Stop Paying Attention to Age

“I need a slow motion video, right now,” he recited bubbly when he answered my phone call. Most greet others with a hug or a handshake. Our special welcome is a rap ad-lib that we uttered no less than a thousand times in one day during the summer of 2011. We joked, drank, partied, and conversed during his one night visit to NYC. Most importantly, we needed a slow motion video for our plethora of shenanigans.

We met while I attended the best university at a “we have extra money in our budget so let’s host an extravagant buffet styled lunch” appreciation luncheon during the summer. His mother was then an administrative assistant in the Dean’s office and proudly introduced me to her soon to be fourteen year old son. His tall lanky frame, with over sized hands and feet, highlighted that was he in the midst of a growth sprout. His mom and my boss mentor suddenly disappeared into the crowed after the brief introduction, and we were left awkwardly together. Making small talk (Editor’s note: small talk with a teenager is top ten hardest things to do in life…don’t doubt me, just shake your head in agreement), I asked what he liked to do in his free time, and he tersely replied, “Play basketball.” I then invited him to hoop with me and some friends, not thinking that he would take me up on the offer. But he did; I still remember the phone call from his mother asking what time she should bring him to the gym. A couple days later, we were running up and down the court together. He was on my team because my big brother instincts wanted to protect him because neither my friends nor I knew if he could actually hoop since he was younger than we were and if he sucked it was only right that I shouldered the burden. Impressively, he held his own against the older competition and we won the majority of our games. More importantly, our friendship began.

We are six years apart, and being the elder I assumed the mentor role. We spoke occasionally about school and his social life; I mainly listened and offered advice when asked for it. After I graduated, our conversations continued, evolving as we each became more of ourselves. The frequency decreased each year, but we always made it a point to check in with each other ever so often. For example, when I found out that I was going to have a child at twenty-three, we spoke about it like brothers. I shared with him my anxieties and apprehensions, especially given that both of us had grown up without our biological fathers present. Likewise, when he was having a difficult time in college, we spoke about it like brothers. I encouraged him to continue his educational journey, and even sent him some money for “books.”

After all the pleasantries and small talk, he exploded that he connected with his biological father and siblings. The story seemed surreal; he went to college with his half sister and even met her a couple times because they shared a similar friend group. Only a few months earlier did she somehow connect the dots. I smiled when I heard the excitement in his voice about being a big brother and how he and his sisters are actively working on crafting meaningful relationships. And then the conversation became authentic when we broached the difficult questions about his father and their initial meeting. Undeterred and maturely, he detailed the work in progress of moving past the past and focusing on the future. I could hear, faintly, the hurt in his voice that he was actively moving beyond. He understood that bitterness would destroy this opportunity, so he decided to be happy and embrace the moment. During our two hour conversation, I learned from him. He showcased for me what letting go actually looks like. He demonstrated a strength and courageousness that left me in awe. I just kept saying in my head, “I want to be like him when I grew up” because he was handling tough situations in an admirable way that I wanted to emulate.

After we hung up the phone, some two hours later, I decided that I can no longer pay attention to age because it can not quantify one’s wisdom and maturity. I have met some older adults who act like children immaturely. Similarly, I have met some young adults who speak and act with a knowledge beyond what one would expect given their age. Thus, I am actively working to remove my assumptions about others based on their age.

Am I The Next Zimmerman?

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Unfortunately, the picture above is correct. There will be another Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman, sadly. The names will change, but the crime’s root problem will remain. This narrative of racially motivated crimes and the criminalization of Black and Latino males is not new. In 1833, almost a 180 years ago, Fredrick Douglas wrote about the South’s tendency to impute crime to color. In other words, crime and color were conflated, thought of as one. Thus, the perpetrator of any crime was thought to be black. Accordingly, there were Whites who took advantage of this ideology and purposely ingrained it in our societal consciousness. There was a period when Whites would color their faces and then commit crimes. Black faced criminals. They would often commit these crimes at night and would get away. Then, when the sheriff began his investigation he would accuse innocent Blacks, who could not defend themselves legally, especially with an all white jury, or socially from the hooded viligantes known as the KKK. Such criminal actions of these White men in black face paint instilled and manifested our country’s negative assumption about its black brothers. Not surprisingly, those notions of Black, and now Latino, males are prevalent in our modern society. See any resemblance to the Trayvon Martin case. Yep, his story is not exceptional but the norm. The foundation has been set and we continue to build on that faulty, yet sturdy framework. Heck, whenever I see a group of teenage males, regardless of color because I know the violence that White males are capable of as well, I get nervous and suspicious.

