Today my friend David and I spent time this afternoon modeling for and drawing each other. I haven’t drawn much during the pandemic so my skills were and are rusty. I asked him for permission to fool around a bit with one of his drawings.
As for mine, I took each of the poses David did for me and tried to work it into the negative space left on the paper.
We talked. It’s been a while since I’ve had conversation with another artist. It was enjoyable, so hopefully we can make these moments of creativity and conversation a thing that we can do.
I went to work in 2014 for a public affairs firm that professed to be “Center Right,” but must have had slanted floors or something, as the longer I was there, the further to the right the politics lurched.
I contributed monetarily to opposition campaigns to salve my conscience, and to pay my bills and keep the lights on, but a lot of damage got done, some by me personally, in the name of “keeping the lights on” and justified by “but they paid me.”
Its a fraught relationship I’ve had with employment in this country as a Black man, under scrutiny because of a concentration of melanin, an inability to consistently get anywhere on time, likely due to some un-diagnosed and plastered over mental health or cognitive condition, in and out of closets due to being Gay, and trying to stay employed when most of the folks making the hiring choices don’t like Black people, definitely not Black men , and if willing to live truth openly as a Gay person, not getting called back, so for years, I got used to masking, stuffing myself into an acceptable mold, smiling, observing, keeping my head down and giving the fuckers what they want.
Our team won National awards for designing a campaign that got the Trump tax cuts passed, by selling lies with images of babies and puppies to assholes on the Hill who have never had to make the hard choice between filling up a gas tank, or getting their prescription filled and whose babies are props in a campaign, or paid for each month with checks to spouses they rarely see.
Eventually I intentionally priced myself out of being hired full time to that firm. Their name was on Rachel Maddow’s lips. I really couldn’t continue pretending that donating a hefty chunk of my salary every week to their opposition was enough.
It was time to leave.
…so I kicked around for a few years, hustling part-time gigs, driving groceries, running little side hustles to barely pay the bills, to sharpen my craft, trying to figure out social media, and to develop valued friendships, watching companies I worked for close because we did our job a bit too well, and the Government doesn’t always want you to continue to exist once you’ve helped fix a problem like the backlog in security clearances, for example.
…and then after almost two years of interviews and dealing with the surprised looks when I arrived for the interviews, the “but your so well-spoken” backhanded compliments that were code for “but we thought you were White. You sounded White.” and the polite rejection letters that followed saying “we were impressed by you weren’t quite the right fit.” or the smiling White women who knew they wanted another White woman whose smile never rose past her nose for their team, and not this old Black man who for reasons they could not fathom was somehow “scary” so they hired me to clean up the accounts, fix the bad design, to build “templates,” and then moved their friends into the now easier job while slowly decreasing my workload in hopes that I’d get the message.
That happened too often for it to be a coincidence or paranoia on my part.
After two years of interviewing, I got called into a contract, working for a business 10-15 minutes from my front door. The business is Black owned, woman owned, centered on providing health care access to the under-served communities. They set up vaccination and testing clinics in Black and Latino neighborhoods ignored until a pandemic came along and enough essential personnel died or was disabled, Governments could no longer blithely whistle past the body bags and freezer trailers full of the victims of their neglect.
…and because Obamacare makes the insurance companies cut you a check if they don’t spend 80% of their revenues on your care, and if you aren’t using your health insurance, it has a major impact on their ability to claim they provided care for the money they collect from you.
We cajoled and wheedled people via phone calls and social media ads I designed, into signing up for subsidized health insurance policies and then got people to go see a doctor instead of the usual wait-and-see, hoping the aching would stop, the lump would get smaller, the dizziness would end.Yes, lots of folks do that because the reality of going into the doctor and having them drop an expensive slice of truth on you when you are already struggling sounds easier than just “wait and see” and too much of this “Great” country is doing that.
You know, the unspoken thought of “perhaps I’ll die before it gets too painful and that would be a relief” running under the struggle to survive.
That’s a lot more common than you’d think.
They’re hiring me full time, direct on January 2nd.…and paying me a decent salary, though we’re still working out the details of what that looks like with benefits, and working from home, etc.
What that also means is this is the perfect time for a break.
I’m walking away from this app for at least a month, and if not being on her for a month feels right and is workable, I’ll keep extending that absence.
Rich White tech dudes get value from our attention, our clicks, our likes. Valuable data is sold to the highest bidder and used to push demographics to do things.
To buy things.
To vote or not vote for people in countries, globally, often based on psychological profiles and misinformation designed to deceive you into making bad choices.
