Happiness is a warm gun.

“Happiness makes up in height for what it lacks in length.”
― Robert Frost

I like this quote about happiness.

It also happens to describe my precarious relationship with a feeling that used to come so easy to me. I’ve come to realize that happiness is as fleeting an emotion as anger or anticipation or disgust. As a child and young adult I thought that happiness was something of a right because it came so naturally. I deserved it. There are so many pictures of me as a child caught mid laughter. I still smile in pictures but this is sometimes done by trained reaction not genuine joy. Happiness, now is a like a rollercoaster. There few large climaxes with little ups and downs that sustains me until the next large climax.

I’ve often asked myself, “Do other people have these same fixations on happiness?” Do they fret over it as much as I do or do they just enjoy life and take it as it comes?

In my last post I wrote about how I feel I suffer from depression. While I don’t think depression and happiness (or lack thereof) go hand in hand; I do believe that they are intimately connected. It might be commonplace that a person who seems happy on the surface may in fact be putting on a front for the world around them. It’s so simple to post snippets of your life on social media while collecting Instagram likes, Facebook shares and Twitter retweets while feeling dead on the inside.

As a real adult, not a pretend one, I learned that no one promised me joy and happiness. I have the right to pursue that happiness but it is indeed a privilege that should be enjoyed while it lasts. Now the tough part is actually doing just that instead of typing it.

My heteroclitic dealings with depression and thoughts of suicide.

“In the end, I understand his desire, the self’s desire to silence the self, and thus the world. Ronald looked at his Nothing and saw its long history, saw it in all our families and our communities, all the institutions of the South and the nation driving it. He knew it walked with all of us, and he was tired of walking.”

-Jesmyn Ward

This is an excerpt from Jesmyn Ward’s The Men We Reaped, a memoir which I’m currently reading.  The Men We Reaped delves into the stories of Ward’s brother and her friends who died because of who they were and where they were from, because they lived with a history of racism and economic struggle that nurtured drug addiction and the dissolution of family and relationships. Ronald who is referenced in the quote dealt with depression which led to a drug habit that caused him to become estranged from his family and feeling like he let the most important people in his life down. Eventually giving up on life he committed suicide at the age of nineteen. This book resonates with me because I can relate to certain feelings of hopelessness that comes with being a Black person in America.

Depression is a precarious thing. In undergrad I believe I suffered bouts of depression. I wasn’t clinically diagnosed but I know exactly what it was. One Friday night my mannerisms and attitude combined with what I’ll describe as buzz words caused my friends to believe that I might attempt to take my life. I needed to clear my mind so I took a scenic walk around campus and it happened to be eerily empty. My friends found me sitting on a bench in front of the dining hall. After my friends made sure I was fine one of my best friends and my eventual line brother stayed behind to talk to me. We had one of the realest and rawest conversations I have ever had in my life. His sister had recently committed suicide and he finally opened up to me how much her death hurt him and continued to hurt him. He couldn’t imagine going through that much pain again. He called me selfish. I had so much to live for. So many people would love to have my life. That’s the thing about depression. None of that matters.

What did matter is how I felt after that conversation. I don’t know if he or any of my other friends remember that night or that conversation but I think about it all the time. I was embarrassed by my feelings because I have a lot to be thankful for. Many people would love to trade places with me. I don’t want to be selfish so I don’t talk about it. I don’t talk about it with my family. I don’t talk about it with my friends. I don’t talk about it with my lover. The simple fact is that I still suffer from depression from time to time. I’m embarrassed by it. It doesn’t make me special. It doesn’t make me needy. It doesn’t make me different. It’s something that many people my age, my color, my gender suffer from yet it’s still taboo within our community.

September 10th was World Suicide Prevention Day. This is something I didn’t know because it’s something that I didn’t want to know. I don’t like thinking about suicide. When news of Robin Williams’ suicide was plastered everywhere I was consciously silent on the issue. I usually share blogs that I find interesting on twitter or facebook. A favorite blogger of mine recently wrote a piece on suicide. I didn’t share this piece but instead I sent her a private message.

