No words can ever express my gratitude for the life lived, sacrifices made, and example shown by the life of Nelson Mandela, so I will simply say thank you, enkosi, siyabonga, ke a leboha, dankie! You are the great Lion of South Africa, now it’s time to rest on your throne.
Black History Month is striking me funny this time around. Reading a quote by Morgan Freeman only took that odd feeling to the next level. He said, “I don’t want a Black History Month. Black history is American history.” It’s like there’s a disconnect between the history that we choose to remember in this month, and the rest of the American History. I don’t think this is how it was intended, or supposed to be. I think Black History Month was created with good intentions, but that does not change how it is making me feel this year. I think it is important for all American children to know the pains, struggles, and victories of all Americans, all the time. I equally think it is important to tell them the truth about genocide of indigenous people, slavery, and the struggle for social equality, all the time.
I mean, there’s no White History month, though I guess every month actually is, most especially depending on where you live. Or what about Indigenous People of America History Month? Or Other Shades of Brown People’s History Month? It just seems odd that, for the most part, a huge chunk of hundreds of years of important history is taken out of context and looked at in a certain way, only one month out of the year. One day, if I have kids and they live in this country, I want them to learn about the determination of people like Rosa Parks all year round; I want her picture on their classroom walls. I want them to see pictures of Dr. King all year round, and color-in pictures of him throughout the year. I want them to learn excerpts from Malcolm X speeches in English class, not just in February. I want my kids to learn American History.
I also realize that “history” in and of itself is just as contrived as the “news” we watch on the television; moulded to fit the prejudice doctrines of the Teller, only becoming further warped as it enters the ears, through the biased filter of the Receiver; this is not to mention the level of distortion that occurs when the Receiver becomes the Teller, and the next Receiver becomes the next Teller, and this happens for generation upon generation. But I choose not to just eat up everything I am fed, and not to believe everything that I am told. I choose to seek truth, though truth is often relative, depending on whose “truth” it is. America does indeed have a dark past, so yes a dark history. But I believe history should be history, and not one single occurrence or event should be singled out. Anything that happened on this soil is American History, and all of the atrocities should be mourned always, and all the victories should be celebrated always, simultaneously, all year, all the time.
Our time has come, we all draw near,
Our precious Sesethu will come this year.
A brand new, tiny, beautiful life,
Entering a brand new world of strife.
She’ll learn with us, through turmoil and pain;
Learn the best splashing puddles come after rain.
She’ll learn to dance and learn to sing;
Oh, the life and joy she’ll bring.
She’ll learn that life belongs not to one;
That we need each other to share the fun.
She’ll learn not I, nor me, nor you,
But rather ours, our precious Sesethu.
I took my little brother Eli to the circus yesterday. Well, actually, he used his Christmas money to buy the tickets, and I paid for the gas to get there and dinner, so I guess he took me. Anyways. We went to the circus, and for the most part it was absolutely incredible; seeing the amazing feats, stunts and tricks that humans can do when they put their sweat, blood, tears and lots of practice behind it was thrilling, to say the least! But a certain aspect of the circus made me really sad. Yep, you probably could have guessed it: the animals, and most specifically the bigger, not-normally-domestic ones.
Now, I am no animal rights activist, and I am not going to rant about mistreatment of circus animals when I know nothing about that. What bothered me was something I saw in their eyes. It’s pretty “normal” for me to see a dog jumping around and acting silly, and I’ve seen plenty of horses running around in circles. So, those animals didn’t bother me so much. Even the llamas were more entertaining than not because I was like, “Wow. I didn’t even know a llama could run!” and I can’t even picture a llama in it’s “natural habitat”, so whatever I saw just seemed natural to me. I could justify those animals doing silly tricks to amaze me. They are already domestic in my mind. But the elephants and tigers were a different story.
Tigers are such majestic creatures! And they are enormous! I watched as the trainer coaxed the tigers to do various different tricks, within the enclosed steel cage that dropped from the ceiling. There was a certain sadness in the tigers’ eyes. I think the word might be “tamed”. It seemed, no matter how long they have been in captivity, there is something deep within their soul that tells them that something is not right about this picture, that they are meant for something so much greater. I watched as the trainer used tiny little pieces of meat to reward them for the tricks, and to bribe them to go where he wanted them to, as they skipped over the biggest piece of meat in the cage: the trainer. It was heartbreaking for me to see these glorious creatures acting in such tame and contrived ways.
And then there were the elephants; one of the biggest creatures to stomp around on modern-day earth! Their presence demands respect. And I believe elephants are above the intelligence of some people, which made it even sadder to see them led around the arena by a man with a little stick, telling them to sit, and spin, and dance to the music. They were cute, and endearing, but their eyes spoke to me. Not necessarily of abuse, or maltreatment or anything like that. I didn’t read all that. But merely a sadness of being broken, and forced to to something that was below the fullness of their existence, trained by a tiny little man (in comparison to them) with a stick, all for the entertainment and enjoyment of people. I found it difficult to enjoy the elephants in that context.
