What #BeingBlackMeans to Unicorns

Yes, I know this isn't a freaking unicorn.
Yes, I know this isn’t a freaking unicorn.

Let me start off by saying that I don’t like being black.

I hate it, actually.

To paraphrase/shout-out Louis CK (how black of me, huh?), if I could travel back to a point before I was born and choose to be white, I would do it. Every single time.

Louis CK’s one of my favorite comedians. So is Bill Burr, who also loves to talk about race. There’s a lot of white comedians on that list actually. Most of them are black though, I admit. Kevin Hart’s one of my favorites of all time, black or white. Dave Chappelle’s probably about half a spot above him. Eddie Murphy and Richard Pryor ran the 70s and 80s in my opinion (though I wasn’t around for most of those decades). D.L. Hughley, Steve Harvey, Bernie Mack, Cedric the Entertainer (yes I just named all the Kings of Comedy), Aries Spears, Bill Bellamy, Rickey Smiley, the list goes on.

I love sports too, and we all know how black people fit in there. I honestly believe Dwyane Wade’s one of the greatest basketball players of my generation and probably all time. If you were as into the Heat in 2006 (and forever, #HeatLifer) as I was, you’d think so too. And Wade’s wife, Gabrielle Union? One of the most talented and beautiful women to ever grace an NBA sideline or your nearest TV/movie screen.

I’m a movie fanatic too, as any of my white or black friends can attest to. Denzel Washington? Classic. G.O.A.T. type stuff. Will Smith’s up there too. Forrest Whittaker, Jamie Foxx, Kerry Washington, Halle Berry, Taraji P. Henson, Sanaa Lathan, that dude that played Martin Luther King in Selma, that dude that played James Brown in Get on Up and played Jackie Robinson in 42 right before that and played a black football player in Draft Day right before that and seems slated to play every important black figure in every black-people-centered film for the next decade. All of them are amazing on screen, especially when it comes to commercializing racism.

If I had the choice though? Wouldn’t wanna be any of them.

In fact, if I did have the choice—as in, I could switch to any body at any point in my life—I’d go back to when I was a little kid and shove a white boy out of his skin so quick his soul would break a hip.

And then I’d move forward with my current non-fantastical aspiration to live as stress-free and enjoyable a life as possible. And I’m guessing I’d have a whole lot more success in my new white skin.

…Now, let me clarify by saying no, I don’t hate myself.

I don’t think white people are better than black people.

I don’t hate the black community.

I don’t hate the color of my skin, or want to rip my face off when I look in the mirror.

I don’t want to go sit in a bleach bath so I can turn that weird shade of yellow that occurs when people, for some insane reason, do that shit.

I don’t want to scrub my skin until it bleeds, willing the blackness away, and I don’t want to surround myself with an unending and unvarying sea of white people so that I ostensibly become white by association.

I don’t want to actually do anything to change myself, because I love the person I’ve shaped myself into these past 31 years.

I just hate being black, in America, the same way I’d hate having bowel cancer.

Because it’s shitty, sometimes literally.

Because it hurts, a lot of the time.

Because at some point, no matter what you do, you’re going to lose your dignity because of it. And possibly your life.

Because regardless of how badly you want things to change—how badly you want that cancer to just not exist anymore—there’s nothing you can do except try and live with it as long as you can.

***

Ever since I was old enough to realize that my skin color was the first thing people noticed about me, I’ve fought the notion of involving race in my life. To be fair, the inclination is partly because I am and always have been a naturally “non-confrontational” person.

Passive, is what people would call it really. The nice alternative to “coward.”

The sentiment doesn’t carry a completely negative connotation though. As I grew older, my natural personality type developed and expanded to instill in me a liberal mind state, my desire for peace going beyond race and manifesting itself as a plea to all opposing groups: man vs. woman, LGBT communities vs. non-LGBT communities, the Middle Eastern region vs. each other and pretty much every other country on the planet. Black people vs. the same redneck population that hates our guts just for existing (and presumably walking out on our jobs 150 years ago).

And the basis of this sentiment has always been: let sleeping dogs lie.

Why instigate when you can coexist quietly?