I sacrificed my safety, security and well-being to stop being in service to people who meant to hurt my country, the planet, and me, but continued to be in service to essentially the same people by writing content for free on Facebook and other apps.
Its time for me to see what life looks like when I stop doing that, and go work for people who see my value, appreciate my talents, and are a stand for me growing as a person to be my best self, fully realized and no longer hiding, or justifying to “keep the lights on.”
Its also time for me to start taking a look at my mental health, my financial security, and to move from survival mode to a place where I can build financial security, perhaps even equity, since where I am grateful to the friends and folks who have provided me shelter, its long past the time I start building my own wealth and security, and not sacrificing myself to pad someone else’s financial stability.
I’m lucky I can do this and grateful. It has been a delight (mostly) chatting with you all and maybe I’ll be back, but frankly, I hope not.
Here is hoping that 2023 brings us a year where accountability continues to be a leitmotif, but that the main melody of what threads through all in 2023 is justice, and where others may try to create discord, the end result is harmonious joy for all who fight for it, and frustration for all of those who block the path toward light and joy, and I wish comforting darkness for those who do not prefer the light for there is a place for both in this world.
Before I went to Philly seven years ago, back when I took annual shopping trips/mini vacays, I saw a man on the DC metro with a BEAUTIFUL computer bag, from Burberry. It was honey brown, had brass buckles, looked just big enough to hold a laptop and a few office supplies and had a clip-on shoulder strap.
I don’t usually have a visceral reaction to bags, but this one, I did.
Now that I think back on it, it may have been from the women’s line, since they tend to make women’s bags smaller, and I wanted something that would hold a 13″ slim laptop and an iPad, a moleskin notebook, an iPencil, and not much else.
I was selling small bits of my soul working for a “Center-Right” (yeah, right) public affairs firm, had donated to charities countering some of the more awful people I designed for, and felt like I could treat myself, so I researched online, and found out their flagship store on Walnut Street in Philly often carried the bags.
Sunday morning on day two of my trip up there was my usual shopping day – croissants and warm peanut butter, a coffee, black from La Columbe, The Philly Inquirer and a spot in Rittenhouse Square park to watch the snobs walk their pedigree pups before I set off down Walnut street with a bag containing a few pounds of whole beans to take home.
I used to go to Philly at least once a year, hit DiBrunos for cheese and balsamic, Fantes for some kitchen gear, Maybe one of the pasta shops in the Italian market, and then back up for my coffee before picking up the car from the Walnut Street lot after checkout from the Alexander Inn.
The pandemic put a stop to that yearly habit, sadly.
So, I headed down Walnut, unshaven, comfy sweats on for the drive home, My comfy Doc Marten low rider boots that had some paint and stain on them from working around the yard. I meant to stop in at Doc Martens, too and see about a new pair.
So I stroll into Burberry’s looking disheveled. Nostrils flared on salespeople as they looked at me distastefully. I wasn’t aware that a 5 ft woman was capable of looking down on a 5′ 7″ man, but she was trying her level best to achieve it.
The main floor was mainly for women’s things. She directed me up to the 4th floor with a dismissive wave and a sneer like I stank. I may have smelled like hotel soap, coffee and peanut butter, but from the look on her face, apparently, I smelled like I rolled in dog shit at Rittenhouse Square before coming in the store.
…but I wanted that bag, so up the stairs I go.
A white dude was busy arranging things around the men’s section, not helping anyone, but trying not to engage with me, either, so I walked up, and described the bag I was looking for. He waved me towards some bags off to the side and went back to ignoring me.
So I looked at him. Looked at the bags, asked if they had more in the back and he pretended like he didn’t hear me.
He was white. Looked at me and sneered and likely assumed I was broke and not worth his time.
…so, I walked down the stairs, disappointed, but determined not to let bullshit spoil my day and decided to continue on to go get my boots and to see if Doc Martens might also do a computer bag.
She was the only Black salesperson in the store. All the white ones ignored me, turned their noses up.
She was warm, friendly, answered my questions, looked at my shoes and remarked that my boots had been through some things but noted that they were Docs. Went in the back. Brought out the correct size without having to measure my feet. I bought some laces while I was there, and she laced them up for me before putting them back in the box and sent me across the street to Tumi and said “they’ll take care of you” since apparently, I was wearing my experience at Burberry’s clearly on my face when I came in the store.
The rest of the staff, when noting what I bought then made a huge effort to speak as I left the store. (rolls eyes – continues on)
The woman at Tumi was a nice White lady. She called me Sir. Showed me to the men’s bags. Most of them were kind of big and not really what i wanted.