This leads back to my embarrassment. I’d rather not discuss it, especially publicly, because I think that if I don’t talk about it then I don’t have to deal with it.

Black people aren’t supposed to suffer from depression. Africans definitely aren’t supposed to suffer from depression. It’s impossible for Africans who were born and raised in America to even consider it because imagine if you were still back home? I should be grateful. The thought of bringing up the issue of depression with my parents is as far fetched as me discussing my sex life with them; far from likely.

I still deal with what I believe is mild depression.  I’m trying to be less embarrassed by it. I’m trying to be less ashamed by it. It’s something that I cope with.

Booty Basement

Booty Basement.

When I first heard of this I assumed that it was a bad name for a gentleman’s club. When I found out that Booty Basement was the name of a monthly hip-hop hosted night here in Portland, I was excited to get out of the house and hear some good music. Since I’ve been here I haven’t really been social. Maybe a happy hour here or there or something called Family Dinner. I was fooled once by an event called First Fridays. I used to attend First Fridays in Nashville when I lived there for graduate school. While it’s not a bad event it’s definitely not what I’m used to in a First Fridays event.

Saturday night came and I was told that I should dress prepared to sweat and to get there early because the line would get really long. This made me more excited. When I used to go out with my friends WE PARTIED. We danced. We drank. We sweated. I hadn’t done that in a long time so I was looking forward to a night of fun. My girlfriend and I got into line around 9:30 and there were about 5 people in front of us.  Three of them were white but I didn’t think too much about this.

Approximately 10 minutes later the line stretched about a half a block long and as I looked back at the line formed behind us I was hard-pressed to find a person of color. I was told that Booty Basement, while a hip hop night, is mostly attended by Anglo Saxons. This wasn’t surprising to me considering that they are the largest financial consumers of rap music. I’m not so narrow minded to believe that White Americans can’t or shouldn’t enjoy music that is mostly made by Black Americans but something about that night didn’t sit too well with me.

I know that the term appropriation has saturated our cultural lexicon but it’s the only word that seems appropriate. I got the feeling that most of the people there treated the night as a costume party; wearing what they thought was hip-hop gear only to don their pleated khakis and crocs come Monday morning. Everything about what I saw felt inauthentic. As someone who grew and spent the majority of their childhood and adolescence appreciating and absorbing all types of hip-hop and rap music I was lightweight offended. Perhaps I just happened across the wrong Booty Basement and there are other times where it might be an enjoyable experience for someone like me.

I wasn’t too much a fan of the ghostriding the whip/Oakland documentary followed by the home videos of twerking being played on the projector over the bar. It just didn’t seem right given the patrons. The Miley Cyrus twerking imitations irritated me and as the crowd sung along to song after song I was waiting for someone (a White American) to slip up and say nigga.

The icing on the proverbial cake of inappropriateness happened when I was trying to have a good time and dance a little. This White American man walked up to me and in what I can only describe as willful ignorance asked if “the names on my shirt were members of my band or sometfallen brethrenhing.” For reference the shirt I was wearing is pictured to the right. I was taken aback by his question but I quickly responded, “Actually these are the names of Black men throughout this country’s history who have been unjustly and unlawfully murdered by White men.” His response was “Oh. I’m so sorry” and he embarrassingly walked back to his group of friends. Throughout the night he kept stealing glances at me and I made sure he could see the names on my shirt clearly.

Needless to say I’m not hard pressed to attend another Booty Basement.

F*ck the police.

pigThe fallout following Mike Brown’s murder is a couple of days old now and I’ve seen many give their opinions of various topics related to this heinous crime including racism, classism, the ineptness of the NCAAP, the backlash behind President Obama’s official statement, respectability politics and the role of police in our community/police brutality. The latter is a subject I want to broach today with this post. Before I begin let me state how I feel about the police.

Fuck them.

Of course I don’t mean fuck ALL the police but my general attitude towards police still stands. Why do I have this viewpoint? I doubt my story is different from most Black men that grow up in America but I’m still going to share my story.

