No Place Called Home: What I Learned About Being Black in America
Not a goddamn thing.
I was born in 1985. Premature. Ten months after my older sister was born and my mom somehow miscarried in between. Do the math. I grew up during the “Bangin’ in Little Rock” era… in Little Rock. I was dubbed eccentric. It was intended to be dismissive. My hair was nappy as fuck before it became an “it” thing. I don’t “not buy relaxers” because I’m trying to look woke. I don’t buy that shit because I tried a kit in my hair as a teenager and looked stupid as fuck. Had me running around like an extra in The Five Heartbeats. Nah, I’m good.
The 90s sucked for black boys with acne. I was 70 pounds soak and wet. Maybe. Was left-handed when, in the south, many education systems still considered it a handicap. Before I turned 10, I had already had my first suicide attempt. And my second. I was a ghost. A very poorly dressed ghost. Niggas giving Macklemore all this credit for the return of thrift shopping. Shit, my dad invented thrift shopping. I was a by-product of broken promises, hand-me-down jeans, Stevie Wonder records, Super Nintendo, New Jack City quotes, cartoons and the occasional porno flick. My uncle hid the VHS tapes in the second drawer. Nice way to role model, Billy. You did good.
School was a game of musical chairs. Class. Detention. Suspension. Report Card. Stop the music. If you’re standing up, get the fuck out. You lose. “How the hell did you make the honor roll,” I wish that could’ve been considered all the times I got my ass beat for misbehaving. When I was in class, I was not the object of any girl’s affection. By the time high school came around, I had switched schools so many times I didn’t make any ball team, lost out on attending duPont Manual Youth Performing Arts School, gave up track, and managed to be stranger again almost every year. Popularity wasn’t elusive. Just overrated. As fuck.
Somewhere between the age 22 and 30 I added 90 pounds of gur ‘ I’m gon’ love you the right way. Learned how to wear clothes. Let me tell it, I just woke up one day and, bam. I’m fucking handsome. Idris Elba would be proud. He’s my spirit animal. Maybe I was all along and the universe just needed to realign itself so that women could see it. Way to go universe. Okay, I lied. For years I struggled with self-image. Inside I felt worthless. Outside I felt like I was one broken tail light away from being discarded into a sea of black faces with affinities for caskets. Black matter. J Dilla’s “Fuck the Police” was the ultimate clap back. On the count of three say fuck the police. One, two, three…
Fuck the police. My uncle was the only one I ever respected. He died when I when I was still too young to know exactly what cancer was. But old enough to fall to fucking pieces when they lowered him into the ground. Disgusting of my parents to lie and tell me that was how he died. He had AIDS. Like, somehow that made him dirty. I never saw him that way. I never saw him with a woman, either. Ever. Funny that I didn’t realize it then, but I only saw pictures of him with women. And still, he was my hero. And probably the first example — from anyone who looked like me anyway — of being unapologetically, black. We should’ve celebrated him. And not in secret. And not because society today would’ve.
Sometimes I stare in the mirror and wonder which paycheck will be the one. With all my pseudo-securities and middle-class status, I’ve come to terms with two undeniable truths. I’m still a black man playing a game in which I’m not intended to win; albeit a handsome one. Second, I am (still) just one paycheck away from being homeless; albeit… yes, a handsome one. Most days I dance barefoot to ‘Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You)’ just to summon enough energy to adult. By the 3 minute mark, Stevie’s playing becomes something magical. Only after the needle starts making that scratchy static noise — that tells you there are no more grooves in your vinyl — can I even fathom putting my shoes on and walking out of my apartment.
Outside, black kids are still being discarded. At the hands of our system. Cops. Each other. I walk to work, measuring each step so as not to crash into anything outside of my lane. In my interactions with people who don’t look like me, I usually use a blinker. I speak my mind, but am careful to maintain the illusion of “well-mannered.” I write and create things most people don’t understand. I parent through Apple products. My God …has natural hair, brown skin and breasts. And Sunday worship is track 11 on a Childish Gambino record. And America is — to me, at least — whatever the hell America is. And I will forever be… just another black person in it, down here in hell. With you.
Liberated. But definitely not free.