There was a bag hanging on display.
She said that’s usually a bag that women like, since its smaller, less bulky, more tailored, but I can’t see why a man couldn’t rock this bag, Take a look.
It was well-made. Has an RFID pocket to protect from spoofing signals off credit cards and phones and a tracking locator and ID chip, a lifetime servicing guarantee, and free monogramming.
…and so, with my bag from La Columbe, a bigger one from Doc Martens, and a third from Tumi, I went back to Burberry, approached the woman on the main floor, told her to contact the man up on the 4th floor and let him know that their commission went to people who know how to sell and who don’t make assumptions based on how comfortably a person is dressed.
I laughed a villain’s laugh that echoed up to the 4th floor as I left the building.
A few years later, in DC, I was looking for a bow tie to wear on a cruise, and decided to give Burberry’s in DC a second chance.
Same dismissive treatment.
They really need to work on that, unless the point isn’t to sell clothes, but to only have your brand on “certain” people, and it would not be beyond the scope of reality that this is the brief to their salespeople, as some pretty prominent houses out there don’t want their names on Black backs and have said so. Its easy enough to Google to find out who I’m talking about here.
I went down the block and spent a shocking amount of money at Paul Stuart for a bow tie, the old school kind you tie yourself, and matching cummerbund, because:
The salesperson was Black. I like to support Black people in luxury stores when I can, because I know some White people avoid the Black salespeople and go find themselves a White person to talk to, so I do what I can to balance the scales.
He didn’t make assumptions about how much I had to spend based on what I had on.
He didn’t try hard to sell me or push me, but was warm, engaging, and friendly, and made me feel as if I was not an imposition on his time.
If I’m in your store, as with anyone in your store, really, that’s the very least level of service I expect to receive and I wish more sales people were taught to understand that you need to treat everyone who walks through your door as if they were your best, long-time customer, and if you can’t do that, go find another way to earn a living.
Some of us aren’t going to bother to dress like we have money to come in your store. We may be testing you to see if you are worthy of our hard-earned money. Some of you will earn the lifetime loyalty of people who come to your shops if you can figure out how to treat us all like a life-long customer.
A few times a year, I find my sharpening stones, put them into soak, take my knives down from their magnetic holder at their station, and I put the knives through ever-finer grades of stone. From the most coarse, I send each knife over the stone, holding the form, honing the edge, and put it down.
I move to the next knife. Holding the form, honing the edge.
Keeping count of the strokes.
Wetting the whetstones.
My hands and arms tire, and the fine grit pigments small dots on the towel I use to hold the stone in place.
I rinse the blades one, by one, and increase the fine grade until the last stone.
It is small, and deep gray, and has characters in gold on the side.
The stone feels very smooth, but rubbing a finger across it too quickly will take some skin with it.
I finish off each of the blades, wash them, dry them with a cotton kitchen towel, the one with the red stripe down the center, and place each blade back in its place on the metal magnetic bar.
How many people did we kill in Iraq after we invaded a country for no justifiable reason – and when the world knows the real reason was and likely always will be one thing – oil?
We all know Saudi Arabia was primarily responsible for the attack, since the funding and most of the hijackers were Wahabi-ists with connections to the House of Saud.
We all know Osama bin Laden was in Afghanistan for maybe a month, and then lived comfortably in the security sector in Pakistan in plain sight for years, yet we justified a war in Afghanistan for 20 years, doling out a few Trillion dollars which have enriched about 5 companies and left Afghanistan no safer than they were before we arrived from the ministrations of the Taliban.
We send drones to kill Terrorists, now, but sometimes those “terrorists” are a dude with a bunch of water containers in his car, headed out to provide humanitarian aid.
The 3,000 lives we paid on 9/11 20 years ago; are they worth more than the lives of the MILLIONS of people killed by the United States in our various global misadventures, trying to export ideas like “Freedom” and “Democracy” abroad, while our own Congresspeople and Senators conspire to overthrow the Government?
Governors sign bills into law that give a corpse more rights than a raped woman?
While people scream about “Freedom and Liberty” and shove their unmasked children into poorly ventilated classrooms, then launch “GoFundMe” accounts to pay for their grandmother or their child’s funerals?
We claim to value freedom while we oppress each other.
We claim to value democracy and the privilege of voting while nearly half of us who are eligible have never voted.
20 years out from an attack on our shores, where we were united for about a month, and then found a new way to have the world hate us as Hans Blix screamed from the ground in Iraq, “There are no weapons of mass destruction,” but could not be heard over the overly loud drums of war and the resulting cries for blood.