Why stir shit up when you can just go on about your business and pretend nothing bad is happening around you, whatsoever?

I was forced to ask myself that question at an early age, and my answer was…you just don’t. Stir shit up, that is.

I also figured the best way to achieve that was to say or do as little as possible to draw attention to the part of me that seemed to piss people off so much: my skin color.

Or at least, that’s how I used to feel.

Last week most of America watched the above video of the University of Oklahoma Sigma Alpha Epsilon (SAE) fraternity students who got caught singing a racist chant on a bus ride to a frat social. And yeah, whatever, it pissed me off. That’s bound to happen to every black person in the country who sees anything like that; if it didn’t piss you off then you haven’t thought about it long enough.

But what triggered my anger wasn’t necessarily the video so much as the response.

It was the apology, and then the excuses, culminating in a couple of MSNBC Morning Joe anchors blaming the entire incident on hip hop and white kid’s adoption of the culture.

As if black rappers make songs about the positives of hanging niggers from trees.

As if hip hop and college fraternities born in the antebellum south have that sort of connection.

As if hip hop culture was even conceived for white people; as if they’re not just borrowing it, rendering it inadmissible as an excuse for this shitty behavior.

That’s like someone checking out the Communist Manifesto from the local library and subsequently grabbing a bunch of friends then shooting up the White House with automatic weapons.

And the public turning around and blaming it on the library.

That doesn’t even make sense.

But even more telling than the shocked response from white folks (I have absolutely no idea how anybody could be “shocked” about this shit at this point; it’s been on the news in some form every day for…forever) was the collective reaction to it that I saw from my black friends.

It wasn’t outrage. Maybe from public figures, but not from the majority of Regular Joes like me.

It wasn’t horror.

It wasn’t even a laugh-it-off-then-roll-your-eyes-and-be-the-bigger-man response.

Instead, most of the black people in my life reacted to that video with some form of fatigue. That weary shake of the head and shrug of the shoulders, as if to say “Didn’t this just happen last week? I just…I just don’t give a shit anymore.”

Because it’s the same goddamn response we got the last time this happened. And the time before that. And the time before that. And the time…you get the point.

It’s become a six-step formula for racism’s release in American society during the digital age:

  1. Racist says something…well…racist, and someone captures it all on video.
  2. Said video gets posted to social media and goes viral.
  3. The racist is ridiculed and hated upon for their slip-up (always painted as a one-time incident).
  4. The racist then issues the most sincere written apology money can buy, begging for some “time to heal” with his/her/their family without the public outrage/death threats by email, phone, Twitter, Facebook, etc. As if the backlash is something that’s been unfairly cast upon them. Like a disease; out of their control.
  5. The American public finds a way to either justify it or brush it under the rug.
  6. America forgets about the entire thing until the next racist says something racist on somebody else’s camera phone (usually don’t have to wait too long for that either; a week, tops).

And all the while you hear the complaints from the ostriches of society that racism is being brought up too much, too frequently in TV and movies and radio and online on social media.

Complaints that white people have to hear about it too much, more than necessary, just get over it already, quit bitching, you’re making me uncomfortable, why are black people so hung up on racism?

“It’s over!”

All while black people have to live with the institutional racism that is not only thriving but digging its claws deeper and deeper into society on a daily basis.

In other words, it’s become part of the entire American social system, from national media straight down to the people you hang out and work with. On a personal level, my blackness has been a universal conversation starter at almost every job I’ve ever had, and I’d say roughly 15% of those conversations have been respectful.

Therefore, saying it doesn’t exist is like saying the United States economy doesn’t exist: we wouldn’t be here without it.

On the other end, black people also have to sit back and accept the fact that the black community really isn’t doing shit to change anything but bitching and moaning. Like they’re waiting for somebody to do it for them.

Martin Luther King started the Civil Rights Movement. Yet for some odd reason, in the years since his death, people have associated him with ending it, as if things were fixed when he passed.

All of this isn’t the real reason I’m on here ranting right now though.

I have absolutely no desire to be a civil rights activist.

I can’t attempt to speak for other people, because I’ve seen the way people think, and we really are all completely different from one another, and pretty chaotic when left to our own devices. And stubborn, also. Extremely stubborn.

