After I experience something new I always ask myself what I’ve learned. No matter the instance, whether it’s a visit somewhere, the culmination to a series of events or even if it’s just from a mistake I’ve made. I have to demand a mental status report from myself, after all if I didn’t learn anything then I probably wasn’t paying attention and that’s a dangerous thing for someone that looks like me; ignorance is often our greatest enemy, one we never see until its consequences are upon us.
I’ve found myself going over my visit to the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and what it meant to me, more so what it made me feel. My plan was for a uniquely relaxing experience. Instead of solely listening to the tour guides I armed myself with a set of Bluetooth ear buds, the volume set to 50% with the instrumentals from the Jardin album by Gabriel Garzón-Montano flowing smoothly into my ear drums. Initially, the invigorating twinge of mental stimulation you receive when your senses are inundated with new data and details was apparent and refreshing. To my continued surprise though, the entire afternoon jarringly reminded me of how awesomely angry I am at my very core.
Before assuming the worst, there was no conflict or strife and no threat against my person. As a matter of fact, everyone was overwhelmingly pleasant it was just me, maybe. I refer to myself singularly as a mechanism for generalization; by no means do I own the license to this almost sentient being within me. The indigenous anger within the continent of my soul is simply the stigma of scars that the black population of America is born with. Ironically, this stigma feels even more pronounced during situations when the racism sewn into the fabric of this nation’s flag shouldn’t be at the forefront; although situations where the threads of racism aren’t at the forefront are in the minority, be assured of my knowing smile as I type that. Even still, I found myself viewing paintings and structures that I knew did not allude to any themes of race, imperialism or colonization; a lot of them weren’t even American in composition, origin or inspiration. Regardless, certain splashes of oil on canvas and geometric panels across walls sparked anger within me despite that I knew better. Even the most abstract interpretations wouldn’t align with how I felt, but that didn’t matter; my mind was that of a man engulfed in flames and my heart continued to fuel my blood with accelerant.
Festering with that rage, I continued my consumption of all the museum had to offer; taking the stairs up all seven floors and gliding through each amongst the other patrons all the while finding it difficult to stymie the internal monologue my feelings were passionately debating. When I took moments to observe my fellow museum goers my vision was sometimes tinted green with View-Master like films of envy. I was selfishly envious of the smorgasbord of couples; hands embraced in affection as they leisurely discussed which Andy Warhol paintings were most impressive and what photos of destitute locations embodied somewhere they would never choose to be or how horrible the ordeal must have been for the subject photographed. I’m not angry about that though, envy raised its hand in attendance. The thing is stepping away from it all is not an option, I’m not of the privileged contingent that has a view from the outside. War zones and allusions to history’s horrors aren’t just stories, they are things I feel when I see them. Dated posters on ending Apartheid mixed in with pictures of genocide from around the world vividly strike me as a part of my constitution not just something bad that happened to other people in a different place. The violence of the past feels just as relevant today as it did then, nothing feels different and I kept asking myself, why? Why does it feel the same even though the actual violence itself has changed in so many ways? After all the world is different, everything from socioeconomics to geopolitics has changed; so why doesn’t what I see at least materialize into updated imagery?
I struggled with this until I saw a painting that reminded me of a concept that perhaps I understood but never questioned until recently. Someone very wise recently spoke to me about the role gender in the black community plays in how the rage I’ve spoken about is processed; in particular how different the experience has the potential to be for young boys versus young girls. While pondering this I realized the one thing I didn’t analyze about the painting, it was rife with violence and calamity and none of that actually struck me. Our propensity for violence is brutally crafted into our DNA, is it the only or the best answer to how we feel, how this society makes us feel and the response to how it treats us? Of course not; it’s not the only answer but it’s the one that feels most natural. Personally, I’ve arrived at the plateau of realizing the depths of my own desensitization, I’m curious as to the levels of others. On the surface alone I see how we find ways for violence and aggression to be mediums for channeling our post womb ready rage. Contact sports such as American football are often the first instruments generously offered or sought out. In other instances, depending on the state and availability of activities in communities; combat sports, initially boxing and now for this generation mixed martial arts become not only another instruments but methods by which we can tackle familial and financial responsibilities. Unbridled, untapped and in abundance aggression amongst ourselves and throughout our own communities may and often easily ensues. Even our means of reform, revolt, rebellion and revolution throughout history can sometimes invoke the nature of violence and everything that comes with it.
