Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Pain is a malignant tumor that spreads like a bad rumor,
life's a tragic comedy with gallows humor
pathetic laughter replace tears, I write like Shakespeare,
my pen bleeds for Nasheed, I spit it for Basheer,
cut down or caged up, snatched off the roster,
every hood is full of Trayvons, Emmitts and Oscars,
y'all's fear cause tears, black men live dog years,
and death comes in 3's, that's the truth like Paul Pierce,
grief and depression, men express it with aggression,
like a restless adolescent with his manhood in question,
labeled dangerous from day one, so childhood's a luxury,
sharp minds get medicated, then placed in custody,
wives and baby mamas give birth to young Obamas,
never realize the promise and potential that's upon us,
brilliant dudes, but confused, enthused with paying dues,
they find purpose being crips, damus, and pirus
now prison feeds the economy, like slavery for the colonies,
that age-old dichotomy of privilege vs poverty
numb my pain with novelty, laugh to keep my sanity,
I fight cause that's the man in me, hustle to feed my family

Monday, March 24, 2014

Book Review: Cell Mates & Cell Outs

In Cell Mates & Cell Outs, Curtis Howard educates readers about gang culture and prison politics, by giving us a jarring glimpse of his life as a member of San Diego’s Neighborhood Crips Gang and an inmate in California’s jail and prison system.  From robberies gone bad, to prison race riots, his personal accounts are both fascinating and stirring, and some intriguing, yet tragic. 
I became familiar with Curtis’s story when I read an article he had published in the Nov. 7, 2012 edition of the San Diego Reader. In it, he described his lifestyle of gangs and drug dealing that led to several prison stints, and the struggles that he has encountered after his latest release.  I started connecting with Curtis through a mutual friend, and soon began reading excerpts from “Cell Mates” on Facebook.  Each snippet was enticing and had me waiting for the next.  The one that captured my attention most was about a fellow inmate named Black Freddie:
Black Freddie was a tall, buffed, charcoal-black skinned dude, who was by far the most feared and resented convict in the entire jail. He patrolled the cellblock throughout the day like a drill sergeant, cursing and yelling at the top of his lungs like a fucking maniac…Black Freddie had temper tantrums that brinked on insanity and he often threatened to choke, beat, slap, stab, or kill any inmate who dared to challenge him.  He made it very clear that any man who lost a fight to him would be subjected to rape, or forced into oral copulation immediately afterwards. During these tirades, Black Freddie studied facial expressions of inmates for any signs of doubt or resentment so that he could call them out personally.  He often vowed to inmates that he would make their mothers, wives, girlfriends, daughters, nieces, and little sisters victims of his horrendous sex crimes.
My initial reaction was a burst of laughter…one of disbelief that someone so ridiculously crazy actually exists, and also relief that I’m not locked up with him. Just as intriguing, is Curtis’s account of being cellmates with a serial killer while his trial was taking place. 
But “Cell Mates” is more than just a narrative about gangs, crime and prison, it’s a book that should be required reading for college sociology classes. I consider Curtis to be a social psychologist for the way he is able to conceptualize gangs and prison as institutions, while tying in his personal experiences to deliver his message, and connect content with context.  He breaks down various components of gang culture and prison politics almost academically for those who are unfamiliar, but still connects with folks who are already savvy.  He does this by being authentic with his language and terminology. 
What I appreciate most is that the book is raw, honest, and responsible at the same time. He doesn’t sensationalize gangs, drugs, or prison in anyway.  I feel that young folks who read this book would really get the excitement they need to hold their interest, while also receiving sobering lessons in a way that’s not preachy.  In one of his most powerful statements, Curtis writes:
Many young “up and comers” in my community don’t feel that they have earned their stripes until they have been to the Pen, or hurt somebody…I can assure you that the majority of the most courageous, toughest, and smartest guys that I know have never been before…
My only critique of “Cell Mates” is that I was left wanting to hear more stories.  I appreciate that it’s concise and to the point, but this is one of those books that I could indulge in for a while.  My guess is that Curtis is holding out on us.  I’d be willing to bet that this is only a snippet of what he has to share, and there's more to come. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"It's like a jungle sometimes..."

If my life had theme music, today’s song would be “The Message” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five:

 “don’t-push-me-cause-I’m-close-to-the-eeeeedge, I’m-try-in’-not-to-lose-my-head…”
After work, I celebrated a bit too early, thinking that I would be able to get gas, pick my son up from school, and make it to his Taekwondo practice early enough to chill.  Headed down 47th street, just a few minutes away from the school, a police car gets behind me.
“Shit, I hope this muthafucka don’t pull me over!”
This is what I say every time one of those black and whites pop up out of nowhere and get behind me.  I should’ve known that today was my turn again. I haven’t been pulled over since 2012 (I think?).  My average is about 3 times per year. 
Today this guy did the usual song and dance by hanging back about half a block, while following me for a mile.  I was a little nervous, but for some reason thought today wouldn’t be my day…but it was. Before I could cross Imperial Avenue, I got the flashing lights.
I pulled over immediately, stopped the car, and rolled down my window. The police car pulled behind me and flashed that bright ass light into my car to get a better view of me.  Then two cops exit the vehicle, one approaching from the driver’s side and the other from the passenger side.  Both of them walked slowly with their hands on their guns.
“Aaaaaaaahhh shit!” I thought.  “Is it about to go down…like this?”
I sat still, making sure not to move an inch.  I made sure that my hands were visibly rested on the steering wheel, hoping they wouldn’t find a reason to draw down and shoot. I was taught early, that a coward with a gun is the most dangerous. 
The officer on the passenger side stood behind my care, while the driver approached. 
“Could you turn off your car?” he said while looking inside (hand still on his gun).
“it’s already turned off”, I said flatly. 
I could tell right away that this dude was anxious, afraid, and a rookie.  How could he not know that my car was turned off…the car was silent and the keys were in my lap? This instantly made him ten times more dangerous.  A nervous, rookie cop, with his hand on his gun, approaching a black male wearing a white t-shirt.  This scene had "justifiable homicide" written all over it.
He gave me one of the usual scripts that I hear when I’m pulled over, which is “your right tail light is out”. He then asked for my drivers license, registration, and proof of insurance. I said slowly, “my license is in my wallet, in my right pocket.  Can I get it out?”
“Sure” said punk ass officer
“My registration and insurance are in my glove compartment.  Can I get it?” I asked
I slowly open the glove compartment, pausing to show that there is no weapon inside before grabbing my “free papers” and handing them to punk ass.
To make a long story short, waited in my car for 10 minutes while these dumb bastards ran my name to see if I have a criminal record, on parole or probation, or a gang member.  Of course he came back with nothing.  But instead of giving me a fix-it ticket and sending me on my way, he found a reason to keep me there.  He pointed out that my insurance expired last month and that I need to have proof of current insurance.  I offered to pull up my policy on my iPhone to show him.  Obviously a rookie, he couldn’t decide whether to wait for me to pull it up, or let me go with a citation.  After realizing that I was really pulling up my insurance policy online, he checked with the other officer and finally let me go.

All of this over a tail light?
By this time, 25 minutes had passed and I was running late. Before he said his final words, I made long eye contact, with the intentions of piercing his soul…letting him know that I see inside his weak ass heart. Basically, “fuck you”.
A few minutes later, my blood pressure returned to normal, and I picked up my lil man.  My first thought was “I hope he never has to experience this”.  I was so happy to see his little face. His energy was just what I needed at the moment.  He was especially mellow today, very warm and engaging.  Minute by minute, I thought less about what happened and enjoyed the presence of my son.  He had an excellent day in practice and we went home. 
It’s like a jungle sometimes…

Friday, July 19, 2013

A Bully's Typical Target

Kids will use just about any reason to pick on someone. You could get teased for being too short, too tall, too fat, too skinny, too ugly, too cute (yeah, girls are a trip!), too smart, too dumb, etc…Anything that is noticeably different from the majority, especially being an ethnic minority, an immigrant, gay or androgynous, poor, or even disabled…is likely to be targeted.  However, the typical targets for bullies usually have certain qualities in common.

The Shy and Passive
Many shy kids are also passive, and usually don’t speak up for themselves. Some are introverted loners, who have very few or no friends.  Since strength is often in numbers, he or she is an easy target.  Not only does she lack support, but she doesn’t make noise or fuss.  The shy kids have a lot going on inside, but don’t have the confidence to express it.  They need the support of adults to bring it out, or an experience that lights their fire (no pun intended). 

The Nerd and Geek
Contrary to popular belief, nerds don’t walk around with dorky glasses and pocket protectors. Those are “Geeks”. Nerds are the kids who don’t fit into any particular crowd.  They’re not cool, so they don’t subscribe to pop culture trends.  They usually have a small group of regular looking friends, who wear regular looking clothes.  Like “geeks”, when nerds are caught alone, bullies take their shots, without worrying about retribution from his non-confrontational friends.  Nerds aren’t socially isolated like other targets, because they have a core group of friends who keep to themselves.  However, bullies will sometimes pick on the whole group.  Nerds usually don’t fight back, because they’ve spent most of their time becoming skilled in more productive activities

The Odd and Awkward
Another easy target for bullies is those who have socially odd behaviors.  Kids with Aspergers Syndrome tend to rub folks the wrong way due to their poor social skills, obsessive behavior, and professor-like speech patterns.  They are easily aggravated and have difficulty expressing empathy towards others, which are not favorable qualities for someone who speaks with no filter. These kids tend to offend others unintentionally. Other kids don’t realize that their odd behaviors are the result of a disorder, so they have little sympathy for them.  When bullied, kids with AS don’t receive much peer support, because they are annoying. 

Some kids with ADHD fall into this category as well.  I’m sure you’ve encountered a youngster who is so hyper and impulsive, that he does crazy shit without even thinking.  This is the guy who can’t shut up in class; the one who plays too rough and hurts people on accident; or the one who keeps kicking the back of your chair just to get your attention.  Some of them have redeeming qualities, which earn them friends and social clout.  The others, who are not as charismatic or charming, unfortunately get bullied.  He or she may appear to be the bully in the eyes of adults, but so often are baited into confrontations.  The social/verbal bullies know that he’s easily frustrated, so they push his buttons and watch him explode.  Then, his classmates band together and blame him, knowing that the teacher will believe them, given his history of aggressive behavior.   