In 1989 when I was seven years old my father was severely beaten by Greenbelt police (PG County, MD) officers. What did my father do to deserve a beating (the question that apologists always ask)? He was fired from his job and when my dad refused to leave the premises the police were called. Upon arrival after a few words were exchanged my father was beaten with nightsticks. His injuries required hospitalization. My father went on to sue the city of Greenbelt.

This was my first introduction to exactly how some police officers protect and serve. Last week I had a discussion with a couple of frat brothers on GroupMe and our conversation centered on the murder of Eric Garner. Our discussion then shifted to what cities on the east coast had the worst police force. Eventually we started sharing our stories. Some were pulled from cars, some were verbally harassed and one was even punched in the face. As my frat were telling their stories I couldn’t help but chime in “My experiences have been nothing like y’all.”

I’ve never had an officer pull their gun on me or physically put their hands on me. I’ve lived in PG County, MD during a period of heightened police shootings, in the South where racial tensions are supposedly higher and in New York City during the stop and frisk era. This doesn’t mean I don’t feel anxiety when I’m driving and I see a police officer pull behind me. I wonder if my license or registration is expired. I start doing calculations in my head. “Even though it’s the middle of the afternoon and I’m driving to a meeting would I fail a Breathalyzer?” “If this cop doesn’t like me would he intentionally plant drugs in my car?” On the chance I do get pulled over I wonder if the additional 4 police cars he calls for backup are there because of my color or if he’s taking a routing police precaution.

Two years ago my youngest brother was slammed to the ground and arrested in front of my mother’s home in the middle of day. My brother was home from school that day because he wasn’t feeling too well. A friend and him were sitting on the porch and when the police asked them what they were doing my brother got smart with the police officer. This was enough justification to put his hands on my brother. According to the officer the reason he stopped to question my brother was he “fit the description” of a burglary suspect. Ultimately all charges (resisting arrest) were dropped and shortly after my brother cut his locks off.

The job of law enforcement is to protect and serve. I’m tired of them doing everything but that when it comes to our community. I read a report by the Malcom X Grassroots Movement report entitled “Operation Ghetto Storm” that showed data where every 28 hours a Black man in this country is killed by a police officer or vigilante. When I first heard of this statistic I thought to myself, “That seems pretty high; it can’t be right.” Then I really contemplated the number of black men who have been gunned down and never gained national media attention. This is an epidemic that too many people outside of our community don’t see as a problem. So when I say fuck the police, I don’t say so arbitrarily or haphazardly. It comes from a place of pain, of fear, of anxiety and of anger.

I want my people to be able to live in peace and trust that police officers will do their job and police the community. Help those that need help. Pursue real criminals and get them off our streets so that we have safer places to live.

There have been too many young black people across this country whose names I should not know; but I do. Civilians and the law collectively in this country have targeted people of color for a long time and that’s not changing anytime soon. Pictures have surfaced of police officers in full riot gear calling protesters “animals”. There have been reports of officers have firing rubber bullets into crowds of protesters. An all too familiar militarized police has little regard for a community that is mourning the murder another black person. The pictures I have been seeing look more like an occupation of a foreign country than an American city. I would complain about how the system is broken but the sad part is the system is working.

Some people will argue that I shouldn’t say fuck cops because they aren’t all the same. This argument holds no weight with me because there is an unspoken war going on in America between my people and the police. In this war only the police have the right to kill with impunity. They get paid leave and or termination of employment or at worst they might get convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

When the deck is stacked and it may mean the difference between to life and death I don’t have the luxury of trying to differentiate between good and bad cops so as N.W.A. so eloquently put it, Fuck the police!

On The Powder Keg That Is White Privilege Blended With White Guilt

On August 15, 2014 I left the lab to participate in Portland’s #NMOS20141. Portland held our vigil at Pioneer Courthouse Square. If you’re not familiar with Portland it’s similar to Union Square in New York. Since I really couldn’t find parking I walked into the Square towards the end of the moment of silence. There was a large circle where people of all races stood shoulder to shoulder. I did notice that about eighty percent of the crowd was Caucasians. After the moment of silence everyone came together in a large group and began telling the crowd their feelings or experiences on police brutality in regards to race.

