she saw this person or was at that place while sitting alone in her room that I don’t dismiss it as babble. But we do see mental disorder in too many police officers like everyone else who’s willing to see it.

 

Slave Auction - Just For Fun

I love the American southwest. It’s been pulling at me ever since I discovered I had blood relatives there from my father’s side. Something I had somehow sensed all along but needed proof; and it may very well be where I eventually decide to retire. It’s the red soil. The mysterious yet beautiful desert landscape. All the mystical rumors we hear about that go back to Native American tribes and African cowboys who framed their windows in turquoise colors to ward off evil spirits. The finger-sized blue lizards that tag along old beaten down trucks. Never ending highways that disappear into the horizon. And that majestic blue sky hovering over stories of past discoveries, dusty adventures and escape from forced servitude. All this had been waiting for me, so I flew to New Mexico as soon as I made the chance happen.

...when you place a kid in such confinement in an effort to provide him or her with the best education, you actually set them up for a rude awakening later on when they’re forced to interact with people who could care less about Homer, since their definition of education is in learning how to interact in a multi-cultural society...

Besides re-connecting with my peoples, I was learning the land that seemed to recognize my footprints. And this is where my story takes a turn towards the absurd. I had heard about the Atalaya trail and wanted to see for myself what it means to be so high up on sacred ground that you get nose bleeds. At the beginning or the end of the trail, depending on how you look at life, there was a college campus set amid the desert bushes and cactus trees. I got so distracted by it that I ended up walking towards the main building where bohemian-looking White students met me with surprised looks. I had already caught the welcome sign to St. John's College and assumed it was a Catholic school, but that was merely a formality. Like calling someone 'doctor' when they're really an educator. Other than the fact that the campus sits proudly on Atalaya grounds, a popular mountain trail overlooking Santa Fe, St. John's offers an interesting approach to learning whereas students don't necessarily take the standard liberal arts courses but instead are expected to write essays based on questions relating to classic European readings, with at least one mention of W.E.B. DuBois because, I was told, the famous African American historian had once visited the campus. I got the sense that the overall objective of the curriculum is to glorify Greek mythology while not preparing White students for the real world; a world that consists of different perspectives and skin complexions. Native American philosophy, for example, since the College already sits on stolen land, so that young Anglo scholars can learn to think outside of their privilege, outside of their bubble. Because when you place a kid in such confinement in an effort to provide him or her with the best education, you actually set them up for a rude awakening later on when they're forced to interact with people who could care less about Homer, since their definition of education is in learning how to interact in a multi-cultural society. And by the way, just so you know, Greek philosophy is based on African teachings. Pick up a book called Stolen Legacy by George G.M. James. As in most literary accomplishments and inventions by African and African Americans, it was first hidden from the public until a fair-minded British scholar let the black cat out the bag!

So where am I going with this? Well, I had just finished meeting a few cool young dudes who were fascinated by a live Black New Yorker when I noticed on one of the bulletin boards a loud sign advertising a slave auction. In a matter of seconds, I experienced what Dr. Joy Degruy calls post-slavery psychosis where a visual or word takes you right back to the scene of the crime. I did that thing Scooby Doo does whenever he's confronted with something he just doesn't get, or gets it and right away looks for the nearest exit-- Huh?!?! And I did look for the nearest exit. That's just generational survival instincts. Out of the five or six would be scholars, two of them had opted not to suddenly shy away and return to their routines. They quickly assured me that it was simply a play on words; that it's a dorm thing where students offer free labor, as in washing other students' cars or doing their laundry. Of course, this sounded like bubbleclop, to me. Because where I come from, that's called a ‘dolgier’ or a sucker. Or in the worse situation, prison time, and guess what? You're it! But when in Rome you try to remember you’re in Rome and not at home, so I chilled. It wasn't until the following day that I got a call from one of the students who expressed his displeasure with the whole matter after reconsidering the sign. He offered his apology for such an insensitive act. I told him it wasn't his role to apologize unless he helped put up the sign. And the person he needed to come clean with was himself for allowing his parents to encourage his miseducation. We began an honest discussion about race-ism, White denial, Black trauma and when does free speech become costly and to whom exactly? The kind of open discussion that hardly ever takes place in American classrooms and living rooms. He later wrote me to say he had complained to his fellow students and student government, and urged the Dean of Students to ban the ritual. He admitted that they avoided the issue altogether, lost some friends and, with the exception of one conscientious professor without the power to change campus traditions, began feeling so isolated that he was forced to transfer to his home college in Georgia where there are no cactus trees and mystical highways, but voter suppression laws and nooses that hang off campus signs just for fun.