The Minority
Being a minority of any kind puts an automatic target on your back, whether it’s middle school or society as a whole.  I remember being bused to a predominately white elementary school in the early ‘80s and getting an early lesson in bullying, via overt racism and micro-aggressions.  I had the double whammy of being shy and black. I made a few friends, but mostly felt isolated.  I’ve also been on the other side of this, cosigning the torment of recent refugee kids.  And when all of the kids are black, well…we just make fun of whoever is the darkest, has the widest nose, or nappiest hair.  There is always someone to bully.  If you can’t find a racial target, then find a boy who seems feminine.  No gay kids? No problem, because there is always a kid who’s poorer than you, or doesn’t have name brand clothes…a lisp, bad breath, freckles, glasses, straight A’s, farted in class…I think you get the point.  
These are just general descriptions of the types of kids who are habitually bullied.  Absolutely anyone can be a target, for any given reason. In my next posts, I’ll discuss ways to stop bullying and helping those involved to recover.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Many Faces of Bullying

The image that most people have of a bully is the big, rough looking kid, who punches the geek and takes his lunch money.  But this is not so much the case anymore. A lot of bullying goes under the radar, because the face of bullying has changed.  Actually, there are many faces to bullying. One of them may be sitting in your home right now, helping you make dinner.
1. Physical Bully- He is the stereotypical physical bully who punches kids and takes their lunch money.  This kid is like Nelson from The Simpsons. The physical bully is usually a boy and bigger than everyone else. Sometimes, he's not that big, but just very aggressive and rough. These are often kids who come from chaotic homes, where violence is normalized. Some of them have ADHD or learning disabilities that limit their impulse control, frustration tolerance, or social skills. They try to compensate for their deficits by pushing kids around or intimidation. Other physical bullies are just boys trying to prove their masculinity and position themselves as the top dogs on campus. They’re actually afraid of being vulnerable, so they project this upon kids who are vulnerable. A lot of them are all bluff though. They target the smaller, shy kids, until that person stands up for himself. Then he chooses a new target.  Some physical bullies are actually the ones being bullied. He’s very reactive, and other kids know exactly how to push his buttons.  They get him to explode, then sit back and enjoy the show.  When it’s over, they all blame him because they know the teacher is likely to believe it. 

2. Social Bully- these kids are popular and have a lot of influence among peers. They are able to turn everyone against you by spreading rumors and destroying your reputation. They get all of the other kids to not be your friend. Social bullies tend to be girls. These are the mean little brats who spread rumors about you on Facebook, or make sure you don’t get invited to parties. She might invite you to the party just to humiliate you.  Don’t get it twisted! This type of bully is just as cruel as the rest, or maybe more.  She will not only humiliate you, but also leave you feeling isolated. 

3.  Verbal Bully-This is the quick-witted kid, who can butcher you with words.  He or she is sharp, clever, and usually charismatic. They have quick come-backs to anything someone says to them.  Back in the days, these were the guys who could “base” on you so bad, that you’d want to fight or just cry.  The girls will tease you to tears, and have everyone cracking up in laughter-at the expense of your self-esteem and dignity.  Verbal bullies, like the others, are compensating for some insecurity they have about themselves. This kid probably runs his or her mouth in other settings as well. He tends to argue with adults and has to prove he’s right in every situation.  A lot of the male verbal bullies that I’ve encountered are smaller guys, who just won’t shut up. If I had a magical eraser, there would be plenty of kids and adults with no mouths. 

4. Friendly Bully- this is the friend who will make jokes at your expense in front of everyone. This friend needs you in order to seem cool or funny. They treat you nice when it’s just you two, but when there's a group around, they use you to promote themselves. They also borrow things and don't return them, or rough you up and say "Man, I was just playin'…stop acting like a little girl". Some kids remain “friends” with this type of bully, because they gain something from this unbalanced, abusive relationship. They feel connected to someone who is popular…a sense of importance.  I’ve seen kids who’ve dissed their nerdy friends, just to kick it with the bully friend. Other kids continue hanging out with them because they don’t have other friends; or they want to avoid the full wrath that would come with ending the “friendship”. 

5. The Follower Bully – they pick on kids occasionally, but don't consider themselves to be bullies, or don't realize that what they're doing is bullying. They just want to be down with whoever is at the top of the food chain. The followers are the kids who laugh at the bully’s jokes, help them spread rumors, and abandon friends who’ve become targets of the bully.  These kids are just trying to get by and keep the target off of their own backs.  They don’t realize how much power they have.  The followers have strength in numbers and determine whether a kid is popular or not. If the followers stop laughing at the jokes, the jokes will lose power.  When the followers agree that something is not right, the bully loses clout.  He or she will either become an outcast or have to conform to more pro-social behaviors. 
6. Sociopathic Bully- usually charming, smart, manipulative and cruel. They usually don't get caught because what they do is often subtle and calculated. They are often believable to adults and present to be good kids. She will destroy your reputation, turn other kids against you, and then blame you for it. The sociopathic bully feels no empathy or remorse. Their primary means of bullying usually depends on their strongest qualities or what they’ve learned from their home environments or community.  The ones who use more physical aggression tend to be less sophisticated or come from lower-socioeconomic backgrounds.  The sociopathic bullies who are not overtly aggressive tend to build bombs and other crazy shit.

