Thrive Debrief

Thrive
November 5th, 2016, Madrid, Spain

I was nervous as hell.me

Hell of nervous.

I remember when Sienna Brown (founder of Las Morenas De España) asked me to present at Thrive, we threw around a lot of different ideas on presentation material and subject. We’d been in conversation regarding masculinity. We met at Black Masculinity and artistic exploration. Honestly, I didn’t know which way to go with it. I did research. I’d never openly talked about a subject as vulnerable as this in public. So, I read. I wrote. I wrote a twenty-six page script in fact. There are rare moments you get in life where you have an audience and can vulnerably express who you are. I’ve been reflecting on the Thrive conference a lot. The life that I have led, the experiences I have accumulated, in many ways prepared me for Thrive; to thrive. I presented eight poems and prepared five questions (which I did not get to present, but will in this debrief). Accompanying my poems, were stories associated with each piece. These pieces all represented my experiences as a Black male, also being bi-racial as well as identifying the kinds of privileges I’ve had a being very light skin African-American. I used African-American and Black interchangeably here. Really, they are the same to me. I prefer to be called either.

I knew that many people were going to be curious as to why I was chosen or why I was at Thrive giving a presentation on Black Masculinity. I think a lot about how Mat Johnson describes himself as looking like a “Lithuanian rugby player.” Mat Johnson is an African-American author, he too is bi-racial. This was a first for me. I have never accepted or stated out loud that I look “white.” In my mind, I look exactly what I am: mixed, Black and White. I see my father who is White and I see my mother who is Black. Culturally, I am Black. The way I navigate this world is Black, is a person of color (POC). Yet, I acknowledge the fact that I am very light, that I can and have passed for being white. It’s not something that I flaunt. I accept it. See, my family, my mother’s family, is Black and many of us are light skin African-Americans. I have ancestors that passed as well and needed to do so to provide for their family and it was usually the women that could pass. According to arcane hegemony in the United States, the male has always been the head of the home. This also stemmed from religious origin stories like Christianity or even western mythology. By this oppressive social stratum, most American’s are raised to believe, it seemed to be an impossibility for many Black men to thrive while not having the resources to provide for one’s family and to keep ones own sanity. This is how white hegemony continues to castrate Black men in the US post slavery. In addition, white hegemony teaches to separate man and woman into higher and lower castes. As Black men, we cannot forget get our sisters, Black women. I think Black masculinity is supporting Black women, for they are the pulse of our country and the movement as well as the most educated demographic in the US today. White hegemony was and has been used to separate us, Black men and women, even perpetuate the color line, intra-hate, between light and dark in the Black community.

In my poem, So this is Fine, I describe a conversation my mother and I had the last night of her vacation here in Spain. I made a poor comment about how basic the accommodations were in the hotel we were sleeping in for the night. It was a moment where the privilege that I’d had become accustomed to, provided by mother when we were children, and now the lifestyle I provide for myself, was checked. Chin checked. It was like one of those moments that causes you to take a step back, one where you examine who you are, swallowing pride, lending to the moment empathy, love, and education. After a long trip from Virginia, heading to Ohio, my grandfather needed to feed his family. He pulled over to a road side café and was promptly told to go around back and retrieve some sandwiches from the back door. It is a testament to his character at that moment when his human dignity was tested and trodden upon. This is a story I’ve heard several times but this time I really took it in. Many White people used different devices in those days to make Black people subordinate, minimal, unseen and unheard. They felt empowered because politicians and police officers turned a blind eye to the abuse or joined in. We are still here. The world has changed several times since then, yet the fashion in which our glorious country still values Black lives, not much has.

So, this is fine

A night in Virginia, 1960’s.

Those old dusty service roads in the south
Overhung willows/pebbles pinched under
Rubber tires sounded like pellet gun shots
I can see their headlights
Dust clouds combing over it and
The carry of the engine pushing through
Into a long night indignant

My uncle who made calls from his naval base
For road accommodations
A critters greeting in this families house
Exhausted my grandfather
Uncomfortable my grandma trapped on the edge of the bed

What those generous southern black folk gave
They left that welcome for the
Long haul back to Toledo, OH
On empty stomachs,
My grandfather’s pulverized human dignity
My mother’s childhood – black kids aren’t afforded
The luxury of oblivion or innocence
At that damned diner
Waitress be damned too/that dark row

We don’t serve niggas here.
Go ‘round back and order some sandwiches.

Sometimes I possess bad taste/made a poor comment
About the hotel we were in
Drawn & paused/tears red-ringed green eyes/mother told me this story

So, this is fine, honey. This is fine.

My audience was great. They were attentive and provided great feedback and asked great questions. A lady asked me to define my Black masculinity. My Black masculinity is the converse of what the media historically has painted Black men in movies or even in music videos. It isn’t found in hyper-masculinity. It isn’t found on a basketball court, on the street corner, not by the amount of women I’ve had sex with, no. I am emotional. I am sensitive. I am a artistic. My powers are found in courage, in my self-confidence, my spirituality, in my vulnerability. I can be protector while not being afraid to shed tears. I can be anything and do anything I want to without abiding by white hegemony. My masculinity can be fluid. I have had a therapist. It’s taboo that Black men go to a therapist for mental health. After my first few sessions, I was very hesitant in whom I told about my bouts with anxiety. Its good self-care to receive mental health services. This journey is stressful and being a POC in America we have become accustomed to dealing with stress. We know stress White people do not experience. In my poem, Sketch, I wanted to take some stereotypes of Black masculinity and create a more ideal world where my masculinity wasn’t judged or compromised by “white scope.” I posted this poem last week on my website, see the previous post.