 

Life Coaching Marilyn Manson and Drinking Moonshine

Well, not Marilyn exactly. Let me explain. I was doing family mediation at a youth residential facility in North Carolina where my duties included supervising a staff of college graduates interested in pursuing a career in counseling hard to reach young men and women. But that’s going too far into the story without beginning where this essay couldn’t have been written had certain events not take their places. I had just ended a six-year stint as a writing and general life skills instructor on Rikers Island, after deciding that my salary being dependent on how many new inmates came through Intake didn’t sit right with me. Doesn’t lessen the tremendous value of and rewards from teaching the incarcerated. But I was at a point in my career life where alternative education and family mediation were crisscrossing, and I hadn’t yet figured out a way to bring them together.

Plus, Harlem was burning again. My popular 125th strip was changing from being a cultural walkway to a gentrified boulevard. Mayor Giuliani was inciting racial tensions. Black officials with no solidarity to their own people were helping him push out or displace any and all resemblance to African-centered businesses that had made Harlem so unique. Crack cocaine had hit Harlem bad. The way heroine is now hitting rural America. There were rumors of beautiful condos and townhouses soon to come, along with big name businesses and park improvements. But that translated into White people are coming. And the resentment from Harlemites was that it took White people for Black people to get quality services. Then you had them two popular shop owners on 125 prime who’d been feuding over space and one of them decided to end the fight by torching his side, and the women and children in it. That’s when I knew Harlem wasn’t mine anymore.

“Kid likes to wear black clothes, color his nails and lips black and listen to electric rage music. I don’t yet know what gothic is. All I see right now is a young dude who enjoys standing out in the most morbid ways. And he doesn’t say anything except hello and goodbye. His parents want me to make him stop wearing black; and they consider Manson the culprit. Working with Black and Brown youth is my main gig. A White upper teen who relates more to Black, that’s another ez. I live around that. But this is new territory for me.”

And then I started noticing some curious things. A car would cut in front of me and right after cussing out the driver I’d notice his North Carolina license plate. A travel commercial saying Come to North Carolina. Meeting a total stranger who tells me he and his wife are moving to Charlotte. This year’s Christmas tree came from North Carolina. Or this young inmate who’d sit quietly in the front row, speaking up only when he felt a need to and with a southern drawl. When I asked him where he was from, he said Greensboro, North Carolina. The ancestors must’ve grown tired of my procrastinating, because a sistafriend said she had a job interview in Durham and asked if I could make the drive down with her. School was out for the summer, so we made the 13hr drive together without a hitch; and I tell you, I’d never seen a pretty blue sky until I saw North Carolina skies! This isn’t magic. Anyone can take a moment out of their busy lives to notice how we co-create with the universe. I was supposed to leave what was left of my Harlem, in order to fulfill yet another purpose. I see that now. I also see how my work with young inmates prepared me for my work with youth whose iron bars were in their minds.

So back to the beginning of the story where I’m now helping parents and their grown children get along; and supervising newbie counselors at a youth residential facility in Winston-Salem, my new favorite city. It’s my very first case. A redneck family who hardly ever interact with Black necks. They tell my White supervisor that they want a different family mediator because they believe I’m racist. This after noticing on my office wall a picture of Malcolm X smiling. I expected this; and as quick as my Haitian grandmother’s look when she’s not pleased with you, I say no problem and tell my supervisor to give the case to a White counselor. Because the process is already tainted if my skin color is in the way. But my supervisor tells them if they can’t do business with me, they can’t do business with the agency.  I didn’t see that coming either. Now we’re stuck with each other; and my clever team leader is making me visit emotional places I never had to before. Not only am I ‘too Black’ for this family, I’m also a yankee and a foreigner because I speak Kreyol (Don’t say ‘creole’. That’s a Louisiana dish.) And they’re from a place that’s called Forsythe County where Oprah Winfrey gets her first lesson on the hatred of Black people at a televised town hall meeting. How do I go about helping these parents reach their unruly 17yrld son, and who the hell is Marilyn Manson?