All kids who bully have one thing in common; they are insecure and pick on others to mask their own deficits.  A lot of these folks carry their behaviors into adulthood, while others learn from their mistakes, and evolve into decent people.  As much as I dislike bullies, I have to be cautious about labeling kids.  Language is powerful, and a label like this can brand someone for a long time. I try to distinguish the act, from the person. With exception to the sociopathic bully, most of them are able to change their ways with the right balance of accountability, love, and guidance.  At the same time, earning that label is one of the consequences of the behavior. If he or she doesn’t want the label anymore, they may be inclined to start treating people with respect.  In my up-coming posts, I will describe the kids who are typical targets for bullies, what to do about bullying, and how both parties can move forward. 

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Weirdos and Heroes Among Us

Most folks have heard the expression “just when you think you know someone…”  This came to mind after watching the news interview of Charles Ramsey.  He’s the man who saved Amanda Berry, and two other women who were kidnapped and held captive for ten years. The interview is both heart warming and funny at the same time.  I was moved by the description of the rescue - Amanda’s strength and Charles’s courage. Then I was humored by his genuineness and the honesty in his comment “Bro, I knew something was wrong when a little pretty white girl ran into a black man’s arms!” Humor often comes in the form of the unpolished truth.

After chuckling, then rewinding the interview to laugh again, I was a bit creeped out.  I thought about the fact that Mr. Ramsey had been friendly neighbors with one of the kidnappers for a whole year, without any suspicion.  This speaks to the idea that you never truly know who your neighbors are.  We tend to think of “weirdos” as the creepy, shadowy figure lurking in the alley way.  However, they are often the psychopathic neighbor who appears to be normal.  Heroes are expected to be the George Clooney looking, off-duty police officer, who happens to witness a crime in progress.  In this case, the hero is an average middle-aged brotha, who washes dishes for a living.

I believe that there are many heroes among us, but we never know who they are until incidents like these.  There are some folks who would’ve heard Amanda Berry screaming for help, and did nothing.  Some would’ve stayed in their homes and called the police.  Charles Ramsey decided to go over there and kick the door down, then call 911.  Despite the few psychopaths, there are probably more heroes among us.  These are the folks who use their hearts, fear, and adrenaline to spring into action during incidents like 9/11 and the Boston Marathon Bombings.  They usually come out in everyday situations such as a family caught in a house fire, or a patron in the grocery store having a heart attack.  Heroes also come in the form of victims, who become survivors – Amanda Berry.  Whatever went down inside that house, it resulted in her fighting, scratching, and crawling to that door to get help for herself and the others inside.  I hope she uses this resilience to get therapy and begin to heal from the many traumas that she experienced. And give that man some reward money and the acknowledgment that he deserves!

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

New Series on De Su Mama: A Father's MANifesto

This is the introduction of A Father's MANifesto, a series in which I will contribute monthly posts to on De Su Mama. De Su Mama is a blog site created by my long-time friend, Vanessa, to document the journey of raising her two bicultural children and providing them with a source of identity.  A Father's MANifesto adds the perspective of a black father and therapist, raising a son to become a man.


Friday, April 12, 2013

We Write Our Own Eulogies

Before you get all sad and depressed, let me explain that this is not meant to be morbid.  This post is more about life, than death.  It’s also about being honest and truthful…mostly with ourselves.  I can’t remember where I heard the phrase “we write our own eulogies”, but it rang true and settled into my mind.  I probably heard it at a funeral, but whose, I don’t remember.  So much for not being morbid, hahaha. 

I believe that the pastor, family member or whoever eulogizes someone’s funeral doesn’t actually write the eulogy.  It sort of writes itself…theoretically.  Then again, it doesn’t write itself, because it’s already written.  You are writing your eulogy right now, as my fingers tap the mess out of these keys.  It began before you were born. And when you arrived, you gradually took over the writing. 
Your eulogy is basically a summary of your legacy.  Legacies are determined by how you affect the people around you.  This is your personality, what you do for a living and for fun, what you build or create, who you love, how you love and who loves you. It’s also your values and the choices that you make.  Sometimes I ask clients what they value and they say things like “family, school, football, etc…” However, none of what they mentioned are reflected in their daily activities. On most days, you’d find them out of school, getting high, and staying out all night. I then explain that a person’s daily activities spell out their values loud and clear. Every once in a while, I even have to ask myself these questions:
“Do I really value the things that I say I value?”
 “Why am I not doing those things daily?”
“Are my daily activities congruent with the legacy that I’d like to leave?”

 “Who do I love, and how am I showing it?”

  “Do I know for certain who loves me?”

Legacies are less about achievements and more about touching the lives of the people around you. You also don’t have to be a saint or scholar to leave a lasting legacy.  It’s what people remember and cherish most about you that matters - the stuff that makes it into your eulogy.  Think about how you spend your time and who you spend time with.  Who are the people who laugh at your jokes or make you laugh? Who do you take care of or worry about? These are likely the folks who will hold the pen, while your spirit does the writing. 

