Archive for the 'real life' Category

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Help Kids Learn and Become Superheroes With 826NYC

August 21st, 2014 Posted by david brothers

My friend Chris Eckert, also known as Kenny Bloggins and of Funnybook Babylon fame, volunteers at 826NYC. I’ve talked to him more days than not over the past however long we’ve known each other, and that means I’ve heard anecdotes like the one below here and there. They’re always hilarious and heart-warming, Kids Say The Darnedest Things-type material, but genuinely funny.

He’s raising money for 826, and I’m a believer. He shared this story, which you can reblog on tumblr by clicking his name, to sweeten the pot and jedi mind trick you into donating. It worked on me, and I hope it’ll work on you.

ihopeyourehappyinternet:

Hello Internet Friends and Acquaintances!

If we’ve spoken for more than ten minutes over the past decade, I’ve probably mentioned 826NYC and/or the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Co. They’re celebrating their tenth year of providing free educational programs and cape testing to folks in the five boroughs, and I’ve volunteered for them for very close to that entire time. You can check out our site for more information about all of the programs: drop-in homework help, creative writing workshops, field trips and publishing projects produced in conjunction with local schools, and even an annual student-made film festival (on August 26th, naturally) where kids get to see their efforts on the big screen at BAM. All of these programs are 100% free for the students and their families, which means that periodically we have to bust out the proverbial-or-literal donation bucket. I’ve never pushed this on my friends and acquaintances because come on, I am a product of public schools and state universities, and I don’t think I’ve even met a hedge fund manager. But this year they’re trying out something called $826 for 826 and how could I turn down participating in something with such a symmetrical hook?

Beyond all of the great stuff 826 does that I listed above — and it is great stuff, I’ve worked on all of it — I thought I would share one of the most incredible things I’ve ever witnessed in the confines of volunteering at 826NYC. 

It was after drop-in tutoring  and two kids around ten years old hadn’t yet been fetched by their parents. One was an 826 lifer who’s been involved with countless workshops and projects. The other was dragged in sporadically by his parents for maybe a year before his sullen eye-rolling brought an end to the experiment. Maybe it’s not important which was which.

The first kid mentions his hopes of getting a dog for his birthday. Or maybe a cat. Definitely a pet. He would LOVE a pet and turns to the second to ask if he has any pets. Second Kid says no, and when pressed on the issue explains because his mother is allergic to dogs.

The first kid is gobstruck. “WHAT? She’s allergic to DOGS? I’m sorry, but that is STUPID. Dogs are awesome. What kind of messed up person would be ALLERGIC to something so awesome? I don’t know man, your mom is DUMB.”

Second kid has absolutely no response to this, and looks at me pleadingly. I attempt to intervene: “Look First Kid, being allergic to dogs has nothing to do with liking dogs. My mother loves all animals, but she’s allergic to cats and a lot of dogs. She can’t help it, it’s just something that happens.”

First kid is deep in thought. “So like you’re born with allergies?”

“Exactly!”

First kid pauses, and busts out an incredible turn of phrase: “Look, what I am about to say MAY BE CONSIDERED CONTROVERSIAL. But I should NOT GET IN TROUBLE FOR IT.” The exact phrasing has obviously stuck with me to this day, and given the gesticulation accompanying I imagine he picked this up from a comedian or something. I still don’t know. For the first time I’m somewhat concerned about being left alone with minors, but I let him continue.

“There are people in our community who are… I don’t want to say the word… it’s like when a boy likes a boy or a girl likes a girl.”

“You mean people who are gay?”

“YES! Now… I know that being G-A-Y isn’t a big deal, it’s just how some people are born, and it’s not weird, and no one should ever make fun of them for it. I shouldn’t get in trouble for saying this!”

“You haven’t said anything that will get you in trouble, First Kid. And if you’re just stating a fact it’s okay to say gay.”

“I don’t want to get in trouble. But like… Second Kid’s mom was just BORN allergic to dogs?”

“Right.”

“Okay, so being allergic to dogs is the same thing as being gay?”

“I mean… yes?”

“Second Kid, I’m sorry I made fun of your Mom for being allergic to dogs. It’s just like she’s gay or something, she’s not stupid.”

Second kid begrudgingly accepted the apology, and seconds later his mother came in to pick him up. First kid felt a little bad for being prejudiced against allergic people, but I told him he’s fine. And he is.

