February 13, 2018
There’s always a dream to be glorified whilst blissful to the nightmare.
I took pride in being born into a city with a diverse style of designed bridges. The Broadway and Fremont bridge were my favorite as a child, driving across with my mom going to see my pediatrician at Good Sam’…And I never thought bridges would become such symbolic infrastructures in my world – like an idol. But in my many blissful and oblivious moments growing up in northeast Portland, I aspired to be many people but often not myself. Bridges for example, are like an idolized figure such as Sen. John Lewis, who fought for American civil rights at the Edmunds Pettus bridge in Alabama. Despite its “Bloody Sunday” title, it all becomes such a significant story when told correctly. These types of stories allow me to look back at my past to reminisce on the times I’ve cried rivers in sorrow; and then those times become much better to look back at because I begin to see the bridges manifested to get over those rivers I ‘cried’.
Those bridges are the stories I share in my blog today.
So of course, now when I recollect on the moment in elementary school when my Caucasian female classmate asked me about the flour on my hands, it only reminds me some people don’t recognize a struggle until it’s a stigma. The girl I recall is not important, however, as a child I didn’t know of backlash, and I didn’t know her candor. And by the way, I wasn’t quite sure what flour was at the time either.
It wasn’t until Los Angeles in 1997, riding in the back seat of my uncle EJ’s van going [I forgot] somewhere; I heard lyrics for the first time that stuck with me for a while…
We the people, who are darker than blue, yet at first, we grew up to be familiar with a hue much lighter than blue. So, whether it’s relevant to you, think if someone played you a video clip of a moment from your past lifetime, would you think it would be an easy moment for you to recollect? And because we don’t learn ignorance is bliss until we get older, some moments we circle back to later in life, suddenly make sense. Although I learned later in life that ignorance is a blissful desire, I wasn’t the only one.
My ignorance hasn’t always been with my perception of other people, but rather the affect over time that changed my vanity perception, and how the world would respond to me. My desire to ‘fit in’ was inevitable but over time I began to realize it wasn’t in my DNA to fit in. I explored for many years, resulting in what some will argue the Chinese Water Torture Mechanism. I could agree after some research because it relates to Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
No psychology talk, moving on…
One of the first professions I ever dreamed of doing was becoming an airline pilot. I won’t say I was discouraged when my Grandma’ Ellen Joe told me she would never step on a plane if she saw the pilot was a black man, however, it did make me aware ignorance is bliss at any generation. She was likely kidding [I hope] but I didn’t know any which way of Grandma’s truth. And like any 8-year-old, I had no combat with my gullible and precocious mind, so it became the beginning of the stigma. And not a direct result of Grandma’s words, however, I did begin idolizing older African-American males that were exceptional in life. But only the African-American athletes, celebrities, artists, etc. Mainly those in society that faces like mine, openly celebrated back then.
I did notice my father always having a keen sense of emotional intelligence for almost everything, especially people – but growing up I didn’t feel his influence.
And despite Ludacris wanting to be like all the people making that got’ damn noise, growing up, I think back today and realize there were a lot of African-American celebrities and athletes I didn’t idolize that most of my peers in school did. I couldn’t understand why some individuals, who took pride in a lifestyle full of disturbing complexity, were so highly celebrated. I understand living in the trenches, but that is also a choice in lifestyle you choose daily. And despite it being their art, some people are not able to visualize themselves doing better. And that’s fine because I still love rap.
So, I only wanted to idolize those who had proven they were dedicated to their celebrated path, to fulfill the reason why they get up happy every morning; not for the paycheck, cars, houses, and women to show off with living a lifestyle through pipe dreams.
Some of my idols from back then ended up faring well in life today, some are the same and others got worse. Although I haven’t quantified this irrelevant idea to support my point, I guarantee you I sleep well at night knowing my younger self had a keen eye for those who represented a genuine life of abundance. Maybe my father did influence me. So be it if so.
I also once had hoop’ dreams – during my early teenage years, but I never put myself in the position to succeed on that journey. I mean, I failed a lot in high school, like many of us trying to keep up with trends and no cell phones.
My teenage years was the pinnacle of my ignorance. My 12th grade chemistry teacher at Grant High School once told me I’d never succeed in life trying to just ‘get by’ on my looks. And ironically, I’d end up being more concerned about needing to get by because of my race, and honestly I didn’t know what he meant at the time. However, I began to learn how people perceived me and over time it became an uphill battle. So quite frankly, I hated chemistry class.
Actually, I had my projected GPA calculated for the ending term of my senior year. I only needed a D- in chemistry to pass and graduate. So, yeah if I had to say I was just trying to get by on my looks, then yes because I succeeded. I just needed my ‘looks’ in class because it wasn’t chemistry AP. But just maybe to him, I was a statistic in the Portland Public School district that typically didn’t fare well at the time.
Meanwhile, I chased educational dreams in Las Vegas, Nevada. Which came with many setbacks that ended up setting me up for something better. And I sometimes make it sound good. Moving to Las Vegas in 2006 detoured my life’s only goal at that moment, which was becoming something exceptional my father would appreciate. And I wouldn’t doubt at that point, he was afraid I was not becoming the God-fearing, head strong man he became.
One setback set me up for an understanding that it’s rare a face like mine requires a feng shui in their home. Another setback set me up to realize I no longer needed social confirmation.
The monetary setback, set me up for an understanding of the luxurious and renown lifestyle, that really aint’ shit. Fame is all too common to the naked eye and we all at some point wanted to be there, but we realized it wasn’t as good as being rich. And rich will arguably get you both. But not in Vegas’, because it doesn’t matter who’s spending.