It is a tragic day.
A day to remember.
…but it must also be a day where we reflect on who we truly are and who we aspire to be, because entirely too often in this country, we are not “United.” We are not “Free.”We do not believe in “Liberty” unless that “Liberty” aligns with the idea that we get to control someone else’s body, ability to take drugs or not, what Church they attend, what beliefs they have in gender and sexual expression.
We seem to believe that the right to bear arms is more important than a child’s right not to be traumatized by monthly active shooter drills in school.
We seem to believe that rich people have the “right” to acquire wealth using infrastructure and labor that was trained and build with your tax dollars, but they seem to believe they have no obligation to pay a wage that allows a person to have a roof over head, food in their mouth, access to health care, and joy.
Rich people seem to believe that the working class has absolutely no right at all to experience joy.
It would seem that “Freedom” and “Liberty” are only for those who can afford them.
This essay will likely not rest lightly on people who are still traumatized by having watched towers that scraped the sky topple to the ground, and people who turned planes into missiles, nor will it rest lightly on the folks who walked home covered in the toxic dust of destruction, traumatized by watching their worlds flip on their heads in an instant.
To those people, I say I’m sorry.
…but I do believe that our country, the land of the “Free” has spent a lot of time preening in a false reflection, not looking at the reality, eyes focused on the future, and not on the “now.”
…and that action costs us in ways great and small.
I hope that we are now as a country at a crossroads, beginning to look at who we are in the world, what we have done in our past, and that we begin to learn that its time to remove some hands from the tiller that guide us into darkness in search of profit and power, and begin the journey that has us begin to see that we are part of a World community, on a precious little blue dot in a vast universe, that we only have this, and we only have now, and we need to begin to embrace each other, to listen to those who have been silenced, and to respect each other if we can’t find love in our hearts for the other glimmering beings around us.
During the pandemic and up until two days ago, I had grown to accept a low hum of existential dread and anxiety as something I just needed to live with, because we are living in strange and for some, terrible times, so I figured its just something to factor into the day.
It is hot, as summers here in the DC area tend to be. I came in from the afternoon tending of my garden, and decided maybe some iced tea in the afternoons might help me get some energy back. The temptation to nap in the afternoon is strong, but my ability to recover from or be disciplined enough about the time limit on a nap make me reluctant to go down that path.
I didn’t want a caffeine bomb, as my bedtime was beginning to drift to the small numbers at the front end of the clock again, and I do have some commitments in the morning, namely two furry buds who need to go outside, scare the birds and the squirrels and chase each other around for a while until settling down to business.
I had done some research on some things I could add to my tea to reduce anxiety, and another thing to reduce any stomach issue that might result, and decided a little Valerian root, some chamomile, some lavender would be nice additions to the black tea, dried hibiscus flowers, oranges and lemons that I’ve found that I like. dried Valerian taken in small doses can quite nicely to reduce the feelings of anxiety.
The additions to the tea seem to be working pretty well. The caffeine from the black tea and the sugar and citrus has me nicely energized, but I’m also calm, like that weird calm space I rarely get to see when trying to meditate, or after yoga? Not sure if its the valerian in the tea, or that I’ve bent my purpose a bit and decided I really don’t need to carry around anxiety and existential dread and its time to start doing something about it, and the action of doing that has maybe shifted my mental outlook a bit?
If this continues to work, and the anxiety is eased and I am able to sleep through the night again, I’m also considering the work of finding a therapist to start working through some of the old baggage I keep locking away or burying, telling myself I need to move on, but all this urgency to move forward doesn’t gain a lot of momentum, so its time to cut ties with some of the anger, depression, and self doubt that I stuff down in those bags and bury in places in my head I tend to avoid.
…or at the very least face it, process it and let it go.
I’m also thinking of some advice I’ve heard from some friends and my sisters – the time to seek help is not when you need it, but when you don’t really think you need it. There was a show from Taraji P. Henson about taking care of our mental health, and that its particularly important for Black American people, because as a group, we’re carrying around a lot of trauma, from living in a country that is often hostile to us, with people who know they can’t be openly hostile without consequences, but can’t seem to stop themselves from micro-aggression and slights and undermining behaviors, plus all the internalized anger and sadness from having to be strong all the time, and not let the bastards see you bleed, but there is only but so much injury one can take and suppress without it causing some problems.
