Might Be Wrong

9:07:00 AM

"We look at them, we see somebody that could help but they look at us and all they see is a nig**r."

photo © Aga Putra |  

I've been listening to Vince Staples' Summertime '06 -- a powerful articulation of the black experience in America. Here’s a sample from Might Be Wrong:

Justice is supposed to be blind, but continue to cross color lines. Hands up, don't shoot. Shot. Stand your ground. Blacks don't own no ground to stand on so we stand on our words.
Black and hooded is the official probable cause for cops to keep weapons on. I can't breathe through the chokeholds and gun smoke. Slain in society by sworn protectors. Protected by their peers, grand juries full of friends. No charges brought against them. They kill and arrest us, transgress and oppress us.

Recently a white (presumably, suburban) mom broke down in tears while reading out the lyrics to one of the songs on Summer ’06 because she was so disgusted with her local radio station playing it, and the story made me wonder about the multiple (contradictory) realities that make up America. 

 On one hand, it’s important to note that the mom’s reaction to Vince’s expression of his American reality isn't invalid, but a function of living a separate reality from his. The reality of being black in America, of growing up poor in America. The specific reality that Staples has occupied. It makes me wonder about how we can claim to be a post racial society when there are people who literally cry at the thought of other people's realities somehow brushing up against their own predictably and entirely safe realities. Yet we live in the same country.

Perhaps this misunderstanding is what's contributed to our current electoral climate. Perhaps it's a function of a world and a country that is slowly coming together a little bit more, brushing up against each other's realities and slowly trying to grapple with each other. We don't all have to agree or be friends but we do have to try to understand each other.

In Mississippi Goddam Nina Simone sings "you don't have to live next to me, just give me my equality" [*technically speaking, gentrification proves that certain people living next to others might lead to better public services—not equality] and in the past I have always echoed her sentiment. We don't have to be friends. We just have to acknowledge each other's realities and respect them. Yet, in recent times, I wonder where we draw the line. At which point do others’ realities become too uncomfortable, too narrow, too dangerous, racist, misogynist, intolerant, financially unstable, predictable, etc., to deal with? When do we turn away to focus our attention on the people who are like us. The people who vote for the same people we do, the ones who are as educated as we are, the ones who grew up attending Sunday school like we did, the ones who live in houses instead of nycha projects, at what stage do we turn away and keep our realities ours.

Refusing to acknowledge other’s realities is a function of wanting to control our world. We didn’t want to believe that people who would vote for Trump actually existed as real human beings with feelings, hopes and ambitions. We don’t want to acknowledge that people who supported Hillary suffer economic hurts as we do. We refuse to think Staples sings “I ain’t never run from nothing but the police” because that’s his actual reality. When we deny the things we don’t understand, we keep our world safe and predictable. A safe, predictable fantasy.

I don’t know where we go from here. But I do know that I don’t want to be surrounded only by people who are as educated as I am or care about the same things I care about. I don’t want my words and actions to add to the meaningless cacophony the permeates our realities. I don’t know where we go from here, but we need to not just copy, retweet, like or upvote. We need to think, really think, about the gaps in our realities, if we’re comfortable with them, why we’re comfortable with them.

 Summertime ‘06 is a good place to start

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