Beyond watching sullen eight year olds who hate homework growing into high-achieving teenagers who will patiently walk a second grader they barely know through multiplication even if it interrupts their own studies, beyond watching kids discover their hidden love of acting, poetry, claymation, or fashion design, beyond even getting to walk through A SECRET PASSAGE HIDDEN BEHIND A BOOKSHELF multiple times a week, this is why I volunteer at 826NYC and want it to continue to flourish. It’s a safe space for people to ask questions, explore topics, and learn tolerance for people with dog allergies. 

If you can, please donate whatever amount you feel appropriate to support 826NYC. And regardless, if you are ever in the need of a cape and are in Brooklyn, I can hook you up.

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Yay, Viral Charity!

August 17th, 2014 Posted by Gavok

I got nominated for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. What can I do?

http://www.alsa.org/

Seriously, I was not going to ruin that gem of a shirt. Sorry about your retinas.

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#selfiegocomiccon 2014

July 29th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Photo Jul 23, 20 28 09

I really enjoy looking at selfies, but I’m bad at them myself. I think it’s a confidence thing. I feel uncomfortable being in the spotlight and the center of attention. I had braces as a kid, then my gap grew back and a tooth came in crooked, so I smile with my mouth closed now. I’m not too into my smile, so looking at my photos always feels a little awkward. As a result, my instagram is mostly pictures of things and other people.

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This is something I think about a lot, because selfies remind me of running around with a disposable camera as a kid, a toy that usually didn’t get developed for years at a time. I like selfies because it feels very carefree and positive and confident on behalf of the selfie-taker. I respect that a lot, that ability to just put yourself out there, but I balk when it comes to doing it myself.

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I talk with a few friends about fear a lot. Being afraid to do something new, afraid to finish something, afraid to make a decision. We haven’t talked about being afraid of selfies, but honestly? I think I’m afraid of selfies. My lack of confidence results in an inability to think I can take worthwhile pictures of myself. Fear was a big running theme as a kid at church, too. “God did not give me a spirit of fear,” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” these were mantras that were meant to keep you confident and honest. It was a signifier that fear was an outside imposition, and that we are bigger than fear. Fear is an impediment.

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Cue #selfiegocomiccon.

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I went into San Diego Comic-Con with one thought in mind: I can do this. I had to do my day job of proofing and approving books at the printer, and I had to do my con job, which was running or being on seven panels, assisting on signings, and general troubleshooting. It made my schedule very, very tight. I spent maybe half an hour walking the show to see things each day, spread out into five or ten minute increments, before rubber-banding back to the booth or to a panel. My day job had to get done, too, so I was up early and in bed late almost every day of the show to get things done. If I’m behind on my job, my coworkers get behind on their job, so I made sure they had what they needed before the gig opened for business each day.

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It was tough, and I knew it would be tough. My plan was to balance that toughness with tactical hangouts, maximizing my enjoyment and seeing people I see rarely or whose company I enjoy a whole lot. It worked. I had a great time.

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My friend Dennis “Edison Rex” Culver, pictured above in a third-person selfie taken by a mutual friend, coined #selfiegocomiccon. I was at a dinner with him and some very good friends, we were all dressed up, and I don’t even remember how it came up, but we needed to record it not for posterity, but for us, because we’re beautiful people who do dope things. So after dinner, in a nearly empty restaurant, we did a round-robin photoshoot, where everybody got photos with each other and we took photos in various groups. We tagged it #selfiegocomiccon, and sometimes #selfiegocomicon.

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I’d already planned to instagram each outfit I wore each day, which would be selfies, but I decided to directly address my fear by going all in on #selfiegocomiccon. I took a bunch of selfies with my wonderful friends, but I also reached out to strangers. I reached out to cosplayers and also one statue at the 2000AD booth.

I respect cosplayers. I don’t have the confidence to put myself out there like that. I don’t have the patience to carefully put together a costume, either. I recognize the hustle and I respect it. So I wanted to demonstrate it a little. I make it a point to talk to cosplayers at the show and hook them up at signings or give them some of my time if they want it. This year, I stepped toward ultra-casual cosplay. I put together a couple outfits that were directly inspired by things I liked, but not necessarily 100%. I love Monkey Punch’s Lupin the 3rd and Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira, so I attended the show in clothes reminiscent of Lupin and Kaneda (specifically the pink polo & white pants), but with modifications made for comfort and style.