Kid likes to wear black clothes, color his nails and lips black and listen to electric rage music. I don’t yet know what gothic is. All I see right now is a young dude who enjoys standing out in the most morbid ways. And he doesn’t say anything except hello and goodbye. His parents want me to make him stop wearing black; and they consider Manson the culprit. Working with Black and Brown youth is my usual gig. A White upper teen who relates more to Black, that’s another ez. I live around that. But this is new territory for me. My team is divided. Some of them grew up seeing kids like Kid in high school. The Black staff think he crazy! Because he comes to the dinner table looking like Marilyn Manson as a priest. He’s as pleasant as a sitting bomb, one of them warns. In his chart is violent outbreaks, but we haven’t seen any yet. Failed all his classes, but he’s straight A here. Kid had a home and he had homework. But how do you finish your homework if your home doesn’t work?

Kid changes back to normal whenever he goes visits grandma. But soon after being dropped off for another month of not-home, he’s in his room transforming back to himself. The long black wig is so that he stops dying his natural auburn hair. It’s hanging off a chair, against the window where it can air out. His door stays open, and I was already checking rooms. Kid and I found out we both like poetry. That’s  how  he  got  to  learn  how  to  say, If we must die.  That’s also how I learn how to sing,

“Jimi Hendrix was a nigger
Jesus Christ and grandma, too
Brian Warner, what a nigger!”

Takes a rebel to know one. I saw that when Kid was telling another resident young man that the confederate flag needed to come down. So I understand when his superhero says we’re all America’s niggers. I got thru Kid by going thru Marilyn’s Mechanical Animals album— Great Big White World…The Dope Show…Rock Is Dead…Disassociative…The Speed Of Pain…Posthuman…I Want To Disappear…I Don't Like The Drugs (But The Drugs Like Me)…New Model No. 15…User Friendly…Fundamentally Loathsome…The Last Day On Earth…Coma White. It’s round this time that Kid’s parents realize that I’m not interested in making Kid the family punching bag, but instead just observing one of the players going through a family crisis. Marilyn Manson had another persona called Brian Warner, and personas were all the family had for quite some time, and nobody was willing to talk about it, until now. Calling it acting like a mechanical animal to make different feel different is calling on none of my team to make different feel crazy. That’s how my guys earn best team this year. As a thank you for helping them reach their son, Kid’s parents invite me to their home off city lines to have dinner with them. Part of me imagines a scene where I’m beaten then lynched to a tree that already saw hangings and hangings of Black people. But I think if I go, they won’t be able to ever say nigger again...maybe. So I leave a few witnesses behind in case no one can find my ass! And the first thing I see driving up the road is a confederate flag waving over their house and gardens. It’s an outdoor dinner, under a big apple tree and that amazing blue sky! I get to meet Grandma. She seems fascinated with me. This tells me Black folk don’t come in these here parts. I’m eating tough meat. Like when I thought I was cooking chicken but really fowl. It’s got a fancy name, venison.  It means deer meat. I don’t eat deer. But I eat deer now. Then Kid’s father places a jug on the table with two shot glasses. That’s how I learn the word moonshine. Twenty years from now South Carolina will be the last State to bring down the Confederate Flag. But I would have shown Kid and his family the one picture where Malcolm is smiling.

The Thing about Grace

(Message to a High School Kid Who
Never Heard of a Winnie) 

Now that the Nelson Mandela hype is over, your young brain cells most likely forgot all about the significance of both his transition (we don't die, we change form) and his legacy. Your school teacher or college professor might have added him to their lesson plan, what with all the media attention on the 90yrld global icon. The same media who once considered him a terrorist for speaking against the mistreatment of Black South Africans; as in, I invade your home, call it mine and implement a system where you need a pass to get to one room to another and back just to keep the house that's no longer yours expendable, and then have you locked up or murdered if you got a problem with that.

If you're fortunate enough to be in a classroom that pushes education/inspiration rather than indoctrination/subjugation, a productive discussion on what Apartheid was about and what Mandela's legacy means to people of African descent, to the world at large and to you specifically, then you know what it means to be informed and empowered. Because the more you know about your collective and individual self, the closer you are to finding your own purpose.  But with social consciousness comes social responsibility. And what made Baba (father) Mandela so special to all of us is the fact that after being unjustly imprisoned for so many years then released due to tremendous global pressure and consequently the end of Apartheid, the man made the decision to not retaliate; to not signal a go for a major racial war against those who understandably deserved to be punished for their role in the terrorizing of Black people in their own land. While this form of ultimate courage is admirable or simply strategic, since the objective was to advance Black people and a country divided.  Zulus wanted to see blood, if not the total removal of European control. As in, This is our nation. It was always ours until you stole it from us and therefore all of our resources ought to be controlled by us. You didn’t have to explain this to a Black kid in Brooklyn. He didn’t have to study Apartheid to experience it. Grace has a way of turning itself into a hand that crosses an ocean if only to reach his brother in struggle.

