I wrote this in the wake of a career change, expressing my gratitude for life and how far I’ve come. From those meeting me today, I may have made it look easy. ‘It’, however, is not life, but rather the gift life granted me. That is….
There’s always a dream to be glorified whilst blissful to the nightmare…-of course, me 😉
February 13, 2018
I take pride being born in a city with diverse styles of designed bridges. The Broadway and Fremont bridge were my favorite growing up—depending on I-5’s traffic, either were driven across with my mom going to see my pediatrician at Good Sam. I never thought bridges would become such symbolic infrastructures in my life. Such as my idols, who derive to have purpose to become symbolic—because consequently, I aspired to be many of them other than myself. Bridges, however, like Sen. John Lewis, who fought for American civil rights at the Edmunds Pettus bridge in Alabama, and despite its “Bloody Sunday” title, he becomes symbolic of a significant story when told correctly.
His story allows people like myself to look back and reminisce on the times we’ve cried rivers in sorrow—granting those times to become a crossroad over waters of tears once shed.
Those bridges are the stories I share with my readers today. And for the faces, are people of course, who took bold steps in faith to create those stories.
First recollecting on the moment in elementary school when my Caucasian female classmate asked me about the flour on my hands, it reminds me some people don’t recognize a struggle until it’s a stigma. The girl I recall is not important, but as a kid I didn’t know of backlash, nor her candor. And I wasn’t sure what flour was.
It wasn’t until Los Angeles in 1997, riding in the back seat of my uncle EJ’s van going L.A. miles per hour, that I hear lyrics for the first time that stick with me into today…
We the people, who are darker than blue, yet at first we grew up to be familiar with a hue much lighter than you. Well, our ash is visible on these writing and working hands.
Whether it’s relevant or true, think if someone played you a video clip of a past moment in your life, do you think you’d easily remember it? And because we don’t learn ignorance is bliss until we get older, some moments we circle back to 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 that changed my vanity perception—especially by how the world views me. My desire to ‘fit in’ was inevitable, and over time, I began realizing it’s not in my DNA to fit in. This led to me exploring my identity for years, resulting in what some will argue the Chinese Water Torture Mechanism. I could agree after researching Complex Post-Traumatic Stress Syndrome.
One of the first professions I dreamt of doing was becoming an airline pilot. I won’t say I was discouraged when my Grandma’ told me she would never step on a plane if she saw the pilot was a black man, it made me aware that ignorance is bliss at all generations. Likely kidding, I hope, I didn’t know any which way of Grandma’s truth. Without combat for my gullible and precocious mind, I think it became the beginning of my stigma.
Arguably a direct result from Grandma’s words, I began idolizing older African-American males that were exceptional in life. But only black athletes, celebrities, artists, and high profiling individuals. Mainly those in society that faces like mine, openly celebrated at the time.
I’d notice my father always having a keen sense of emotional intelligence for almost everything, especially people. Growing up, however, I didn’t feel his influence.
And despite Ludacris wanting to be like all the people making that got’ damn noise, there weren’t many African-American celebrities and athletes I idolized, that most my peers in school did.
Desiring to idolize those who had proven they were dedicated to their celebrated path, to fulfill the reason why they get up happy every morning, I cared less for the paycheck, cars, houses, and women showed off through a lifestyle of pipe dreams.
Some of my idols back then ended up faring well in life, today, and some are the same, few got worse. To support my point, I haven’t quantified this irrelevant idea, but 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 and prosperity.
Maybe my father did influence me. So be it if so.
I also had hoop’ dreams during my early teenage years, but I never put myself in the position to succeed on that path. I mean, I failed a lot in high school, like many of us who tried keeping up with trends without cell phones.
My teenage years were the pinnacle of my ignorance. In twelfth grade, my chemistry teacher at Grant High School told me I’d never succeed in life trying to ‘get by’ on my looks. Little did he know, I was more concerned about needing to get by because of my skin color—I didn’t know what he meant. From there began the lesson of how people perceived me, along with an uphill battle of my anxiety.
I remember having my projected GPA calculated through the last term of my senior year. I needed a D+ (let’s call it) 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. ‘Looks as though he’s in class’ was all that was required of me—this wasn’t chemistry AP. But maybe to him, I was a statistic in the Portland Public School district that typically didn’t fare well at the time.
SMH, I was shooting for ‘D’s….
Soon after is when I chased educational dreams in Las Vegas, Nevada. Which came with many setbacks setting me up for better perspectives.
I make those years sound good, because moving to Vegas’ in 2006 detoured my life’s only goal at the time—becoming something exceptional my father could appreciate. I’m sure he was in doubt that I veered off the path of becoming the God-fearing, head strong man he was, because damn did I give him the scares.
First setback set me up for an understanding that it’s rare a face like mine requires a feng shui. Talk about in house anxiety…
Second setback, realizing I no longer needed social confirmation.
Then there’s the monetary setback, and understanding the luxurious and renown lifestyle really aint’ shit. Fame is all too common to the naked eye and we all at some point wanted to be ‘it’, until realizing it wasn’t as good as being rich. Rich will arguably get you both. But in Vegas’, it doesn’t matter who’s spending.