Am I the next Zimmerman?

With the question, I am not insisting or implying that I would violently and nonsensically attack and kill a seemingly suspicious person. What I am suggesting though is that the narrative of violence against the other, and in our country the other is non-White, is so strong and prevalent that when I get nervous around those groups of young men, I am certain that I think a thought that led caused allowed Zimmerman to call the police 46 times about suspicious behavior in his neighborhood since 2011. I am certain that Zimmerman and I share similar stereotypes. How could we not? We both were raised in a White dominant culture, whose teaching of these narratives are prevalent and pervasive. Heck, we all know those stereotypes about each other, ranging from race to sexual orientation to religion. So when I see all of these people proclaiming and suggesting that they may be the next Trayvon Martin, I pause and ask myself, am I the next Zimmerman?

On another note, I question what should happen to Zimmerman? While I am outraged at the fact that he was not arrested at the scene of the crime, which seems like standard procedure, I am not sure if he should go to jail and/or receive the death penalty. Prison is the de facto form of punishment in this country. With every homicide case there are strong emotional claims made by the victim’s family that the perpetrator should be punished, either by spending a considerable time in prison or by receiving the death penalty. Heck, I confessed a few days ago that I cannot even begin to imagine the pain and hurt I would feel if my son was senselessly murdered. I am not in any way detracting from the mountain of emotions that one must feel when losing a loved one to a crime. I do however question the need for an instant solution, which prison provides. Lock the “bad people” away from society is the motto. This accomplishes, according to Dr. Angela Davis, an escape of thinking of the root problem; it allows a solution to NOT thinking of the problem because the problem has been removed. While the problem may be moved, has it been solved? Our judicial system operates on revenge and punishment. And it does not work. In fact, the prison system replicates and reproduces the very ills of society. The civil death that prisoners encounter often leads them right back to the system or unable to ever fully regain full citizenship to our society; those punished are forever sentenced to a life of second-class citizenship. Oh, the prison is a system, structurally designed, according to Michelle Alexander’s new book, The New Jim Crow, to suppress Black and Latino males, which has innumerable consequences for our country. Thus, I am not sure if placing Zimmerman in prison will accomplish anything meaningful for our society.

So what should we do with Zimmerman?

I am currently reading Touching Spirit Bear, which within the storyline proposes a Native-American inspired reformative opportunity for a young male perpetrator. The healing circle, a council of concerned and invested community members including the victim and his parents, meet to discuss ways to reform the protagonist, Cole. They ultimately decide to provide him a chance to learn from his mistakes, with the faithful hope that he does. During his first attempt at redemption, he tries to escape the solitary island on which he was to spend time learning about nature and, more importantly, himself. Fortunately, he is given a second chance and this time around, he changes. The course of his learning takes roughly two years, which in our microwave/fast food generation seems like an eternity for justice. Though I am not finished with the novel, Cole has grown and is at a point in which he wants to help his victim heal. He learns that his healing is intrinsically tied to the healing of the one he hurt.

Imagine a reformative process, which allows Zimmerman to deal with his own personal demons, which he undoubtedly has. Once done, he then has to find a way to contribute to the healing of Trayvon’s family and community. The end result would be one that revolutionizes the concept of justice; making it a reformative opportunity, which ironically prison was initially constructed to do. This solution would actually solve the root problem for Zimmerman and help Trayvon’s family heal from their loss. Such a concept, based on love and forgiveness, is foreign and alien to us here in the United States, in part because of the time it requires.

Love, forgiveness, relationships, and healing all require time. There are many scholars who speculate that real change in our culture will take roughly five generations to happen. And that is if we start now.

U.S.A Hides the Real Issue

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US is scared.
As a result, US does bad things.
Ultimately, US hurts others because it is trying to figure things out for itself.

The US will forever be affected by the indelible mark of slavery and its consequences, mainly the formation of an oppressive society. US values some more than others. In doing so, US creates and maintains a healthy cycle of oppression, which is pervasively internalized and learned by all who grace its bountiful land. US hides behind other issues, other divides to ensure that it will not have to be accountable for itself.

US is scared to look in the mirror and be responsible for its sins, faults, and shortcomings.