Some of us think she went too far with her bull horn. Some of us think Nelson was soft for coming out of prison pushing Can't we all get along?

The thing about grace is that it doesn't get the kind of attention a ratchet reality show does. Humility is quiet that way and yet loud if you stop to notice it. Somewhere in the Mandela hype was his ex-wife/assumed 'terrorist 2' Winnie Mandela. Some of us think she went too far with her bull horn. Some of us think Nelson was soft for coming out of prison pushing Can't we all get along? But pushing a racial riot and getting nothing out of it in the end but more bloodshed isn't being hard.  More of the throwing of stones onto burning bullets from children's hands might be an amazing story to re-tell, but at this point of the book, no longer effective. And Winnie staying by her ex-husband's new wife to help her stand as the current sitting wife wasn't being soft nor was it a photo opp to help change the minds of her doubters. Takes a certain amount of class to show grace in the face of your haters; takes spiritual enlightenment to turn a dis into an honor. This is why Winnie can smile today after years of terrorism pushed on her and her children during the earlier days when the shackles of Apartheid showed no signs of letting go.

Fast forward to today as we pause to honor the legacy of MLK not only for what he's done for Black folk in America, but for all oppressed peoples and particularly those of us living in poverty. To consider the Civil Rights Movement only a Black thing is to ignore all the good folk from other skin hues and other nationalities who helped make the Movement move, so when we take offense at the latest groups looking to get their movement moving by adding MLK to their feet we forget that the child being neglected by his mother is part of civil rights; the vet who needs a job is civil rights, the homosexual athlete who got pushed off his team is civil rights, the Rasta wanting to be left alone so he can do his thing is civil rights, the elderly man who's being evicted from his home and needs back up he don't have is civil rights, the transgender woman not being able to find an apartment is civil rights, the 16yrld Latina who got kicked out of her home for having a Black baby is civil rights, our sons who have to tolerate police terrorism on a daily basis is civil rights.

Bro. Malcolm would say human rights because each person has the right to basic and decent civility. The new generation might place more attention on cash n flash than on social consciousness, but my generation helped create that by dropping the ball. I’m saying we dropped the ball, yes. We gave our children the message that money means power when the medicine we should’ve used instead was money pays bills but knowing your history and honoring your culture is power, individually and collectively. And although they had seen old photos of their grandparents wearing wigs and sporting conks in order to make White society feel less threatened by our natural, we neglected to teach them that hair weaves and texturizers are just another form of the same psychosis.

Tomorrow, your teachers won't mention Nelson Mandela. Your parents won't continue discussing his role in the on-going holocaust of African peoples. That's if they even brought him up. And your favorite stores will move on to the next hype— Valentine's Day. Like the soda bottle on a factory belt, you'll wait to be told what flavor you should be/what label to put on, while the movement waits for you to move. These are complicated times and having grace is necessary for the conscious to navigate murky waters. Otherwise, there's nothing to teach, nothing to leave behind but she said/he said and stay tuned for more nothing.

The Color Complex…Still

A good writer not only reads, but also gets other writers' perspectives in order to expand her or his skills and mind. This time around I'm reading The Color Complex. A look at how American Africans still play skin shade politics with one another. I'd add that Hispanics play it too, big time. But this book focuses on Black Americans and where the glorification of light-skinned Blacks and the pulling away from anything African comes from. The obvious reason, of course, is the Willie Lynch doctrine that stipulated exactly how wealthy White men should go about pitting shades and age against one another in order to control the slaves. But what makes this book stand out for me is how the writers leave out the usual culprit and focus instead on our own isms, how we perpetuate them through our words (she's darkskin but so pretty), our music videos (always a lightskin with long hair and if darkskin, must have a long weave or wig), our parenting (giving a 6yrld a perm), our grooming (perm for females/texturizer for males), our miseducation (he ugly like an African) and our dating (I only date this shade/that shade or I mess with this shade but marry that shade).