And then I got to thinking…I’ve seen that look before in the eyes of humans. Like, that man who works a nine-to-five that he does not enjoy, daily confined to a tiny little cubicle, just to put bread on the table and to “get by”. He was made for greater things, but society has broken him, trained him, and told him not to live wild. He has turned his wants into needs and therefore has to make a certain amount of money to be able to afford the lifestyle he has created for himself. He has the stuff, but it has not made him happy the way he thought it would; and new stuff just keeps coming out all the time and he can never catch up.
He’s not happy. He wants so much more, and his soul tells him, if only on a subconscious level, that the desires of his heart have very little to do with “stuff”, and more to do with purpose. He’s told, “Chasing your dreams is too crazy, wild, and out there! We should be more docile, tame, and domestic.” Maybe he dreams of being a stunt man, or a writer, or a sports commentator, or a circus clown, but somewhere along the way, someone (if not many) told him that his dreams were too wild, that he needed to tone it down, and be more practical.
We are so often not all that different to those circus animals. We are majestic, glorious creatures meant to live in the fulness of our purpose and being, but we have been captured by another form of existence. Our cages are the materialistic lifestyles we desire, and our trainer is a capitalistic society, always holding that bait above our heads. We all too often settle for the little pieces of meat (in the form of conformity and complacency) when we were were made to be wild, to go after the big hunk of meat, following the deepest desires of our hearts and seeking happiness that way, instead of seeking happiness through more “things”. Material wealth and things will never quench our desire to be happy and fulfilled, like living in the fullness of who we are, most definitely, will do. But when we settle for less, convinced that we need that trainer to tell us who and how to be, we will remain in captivity. We will remain caged. And it will show in our eyes. I want to break free. I want to be wild.
I just got an email from a friend who was talking about fear; fear of what’s to come, fear of what is past, fear of the unknown, fear. Funny enough, I can relate to that, in this particular season of life. I mean, throughout my existence I have been someone who prides myself in not being fearful. I’ve often walked in places “they” told me not to walk, done things “they” said I shouldn’t do, and hung out with people “they” said would kill me…whoever “they” may be. And it was fear that led “they” to speak that way, and yet their projections of that fear did not stick to me. I wouldn’t even say it bounced off, because I am not altogether sure it ever even reached me.
But now, in this phase of life, I’m dealing with elements that are unknown to me. You see, I know guns, knives, bullets, gang territories, drugs, broken bottles, street fights, murderers, rapists, and those “they” say are “dangerous”; those I should allegedly fear. I have kept them close. I never feared any of that because I never questioned whether or not I should be in the places I was, with the people I was with, and I knew that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. Now I’m in a season of the unknown and, whether I like to admit it or not, it is scary. This is new to me. And it’s hard not to let fear creep up, in the many ways and forms it tries to reveal its ugly head. So, I could relate to my friend’s email, and I found myself responding to it without having to think much about it. It might have only made sense to me.
I remembered being a kid and thinking about monsters; vampires, werewolves, zombies, witches, goblins, ghouls, ghosts, and the lot. I had an extremely active imagination and could therefore create these creatures in my mind, far more menacing than anything you have ever seen on a movie or in a picture book. Maybe I would be walking through my neighborhood, in the dark, all by myself, with only my thoughts to entertain me, and one of the usual suspects of the previously mentioned lineup would make an appearance. Adrenaline would suddenly course through my veins. I would walk faster, look nervously from side to side, and then behind me, picking up the pace another notch. I would feel silly for being scared of those imaginary creatures, but at the same time my mind made them so very real, and there was no way to escape them. The faster I walked, the bigger they became. If I dared to jog, or even worse run, they would get right on my tail, unrelenting in their chase.
Some nights I could feel them breathing on my neck.
And then, sometimes, something would kick in and I would snap out of it, remembering I had a secret weapon. My weapon? To pretend that I was one of them. In my mind, I transformed into a monster, because if the other monsters saw me as a fellow monster they would accept me, and not try to scare me, and maybe, just maybe if I was bad enough, they might even be scared of me. I would be the fearless leader of the monsters, just like Max who tamed the Wild Things. I would slow my pace back down to a stroll, begin to walk with a strut, contort my face, snarl my lips, gnash my teeth, and growl, if only in my mind. The fear would vanish as quickly as it had gripped me. The monsters, realizing they had messed with the wrong monster, retreated to the darkness of the night. And I fearlessly walked home in peace.