I say work because I’m going to need to find someone who isn’t going to be charmed by me, or that I can outsmart too easily, otherwise, I’ll just be paying for pleasant chatter. Its a thing I’m actively considering now, since I actually have a decent level of insurance thanks to a subsidy provided by the Federal Government and the State of Maryland, and a nice case worker who was bored and decided to go in and audit some of the pending insurance applications in PG county and help those of us who weren’t completely clear on how to navigate their systems.
It’s almost as if the system was designed to keep folks from looking for help, but that same system has attracted cool folks like that lady who know the system is fucked up, and worked to get enough expertise to help the folks who the system seems to be designed to leave a little broken.
There’s also the truth – I’m not fine, even though that’s reflexively how I respond when asked. I would like to exercise but seem unable to compel myself to do it. I would like to be more creative and finish a few projects but I can’t compel myself outside of a few things that I have to do to finish them. I’m a freelancer, but I continue to interview for jobs and have been for three years now, and the stress of the hustle to get the money to pay the bills does have my nerves a bit frayed.
My life is great in a lot of ways. I have good friends, pets, a support system of family and friends, a better than average amount of sex in a month, and fairly tightly controlled caffeine and alcohol intake.
…but still, I’m not fine. I’m not broken, either, but I’m not fine.
…so I’ll sip my tea, and work my tasks, and start looking forward to the day where I can put some of this baggage in my head down – and I think the writing of this the beginning of that process.
Critical Race Theory is a college-level theory course in which they examine how laws and economics, whether intentionally or not (but in most cases, it was intentional) created inequalities in society that cut along racial lines in the US and in other countries that experienced Euro-centric colonization.
It is completely separate from “Honest History,” which is the teaching of what actually happened historically in this country, once you remove the lens from which people were taught up to this moment. This is also referred to as The 1619 Project, created by Nikole Hannah-Jones in cooperation with the New York Times as a means to look at US history through a lens other than what history has been taught in this country.
That lens: Euro-centric – meaning every history lesson taught in this country was about “White” people, their contributions to this country, and maybe one month out of the year, you would get to learn about “safe” Black people – meaning the ways in which Black people helped White people in this country. It was never about our achievements unless those achievements helped to augment the continuing dominance of things seen as “White” and “Normal” over every other culture that helped create the United States.
The practice of centering history on those whose ancestors came from Europe is referred to as “Patriotic History.” In reality, it is the White Nationalist version of what happened, skipping over enslavement, rape, murder, land theft, cultural and physical genocide, Jim Crow, Japanese Internment Camps, The Trail of Tears and the repeated eviction of indigenous people from their lands, multiple campaigns of terror to first drive Black people out of the South, then to hold them captive in the South via sharecropping, since agriculture could not exist without Black labor until the machine age and tractors made Black labor redundant, the import of cheap labor from China and other Asian countries, the theft and rape of the Continent of Africa, including theft of its antiquities and the erasure of its heritage, both via kidnapping, enslavement, and via instigation of wars between countries to distract long enough so that resources could continue to be stolen.
…and this is only a small part of the vast history of this country which usually is not taught to children in their foundational education in schools in the US.
This happened because a group that began as the Daughters of the Confederacy, in conjunction with book publishers based in Texas that have always leaned Conservative, have lobbied to have history told this way, have edited and printed text books, and have constantly worked to promote a White Supremacist view of history under the guise of “protecting the Children” from being ashamed of their heritage, specifically children with European ancestry.
They are often referred to as “White” children.
An aside on that – in the United States, Black people call ourselves Black because the majority of Black people here, whether recent arrivals from the Caribbean and South and Central America, or ancestors of the folks who were kidnapped, enslaved, and suffered from cultural and actual genocide, connections to our cultures of origin, our tribes and countries and nations and religious traditions were erased, replaced with “English” and “Christianity,” re-written in large part under the direction of King James as a means of control and oppression.
If you refer to yourself as “White,” but have full knowledge and recollection of the country of origin of your ancestors, what that says is that you are choosing to call yourself “White” and that you are proud to be “Not Black.”
…and this is only a small part of what you were not taught.
Choices were made to protect little White children, while the parents of every other ethnicity in this country had to teach their children how to survive White people.
Systems were created by White people like slave catchers, re-branded eventually as the police, aided and abetted by the carceral Justice System – where we are taught to submit and obey, while labor is extracted and if we choose not to submit and obey, we are imprisoned and our labor is extracted anyway.
So teachers’ unions have to sue in order to protect their members from being punished for teaching your children the truth.
…and an entire “Conservative” party apparatus in the US is fighting for the “right” to lie to your children.