The case of Trayvon Martin is a horrific tragedy that has become a common storyline in US. Our country’s history is littered with senseless, racially motivated deaths. The names change, but the issue remains the same; our oppressive society’s constant denial that there’s a racial problem. If one ever wondered what privilege looks like, one does not have to look far because US, specifically White mainstreamculture, is the epitome of it.

US does bad things because it is scared; its actions are physical manifestations of its anxiety, angst, and anger.

Unfortunately, too many lives have been lost, disrupted, and damaged with US’ anger, with Trayvon being the latest captured by our national media’s attention. This fixation on the Trayvon Martin case should lead to conversations about US’ racial issue and subsequent problems. Those conversations should begin the healing process that US desperately needs like a man dying of thirst needs a sip of water. But with any angry person, the blame has been displaced. Now our media’s gaze is turning to George Zimmerman’s close friend, Joe Oliver, a media puppet. Mr. Oliver is a black man whose faked promoted close relationship with Zimmerman seemingly validates that Zimmerman is not a racist, in an attempt to de-racialize the case. How could he be a racist with a black confidant, one who has not seen him since a week before the February 26th incident, yet proclaims on all these talk shows that Zimmerman sustained serious injuries, a broken nose and a laceration on the back of his head, during the life threatening scuffle with Trayvon that ended with Trayvon’s life lost. Mr. Oliver claims to be an “Uncle-like” figure, who has only talked with Zimmerman once since the murder and only with the assistance of Zimmerman’s lawyer. Mr. Oliver now dominates the Trayvon case.

Wait, what?

What about Trayvon?!

Well played, US. One can never underestimate your displacement public relation skills. Similarly, the attention is turning to the Sanford’s police department many mishaps and mistakes. Now, an investigation will probe their police department, searching for who leaked information to the public.

Enough already, US!

US, you we cannot continue to blame and fault others. Healing requires taking responsibility for one’s actions. At some point, if this country wants to heal, it will need to look in the mirror. Too many people are angry over this issue, rightfully so. But anger gives others control of you.

US regain control. Forgiving allows for that to happen. However, in order to forgive, America must first deal with the real issue, itself. And that process necessitates an honest look in the mirror. No more conspiracy theories, friends, hoodies, distractions. Only America in our gaze.

Rihanna, Sex, and Chris Brown

 

Smash. Bang. Screw. Hit. Cut. Nail. Beat. Pipe.

The above slang words are all used to describe sex. Additionally, those words all have a violent undertone to them; they share a similar forcible imagery. Is sex a violent act of beating, smashing, and screwing? Either that or sex is like a handy job that requires verbs normally associated with tools and hard labor. One or the other. Notice the absence of love and care.

Enter Rihanna and Chris Brown.

A few years ago, prior to the 2009 Grammys, the country saw pictures of a battered Rihanna from the hands of her then-boyfriend, Chris Brown. I am a firm believer and proponent that one should not be punished repeatedly for the same thing. Thus, after he was sentenced, I personally moved on from the story and have paid absolutely no attention to the criticisms that were levied toward both Rihanna and Chris Brown.

Enter “Cake.”

One of the standout tracks (more like an interlude) from Rihanna’s most recent album. The track is a minute and twenty seconds of pure unadulterated desirable sexiness in audio form.

Enter “Cake Remix” featuring Chris Brown

When I initially heard that Rihanna and Chris Brown were going to do a song again, I thought that it would be a lesson in forgiveness, an opportunity for both of them to move beyond the unfortunate domestic abuse incident that will forever bind them together. I imagined a song that praised second chances. My high hopes were quickly dragged down to earth, and my expectations sunk even lower, toward the middle of the earth, when I learned they would remix, “Cake.”

Wait, what?

Why “Cake?” Last time I checked, Chris Brown and Rihanna are vocalists who have made millions of dollars from singing ballads, which seemed much more appropriate for their highly publicized and undoubtedly criticized reunion on wax. A song sung about forgiveness, or true love, or even Muppets would have sufficed. Anything other than “Cake.”

As a result, Chris Brown’s first words on the track are: “Girl, I wanna fck you right now (right now).”

Wait, what?

Chris, let me holler at you for one quick second. These are the first public words that you want to say to the woman whose face you assaulted with your hands. These are the first public words that you want to say to the woman whose battered picture covered every news website and blog for a couple days, resulting in embarrassment and humiliation for you both. These are the first public words that you want to say to the woman…to the woman that you claimed to love at one time.

