Wednesday, November 17, 2010


I know this may sound strange and keep it real, I've said some strange things before. But I'm feeling extra Black these days. I mean, I felt this way before, but lately, it's extra Black. There have been other times, like when I won the Gift of Blackness award in the third grade. That was definitely a Black moment. Or when I ran faster than my peers because, according to my teammate, Black people's muscle develop larger and much earlier. Extra Black that day mostly because dude had his thesis so laid out, I was starting to believe that ish! Feeling Black isn't part of the daily since I don't walk around with a mirror in front of my face. I notice other people who aren't Black and that almost seems stranger to me: it's raining, why isn't his hair curling up? I gave that "you know what I'm saying" look and didn't get a response--what a weirdo! Things like that.

So I know it might seem like an obvious statement to say that I feel like that mirror is being held in front of me every time I step foot in Marin county. Marin is an interesting place. As you enter from the East Bay, you have to pass Chevron oil refineries, San Quentin on the left and the canal (home to the immigrants who clean the houses, mow the lawns, and mind the children) on the right. Next, you go over this hill and there it is, like you just came up on the Emerald City, Marin County. You can spit in any direction and find a multi-million dollar home, with the CEO of some mega-company or super celebrity or some other new money. Your sad face doesn't have to be too sad to get one of them to cut you a check for five figures. Their concern for the [insert one: whales, bald eagle, grass, or wind] is only matched by their concern for the mad obscure village in South America they just happened to visit during their last family vacay to Machu Pichu. I know I sound bitter, but the means-well set gets on my damn nerves, especially when I have to interact with them everyday. They don't make it a secret when they meet me and ask for my pedigree. When I tell them, there response is "oh, okay" and they proceed to introduce themselves. They'll write a check for education having gone to college just to meet their future husband, knowing jack shit about pedagogy, only that their bleeding heart needs some healing.

The one thing that could possibly we worse than the mega-rich in Marin are the regular folk in Marin, the regular middle class folks, with a chip on their shoulder bigger than Mt. Tamalpais. Imagine being the school teachers, grocery clerks, pizza delivery people to the mega-rich, having to interact with their arrogance all damn day. You might sound slightly angry, annoyed, might sound like me. But at the very least, I get to drive back to the East Bay, over a bridge with San Francisco on my right, the Port of Oakland in front of me, polluting the beautiful Bay in between. I've really been bitter for years: pissed off that I have to shop at Whole Foods for some decent food so I don't get some mystery cancer; angry that I have to travel hella far to get my hair products; annoyed that the "Obama is my homeboy" t-shirt only comes in 3X...but I used to have people around me who can share in this...and they aren't in Marin.

Thursday, November 11, 2010


I think about my identity these days in hindsight. I imagine working with school-aged young people and watching them develop their own identities would do that to someone. In a meeting with the students of color yesterday, they were creating cross-the-line statements to ask at their next general body meeting. The first statement was "Cross the line if someone accused you of being on financial aid." Some of them started to discuss all the different times this has happened to them erroneously, in a room with students who are actually on financial aid. I asked, "so what if someone is on financial aid--this place is damn expensive!" Real quick, on the expense point, let me give you some comparisons. When I was in undergrad, NYU was the most expensive BS you could buy (and it still is). The high school where I work now costs more than NYU did then.

Back to the story. Some of the young people didn't understand my critique so I gave them an example. When I was a kid, everyone would say that I was Black. My response would be an emphatic "no I"m not!" as though something was terribly wrong with being Black. A more appropriate answer, and the one I use today, is "Yes I am and Black people come from all over the place." It reminded me also of the Dave Chappelle skit with Charlie Murphy recalling his days with Eddie Murphy and Rick James when Rick James kept calling the brothers "Darkness" because they were the darkest brothers in Hollywood at the time (this is before Wesley Snipes). Charlie Murphy's response? He punches Rick James. I thought black is beautiful; what's he punching dude for? And then I remembered the election, when everyone kept pushing, Obama isn't a Muslim, rather than saying what's wrong with being Muslim? Or how we correct young people now when they say "that's so gay"--What's wrong with being gay?

And then I began thinking what messages these young folks of color are learning about what is wrong with their identities. As the token Darkness Adult on this campus, I feel it. All the time. To whiteness and wealth, Black is cool, because they don't encounter it aside from the images on cable. And with whiteness and wealth comes the idea that they have access to anything. So my dreads are just so cool, they have to have them too! And is that a rapper on her t-shirt? I need that t-shirt too! Did she say "what up, foo?" to that other Black kid? I'm going to say it too! I've watched these future CEOs, inventors, politicians get up in front of the entire campus and say "She right there, she my N..." or "I'm fit'na' hit that." While I, Adult Darkness, glance at all of the Youth Darkness (there aren't that many, it takes like a second) and we shake our heads, rub our chins, and shrug our shoulders.

The group leaders of the people of color clubs began the year by listing all of the goals for the year. One stood out to me: I want them to know I am not like the Black kid on the corner. In a class where I visited, I confronted a student: what's wrong with the Black kid on the corner? "He's just ignorant." "Why?" "Because he can't pull his pants up." I looked at his sagging pants as the other students in the class looked confused. I could read their faces: isn't he one of them? They think you're one of them, I wanted to tell him. They notice that you drop the -r at the end of your words. They notice that you tip your hat to the side. They notice that you practice your dance moves at lunch time instead of buying the $10 organic, free-range entree that they did. They notice that your backpack isn't the newest, designer piece on the market. They notice that you take that bus back to Richmond at the end of the day. And they think it's so cool.