But I can tell you my experience of being an educated black kid growing up in Florida.

Or a unicorn, as a friend likes to call me.

***

When I was around eight, I got in a fight with a white kid at my school, Palmetto Elementary; an overwhelmingly white institution in the overwhelmingly white neighborhood of Pinecrest in the overwhelmingly Hispanic city of Miami.

This kid I fought, he was really white too, freckles and red hair and sunburns and thin nose and all. We were in after-school care together, the place where all the kids whose parents couldn’t get out of work at three o’clock had to stay until their parents could pick them up.

That day, the whole lot of us were out in the field behind the school playing baseball when the redhead kid hit me with a pitch, very obviously on purpose. When I pointed out to him that he’d hit me, he said who cares, it counted as a strike. I told him that was stupid. He said I was stupid—a stupid black boy, to be exact—then he jumped on me and punched me in the head half a dozen times. So I stood up, enraged, grabbed the child’s aluminum bat he’d knocked out of my hand, and hit him right in the ass. Not my best swing, and probably the worst place you could hit somebody if you really wanted to hurt them. I was never all that good at baseball anyways. After I hit him, we started wailing on each other until somebody pulled us apart.

At some point after being separated, me and the redhead kid both ended up in the office with tears in our eyes and  snot in our nose. I don’t know why the other kid was crying, but I knew why I was: I was about 99.9% sure I would get the ass whooping of a lifetime when my parents arrived.

I’d never been in a full-on fight before, with kids circling around us and all. For a moment it had been exhilarating. But now things were too real, and I just wanted to go home, have somebody tell me this wasn’t the end of the world, that I hadn’t done anything wrong.

Me and the other boy sat there like that on the chairs in the main office’s waiting room for about ten minutes, largely ignored by all the office personnel until the head supervisor of after-school care—a woman whose name I still can’t accurately remember except that it started with an F, so I’ll call her…just tossing ideas here…Ms. Fire Witch—heard me crying and came flying around the corner of her office door with her bright red hair trailing her head like fire (hence Ms. Fire Witch).

Ms. Fire Witch told me to shut up, told me to stop crying, told me I’d brought this on myself, told me the only reason I was upset was because I knew what I’d done had been “disgusting” (I remember her specifically using the word “disgusting”; it’s been my main association with that word to this day) and that I knew I was going to be in big trouble; possibly expelled and sent back to the school I was supposed to go to, which I most certainly wouldn’t like. My original zoned school was Colonial Elementary, but Colonial’s grade in the school rating system was very low. My parents wanted me to get a good education so they transferred me to Palmetto (and yes, you guessed it, Colonial was in a predominantly black neighborhood, which is a whole other issue in itself and I’m trying really hard to stay on track right now and failing miserably as we speak so let’s keep it moving).

Ms. Fire Witch got in my face and pointed fingers and peeled her lips back like a snarling pitbull as she berated me. I’m surprised she didn’t spit on me in the process, but I’m pretty sure she wanted to. I was a fucking wreck afterwards.

She didn’t say any of that shit to the kid sitting next to me, who had long since stopped crying and was playing around with a hole in his t-shirt. At that point, she’d already been told every detail of our altercation.

In the end, she made the mistake of yelling all this a little too late in the evening, so that my mom walked in to pick me up on the tail end of Ms. Fire Witch’s rant. And so Ms. Fire Witch suffered the wrath of a Jamaican mother. And I got a Burger King kid’s meal out of the ordeal.

I wrote about this a few years back in a non-fiction story called “Defense” that was eventually published in Midwest Literary Magazine (now defunct, so I’ve republished it as a blog post here). I never really thought about it much at the time though, why I felt the need to write that particular story. Not until now at least.

Now, looking back, I realize that moment defined who I am today.

The parts I’m trying to fix, that is.

I would never hit anybody now, or even pick a verbal fight with them unless I knew them extremely well and therefore knew that the argument would stay civil (and even then). This is partly because, like I said, I hate confrontation, which is considered a good thing in a civilized society so I’ve never really had to own up to the actual basis for my inclinations, which is:

Fighting or arguing for me is pointless.