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Wrestling with Cultural Stereotypes

During the mid 80’s, cultural awareness was not a high priority for public schools in San Diego.   For most kids back then, our lessons on cultural diversity came from parents, the playground, and unfortunately…professional wrestling.  I was a wrestling junky back in the 80's. I started losing interest in about the 7th grade, once I was willing to admit that it was fake. Another reason for my loss of interest was my resentment of the blatantly racist stereotypes perpetuated by the WWF (now the WWE). By then, I had accumulated enough personal experiences with racism to be turned off by images that once fascinated me. 

One of the biggest insults is the characterization of Kamala “The Ugandan Headhunter”.   He was big, black, and bald, with face paint and random shit like crescent moons and stars painted on his belly. He walked to the ring wearing only an African mask and leopard skirt, slapping his belly. Also, Kamala didn’t speak. He just growled and grunted like an animal. He was accompanied by his Korean handler, Kim Chee, who was mean and treacherous. Sometimes Kamala tag-teamed with Sika “The Wild Samoan”.  Those were some scary dudes! I had nightmares about them. I'm sure many white kids did as well. This was our lesson about Africans, Koreans, and Samoans.

There was also the tag team duo of The Iron Sheik and Nikolai Volkoff (yes, they really spelled “Volkoff” with ff instead of v). The Iron Sheik was marketed as an Iranian villain who hated America. Nikolai Volkoff was billed as being Russian, but was actually Croatian. They entered the ring waving their respective nation’s flags.  Volkoff would sing the Soviet national anthem, while the crowd booed.  The alliance of these two played into the communist/cold-war/red-scare climate of the 80’s, in addition to the residual feelings from the Iran hostage crisis.

Black wrestlers were often talented, but never taken seriously as title contenders.  They were always clownish (Junkyard Dog), bizarre (Kamala), or angry brutes who would get close to beating the champ, but never win (Bad News Brown).  And then The Rock came along in the late 90’s and became the first black WWF/E champion. The Rock was the Barack Obama of wrestling entertainment. He was black, but not too black.  Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was just black enough to sell his swagger, without offending the dominant culture.  

Vince McMahon did a great job at marketing villains for wrestling fans to hate and heroes to idolize.  He also did a great job of perpetuating racist stereotypes for U.S. kids and adults. McMahon didn’t discriminate when it came to capitalizing off of these stereotypes.  He could put any group of people or personality type into a perfect box for consumption.  White folks, gay folks, immigrants…no ethnicity, sub-culture, or community was spared.  However, the unflattering images of minorities had the most stigmatizing effects.  White wrestlers were marketed based on personality features, while other folks were marketed based on cultural features.  If I learned nothing else from the WWF as a kid, I learned how Americans view and feel about others (i.e. minorities, foreigners, etc…).  I am generalizing here. However, Vince McMahon simply wrote the scripts that were sellable to the dominant culture...and they sold.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Reaganomics, Hip-Hop, and Crack-rock


From Reaganomics and trickle-down politics, narcotics demolished us,
causing black consciousness to not exist
that was the 80’s, crack babies and AK’s
NWA, gangsta rap in its heyday
I took it all in and analyzed, stayed to myself cause all I did was fantasize
the eyes of this young black kid, seen the damage that crack did
families impacted, even preachers back-slid
slavery of a different type, kryptonite dipped in white
even superman got addicted when he hit the pipe
niggas was fiendin’ for that chemical demon
in a climate of recession and political schemin’
tax breaks for the rich to dig the country out the ditch
cuts to government programs, but aint that a bitch
how CIA orders allowed dope to cross borders,
sold weapons to Iran, but target blacks on the corner
in 6th grade, the teacher asked my friend why he hates cops
he said they gave his daddy five years for eight rocks
and by the time his dad came out, homie was banged out,
his mom had relapsed and he was headed the same route
my generation was orphaned
broken hearts and empty homes, spiritual abortion -
when kids lose hope, the only options are rap, athletics, and selling dope
view life through a narrow scope, we used hip hop to cope
with a system that created conditions for nihilism
it’s hard to listen in class when your mama’s in prison
little kids wearing D.A.R.E shirts, watching the Cosby’s
cocaine killing us softly, while they bomb Gaddafi
we’re America’s bastards, and pulled ourselves from the ashes
the beautiful mess that came from chaos and madness

Since 1987, drug culture has become an increasingly salient feature in Hip Hop.  I’d be willing to bet that half of the songs heard in the mainstream or underground have at least one reference to selling drugs.  No more than a year after crack cocaine became an epidemic in the inner-city, it made its way into Hip Hop.  In 1985, “The Batter Ram” by L.A. rapper Toddy-T, warned d-boys of the LAPD’s new weapon used to knock the doors off of suspect crack houses.  Through the years, it was followed by Public Enemy’s “Night of the Living Baseheads”, NWA’s “Dopeman”, Ice Cube’s “Summer Vacation”, Clipse “Grindin”, Jay-Z “Roc Boyz”, and hundreds of other songs. Reaganomics, Hip Hop, and Crack-rock is an ode to my generation, whose resilience during a devastating social ill, manifested itself in the most dynamic genre of music.  Residual effects of the crack epidemic continue to impact individuals, families, and communities.  Despite this, the creativity and ingenuity of youth serves as a silver lining in the midst of chaos. 
I use the term Reaganomics not only referring to the economic policies of Ronald Reagan administration, but also the overall political climate of the Reagan era, it's corruption, and sentiment towards poor people of color in America. These sentiments are demonstrated by Reagan's use of the term "welfare queen" and also the mandatory minimum sentences for possession of crack, which was disproportionate to the sentences received for possessions of equal amounts if powder cocaine(mainly used by the affluent).