This is not breaking news though and the more I think, the more I see the less it takes to launch a man into delusions of his own rage. Another regrettably fascinating facet is how many different directions the rage burns; there still remains those that would direct it inward and then against those who resemble them most. Perpetual assailants of culture and endorsers of a rare brand of self-hate that can’t be replicated by any other race or creed, this is beyond the nearly clichéd Uncle Tom parable. This is rage curated from the same place as everyone else, only aimed backwards. A self-hate that behaves as a means of self-destruction by destroying those around you. Tupac Shakur once rapped “we’ll burn this bitch down, get us pissed” over the Prince sampled To Live and Die in LA. In 2018, Los Angeles isn’t the only locale harboring that warning though, just because Los Angeles has actually been set ablaze a couple of times that doesn’t certify it as the only place where people are living on the razor’s edge of violence and rage. This is every black male that has been blessed with the opportunity of aging to the point where the seeds of this stigma grow and bloom through our skin as if we’re wearing a permanent corsage.
With these embodiments of rage abound throughout our community there are devastatingly bittersweet wrinkles to consider. Through the debt many of us owe to strong black women that have sacrificed the unfathomable even the essence of their lives for their children we are able to grow. Consider the wrinkle that in more cases than should be the norm that type of sacrifice is required to potentially give a young child a chance at progression. A past generation must sacrifice everything for the next one to survive. A further wrinkle to that progression, even when we survive to maturity and demonstrate the structure of civility and the determination to settle issues through peaceable measures our efforts are overwhelmingly reciprocated with violence from external circumstances.
Viewing some of these wrinkles and other aspects how is there ever shock and awe gauging the volatility of the anger thrashing within me. Given how society reacts to us where is there room for bewilderment? When we observe and confirm from a very high level how the winners of history have treated us globally, portrayed us to all that would believe the worst and then undergone arduous tasks of disguising their sins, surely there can’t be wonderment in this sustained evolution of rage. Consider the very nature of a simple minutia of it all. A country, who’s very frame and infrastructure were pushed up upon our broad shoulders; whose soil was tilled and fertilized with the blood from our hands utilizing the free labor of slavery has plotted against our success countless times. In addition, this same country has continued procuring the means to our attempted demise through history’s most violent and deceitful tactics; changing them ever so frequently at almost a per decade interval. The impacts of our initial enslavement cannot be quantified, the skulduggeries of the antebellum and the Jim Crow south are still so outlandish that retreading the generations of decidedly inhuman treatment sanctioned against us reads as fiction. Taking a shallow dive into the heavily redacted FBI records concerning the reach, purpose and effectiveness of COINTELPRO is a consistent reminder of how deeply the effort against those of us who have been ‘fortunate’ enough to be citizens of this nation in a particular hue have been violated.
We’ve been treated without any regard to civility throughout history. Yet, civility and obedience are utterly demanded of us at a higher standard than the rest of our country men and should we disregard that requirement we risk the forfeiture of our liberty and many times our very lives. Every person and group of peoples that has come after us upon their own intent and purpose was and has been graciously promised life and liberty yet we are still struggling to have those same promises fulfilled.
All of this has been and remains a part of our America today. The very tapestry of the Star-Spangled banner, hot dog eating contests, poor national education, the Super Bowl, the electoral college, our hackneyed yet persistent utilization of “democracy” is all predicated by the inhumanity and inequities of a past yet to be reconciled. The rage that an entire population is born into and will continue to pass down to every generation for the foreseeable future is a direct consequence. Continued degradation of those that would speak out against injustices such as police brutality against black people is the slap across the face that feels like a waking limb after contact. The greatest country on earth; sure I have some affinity for the fact that I can order French fries at odd times of the night right to my door step. It’s also the greatest place you can be killed by those dedicated to protecting you during a traffic stop, it’s the greatest place on earth to enjoy net income disparities that generate new definitions of a caste system. It’s the greatest country in the world, disregarding and shrugging the responsibility of the damage and destruction of an entire race. I see it as a lot of things; a few good sure but mostly the greatest place that we can’t get away from because the struggle for existence and dignity in our origins is often as daunting and imaginative as reaching the moon via Uber Pool, during surge pricing. Yeah, I’m a little fucking angry, is there anyone that isn’t?