Because no matter what, no matter where I am or what exactly I’m doing or who I’m doing it with or what the initial result of the altercation is, I don’t get to actually win. Ever. Not in the long or short run.

Sure, I might knock somebody out. Or stun them with a verbal jab. But I still don’t ever win.

This phenomenon is known as a Pyrrhic Victory, aka a Hollow Win. The classic phrase: winning the battle but losing the war? Pyrrhic. Pretty much sums it all up.

I realized this as an eight year old, and it has dictated nearly every move I’ve made in the 23 years since.

It’s no coincidence that in third grade—not months after that first fight—I became the fanatic reader and writer that I still am to this day, using written words to vent frustrations I couldn’t voice, and books to form a wall between myself and a society I deemed too intense, a wall that I was able to add layers onto as I grew older (i.e. headphones, my computer, video games, cell phones, school, TV, social media, this blog post, etc.)

You see, I was born and raised as a thinker, and still am, hence the extensive schooling and obsessive writing schedule. So back then, in my eight year old thinker’s mind, I came to the simple and logical conclusion that being black means being automatically thought aggressive by physical presence alone.

Logic then dictated that the only way to counteract this image was by being quiet, and doing what I was told.

So I shut up and got to work.

***

Today, Patrick Anderson Jr. is a common representation of the 21st century educated black man.

Learned how to read by time I was four; gifted program throughout elementary school; tested in the 75th percentile for high school seniors on the SAT…in the 7th grade (95th percentile my senior year); consistently high grades whenever I got out of my books long enough to remember to turn in my assignments; correspondence and acceptance letters from Yale, Duke, UCLA, NYU, UM, FSU, UF, UCF (all the Florida schools actually), MIT, Cambridge and a couple others before I embarrassingly decided to stay in Miami at FIU because of a girl (I eventually transferred to FSU though, Go Noles).

My résumé: Associates Degree, Bachelor’s Degree, Master’s Degree, university teaching credentials and New York press experience. I’ve had a dozen short stories and a novel published, and I’m working on two crime thrillers at the moment, one requiring extensive research on the history of Miami during the Cocaine Cowboys era as well as the history of Jamaica in the 80s.

Yet, to methis is how deep it is, that even as I write this and know who I am and what I’m capable of accomplishing the feeling is still there, rooted in my consciousness, screwing with the confidence I’ve worked so hard to build—I will always be that little boy who was urged not to fight for anything ever again. And nodded his head okay.

I’ve seen and comprehended every ounce of racism that’s come my way since I was a kid. I just also saw and comprehended how futile any resistance actually was, because it wasn’t like you could pinpoint a target, place a red dot on their forehead and say “That’s racism. Get his ass!”

It was everywhere—is everywhere, in everything.

To be black in America is to be forced to constantly think about race, which is to say you’re never really not thinking about it, even when you’re being quiet. Which is also to say that you only have two options in your approach to dealing with the rest of America, black or non-black: you can either always talk about race, as a lot of black people I know do to the annoyance of pretty much everybody, or you can ignore it and become…the rest of us.

Marginalized.

That isn’t a euphemism. I mean that quite literally: being black in America means thinking about being black in America. Every. Fucking. Day.

I’ve tried most of my life to get away from race, but it follows me everywhere.

I’ve tried at multiple points in my life to be the non-racial writer, the non-racial boyfriend, the non-racial friend, employee, boss, teacher, all of it.

I tried to be the black person who tries as hard as he can not to be labeled “The Black Person.”

Yet it hasn’t done a thing but made it more apparent why being black is something that I have no choice but to define myself by.

All my life I’ve been the Black Guy, frequently The Only Black Guy, which ultimately taught me how to live while being black in my surrounding society. And what I learned was this:

Being black means being overly cautious about your temper, to avoid being labeled the “angry black guy.”

Being black is being told you’re being “too black” any time you assert yourself.

Being black is having to listen to other people tell white guys who talk like ignorant idiots, wear clothes eighty sizes too big for them, and otherwise act absolutely nothing like you, that they’re trying to be black.