During the early 1980’s the country was in a recession and cocaine was already a popular and highly glamorized drug. Then introduced, was a cheaper, smokable version, which offered a faster and more intense high. When you add this to the mix, with people who were poor and already vulnerable to addiction, it's devastating.  Families were ripped apart by addiction, incarceration of parents, and extreme violence.  Kids were traumatized, thrown into the foster care system,or raised by family members with limited resources.  Communities that were already poor lost many of their employable adults to the pipe, prison, or death.  Another consequence of this cheap version of cocaine was that petty street dealers, who were often inner-city youth, discovered a new niche. How young black and brown folks were able to gain access to such large quantities of cocaine is shady, and has been linked to CIA corruption overseas.

Whatever the case, this was a generation of black youth who were already marginalized and had limited opportunities in the job market. Selling crack instantly became a viable option to make a decent amount of money. Many youngsters like Easy E, used their business savvy and proceeds to fund record labels and launch the music careers of their peers. Hip Hop has fed a millions of families and sent black kids to college. It's given us some classic music and a sense of hope. At the same time, hip hop's unsavory relationship with drug culture has sensationalized the destruction of our communities and led our youth astray.

I am a proud member of the Hip Hop generation. A cultural cohort, whose music was created by black inner-city youth, and will always be intertwined with street culture, and now drug culture. For better or worse, it is what it is - a beautiful mess.  

Monday, March 11, 2013

How to Create a Monster

1.      Have a kid, obviously.
2.      Give that kid everything she wants, when she wants it. Don’t make your kid wait for anything. “No” is not an option, especially if she throws a tantrum.  And God forbid you not get her the new iPhone. All 8 year olds need an iPhone!
3.      Don’t make him follow any rules. If he misbehaves, just complain and whine, maybe yell, but don’t follow through with any consequences.
4.      Placate her.  Don’t allow her to have any bad feelings such as anger, disappointment, frustration, or sadness.  If she does, buy her something to make it better. Plus, it takes too much energy to help her work through her emotions.
5.      Rescue him from all responsibility. If there is something that he needs to do (homework, project, chores, detention, etc…), you do it for him.  Your child cannot handle the daily challenges of life. If he steals something, don’t make him return it - just hide it for him (believe me, I’ve seen it plenty of times).
6.      Allow her to disrespect you.  If she talks back to you, cusses at you, or ignores your directions, just let it go.  Whine, complain, maybe yell, but don’t hold her accountable. Your baby has a right to express her feelings…even at the expense of others.
7.      Never give him honest feedback about his mistakes, efforts, or performance.  Only tell him how amazing he is and that everything he does is perfect.  Your baby is too fragile, and will not benefit from the truth.
8.      Undermine the other parent’s attempts to hold him accountable (if there is another parent around). If the mother or father says “no”, make sure that you say “yes”!
9.      Make it known that the whole world revolves around your kid.  Not just your world, THE WHOLE WORLD!
10.  Whenever they disappoint you, take it personal…because it’s really all about your feelings in the first place, right?
Some of the most difficult families that I’ve worked with in counseling are cases involving a spoiled kid and passive parent. These are cases in which the parent(s), usually the mother, have created a monster due to their inability to say “no” and sticking to it. This has less to do with the child, and more to do with the parent’s own emotional issues. Parents who create monsters tend to be guilty, anxious, depressed, narcissistic, or just don’t know any better.
For guilty parents, it is too painful for them to see their kid upset or angry.  These are enablers who feel responsible for making everything better. There may be a history of substance abuse, divorce, or other issues that the parent is feeling guilty about, and therefore, overcompensating.  Anxious parent can’t stand feeling out of control, so they placate. They don’t have the composure or resolve to deal with tantrums or emotional intensity in general. Some depressed parents just don’t have the energy to deal with their kids, so they buy them shit. Narcissistic parents want to be liked and adored by their kids so much, that they sacrifice respect to get a temporary smile.  A good majority of parents who create monsters just don’t know any better.  They are actually doing the best they can, with what they know. These are often very young parents who don’t have wisdom or patience to set limits and teach life lessons. Or, they are older parents who don’t have the energy.
These mons…, uhhh, kids are brought to me at various ages: 5, 8, 13, even 17 years old. By the time the kids are in high school, it’s too late.  They are already spoiled rotten and believe they are entitled the world, without having to give anything.  Getting them to understand otherwise is a very frustrating task. Equally as challenging, is helping the parents to modify their parenting styles.  They carry their own emotional baggage that is decades old and don’t see their role in the child’s behavior.  This gives me absolutely nothing to work with.  To the parent’s disappointment, there is no magical pill or therapeutic wizardry that reverses the monster curse. I’m forced to let them know that their kid will have to learn the hard way.  And life itself is the toughest, but most effective teacher.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Special Ones