The first thing I noticed was that most people didn’t use the bullhorn that was present so it made it kind of hard to hear most people. Shortly after I observed a middle aged white man because he had on what looked like a construction helmet, red framed sunglasses, a full beard and a sign hanging around his neck saying “Legalize marijuana.” He simply looked out of place. As he got up to voice his feelings, he began shouting disjointed phrases over how he was upset that the police kept harassing him for smoking weed. An older woman ushered him from the center of the crowd before he could go any further.

After a few more people talked I was ready to leave because I had two evening meetings and I couldn’t hear what most people were saying anyway. As I was getting ready to leave a mixed race Jewish young man stepped forward to the center of the crowd (I know he was Jewish because he was wearing a Kippah cap). Although he had a soft voice it carried enough that I could hear what he was saying clearly from the outer edges of the crowd.

He first pleaded with the crowd to bear with him if he cries because this is something that he’s really passionate about. This is when I knew that I had to hear what he had to say. He went on to say how he was tired of seeing black people killed in this country just for being black. He tried to explain that this was not a black issue but a white issue. Then he said what I wasn’t aware was a trigger word; “privilege”. The words “white privilege” weren’t five seconds out of his mouth before a white man yelled over him something about not all white people have privilege. The Jewish kid in turned told the white man to “Shut up.” The white man, red with anger, took this opportunity to start taking steps towards him in what I perceived as a threatening manner. What I presumed was his older and bigger brother (he later said so) pushed the Jewish kid to the side and told him to “Back the fuck up and don’t approach my brother.”

Another older white man (also wearing a Kippah cap) weaved his way through the crowd saying he was trying to get to his son. He was able to get in between his older son and the angry white man thereby diffusing the situation enough so that both backed down. The younger son was able to finish his sentiments and I was left awestruck as how a white man could so brazenly disrupt a black man in a moment of such truth and rawness.

Why did he feel he would be justified in doing so? He proved the young Jewish man’s point. White privilege is a hell of a thing.

No one thought he himself didn’t care about the murder of innocent Black people. He was standing shoulder to shoulder at a rally for us. Yet his white guilt combined with his privilege stirred such reverberation in him that the diatribe he heard caused him to lash out wrongly and unjustly.

That’s the thing about white privilege. No white person, regardless of how progressive or conservative they are, wants to admit that it works in their favor. A white person may be working hand in hand protesting events around the Mike Brown murder and treatment of American citizens in Ferguson or they may hate the way that people of color in this country are sometimes treated as subhuman but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have advantages that others who are rungs lower on the social ladder can only imagine.

If Mike Brown from Ferguson, Missouri were apart of the 29.3% White population Darren Wilson wouldn’t have thought twice about stopping his police cruiser that day. That is the privilege that whiteness is afforded in this country. The ability to live comfortably in one’s own skin, to wake up each morning knowing that you’re the status quo, the default of all things from pop culture to religion (WASP2) to politics. Privilege does not have to think about any of this. Privilege is ignorance to the weighted awareness of wearing a veil of race everyday of one’s life.

So yes I think that White man was wrong for his outburst. It was neither the time nor place to upstage a Black man with his overbearing White privilege. I hope he learned something that day.

1 National Moment of Silence for Victims of Police Brutality. 90 vigils across the world happened to share in a moment of silence and solidarity with each other.

2 White Anglo-Saxon Protestant- Males of this group are on the top rung of the hierarchy of American society.

On being a people pleaser…

Recently a friend of mine made an acute observation about me. I don’t like for people to be upset with me and I also like to please people. I hadn’t really thought that of myself but the more and more I pondered the more I found it to be true. The interesting thing is I used to have a completely opposite disposition towards others and what they thought about me.

When I was a freshman in college I had seven friends. Everyone else was either an acquaintance or I just plain didn’t like. The only reason I had that many friends was because four of them went to high school with me and we all stayed on the same floor in our freshman dorm.

I walked around campus with a permanent scowl on my face and I actually thought that I was better than a lot of other students on campus. I wondered how some students could skip class when they were paying for an education or why some students deemed it necessary to wear full makeup to breakfast at 7am. I was over most of the student body.