Black masculinity is knowing that you are beauty. It’s been my mantra this year. As a man, I didn’t know that I could be beautiful or be called beautiful. That I could be included into images of beauty, my body not fetishized, not eroticized, not carved up and judged by me or anyone else or by our society. I started forming myself into a beautiful thing with realizations and a new consciousness. I am completing a collection of poetry and through the process of letting go. My poems describe experiences letting go of old behaviors and letting go of past relationships. Through this process of letting go, I’ve learned I am beauty. Over a two years span I’ve written these pieces.

In addition, Thrive, made me push the process to a deeper place. Sharing what I’ve learned about myself was scary but needed. In my poem Beauty, I am forgiving myself. I am shedding hereditary cycles and loving myself. I call myself beauty because I am a beautiful being, created by light, love, and I no longer want to slink in the shadow but live in my truths and a new revelation about myself.

Beauty

I am and I believe it now
I am beauty

That pulse into my darkness
Black leaves and lamp
That growth beneath
The freight of my travels as
Philly or New Castle
Beneath this train track heading to

The means of freedom
Out of blame
Out of hurt
Out of doubt
Out of cycle hereditary
Just that out

But I got out
Tree root below
May have even chewed on
Tooth chipped crevices
May have hid in the
Before
I may have crawled there

I like to walk at night
Because I know
I am the brightest light
On the block

When you are beauty
You can walk in the night
On old hound stone truths
Shaded or lit
And be radiant

Stroll

I formulated five questions with supplementary sub-questions in support or to give more meat to flesh out. These questions are for understanding. To create a dialogue that’s not existent and it’s evident because of the looping pathological fears harbored by the White community for people of color, continual suppression of women and blatant racism in country town. Since the beginning of his campaign, he bet on the fear, the darkness of this country, he won. We lost. As an aside: if the overwhelming majority wanted freedom from the establishment why elect the biggest bigot since the days of slavery of which created this establishment? Same ilk. Is this what America really wanted? For most of my life, I have constantly wondered or tried to understand why racism and fear keeps white and black communities separated. The silent white majority, white flight, gentrification, white this-white that, asking myself: “what keeps them from living in peace at night?” “Why do they hate so much?” “They formed America in their own vision/image, yet they are still unhappy (see greed)?” And this unhappiness oppresses us all. So that anyone who isn’t White, who moves up the social ladder, any one gets closer to this “high society” they’ve created, suddenly seek to destroy that person. Enter the next presidency. Nobody wins from this. White society isn’t exempt from the decaying world, climate change, earthquake, or hell fire. I guess collectively there’s no consciousness or self-love great enough to invoke empathy for America’s Indigenous, Black or Brown brothers and sisters in America. We share the same destiny, death, and elsewhere. I honor both my African-American and White roots. We got to make something work. Turmoil and upheaval already bites at our heals collectively. We need to talk more. We need to listen more. There were almost two hundred Black people killed by police in 2016 according to a Hughington Post article published this year. Call it what it is: mass execution, genocide even. I feel like “We” as a nation have not truly worked on repairing or improving relationships between communities of color and the white community. More people need to be educated and these feelings of fear and hate need to be confronted and questioned. We have to look at the top and how racism and fear is perpetuated not necessarily by community to community but by the powers that be, the politician and lobbyist, the city developer, etc.

a) Baldwin: “The price of liberation of the white people is the liberation of the Blacks-total liberation, in the cities, in the towns, before the law, and in the mind.” (The Fire Next Time, pg. 97) – What does this quote mean?
-What’s “the price of liberation”?
– Is our liberation, America, both Black and White, intertwined, dependent on each other? If so, how?

b) Why do White people fear Black people?
-What’s the history? Why is there a pathological fear harbored in the White community of the Black community? What or who perpetuates this fear?

c) What have western origin stories taught us about men and women
And gender roles?
-Think about religion(s), literature. Imperialistic and colonial history. Think about slavery and phrenology.

d) What’s your definition of Black Masculinity?
-What are some images you associate Black Masculinity with?
-What is hyper-masculinity and does it take form differently in the heterosexual and LGBTQ community? Is masculinity different in communities of color versus the white community? Similarities?

e) What’s White Masculinity and how is it compared to Black Masculinity?
-Think about hegemony in the US. What type of hegemony do we live under? How does it affect lives of POC? Gender roles? The LGBTQ community versus the heterosexual community?

After Thrive, a group of us who attended the conference went to Mitte Café for the networking after-party. The whole lower part of the café was ours. We danced, drank and ate well. It was the perfect ending to an already inspiring day. I miss being around Black people, my people. There’s not many Black people in Spain from home especially in these smaller regions and cities. I headed back to Asturias Sunday afternoon feeling energized and rejuvenated. Thanks to Danni and Sienna for making this happen. I am truly thankful.

References:
Craven, Julia. 2016. Haughting Post. Hears How Many Black People Have Been Killed this Year By Police [Updated]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/black-people-killed-by-police-america_us_577da633e4b0c590f7e7fb17

Orelus, Pierre W. “Chapter 2: Black Masculinity under White Supremacy: Exploring the Intersection between Black Masculinity, Slavery, Racism, Heterosexism, and Social Class.” Counterpoints 351 (2010): 63-111. Web.

Baldwin, J. (1993) The Fire Next Time.
New York, NY: Vintage Books

Thank you for reading.

Love,

Charlie

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