Now that I’m 35 years old, I realize how young Dr. King was when he was killed.  With all that he accomplished in his short 39 years, he was definitely special.  He was human and imperfect, but special.  This was a man who had an understanding--an agreement with God.  He understood his purpose on earth, and the task at hand.  I believe that most humans have potential beyond their understanding.  Most of us “regular folks” have a little greatness in us that we may or may not be aware of.  However, there are only a few special ones who come into our presence each generation.  Not all of these special ones are civil rights activists or Nobel Peace Prize winners.  They come in many different roles from musicians to doctors to spiritual leaders.  What they have in common is that they touch our lives--our spirits--in a powerful way. These individuals have a mission.  They do things that they don’t have to do, but feel are necessary to do.  Often, the special ones die young.  They serve their purpose and leave us. I imagine there is only enough room for a few of these folks in any given time, so they leave to make room for who’s next.  Some do stick around for a while, just long enough to be defamed. Not only do the special ones do their amazing work, they bring others along with them. They inspire many of us regulars to tap into our potential. 

I believe that President Obama is one of these “special ones”.  He is indeed an imperfect human.  On top of that, he’s a politician, which makes him more flawed than the rest of us.  However, he has done more than the average president.  He has the burden of being attached to the permanent underclass of America--Black folks.  Whether he wanted to or not, he has brought all of us along for the ride of the first Black U.S. presidency.  And the brotha is so special that he even got re-elected. As silly as it sounds, a lot of folks still don’t understand what the big deal is about having a Black president.  For these folks, I’ll explain.

Oprah Winfrey interviewed Jamie Foxx recently about the movie Django.  Though I’m disappointed in her for endorsing this bullshit movie, she unsurprisingly said something very profound about slavery.  To paraphrase, she said that as Auschwitz was a factory of death for Jews, U.S. slavery was a factory of inferiority for African-Americans. The goal of American racism was to create a permanent underclass, to do the work that would make this country rich. This was done by savage violence, humiliation, rape, and every kind of physical, spiritual, and psychological abuse imaginable.  As activist Tim Wise has explained, the concept of “whiteness” was created by rich folks to conglomerate poor people of various European ethnicities, while breaking their alliances with Black workers--thus creating an “other” group.  For generations, African-Americans have lived in otherness. Despite our resilience and advancements, the stench of inferiority has lingered.  Some of us shove it down to the bottom of our guts with education, money, afro-centricity, etc…but it manages to sneak to the surface in weird, fucked up ways.  It exposes itself in the form underachieving, self-doubt, violence, and depression. 

Taking history into consideration, President Obama is special.  However, he is not special in the same way that Dr. King was.  Obama is not a product of the factory of inferiority—U.S. slavery.  His parents and grandparents did not receive the same messages from America as Dr. King’s had.  But even though Obama was raised by a White family, he still carries the burden of being Black in America. The fact that he does not share the same history as African-Americans has indeed helped him get into the White House. He has undoubtedly experienced racism, but doesn’t have the same resentments towards America that is passed down through generations.  His relationship with America is different than mine.  This is the reason that he is able to deal with racism and seem relatively unaffected.  Obama doesn’t feel like an “other”, he feels that he is just as American as anyone else.

The Obama family’s presence in the White House alone is a huge blow to the factory of inferiority. Not to mention, the dude is brilliant, charismatic, and compassionate…and he sang an Al Green song in front of the nation. He’s not from the factory, but he knew that he would face the fire of good ol’ American bigotry by running for president.  This is something that special people do.  President Obama’s framed picture in the school’s front office tells my son that he is not inferior. He may still have to work harder and be more careful than his White peers.  However, he won’t have all of that stagnating energy at his core – like his daddy and many others before him.  I’m excited to see what kind of “specialness” will come from my lil’ man. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

The Neighborhood Watch

The cultural dichotomy of my neighborhood is one that leaves me with polarized feelings of appreciation and resentment. Though my apartment building is technically located in Talmadge, it has more resemblance to City Heights. For all of the San Diego transplants, I’ll explain each. City Heights is one of the most ethnically diverse communities in the United States. It is located in central San Diego, in which the residents are mainly poor and “working poor”. Talmadge is adjacent to City Heights, and is a predominantly white, middle/upper-middle class suburb. Within Talmadge, there is a noticeable divide in which south of Madison Ave. resembles City Heights, more so than Talmadge. When I cross my street to the north, I literally go from Boyz N The Hood to Leave It To Beaver.

I’ve lived in this community for 6 years. I can afford some of the cheaper housing in the area, while enjoying the view of green lawns and eclectic homes during walks with my son. As a pre-licensed marriage and family therapist, and part-time college lecturer, I consider myself close to being on the verge of success. After three decades of poverty and struggle, I look forward to owning one of those homes that I mentioned. My sentiments towards Talmadge changed a bit after an incident that took place on the night of May 4th 2008.