As time ticks on, life gets more complex, as do the fears that come with it; if only I was merely facing Dracula right now. And we try all sorts of ways to deal with the fears that surface. But I guess the most important thing is to continue to be aware of it; that we don’t let it get to that point where it grips us, and begins to paralyze us. Because the thing about fear is, it only has as much power over us as we allow it to have. The more we try to run from it, the bigger it gets. But when we stand our ground, grit our teeth and snarl back at it, well, it will see the monster within us, and it will most definitely back down. And we will be able to fearlessly walk on, in peace.
As I wrote before, being here in America for Martin Luther King Day, for the first time since 1998, has really meant a great deal to me. I have deeply enjoyed meditating on the late, great Dr. King’s wisdom over the past week. His words spoke to places in me that have been injured, if not dead for a while, and his wisdom brought life; something, unnamed but important, is again stirring in my soul. I must say, however, that my ending to MLK Day was slightly tragic, though maybe somehow just as important in some unknown way or another.
I was just about to go to sleep when a tweet from Ferrari Sheppard (@stopbeingfamous) caught my eye. He simply said, “Looking at MLK’s FB makes me sad. So, I stopped. Doesn’t make what I saw go away.” Until that moment I was not even aware there was a Martin Luther King, Jr. Facebook page. And though I assumed Ferrari was merely touched by the outpouring of well wishers, the memories of Dr. King, and just the swirling emotions of the day, I was curious to see what made him so sad. I hopped over to Facebook and looked up the page. What I saw when I got there sucked me in to a dark, disgusting, unthinkable rabbit hole of hatred, racism, and general distastefulness.
It hit me in the face like Mike Tyson’s boxing glove dipped in concrete. I very quickly realized what made Ferrari sad was not the positive thoughts and memories of the life lived, and sacrifices made of the late legend MLK; but rather, in and amongst genuine well-wishers and admirers of Dr. King, the outpouring of the worst forms of hate, splattered all over the wall of this page that was created to give honor to Martin Luther King, Jr. It was one of the most atrocious forms of cyber-vandalism I have ever seen in my life; people posted racist comments with the sole purpose of angering others, they used the “N word” regularly, they posted derogatory pictures depicting black people in pejorative ways, and they just generally spewed hate. It was disgusting. It disturbed me on a deep level.
These posters went to great extents to show their apparent abhorrence of the black race, in general. There was one picture that I have not been able to get out of my mind. It was of an African mother, weeping, holding her naked, malnourished, deceased child in her arms; he was basically a skeleton with nothing but skin hanging from his thin bones. Someone had photoshopped the picture to say something to the extent of, “That’s what KFC meat is made of.” My eyes welled up with tears. I wanted to vomit.
I got completely sucked in. I read and scrolled, and read and scrolled, and read and scrolled. The more I read and saw, the more repulsed I became. I could not believe the audacity of people to taint such a loving, peaceful, selfless man’s Facebook tribute page with such a display of hatred. I noticed one of the protagonist posters informing others that a specific antagonist poster was a “troll”, with the alleged “troll’s” response being something to the extent of, “I’m not a troll. This is my real account and these are my real thoughts.” Now, when I had first read the protagonist calling the antagonist a troll, I thought it was just an unfavorable name she was calling him, but by his response I could tell there was more to it.
I Googled it and found out that internet trolls are people who make fake accounts on various internet platforms and they post comments with the sole intentions of fueling debate, argument, and extreme emotional responses; they basically get thrills out of pissing people off. You might have already known that, but this was the first time I had ever heard them be labelled as trolls, with even the act being called “trolling”, though I had seen it done before on many different venues. For a brief second, I was relieved to think that some sad person was just bored enough to create an account and get a kick out of seeing other people get all riled up. I said, for a brief second. Then I was hit with the concrete glove again, realizing that, whether they truly believe it or not, they are indeed real, live people behind these so-called “trolls”, and hate is hate, plain and simple.
I stayed on the page way too long; way more than an hour, possibly two. It put me in a real funk! It made me sad on the deepest level of my being. I know I shouldn’t have let it get to me that much, but I could not even imagine speaking about my worst enemy in the way these people were speaking about an innocent, entire race group of people. It was such a strange ending to a week of literally basking in the greatness of Dr. King. And it reminded me of important lessons; that, as a society, we are only as far as the ones who are farthest back, we are only as free as we allow ourselves to be, love is a choice and a calling, hate is an easy cop-out to love, and that the struggle is far, far from over. Though it saddens me to even think about the hypothetical event of Martin Luther King, Jr. ever seeing that hateful display on his Facebook fanpage, I know for a fact he would handle it in a graceful, intelligent, loving, firm and peaceful way; he would show his superiority over the hateful words of those people, by merely not succumbing to hate himself, and choosing the path of firm love. And that is why he is one of my biggest heroes who ever walked the face of this earth.
Aluta Continua. Viva comrade Martin Luther King viva!