The fact that I was taller than most people didn’t help perceptions of me because I literally looked down my nose at people. When it came to my friends I grew closer and closer to them and I valued their opinions. During finals that year my friends and I were sitting around after dinner in café and my friend Joe brought to my attention that I wasn’t well liked on campus.

Joe: “You know you’re the only one out of our crew who walks around campus with an attitude?”

Me: “Yeah, so what?

Joe: “Well that makes the rest of us look bad because we hang with you and sometimes other people might not want to hang with us because we’re chilling with you.”

Me: “Hmmmmm”

Up until that point I hadn’t really thought about how I’m perceived might affect my friends. I only thought about how I didn’t care about what people thought about me. I spent Christmas break that year pondering my image and the real reasons why it never mattered to me. I realized that instead of caring nothing about people think perhaps I should start caring what certain people think.

That Christmas break I made a New Year’s resolution to try to become an overall nicer person and have a better general disposition. I came back to school that next semester a changed person. I became more sociable and friendlier to those I encountered on campus. As I got to know more people I realized that I prejudged them and I found that I actually liked them.

Since then I’ve kept my New Year’s resolution and have tried to be nicer to people and to be kind even when people give me every reason not to be.

I slowly became a different person. I became less standoffish, rude and unapproachable and more amicable. I realized that it’s ok to care what people think about me, it’s ok to not want to get on people’s bad side.

I’m not that invested into astrology but I do follow it superficially. Being a Libra some of my traits include being diplomatic, peaceful and hospitable. I’d be lying if I said that those qualities don’t fit me and I don’t embrace them.

I don’t like for most people to be upset with me. I don’t like letting people down. I’m not a people pleaser but I do like to please the right people.

The Good and Badness…

I’m a fan of podcasts. I even have one with three other guys where we discuss things. I usually listen to them during the workday or occasionally when I go running. One podcast that I’m a big fan of is Radiolab. Radiolab, hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, is a radio show and podcast that weaves stories and science into sound and music-rich documentaries. One episode, The Bad Show, wrestled with the dark side of human nature, and asks where it’s something we an ever really understand, or fully escape. The second segment is about a man named Fritz Haber.

Fritz Haber is a classic example of both extremes of human nature rolled into one person.

During the early 19th century there was a food shortage around the world. This seems next to impossible in this day and age but back then there were no processed foods. The diet of everyone on Earth was grown organically. Before Haber naturally extracted nitrogen fertilizer was used to replenish soiled that was tilled. Due to shortages in fertilizer a large portion of the world was in danger of starving to death.

Haber and Carl Bosch developed the Haber process, which is the catalytic formation of ammonia from hydrogen and atmospheric nitrogen under conditions of high temperature and pressure. He was awarded the 1918 Nobel Prize in Chemistry. He essentially saved the lives of millions and millions of people.

This was the good side of Fritz Haber.

Haber was a Polish-born Jew.

He also developed chemical warfare on behalf of Germany during World War I. His most notable poison was chlorine gas. Haber once said, “During peace time a scientist belongs to the World, but during war time he belongs to his country.”

Haber’s wife, Clara, was also a chemist. She opposed Haber’s work in chemical warfare and following an argument with Haber over it; she committed suicide in their garden shooting herself in the heart with his service revolver. He still left that morning to oversee gas release against the Russians. Haber left behind his grieving 13-year-old son Hermann, who had been the one to discover his dying mother. Hermann later also committed suicide.

Haber’s mind was responsible for saving millions of lives but the same man using the same thinking caused the deaths of millions more. He propelled Germany during World War I and prolonged the war.

Haber’s story got me thinking about the different sides of people and if its possible to have good and evil wrapped up succinctly in one person. I don’t think any one person is 100% good or 100% evil but what happens when only one dominates a person at any given time?

I’d like to think of myself as a genuinely good person. I can’t help but wonder if I have some Fritz in me though. I doubt I’ll be important enough to have millions of lives hanging in the balance of what I may do but I wonder if I have some dormant evil side waiting to bubble to the surface and explode in a forceful rage? Have I subconsciously suppressed evil Tunde? Is he scratching and clawing for control like a schizophrenic personality? Hopefully this isn’t happening.