It happened at approximately 10:00pm. After an intense argument with my lovely wife (ex-wife), I decided to use one of the anger management skills that I teach to troubled youth. I left my apartment and started walking. I had no destination, just needed to do something physical and get fresh air. Walking north of Madison Avenue, I called a close friend on my cell phone. About 10 minutes into my walk through the peaceful, quiet, and lit streets of Talmadge, I was startled by the headlights of a vehicle pulling up behind me. My heart took a brief recess, as I spun around, barely able to get the words “what the…” out of my mouth. The vehicle behind me was a white van with the words Talmadge Neighborhood Watch on the side. I made sure to stay on the phone, so that my friend could witness whatever was about to go down. The driver was a retirement aged white male and the passenger a white lady in her 40’s. My heart clocked back in to work (but at a vigorous pace), as the passenger asked me a series of questions:

“Where are you going”, “Where do you live”, and “What is your name”, etc…

By this time, a brief moment of fear had turned into anger. The lady claimed that residents in the area reported a suspicious looking man wondering through the neighborhood. She asked me if I was with the “two Hispanic women seen sitting in their car up the street”. My answers to her question were:

“Don’t worry about where I’m going”, “I live on Winona Ave.”, “You don’t need to know my name”, and “No, I’m not with them”.

Of course my answers also contained a few expletives. I refused to answer anymore of her questions, and continued walking and talking on my phone. About 5 minutes and a two blocks later, I noticed the van trailing a half block behind me. I stopped, waited for them to approach, and asked what the problem was. She continued to ask questions, almost inviting me to cuss her out. I told her to stop harassing me, and to call the police if I did something wrong. She replied:

“I already called them, they are on their way”.

I also told her that I have a right to walk in my neighborhood without being harassed. If I was a criminal, she would’ve been my very first victim! Besides, who burglarizes homes at night wearing a white t-shirt, grey sweats, and running shoes? I guess a crack head or a tweeker would…but I digress. I demanded the information to the next neighborhood watch meeting, so I could give them the business. She fumbled her words, while trying to quickly think of the false information that she gave me. I continued walking, and as I got closer to my apartment I spotted two police cars coming my way. They pulled over and I put my phone in my pocket without hanging up. Hopefully, I’d have a witness to my potential ass whoopin’ by America’s Finest. As one of the cops interviewed me and took my information, a third cop car pulled up. All of this for a suspicious wanderer! I’m sure that someone on the other side of El Cajon Boulevard was being stabbed or robbed, while they were shaking me down. However, the cop was a nice guy, and after he realized that the call was bullshit, he told me to have a good night. When I arrived at home, I took a shot of something warm, and watched ESPN Sportscenter. I had forgotten about the initial argument with my wife…it was irrelevant.

I found out the correct information for the neighborhood watch meeting from the Mid-City Police Department. Two weeks later, I went to the meeting and told them what happened. The “neighborhood zealot” was present and on the defense. She accused me of being belligerent and aggressive. Of course I was belligerent! She scared the mess out of me and then interrogated me! The end result was an apology by their person in charge, and an invitation to be a part of the neighborhood watch. No thanks!

Since then, I’ve moved a couple of blocks away, but still on the more affordable side of Talmadge. There is an alley behind my apartment building, where some shady activities occur sometimes. I often wonder, “Where was that ‘neighborhood zealot’ when someone knocked down my patio fence running from the police?” Where were they when a suspected pimp beat the mess out of a lady right in front of my bedroom window? Or, when someone stole my grandpa’s fishing poles out of my patio? Would she have pulled up behind that pimp, driving the Talmadge-mobile and asked him where he lived? I doubt that. I also realize that if the over-zealous patrol woman was armed, it could’ve easily turned into a Travon Martin incident. Vigilantes are often more dangerous than the police.

Despite all of this, I continue to enjoy walks with my son through the “Mayfield” side of the neighborhood. In the daytime, the people of Talmadge are nice and friendly. At night however, they are vigilant and suspicious of those who look different. How could a counselor, educator, and law abiding citizen turn into the boogie man within a few hours? Regardless of the answer, I got their message loud and clear. If I need to take a night-time walk, I’m better off walking down El Cajon Blvd. where I blend in.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

a beautiful mess

i can’t cry, so I gotta laugh
i’m just a beautiful mess, like an autograph
but far from famous, like a star that’s flameless
kinda burned out, charred and nameless
where I’m from, cops kill us cause it’s hard to tame us
they say we’re armed and dangerous
but I’m a black rose that blossomed in a dark place, where a dark face
means you start from behind, but despite the grind
all I needed was a little bit of light to shine
it’s hard to stay positive, through the trials and the tribs
it aint pretty, but it works, so I get it how I live
knowing something’s gotta give and my family gotta eat
in other words, make it happen even if I gotta cheat
yeah, I did a few things that might’ve hurt my image
but if it helped me survive, then it’s the perfect blemish
cause I’d rather win ugly, than lose with finesse
a battered and bruised champion – a beautiful mess.

This is about being human.  Most of us try to be good people and do good things, but we are flawed and imperfect.  Sometimes life is hard and we do ugly things to survive, both physically and emotionally.  However, a person’s (or group of peoples) adaptability, resilience, and will to survive is always beautiful.