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I figured I could draft off their enthusiasm and confidence and steal some for myself, even as I figured out the mechanical aspects of taking selfies (I have long arms, which helps, but you know. There’s angles to this ish.) and learning to if not appreciate, at least accept, my smile. And I did a lot of smiling. I mean, I smile all the time, I feel like, but now there’s a record of me actively smiling. That’s appreciably different. Doing it vs knowing you’re doing it/doing it intentionally. Also I could take pictures of people dressed like cartoon characters I like a lot.

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That was a big part of another decision I made at the show, which was breaking comfort zones. I’m comfortable, but I’m in a rut. I’m not branching out enough. So I made a bunch of decisions I normally wouldn’t, up to and including wearing a bunch of colors I usually don’t. White pants and white shirt? Whooof…okay. Yellow shirt? Cripes, man. Fine. But I did it, and people dug it. Which was very nice.

What helped me out in a big way was something that happened on the first proper day of the show. I was wearing my Lupin getup, a black shirt over black pants and a powder blue tie. A Lupin cosplayer came into the booth to poke around, and it was like serendipity. I asked for a selfie, she was like “yeah!” and we were off at the races. It helped me out a lot, like a good omen or something. It felt good.

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If you’re afraid of something…just do it. I was at a basketball tourney over the 4th of July weekend and on the wall was the phrase “NO EXCUSE. JUST PRODUCE.” That’s real talk. No matter what the project is, no matter how daunting, one thing is always true: Ain’t nothing to it but to do it. For me, it was doing selfies until I got over myself and felt comfortable, and then good about it. The support of my friends and passion from cosplayers, who were very kind with their time as I figured out angles and whatnot, helped me over that hump.

As a bonus, here’s a song I like from Space Dandy and a picture of me and fellow Lumberjerk Chris Sims as Sailors Mars and Moon:

Photo Jul 27, 11 41 20

Selfie tips appreciated.

#selfiegocomiccon forever.

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“Diversity Marketing”

July 28th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

The other week I lost my temper and said some stuff about Marvel’s announcements of Captain America and Thor, who are replacing White Captain America and Dude Thor. I’ve been thinking about it a lot, mulling it over, because it’s been pretty inescapable.

I like Marvel’s characters. I think that much is obvious. I like the creators, too. I might quibble with some story details, but big whoop. That’s the smallest thing ever, “I don’t like this specific aspect of a comic that isn’t being written for me.” No me importa, basically. But it’s the marketing that’s killing me, and I think I figured out why.

Marvel’s making moves to increase the character diversity in their books, and drawing ire from the usual gang of idiots. Which I’m all for, even though I’m way more for creator diversity, and believe is a good thing. But the thing that’s grating is that instead of putting the work out on its own merits and marketing it about how great it is, a lot of the conversation around it has been about the basics that hate it.

I’ve been seeing Marvel folks, mostly white dudes but not entirely, retweet or address or bring up racists and scumbags and sexists while pushing their books, positioning themselves as taking a stand against these people talking trash.

They’re hijacking hate to a certain extent, in the Situationist sense, and are using it to market their comics. The new black Captain America, the new lady Thor, both of these announcements were followed, within minutes, by people talking about the people who are hating on the project. “Big ups to all my haters!” is such a soft position, because it positions you as good because these other people are worse.

On top of that, it also colors the reaction to the announcement. If you disagree with whatever for genuine reasons, but you phrase it as “I don’t like that the Falcon is Captain America,” the reaction to that is now tilted heavily toward “Oh, what’re you, racist?” instead of it being something more reasonable. By putting those people front and center, by tweeting about them and giving interviews about how you won’t change the project no matter the response because you believe in your stuff, you’re…it’s not ham-stringing criticism, but it’s definitely preempting it, in a way.

And I think that’s the gross part. I spend a lot of time consciously pushing back against the messages society tells me about being black. The unworthiness, the laziness, the dumbness…all of it’s fake. But I have to stay on the ball, I have to keep Black Is Beautiful in the front of my mind, because black IS beautiful, and it always has been, and it always will be.

But I remember being in kindergarten and getting called nigger on the playground. I remember fachas screwing with me and my friends in Spain. I remember getting followed around stores, people looking at me like I don’t belong, and getting ignored when trying to do my job because there’s a white dude next to me who people assume is the boss of me. This weekend I got confused for a few other black dudes in comics who I don’t even resemble, and it stings every time.

And I think it’s messed up to see somebody who doesn’t know that pain harness it to sell some comics. That’s what’s been grossing me out, that’s what I haven’t been able to properly articulate. It’s the corporate version of dudes crowing about how feminist they are, like being a decent human being means they deserve groupies. “One episode of The Wire, what you know about dope?” right? And I feel like Marvel gets it on a certain level, and they certainly employ people who get it, but they don’t get it yet.

