10// The 'Good Guy' Delusion

Is it the symbol or the cymbal?

My mother and I celebrated our birthday a few weeks ago. As is their custom, her sisters called her to celebrate the oldest of their flock seeing another year of life, and to continue their neverending group chat, active since the 1950s.

After they wished me a joyous day with ample reminders that “ JONA-TON, WHEN YUH VISIT!?”, they turned their attention back to the oldest of the flock, excited to catch up. She had just finished her Masters program, That’s when I heard it.

One of my aunts mentioned casually that “ Daddy woulda been rolling in his grave if he knew all his daughters went to school!”

What came next was a revelation that shouldn’t have shocked me as much as it did. My grandfather has made it explicitly clear to his five daughters, that he was not interested in their receiving an education past a certain point.

My grandfather believed in partial education: enough so that they wouldn’t be taken advantage of, but not too much. I never met him, but I look exactly like him. I’m not sure if I should like him. I don’t know if that’s even fair to say. I’m not sure what to think about it.

I am not sure what has been more chilling to wrestle with: what knowledge of an explicit barrier imposed on you by your caregiver must do the psyche of a child, or how my own mother’s incessant belief in education was colored by a specific type of denial that she let beset her progeny. While I am grateful to her tenacious ways and I am a beneficiary of her zeal, it is unsustainable energy to always be driven by what you have been denied.

But still, they loved him. His daughters knew his faults and chose to engage with him in creative ways while rejecting what he was projecting. They figured out how to survive their father (and in many respects my grandmother) while still loving them where and how they could. I only understand that in the context of how I have done the same. To love that way is to also know the shadows of the people closest to us.

Lines of Fault

I don’t get to call myself a ‘good man’ to avoid listening to how complicit I am in how Black women close to me have been ignored, abused, and relegated as valueless with impunity. I don’t get to decide that I haven’t done it or been witness to it and kept my mouth shut. I don’t get to decide because they weren’t close to me, it’s ok. Whenever you can locate something as specifically personal, you have an opening to abdicate any responsibility. You aren’t as bad as the thing that happened, so nothing to really worry about within yourself. You’re good. You’ve passed a test you gave yourself with only one question: what would make me feel better in this current moment? Anything but sitting with what is being presented to you. Then taking action on it.

…that’s fragility. If it was a fragrance, it would be Axe body spray. Lingering for all the wrong reasons and not good.

Illumination of anything that compromises our self-image will illicit shame, whenever that thing is something you harbor, intentional or not, is brought to light. To be seen fully is to become undressed not just to yourself, but to more people than you may have wanted. Freedom always has a cost. Looking at yourself truthfully is the first toll. That is impossible without exposure. That’s why the innate reaction is to run, to proclaim your virtue, to lessen the damage of sitting with Anyone is capable of anything. It is in the denial that I am not, and that I could never be, that allows me to ignore my own complicity and cling to the comfortable idea that I am good. I don’t do those things. I would NEVER. The only virtues that change your life are the ones you live. Everything else is noise.

Whenever you are new to a conversation, especially one in which you may have (un)consciously helped silence, there are a few I heard this from a theologian recently

  1. You come without a position of authority.

  2. You come with a position of repentance and giving up any authority you do have.

To bring #1 by itself, does not allow me to be a novice. Doing #2 by itself means you haven’t actually prepared for what might be required of you if you really want to change.

Even when it’s not about an issue, I think the above applies to functional leadership too.

To treat education (anti-racist or otherwise) as a threshold to cross, a course to finish, an achievement to exclaim, reveals the irony of learning as we value it. It is good for the souvenirs it can produce, but not necessarily the actions it requires. instead of a lifelong journey to engagement, everything can be cheapened to how your Goodreads. Schooling is what they give you; education is what you absorb and, if you have space and opportunity, what you give yourself. It is neverending and it is a process you undergo. Changing your bookshelf feels less impactful than a pithy post, but it is a reminder that there is no end to the reading. Curating your feeds is much like managing a bookshelf; it has the added value of exposing you to things you never would have known about.

I can only retain information when I make space for it. Otherwise, I am only prepared to respond and not to listen. This is where we are finding ourselves; in a minefield of experts who refuse to listen, and others who are no longer going to be spoken over or pandered too. Freedom is a powder keg.

To expect that the accountability being demanded right now, should or would happen silently, is Like accepting low wages and poor treatment is something you should do for the culture. We shouldn’t have to heal from bad workplaces because others think we have good jobs. I’m never doing that for the culture.

We Stan(d) For You

I did not enjoy Juneteenth. I loved it. I have always loved it since I discovered it. I did I did not grow up with it, but when I discovered it in 6th grade, I have clung to it ever since. It’s felt like one of the things I have researched its history, what came before it, and what it has meant and still means.

This is what makes brands making statements supremely awkward. How do you“stand with” people you have never been interested in “sitting around” or “living with”. Language often betrays us before our actions can. I think it’s hyperbole to suggest “theft” for every corporate statement I’ve seen. I think it is also unnecessary to clap and celebrate them en masse. I simply don’t have the energy. History is a question and an interrogation of context.

What I didn’t see and never expect too, is someone actually just posting General Order No.3, delivered by Union Major General Gordon Granger. It is a rich tapestry in four distinct sentences:

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."*

“They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere."

Rest isn’t revolutionary just because you aren’t doing anything and you fight the tyranny of busyness. It is a fight because policing of productivity is a question of your value as an economic indicator. How free are you if the same day you are told you are free, you are also told that idling will result in punishment? Maybe, we are only as free as the “no” we aren’t empowered to give

That, unfortunately, does not make for a great copy on a blacked-out homepage takeover.

Love, a summer aroma

About a week and a half after my shared birthday, my brother called me and told me that he was going to get married at his alma mater.

The world is full of broken kids dressed as adults. My work has been learning how to stop dressing like the latter, and nurture the former. A byproduct of this messy and disquieting work has been recognizing with startling clarity what I am not, which leaves room for me to become what I need to be. Part of that has been showing up for joy with the same energy I apply to grief I am processing. Watching my sibling commit to the rising in a new love that will both stretch and expose him continually? Needed it.

This time, these moments, are a series of cataclysms. There have been earthquakes that have made the ground we are on uncertain. Compasses are what guides us right now, not maps. We are all inside of, adjacent too, or the subjects of conversations that have long been rendered invisible (or just not given the appropriate space) that have entered the public discourse with a force we haven’t seen before. They are heavy, bursting with unexplored corners and crevices. Even in this tempest, there are moments, seconds, freeze frames, that are so full that they spill over into the next one. Laughs become libraries, brimming with opportunities of defiant joy, as you flip through the pages of stories that have yet to be written. Keep reading. There is a cost to remembering, and a cost to forgetting.

*Thankfully there are people like Dr. Chad Williams, Chair of African and Africana Studies at Brandeis University, to deconstruct Juneteenth with much more rigor and elegance than I.

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