The most significant setback was the realization of an older generation’s face like mine, who’s wearing an LVPD badge, will pre-judge me a drug dealer or thug. Even though I was a broke college freshman trying to avoid being seen as what he assumed me to be, he was still threatened by me as he held onto his gun.
“No need to treat me like the otha’ [nigga’s], brotha!” I pleaded handcuffed to the black male officer next to my roommate. This was for an air-refresher hanging on our rear-view mirror.
“…people will categorize you wherever they feel you best fit at in their world!”-ME
On the contrary, moving to Eugene, Oregon allowed me to experience different lifestyles of people that I’d look up to. What I didn’t realize, is that I’d lose my vehicle; The Batmobile was taken after a night of bad choices.
“…are you on the team?” The officer asked.
“I’ve never touched either ball in my life,” I responded.
Many thoughts manifested after the incident, making that year the second level mezzanine floor of my life. It’s the level built in vintage buildings downtown Portland. In other words, they’re only relevant in retrospect—much like the school year at UNLV.
I also began to learn the status quo for an African-American male is set at so many levels. It was annoying, considering I was never comfortable with having to settle with any expectations from my father, my peers, or mentors. But with every unique encounter over time, I hoped others would forget that I’m darker, more importantly, we figure out how we compare with each other, respectfully.
I trust everyone has traveled a unique journey, with different faces, regardless of skin.
Growing up in urban northeast Portland, Japanese was the culture and language I embraced in school five hours a day, five days a week, amongst a diverse group of Caucasian kids. Consequently, I found myself observing the communities I grew up around rather than embracing them. I say observing because prior to that I felt obligated to embrace them and abide by each.
Recalling the moment in 1996, while in Tokyo, Japan shopping through a department store, an elderly lady walked up to me and began starring into my soul—as if I was lost in her world. She held a 3M industrial respirator mask to her face and publicly observed me like I was toxic waste.
Later understanding her curiosity, I wasn’t surprised, nor did I react to her at the time. Considering I was told by someone of her generation that a face like mine isn’t worthy of flying something that other faces are, again, I didn’t care. It just made me realize some people expect to see me elsewhere.
By speaking of paths to follow unpopular to faces like mine, I felt I was destined to change my stigma before ever acknowledging it.
Is it wrong to feel that it’s ignorant to think opportunities are limited for boys like me? Like a bullet, and blissful ignorance, not every good thing has a name or face for it.
My sister was the first idol setting an example for me. Not only by taking advantage of opportunities early on, but she reminds me that I didn’t have to feel obligated to follow in the footsteps of my peers. She first attended Spelman College across from Morehouse College, to be amongst men who were strong minded, educated, and an alike face to mine. Back in sixth grade, after she shared with me one of her admirer’s handwritten letters, I remember being eager to learn how to write in spaghetti. That was the first time I was fascinated to see a face like mine write so well in ink.
That boy, who’s a man today, will never know the bridge he wrote.
In 2007, after being prescribed framed lenses, I was able to see the world much clearer. Noticing how others with faces like mine were perceived in today’s society, I began realizing how people were actually looking at me. Prior to glasses, I was an avid squinter like my boy Eddie Barnett Jr.
For years you all were a blur…
I know it’s me, but noticing the ‘status quo’ much more, I never thought why. It became frustrating that faces like mine were rarely assumed to be just a college student at my age. Hearing people’s assumptions about me developed an awkward Terrell—whom I’m happy with because it’s the majority of who I can be.
Growing to admire individuals who weren’t so fascinated by color was a challenge. It made me question why people tried so hard to connect with an oppressed race or even worse, try being them. Why would someone lighter than me want my experience?
More importantly, to have assumed we’re oppressed was accepting a narrative contradictory to my growing values.
Often being the darkest person in a group of lighter skinned individuals, these stigmatic beliefs were tested in many different ways. Cringing when I’d hear the n-word out of someone’s mouth who was far from kin to my skin, it triggers the history behind the word, and more importantly, the use of it on a psychological level.
I never raged, got mad, but once warned someone that they’re lucky a real one wasn’t around to hear them. Jokingly or not, the word is a trigger and you never know how people will react.
Hearing jokes about me being darker were exhausting, leading to the many funerals in my head. Especially after thinking about the behaviors it drove.
But hey, a roast session is a roast session, people say things in context and if you’re sensitive like I was, write a blog about it…🙃
After advising ignorance to be prepared for the conversations around someone being subtly acknowledged as the darkest in the room, amongst African-American’s, the tension rose as I began taking pride in it. And I stopped being so damn sensitive.
From the origins and stigmas around labeling blacks black, which marked us below humane aspects next to others as a form of colorism, to today, our color each day writes a new story.
Consequently, we use words such as [nigga] freely—but in brotherly love. Or, in memory of the collective label African-Americans were given… I won’t lie, I use it periodically because there are moments I aspire to be one.
Considering we don’t often compare to black with the naked eye, I’m with Jay-Z on the color thing—I’d rather patent a hue than be given one. But it doesn’t matter, we’ll always be the people who are darker than blue.
(Updated: September 16, 2020)