Being black means dating is restrictive, with the choices being either 1) date other black people, which is fine when you live in a black area but limits the hell out of your choices when 81% of your hometown is white or Hispanic, or 2) date outside your race but remember to ask the necessary questions, of which there’s really only one:

“Is she into black guys?”

Being black means that’s a legitimate question, and a whole lot of times the answer is flat out “No.” And a lot of other times, when the answer is “Yes,” there’s an agenda attached. Like dating a black guy is the equivalent of joining the Peace Corps and traveling to Africa to volunteer at some impoverished village. Matter of fact, they should add that question as its own qualifier on Match.com on their Profile Search page, a little check-box labeled “Has to Be Into Black Guys,” right next to “Hobbies” and “Education Level.” I might’ve used the site more if they had.

Being black means having to work to get the type of respect other races receive just by waking up in the morning.

Being black means choosing a side, all your life, or risk becoming a social pariah. And the sides are many, and none of them will ever completely accept you as a good representation of the blackness they need for their group.

Being black in the above situation means you’ll  always be the exception.

Being black means walking outside with an automatic target on your forehead, whether it’s from mildly insulting “jokes” tossed nonchalantly in your direction like flippant grenades, or blatant displays of hatred and brutality that cut like daggers to the throat. Just by walking outside. Shit, sometimes you don’t have to wait that long (ever been black with a white roommate? You don’t even have to get out of bed).

Being black means being labeled the “Sensitive Black Guy” if you get angry about any of the above, and “Cool” if you pretend you don’t.

Being black means waking up every day fully aware that you are black, and that to a lot of people that’s a detriment to your character, a sign that you are less of a person, and you always will be, no matter how many other things you do with your life.

Being black should be a simple fact about a person, like they’re left handed, or they have green eyes, or their hair is naturally blonde.

Instead, being black is a lifestyle, one that you can’t ever get out of. And not a very good one at that.

Being black means receiving skeptical, borderline frightened looks from people who don’t know you, when you’re just walking by—down the street or into a store or wherever—and having to subtly convince them by your own actions that you aren’t dangerous, even though you’ve never done anything to make anybody think that about you in the first place.

Being black means being called a mythical creature—a unicorn, for instance—when you have nothing more than a lot of questions, and the desire to find answers.

Being black means you can’t say things like “being black means…” without alienating half the people you know who subconsciously subscribe to the racist views our society prides itself on.

***

When I started at Palmetto Elementary—right after my Jamaican immigrant parents worked their asses off to buy us a house in a nice neighborhood then worked their asses off to get it fixed after Hurricane Andrew destroyed it—I remember walking into school that first day of third grade and seeing a sea of white faces and thinking this was what people called a Good School.

In Junior High I found some solidarity with the other Caribbean-American kids at Southwood Middle, but it soon became apparent that there were factions within those groups too: you were either all about the Caribbean, or you weren’t really Caribbean at all. A natural and justifiable response to the animosity from mainstream America, but a whole other problem in itself.

In high school it was back to the sea of white faces (and Hispanic, but when you’re black there’s really no difference is there?). By then I had gotten used to it though, to the point that it actually felt weird when I was surrounded by black people. Still feels weird to this day, to be honest; I just got back from Savannah, Georgia this past weekend, and I can’t remember the last time I saw that many black people in one place. It was a little awkward, like waking up one day, walking outside and seeing the streets filled with Great Danes.

But more importantly, high school is where I started dating. And make no mistake, I’m mentioning dating again on purpose: if you want a conclusive report on the state of American racism, talk to a black guy who’s dating outside of his race.

My high school dating life, and largely my dating life as a whole, can be summed up by a conversation I recently had with a Colombian ex-girlfriend of mine from tenth grade, who confessed to me that part of the reason we broke up back then—seemingly out of nowhere—was because she didn’t want to be the Hispanic girl dating the black guy anymore.

Not because she was racist, but because racist people kept harassing her.

I knew nothing about this because she didn’t tell me. She didn’t want to hurt my feelings. And I’m not even in the slightest mad at her. I can’t say I wouldn’t have done the same thing.