Then again, one could easily remove the word, “fck” and replace it with any of the eight words at the top and the phrase will still make sense. Consequently, the violent undertone would remain in tact.

Notice the absence of love and care.

And it’s not even her birthday.

 

I Forgive for Me

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His message appears in my Facebook inbox. I read it. In it, he apologies. I read it again. In it, he states that he misses his best friend. I read it again and again. Then, I let it sit there with no reply for about two days.

I struggle. That last sentence may be one of the realest, most honest sentences that I have written. In its simplicity is mixed so many shortcomings, so many attempts to be better. Success, failure, and hope not so neatly reside within the word, struggle. Hence, I struggle with forgiveness.

A few years ago, the leading positive psychologist in the nation, Dr. Martin Seligman, came to my school for a professional development training. I loved his positive attitude (no pun intended), especially the strongly suggested ways that we can look at our outcomes, our responses to situations, and our lives. Dr. Seligman argues that as a society we focus too much of our attention on what we are not good at and not enough time cultivating our strengths. Long story short, he invited the faculty to complete a questionnaire via his ‘Authentic Happiness’ website to measure, and ultimately rank, our strengths. Interestingly, my lowest ranked strength, the questionnaire did not use the word weakness, was forgiveness.

I struggle with forgiveness because I give so much of myself in relationships. In my closest relationships, I give my all at all times. I allow myself to be vulnerable, which accounts for the strong bonds, but conversely allows for the strong hurt. Imagine for a second the different variations of a hug. There is the I-kinda-like-you-enough-to-touch-you-but-not-really one-armed, sideway hug. Then there is the full-body-our-chest-and-by-virtue-our-hearts-will-undoubtedly-touch two-armed, full embrace. My relationships closely mirror the latter; I am exposed, accepting, and open. Thus, when someone hurts me, it hurts tremendously. My affection and care are open, not shielded.

Imagine if I were being attacked, and stood in the starting position of the two previously mentioned hugs. In the first stance, the one-armed hug, I would get hit squarely in the arm/shoulder, which would be painful. In the second stance, the two-armed embrace, I would get hit squarely in the chest, which would also be painful and more dangerous because the chest houses all the vital organs. Remember, I characterize my hugging style as the latter. As a result, I hurt badly when I am/feel played, slighted, or wronged.

As much controversy as Tyler Perry incites, I think of him whenever I think of forgiveness. In one of his movies, one of his characters utters a counterintuitive truism, “Forgiveness is not about the other person, it is about you.” Remember that much of Tyler Perry’s fame comes from his constant touring of the bible belt influenced Chitling circuit; thus, most of his earlier work was heavily laden with biblical references and thoughts in order to inspire.

Here is the crux of my struggle; I struggle with forgiveness because I struggle with forgiving myself.

I recently read, “Healing requires taking responsibility for your actions.” No where in that quote is the other person mentioned. No where in that quote exists a he, she, they, him, or her. No where in that quote does it condone being consistently angered and frustrated by the pain that the non-existent other person caused.

I struggle with forgiveness because I struggle with forgiving myself.

There are still moments when I quick to point to others and blame them for my situation, my feelings, my hurt. The key word in that last sentence is “my.” The situation, feelings, and hurt belong to me. As a result, I have to be accountable for my actions, thoughts, and feelings. I only allow past situations to hurt me because “healing requires taking responsibility.” Thus, when I am responsible for my actions, I can move on from the situation.

At the same, I do not condone removing responsibility from the other person for their actions, their role in the hurt. I am, on the other hand, suggesting that you are only in control of you. You cannot make that person do anything; you cannot make them apologize, you cannot make them feel sorry for their actions; you cannot make them hurt as badly as you hurt. Therefore, you can not let others’ actions linger in your life. At some point, you have to forgive, not for them, but for you. Forgive yourself and allow yourself to be happy, in order to live the life that you deserve.

Similarly, forgiving is not forgetting. Learn your lesson, and move on. And be prepared with your newly acquired knowledge because life is a lazy teacher who uses the same test over and over again. True, she may change a question here and there but the same skill is being tested, regardless of the subtle change.

A couple days later, I reread his message again for umpteenth time. I crafted a response that reiterates to him that I too miss communicating with my best friend. I also convey that I have moved on from that once unbearable place of hurt.

More importantly, I forgive him. I forgive, not for him, but for me.