Somebody calling you a nigger ain’t a badge of honor. You don’t show off your gunshot wounds. You don’t crow about how people hate you in the name of making yourself look good. You let the dead bury the dead and leave the garbage men in the rear view or in the ground. They should not matter to you or me not nary an inch.

That’s why it feels like diversity-as-marketing to me. The creative teams are killer, and I like that Marvel is putting the full weight of their machine behind these books. I respect the people creating the comics. But I can’t take seeing people be proud of getting hated on in a way that doesn’t hurt them but forces me to think about how crap and dangerous it is to be black (or anything else) and alive in America in 2014.

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Beyond Outrage

July 14th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Kanye West is a passionate dude.

The passion is what makes his art work. People connected to him because they can feel that passion. It’s visible through his work, whether it’s a banging beat or some deft observation about life. He has a habit of doing scheduled interludes at his concerts, where he talks about whatever’s on his mind. It’s the most direct way to view his passion, I think, because it feels relatively unfiltered—it isn’t, we know that, but it feels more raw than a song—and it’s not hidden behind layers of cleverness.

He’s talked about his struggle to gain traction in the fashion industry, despite his success with Nike. He’s talked about what he wants to be to society, who he respects, what he hates, and what he loves. It’s wide-ranging, but that makes sense, because West is self-admittedly a guy who is interested in a lot of things, from Margiela to Akira.

These interludes are almost always called “rants” by music journalists. Despite being planned, despite being a regular feature, they are “rants” because…Kanye West is a passionate dude, and sometimes he gets emotional when talking about things. You can see it when he goes in on Sway on Shade45 or when he got at George W Bush over Katrina.

By calling these interludes “rants,” the media is painting West with a very specific brush. The word rant implies that the thoughts are off-the-cuff, overly emotional, and therefore invalid. It’s “Look what this kooky guy said now!” instead of engaging with any of his points.

It happens to all of us, of course. We all have triggers that make us get weepy or excited in conversation, I know I have a lot of dumb ones, but that doesn’t make them invalid or malformed. It just means you care, right? And that your level of care exceeds your calm nature for a moment. The opinions you’re expressing aren’t invalid because you stumble over your words or have to pause to collect yourself.

Passion isn’t perfect. I think that’s pretty obvious. West isn’t 100% right about everything, but he has been 100% right about specific things. The presence of passion doesn’t mean that you have to believe everything someone says. It’s just a factor that will, or should, help you judge what they’re saying and where they’re coming from. By recognizing West’s passion, I can tell that he genuinely cares about the stuff he’s talking about, and that helps me evaluate how I feel about what he said and where he’s coming from.

But he’s not ranting. He’s speaking his mind.


Comics has an outrage problem.

I don’t mean people getting up in arms over things, either. That’s an issue unto itself, and like anything else, it could be better than it currently is in several different ways, but that’s not today’s conversation.

What I’m talking about is how we—the comics community—describe, talk about, and address the concerns of people who are upset about one thing or another. The way we talk about outrage fatigue, outrage-of-the-week, faux outrage, outrage-o-matic, misplaced outrage, another outrage, this outrage, that outrage, and why it’s gross and short-sighted. How we use “tumblr” as a pejorative but ignore the poison in our own forums and followers.

The way we use the word outrage suggests that the outrage in question is fake and irrational, on account of being poorly thought-out and overly emotional. It happens every time someone brings up a point to do with equality, sexism, racism, or justice. It’s the same tactic the music media uses to devalue Kanye’s rants. They’re invalid, an inconvenience, annoying, or fake because you can see the emotions driving it, and emotional reactions aren’t valid.

We use the presence of passion to first diminish and then dismiss arguments. The offended must play by the rules of the unoffended, or even worse, the offenders, in order to be heard. You have to tamp down that pain if you want to get help or fix it. You can see it when people say things like “Thank you for being civil” when arguing something heated with someone they disagree with. Civility is great, sure, but we’re forcing people who feel like they’re under attack to meet us on our own terms. In reality, passion shouldn’t be dismissed. Passion has a purpose.

The way we treat passionate reactions is unbalanced, too. We eat up gleeful reviews or tweets like they’re pudding and retweet them by the dozen. There are sites out there that have used the word “masterpiece” over ten thousand times. We promote fawning interviews and king-making, but never once question passionate praise the way we do passionate criticism.