Most guys like me, we just want to be happy. That’s literally it, the end all and be all of our desires. And a lot of the times for black guys—especially Caribbean black guys—happiness is in family, friends, the love of a good woman (or man, to each his own), and good times with all of the above.

Yet all those things mean something completely different to a black person in America than they do for pretty much every other race in this country.

Because happiness is there, yes.

Family is there, yes.

Yes, you can definitely have all the things everybody else has when you’re black.

You can just have the diet version.

There’s a limit placed on black people in American society that nothing—absolutely nothing—can beat.

Oprah is Oprah, powerful as shit and rich as hell. But she’s still a black woman. There are certain parts of this country she can’t walk into without protection specifically because she’s black, and there are millions—repeat, millions­—of people in this country who are way down the economic totem pole from her but would still cringe at even the thought of having to be her for a day.

And Oprah’s worth three billion dollars.

You really think I ever had a chance?

***

My point (I’m getting there, I promise, hold on just a little bit longer) is that racism hasn’t gone anywhere.

It hasn’t even dulled, really.

It’s just gone the way of the underground railroad: visible enough so you know it exists, but you’ll never get anybody to admit to it.

At some point in American history, living as a black person went from being a work status, to a crime, to a condition. And while the first two were horrific in their violence and backbreaking will, that last one is genetic, ingrained in our blood, a pigment change on a cellular pre-birth level that dictated how our life would be from the moment we took our first breath.

I’ve stayed quiet about it for my entire life, ignored it and even denied it on a few occasions. Looked at other black people straight-faced and declared “Racism is over. So shut up about it already.”

But this string of recent events in my life—both personally and in America as a nation—makes it impossible to ignore any longer. For me, at least.

Because while black people are real, living and breathing human beings—and educated black people’s numbers are way stronger in comparison to previous years—the roots of racism are fighting progress every step of the way. And I can say definitively and without hyperbole that the percentage of black people who are okay with this shit is zero.

That’s the actual unicorn aspect of it all.

And unfortunately, unicorns really don’t exist.

***

SPOILER ALERT

One last point: I watched this movie recently called Dear White People.

It was a great movie, amazing dialogue and acting and overall writing and directing.

But it was mostly amazing because it was the most realistic depiction I’ve seen in a while of what race relations are actually like today.

The movie takes place at a prestigious college, where a mixed-race woman uses her radio host platform to create a satirical show called “Dear White People” in which she attempts to turn systemic racism on its head. What results is the funniest, truest, and most depressing set of scenes possible. Scenes that mirror a bunch of real life stories I and other black people I know experience or hear about every day, including last week’s bullshit with Oklahoma’s SAE students.

But the really poignant thing about the movie is the last few seconds.

Because by time the credits start to roll, you get the sense that this entire thing has been a whole lot of screaming into the wind, and absolutely nothing has changed.

In other words, the story just…ends.

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6 thoughts on “What #BeingBlackMeans to Unicorns

  1. Your cousin posted this on facebook today and I respect most he has to say, so I decided to read this and I’m forever grateful that I did. This was a wonderful, thoughtful, compelling and raw piece of writing. You struck a chord with me on so many levels (except I’ve never been considered passive) that I thought you had gone into my head to write this. I suspect some who are slightly ignorant will get stuck early with your explanation of how you hate being black, but I pray they keep reading and gain some understanding. I wish there was a way that all whites could read this to understand where we are coming from. Thank you so much for your courage and for sharing.

  2. A friend pointed me to this article today, and I read through twice…because I WANT to understand. I can’t ever fully understand because I’m white, but I’ll never stop trying anyway. Thank you for your honest thoughts…I wish more people would read this and try to understand.

    1. Thanks for reading Michael. Honestly, I believe the effort is all that’s necessary. That’s the real problem, there’s no effort by the majority. If more people were like you, the world would be overall more understanding. Thanks for reading man, have a great weekend.

  3. Just wanted to stop in and say I am glad I saw this on facebook. I grew up a white kid with very few black people in my little world and then low and behold I married a black woman 12 years ago.A whole new world was exposed to me in my observations and conversations with her regarding how black people perceive their relationship with the world around them, and why. I read this slowly. You articulated something poignant here. I just hope a lot of people see it. Thank you.

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