I think y'all know by now that I'm all about accountability when it comes to us as a people, and I welcome books and discussions on how we as a people tend to avoid serious self-reflecting. We're damaged, no doubt. There's no way around that fact. You can see it in the way our grown sons walk like toddlers all over again from letting their pants sag so low. You can see how sick we are by the lucrative bizness in hair weave and wigs, often times over-exaggerated with accessories covering the real person; and the males tolerating it.  If you're a school teacher or counselor, you can see how our sons and daughters pay more attention on appearance rather than on their grade point average, while students from other cultures wear jeans yet have higher gpa's.  Are our youth's self-esteem so shot that they need to emulate what's on their tube in order to feel empowered? Or are we producing shallow children because we ourselves are shallow? Because if you're paying any attention, African and Caribbean women are developing skin cancer as a result of bleaching their melanin. Their obsession with imitating western culture is that deep and that serious. Added by the fact that some brothas play a key role in this dis-ease because of their preference for light-skinned women. Some of us may be too busy texturizing, so not sure if there's even time and space to notice anything when the smell of flavored lye is hijacking your brain cells.

Traditionally African American universities we now hold high were known to bar dark-skinned Blacks from attending.

Look, I’m not trying to push my views on anyone here. People—Black people—have the right to paint their hair purple if they want to. My job is to put the conversation out there like a brave fishing rod and hope I get back some wisdom; maybe even cause a few to put down the hype and save some money. But here's why I'm pushing this book. First, none on my students have heard of it which should tell you that education is not about empowerment but falling in line. It also talks about some of the burdens our grandparents had to put up with. Like 'the paper bag test' where your skin shade had to be close enough to the color of a brown paper bag if you were to be allowed into a school or social club. Or 'the beige door test' where dark-skinned Blacks had to have their own churches if they're complexion didn't have the right connection. Our own education system decided who got taught to become professionals and who was pushed towards agriculture, all depending on skin shade, with fraternities and sororities not only pitting letters against letters, but supporting the color codes.

The book even quotes respected educators who pushed the division in order to preserve light-skinned 'culture'. Even W.E.B. DuBois' Talented Ten were all mulattoes, with the exception of the dark-complexioned token, Phyllis Wheatley Peters. And we already know about neighborhoods that became famous for their 'pretty Blacks', including parts of Harlem, NY and Atlanta, GA. Traditionally African American universities we now hold high were known to bar dark-skinned Blacks from attending. learning grounds like Spellman, Howard, Fisk, Hampton, Morgan State, Wilberforce were all part of the sickness. So no wonder little Black boys and girls would sing that song we now sing in different ways—

white is bright
yellow is the color
brown stick around
black get back!

We didn't realize what we were saying. I know I didn't. It was just playtime and I don't remember anyone telling us to stop that nonsense and why. All we knew was that Black was bad and White was good. And so the point was to be as close to 'white' as possible. We were just kids. We didn't realize what we were doing to our psyche. And Black parents were too busy surviving or assimilating if they were immigrants like mine were. I sometimes wonder if 'white' people also have a color complex; if there're tensions between brunettes and blondes, red hair and brown hair. And if blondes have more fun, then why are they often portrayed as dumb? If there are tensions, do they say to themselves 'At least I'm still White’? If there was a choice, who would pick not being able to get a cab or have a cashier give you back your money by placing it on the counter instead of touching your open Black hand?

‘White’ people have the luxury of just being, while we're still battling out our labels. The ones placed on us and the ones we adopted for ourselves. My father, who would be considered a mulatto, was disowned by his family for marrying a dark-skinned Black beauty who had Dionne Warwick's high cheekbones and Dianne Carrol's sophistication. To dad, mom was da sht! And to me too. The way she'd command a room with her class and poise. She emulated the same elegance our First Lady gives off, and yet my father's people saw it as a step down for him. So much that my coming out darker than my paternal lineage caused a rift in the family. It’s that pervasive in our community. A by-product of institutional race-ism that is as American as apple pie and as us as Hot peas and butter/Come n get your supper!

I’m In

The Taboo Yardies Documentary

I recently saw a film by Selena Blake documenting the raping and murdering of same gender loving people in Jamaica, and how the police actually help promote this type terrorism. But the violence goes even further than that/gets deeper than that. Parents are known to abandon their children once they find out they were bullied or violated to avoid talk from the community. Neighbors report to police who they even think might be homosexual to stay on the 'right' list and island officials add to the terrorism by equating same gender love with incest and bestiality. There’re homosexuals themselves who beat up and burn their own, so that their communities don't target them. As difficult as it was to hear testimonies from lesbians who were gang raped by male thugs whose intention is to ‘fix’ these women, as in 'corrective raping', and seeing the scars on their arms from self-inflicted knife wounds as their way of dealing with trauma unresolved; as painful as it was to watch scenes of young and older males being slashed by machetes and burned to death by other Black people simply for being a sexual minority, it was important for me to watch the damn thing and learn.