Comics as a community tends to react to every new outrage with disbelief and scorn, lumping them in with “the crazy ones” or “tumblr” instead of looking at what they’re actually saying and figuring out what it means. Every once and a while we’ll band together like “Yeah! That IS bad!” when something is particularly egregious and “safe” to comment on, but a month later? We’re back to blindly propping up garbage men and ignoring people’s pain. The arc of the argument is the same, whether we’re talking sexual harassment or creators’ rights.

No matter how you feel about whichever issue is at hand, whether you agree or disagree or loathe both sides, you should think real hard before responding to anything. Think about what the person is saying and where they’re coming from. Think about why they’re saying it. Think about your position in society, our culture, or our dumb little hobby and think about the position of the person you’re about to put on blast. Think about what you’re about to bring to the conversation. Think about how your words will be received, even if—especially if—the originator didn’t.

That’s a bitter pill to swallow, the idea that you should take your lumps and do the work you think somebody else didn’t do. But life sucks, y’all, and if I have to choose between someone who doesn’t like somebody else’s tone or someone who doesn’t really know how to argue but has fascinating points about our culture, I’m going for the latter, even when I’m the one under the gun. One of those people has a lot to lose. The other is inconvenienced.

That power differential is important to keep in mind. Despite the petitions, despite the so-called outrage, fans have very little real control over the comics industry. As professionals, as journalists or creators or promoters or whoever we are, our voice generally has a much, much broader reach than the offended. The weight of our reactions when criticized often goes much, much farther. We have less to lose by virtue of being in a position of power by default, and that makes it exceedingly important to check yourself and your reactions.


A lot of people don’t feel welcome in the greater comics community. We created and create this environment with our words and actions. If it’s not people hassling you over taste or creeping on you at cons or making “funny” jokes about things you care about, it’s seeing how people respond to outrage. When you see a community consistently dis and dismiss people expressing their pain, you’re less likely to share your own pain when the time comes, because odds are good you’re gonna feel a lot worse when the usual suspects get ahold of your words and the blowback starts coming in.

The way we talk about outrage-in-the-abstract has a way of building further outrage in addition to diminishing other types. Where some people will shy away out of self-preservation, others will go even harder because they know you won’t listen. They know their words will be skimmed and stripped of context before being ignored and insulted. To have a point you care deeply about and then to be told that point is irrelevant and invalid—that warrants anger, doesn’t it?

I have friends who simply don’t talk about things or hold back because they know their words will fall on deaf ears or worse. My friends have been screwed with on a level that’s incredibly frustrating and continually disappointing. In watching how they’re treated and talking to them about it, in watching what happens to the men and women who would rather send out tough guy threats and harassment, I’ve learned that a lot of things don’t get said because the offended doesn’t have any real power but their words, and others with more power will eagerly leverage their power to crush the dissent in the name of “keeping the peace.”

But we talk and we share and we know who is receptive to our stories, who will pretend like they are to gain brownie points or satisfy their ego, and who’ll smile and nod and move along at their earliest convenience because they just don’t care. We pay attention to the reaction to the outrage because the odds are good we’ll be in those shoes one day, should we decide our stories are worth the cost of the telling.

We’re in a complex place right now, in terms of our culture and people who speak on it. Suddenly a lot of people who were limited by the hateful whims of our culture in the past—non-whites, women, trans persons, gay people, and more—are able to sign up for a platform to express their views and speak their truth in a way that the mainstream has largely never seen before and often doesn’t know how to react to.

As a result, we’re realizing the way we enable -isms and hate by simply going about our daily lives the way we always have. We’re seeing the anger and sadness and passion that has been tamped down and ignored for years bubble up, and the conversations are often fraught with tension thanks to both sides and every participant coming from different places and contexts. There are more moving parts in these conversations than in two Space Shuttles.

Case in point: I realized I had to put subtle disclaimers in this piece just so someone wouldn’t get at me on some “Well, I don’t think all outrage is valid like you do, and here’s why you’re dumb for thinking that.” I know for a fact that’ll happen if I don’t try to beat it, even though other adults are clearly capable of understanding that talking about a thing isn’t necessarily complete unquestioning support of that thing.

That’s what I mean about the reaction to outrage being enlightening. I know the countermoves, the derailing moves, and I have to spin my wheels trying to head off the “Why don’t you get mad about real things?” or “You’re just angry all the time” or “Oh great, more faux outrage” goons on an essay that is fundamentally about how everyone should think more, jeer less, and process things a little bit longer before they react.

