on silence

silence.jpg

This was inspired by Tiffany Wong, an incredible artist here in Chicago. Please click here to see all of her work.

I’ve been considering the invisible racism of my youth. The racism that covertly informed me. To be clear: Invisible and covertly are, decidedly, violently misnomered. It’s humiliatingly clear when I examine and appraise my past. It should have been unmistakable, uncoverable.

But, I believed the elected narrative. Of course, racism doesn't exist anymore. We have no issue with anyone. Of course, there is no difference between us and people of color. Of course, everyone is the same. Of course, of course, of course.

When 92.2% of the county surrounding you is the same chroma-less shade, there is rarely an opportunity to test the story. It’s easy to bury assumptions when you hardly find yourself in a position to assume. The myth of completion is simple and neat.

I remember the first time I saw It—heard It—the vile, foundationless, loud, prejudiced It. That was inside papa's 1995 Chevy Silverado c. Spring 2010. The truck was now mine. I was newly 16 and proud to own the garishly green beater. I was driving papa home. Feeling taller than I should have in my tiny Greenado. A brief silence was broken by his soft midwestern voice.

“I don’t like that.”

“What?” I scanned the road ahead, looking for something odd. Something un-christian maybe.

“Halfies. I don’t like when people mix.”

There was silence. His thin, wobbly voice began banging around in my skull. I didn’t understand what he meant. I never heard anyone speak with those terms, with that certainty. And it was papa, how could he do wrong? I didn’t say anything and the conversation changed somehow, I assume, I don’t remember. The drive ended there for me. My mind stayed at that intersection.

At this point I had no real concept of sex (you did read my age correctly), or race for that matter, I only knew it was wrong. What he said was wrong. It felt sick and I couldn’t say why.

For a good while after that, I ignored what had happened. It was an outlier, an exception, an accident. 

Then I saw It happen again and again. The gross summation of an else. Another. And I, of course, rejected it. No sir, I do not believe that for one second. There is no difference between them and I.

But there is a Second It. This is the ferocious truth that sinks its teeth deep. There is a prejudice that prefers to live along the edges. A clandestine agent equipped with one thousand explanations in case you become suspicious. 

If you wonder why you hear people talk about racial inequality the Second It will say, “Some people, not all people, of course, they just want attention.” 

If you ask It why so many of the homeless are people of color, It will sigh and say, “some people, not all people, of course, but, you know, a lot of people just don’t want to work hard.” 

If you wonder how come there are so few black people here, in our church, It hesitates for a second, and then explains, “There just aren’t that many in this area.” 

If you wonder why that should matter, It will say, “We are probably just not as exciting as black churches.”

“I’ve known some Mexicans and they’re just the nicest people, but you know, if you’re not here legally, you’ve got to face the consequences, of course.” It will say. “Of course, of course, of course.” Never considering what the consequences are. Never considering the other.

Ignorance is a god-damned paradise for one. These practices strip away the humanity of anyone who is different. Instead of immediately siding with our fellow mortals, screaming to be heard. We side with a faceless governing body. Instead of considering that no human is standing out in the cold because they have more than I do, we label them neatly as “lazy”. Instead of wondering if, perhaps, white Christians may be unable to relate to the concerns and questions of others, we are sure they’re simply different, it’s they that do not understand. And instead of caring about the families and children of our neighbors, we can only express mewling pity that they didn’t plan ahead for this.

I now know the denial of racism, the rejection of societal inequality is just as cowardly as a proud megaphonic bigot. I can only speak for myself, I can only change myself. But please know this:

I pray that we may all be aware and ashamed of any silence. I pray I will  always speak for those who can’t. I pray that any excess I receive, I give it away. I pray that I will never stay silent again in the face of chickenhearted prejudice.

All We Got Is Rhythm And Timin'

I want to talk to you about Blazing Arrow by the irrepressible Blackalicious.

This email has been in various stages of blank for over a week. I find it hard to feel adequate when describing this album. Every song is an experiment in sound and verse. Some soar higher than others, but each track is a backbeat to sincerity. There is an incommunicable energy that surrounds every word Gift of Gab carefully places into the universe. And here, on this album, like Nia before it, the words swirl, twist, and internalize in ever increasing complexity and honesty. Pair this with an equally unmatched and exploratory musical bed from Chief Xcel and you have, in this dweeb's opinion, one of the most wonderful music experiences ever given to mankind.

It starts with one of the most joyously self-referencing intros on any album. It may, rightfully, never make it on a list of Best Intros—
but
damn
you
if
you
don't
find
it
infectious.

Most of this album is a love letter to the craft of rap and music. The title track, 4000 Miles, Paragraph President, and Chemical Calisthenics are all intricately formulated to share the joy of creating music with the listener. It's rare for a musician to offer that experience up so freely. And rarer still for it to be so transcendent. Every song seems to be in love with itself and bursting with pride that it exists. Simply wonderful.

Green Light: Now Begin and Make You Feel That Way are unapologetically positive and stunning sunny summer songs. Through some form of wizardry, nothing feels half-baked and nothing feels heavy handed. These songs are 5 course meals of energetic affirmation. Full, comforting, servings of your favorite foods.

Look, this album kicks all kinds of ass, is what I'm saying. Just do yourself a solid and listen to First In Flight or Day One. And then the entire project. 

There is not another album that impacts me the way Blazing Arrow does. An album of songs created for the love of the song. Track after track of earnest musical exploration and lyrical R & D. I can only pray to notice the light as much as Gab and Xcel do on this album.

An Airport Conversation

Somewhere deep within the bowels of O'Hare International Airport (formerly known as Orchard Field Airport, and increasingly formerly and informally known as Douglas Airport) there was a phone conversation that took place. There are thousands of phone conversations that take place, most of them never eavesdropped upon. This could be due to the careful consideration on the part of the callee, or the wild inconsideration of the achy clumsy masses loudly fighting the soundwaves around the miserable portal to the sky.

But I was in the fortunate position of: Uncomfortably Slouched One Seat To The Left from a Blissfully And Wonderfully Loud Person; I had no choice but hear one of the ten thousand buzzing calls leaving O'Hare International Airport at 1300 hours, on April 23rd, 2013. It was a simple conversation, but one that has haunted the outskirts of my thoughts years:

"I just feel bad that I left you alone"

"Actually, I feel terrible that I left you alone"

"You needed to be alone?"

"Okay."

"Are you running?"

"You're just exercising the hell out of yourself"

"I just feel bad that I left you alone"

"You needed to be alone?"

"Okay."

"Okay."