The most significant setback was the realization of an older generation’s face like mine, with an LVPD badge, will pre-judge me a drug dealer or street thug even though I was just a broke 18-year-old college freshman trying to avoid being seen as what exactly he assumed me to be.
“No need to treat me like the otha’ [nigga’s], brotha!” I plead to the black male officer as I’m arrested in handcuffs with my roommate Sam, for an air-refresher hanging in the rear-view mirror.
I recall the officer, who’s not important – for me. However, through my own blissful ignorance I failed to realize, that in his eyes, I was just them otha’ [nigga’s] I plead not to be.
“…people will categorize you wherever they feel you fit best at, in their world” – self
Moving to Eugene, Oregon allowed me to see the many different lifestyles of people I would begin to idolize. What I didn’t realize, about halfway through my years in Eugene, is that I would lose my vehicle; The Batmobile was taken after a night of bad choices. And then I failed horribly trying to replace it, WTF!? Many thoughts manifested thereafter but that year of my life is like the second level mezzanine floors built in the vintage buildings downtown Portland. Meaning they’re only relevant in retrospect. Just like my school year at UNLV in Las Vegas.
I also began to learn the status quo for an African-American male can be set at so many different levels. That was annoying to me considering I was never comfortable with having to settle with any of the expectations from my father, my peers, or my mentors. Just because I’m a black male. But with every unique encounter over time I honestly just wanted others to forget that I’m darker, and we figure out how we compare with each other, respectfully. So despite our different skin tone, I trust everyone has traveled a unique journey and yet our face is not alike.
I recall the moment in 1996, in Tokyo, Japan while I was shopping in a department store, an elderly lady was suddenly starring into my soul as if she felt my soul was lost in her world. She was holding one of those 3M industrial respirator mask to her face and publicly observing me like I was a toxic subject at hand.
Growing up in northeast Portland, Japanese was the culture and language I embraced in school for roughly 5 hours a day, 5 days a week. And this was amongst a very diverse group of Caucasian kids. So, I often found myself observing the communities I grew up around rather than embracing them all. And I say observing because prior to that I felt obligated to embrace them and abide by them – whatever that meant to me at a very young age.
Needless to say, growing up I often forgot I was a darker hue. But people always reminded me because I often spoke of paths that many faces like mine, were not taking daily. Thus, my stigma.
For the uncanny Japanese elderly lady that approached me in stealth, I understood her blissful ignorance considering I was told by someone of her same generation, that a face like mine is not worthy of flying something that other faces are. But I didn’t care, maybe that generation expected to see me elsewhere. But that was then.
I felt that it was ignorant to think, for a face like mine opportunities can be limited. But like a bullet, or even blissful ignorance, not every good thing has a name or face for it.
My sister Kimilia was one of my first and only true idols in life who set an example for me. Not only to take advantage of opportunities early on, but she also reminded me that I didn’t have to feel obligated to follow in the footsteps of my peers and others. She first attended Spelman College, across from Morehouse College, with many men who were strong minded, educated, and had an alike face to mine. But first, I was eager to learn how to write in spaghetti in middle school after she shared with me one of her admirer’s handwritten letters to her. That was the first time I was fascinated to see a face like mine write so well in ink.
In 2007, when I was prescribed framed lenses, I was able to see the world much clearer. I was able to see how others, with a face like mine, were perceived in today’s society. I began to see how people were actually looking at me directly in the eye, because prior to glasses I was an avid squinter like my boy Eddie Barnett Jr back in High School.
So I noticed that damn ‘status quo’ a lot more, and I never thought why. It became frustrating that a face like mine was rarely assumed to be just a college student at my age. I would get certain assumptions from everyone, every assumption except for what I was actually doing in life at the moment.
Thus, developed an awkward Terrell. Whom I’m happy with, and it’s actually the majority of who I can be.
I grew to admire the individuals who were not so fascinated by color in general, but that was a challenge. And I always questioned why people tried so hard to connect with an oppressed race or even worse, attempt to be like them? Why would someone lighter than me want my experience? And I won’t even share half my stories. Considering at this point in my life, I was under the impression we’d have a much harder time ‘making it’ than any other race in America. But in all honesty, I do live for the days we can ALL feel antiquated about anyone needing to ‘make it’ because it shouldn’t be that hard. Or should it?
I cringed whenever I heard the n-word come from someone’s mouth who was far from kin to my skin. I understand the history behind the word and more importantly, I can understand the use of it on a psychological level. It’s always been one thing for me, because I was an easy target – but don’t get me wrong because I can take a joke! As the darker toned person in a group of lighter skinned individuals, the stigma came in many different ways.
And lately I’ve tried to go light with my comeback jokes, because I don’t want to touch on something impartial to someone’s character…? I.e, not a comeback fat joke because you can actually lose weight a lot sooner than you think. And not a ‘you broke’ joke because being broke is a state of mind.
So consider, when you joke about me being darker than you it’s what I deal with daily. It can be exhausting at times so I won’t elaborate on the behaviors it can drive.
Lately I’ve advised ignorance to be prepared for the underwhelming/overwhelming conversations around someone always being subtly acknowledged as being the darkest hue in the room. Even amongst African-American’s it’s a conversation to be had but at the end of the day people will be themselves and I live it! The origins of it, and the stigma around it was to label African-American people as just colored individuals to society. Now we use [nigga] freely – but in brotherly love, right? Or in memory of the collective label African-American people were given? And I won’t lie, I use it periodically because there are days I aspire to be one…
I’m kinda’ with Jay-Z on this color thing – considering we don’t always compare to black with the naked eye. I’d rather patent a color than be given a color, but I’m late…because regardless of my hue, we’ll always be the people who are darker than blue.
(To be cont’d)