I found out that Uganda and Jamaica have a lot in common; that the common culprit behind these atrocities is Church indoctrination and the fact that Jamaica didn't get off England's titties until 1962 which answered my question on why this island and not Haiti? Not that my mother's homeland waves rainbow flags like American boys sag their pants. But we don't burn our brothers' and sisters' homes for being themselves. Matterfact, many of our Vodun priests are considered two spirits. We say 'two spirits'. You say bisexual. Most Carib islands have strong anti-SGL sentiments where it's still illegal for a man to love a man and a woman to love a woman, with the exception of St. Lucia where they will arrest you for being a gay man but not a lesbian. It's that type of double dealing that leads to undercover male behavior. It's also a reflection of heterosexism at its best.

...lesbians who were gang raped by male thugs whose intention is to ‘fix’ these women, as in 'corrective raping',...

I also learned that White SGL tourists can go about their business freely as long as they avoid Jamaican ghettoes and that many of them own fancy getaway homes there where they're immune to the terrorism regular Black folk have to deal with on a daily basis. Plus, Jamaica's Black well-to-do SGL's have enough money to look away and not help the ones who can't afford escaping ghetto life and ghetto mindset. And what's ghetto mindset? If you watch it from this perspective, you too will learn that after religious brainwashing, violence is at the root of insanity in Jamaica's poorest hoods. One brethren in the film said if two men get into a car accident, it's a cause for an all out fight with folk circling around them to see who'll win. But I've seen that ish in Cambria Heights and on Utica Ave. I've seen us go for one another's throats on subway trains just 'cause someone brushed by another and then all hell breaks loose which is not necessarily Jamaican, but for some reason distinctively us-- Black folk.

A reminder of when things turned wrong for us in our experience as a people in these Americas helps us understand how terrorism towards us by European and Euro-American hands for so many centuries taught us how to do the same to one another. And the less informed we are, the more likely we perpetuate this legacy of violence, which brings us back to Haiti or rather, Ayiti. We were and continue to be punished for having the audacity to reject the white in the red, white and blue. Hence, our rainbow flag-- the red and blue. Are we starving? Of course. But we'd rather starve than go back to the tittie. Even today, the colonialists are threatening to stop sending monies to us that they originally stole from us for wanting to set up our own elections.

The chaos you hear about and see is mainly in the capital, but they won't tell you that the rest of Ayiti is prosperous and beautiful. Folk in Port-au-Prince burn trees to sell charcoal for cooking. And those horrible stories of women being raped and boys selling their bodies in order to eat are real. But that's not our culture nor our national sport. That's just what happens all over the world where impoverished folk do whatever they have to do to make it. Jamaica's having an identity crisis right now only because there're folk there who want the harassing and killing of homosexuals to be their country's cultural pastime and national sport. If not, every Jamaican you know would be outraged. And some are, but only once they land on foreign soil.

But there's even more to this and the film director exposes it. "Let's talk about it", she says. "Let's have an honest conversation about homosexuality." Because at the core of her film is our hatred for effeminate men and boys. Because you can be a masculine dude who's into other dudes as long as you keep it to yourself. You can be married, have children, attend church and do that thing you do on the side, and it's all good. Just don't let us find out. And if we already suspect, don't mention it. So how does an effeminate bruh push his girly down and up his macho, especially if it means his life? For that matter, how does a transgender even survive in the heart of wickedness, whether it's Jamaica, Uganda or right here in da hood? I don't know about you, but I think it takes big cohones for a dude to walk in a neighborhood not made for his kind with heels and lipstick, head held up high and a box cutter under his wig. Now, that's gangsta!

If I sound like the film had a personal effect on me, it's because it did. I'm guilty of judging ‘the girls’ too and I can't let my readers confuse my being private with being ashamed. THIS ISH IS WRONG ON A PURE HUMAN LEVEL and I'm sharing this with you to help this sista' put the word out. I also wanted my next youth support book to have more depth and I found it in the dark with my notepad and pen scribbling as much sense I could when one writes in the dark. Every book I've written so far is strictly from an observer's perspective. Can't do that this time around. I'm in. And I think by me being in and not just of it will give my book more meaning. Might piss off some folk, but that's what happens when you tell the truth.