It sucks right now. I get that, and I empathize, whether you’re talking about the hate for the social justice conversation or the deluge of complaints that you can’t control and wish would stop. But it’s not gonna get better by going out of your way to talk about outrage and the outraged as if they were basic children, full of fury and lacking in thought. It’s not gonna get better when we have more editorials decrying “outrage” in general than we do editorials actively discussing and dissecting the outrage itself.

It’s not gonna get better if we choose ego instead of empathy every single time we’re up at bat. It’s not gonna get better if we aren’t willing to at least appear to listen. It’s not gonna get better if we paint every passionate criticism as “outrage” and stick our tongues out at it. It won’t get better if we pre-reject what people have to say.

If we paint every outrage with scare quotes and pithy jokes about the internet churning up outrage for no good reason, regardless of the outrage in question, we’re blocking progress. We’re telling some people not to share their thoughts, and we’re telling others that we don’t deserve their respect and honesty. Both are embarrassing, frankly, and abhorrent.

We need to be more kind, and this brand of kindness takes conscious effort.

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Cord Jefferson on writing about being black while black

June 10th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

On Medium, Cord Jefferson said this:

Or maybe it wasn’t that I didn’t have anything to say. Maybe it was the realization that writing anything would be to listlessly participate in the carousel ride: an inciting incident, 1,000 angry thinkpieces, 1,000 tweeted links, and back to where we started, until next time. Perhaps it was a feeling that writing anything would finally be too redundant to bear, a pursuit of too many sad and obvious words to heap onto so many other nearly identical words written down before, by me, by thousands of others.

and this:

What new column shall the writer write when an unarmed black person is killed for doing nothing but frightening an armed white person? The same thing he wrote when Trayvon Martin was killed? And that’s to say nothing of when Oscar Grant was killed. Or when Ramarley Graham was killed. Or when Timothy Stansbury Jr. was killed. Or when Amadou Diallo was killed. Or when Jordan Davis was killed. Or when Ousmane Zongo was killed. Or when Jonathan Ferrell was killed. Or when Renisha McBride was killed.

I’ve written about being harassed and abused, fearing for the lives of my cousins, lamenting the options of people in my immediate circle, eulogies for men I’ve never met, and my own fear and frustration with being black in America. I did it through the lens of comics for a while, before eventually gaining the confidence to do it without a pop culture connection.

I did it because I loved it, I did it because I felt led to, I did it because I ended up with a voice people paid attention to and not doing it would’ve felt irresponsible. I did it because I believed it helped. I’ve backed off in a major way over the past year or so, trying to listen instead of talking about everything that crosses my desk, but I still do the thinking and conversating that leads to thinkpieces. It’s still on my mind, I’m still processing the data. I just don’t share it.

Jefferson’s point about finding something new to write when another brown face is killed is a critical hit. Past a certain point, it feels like justifying your existence, like making your case for being treated like an actual human being by others. It feels like explaining blue to a dog. The dog has other things to worry about and you’re going to just feel ugly afterward.

I can’t not pay attention to race and culture. In a very real sense, it’s self-defense, or a way to process the weight that settles on my shoulders over the course of my daily life. But it’s also draining. It’s been one hundred and fifty years since “Ain’t I A Woman?” and we’re still trying to prove our humanity through words. Something ain’t working.

Jefferson’s piece is well worth reading.

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Tumblr Mailbag: Quitting the Big Two

June 5th, 2014 Posted by david brothers

Someone on tumblr asked me what it was like to quit reading Marvel and DC. I’d been trying to type about it for a while, but something about the phrasing let me hit on an approach I felt was worthwhile, instead of pointless. It felt strong enough to turn into a real piece, and here we are. The answer is that quitting Marvel and DC comics managed to be simultaneously easy and difficult. Nowadays, it’s astronomically easier to abstain than it is difficult.

It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because I knew I could find something to replace the hole leaving those comics behind would leave. I was at a point where I was more interested in seeking out creator-owned works from creators than their new cape projects already, so I was halfway there. I didn’t/couldn’t do a 1:1 replacement, in part because that’s a silly idea, but I knew I could get things from people I liked elsewhere, and I hoped the others would branch out to non-cape stuff, too. (Zeb Wells and Marjorie Liu are—shhh, lean in real quick, streets is talking—two of the best writers to grace a Marvel comic. No fooling. Get familiar!)

When I quit, I didn’t make a plan or even think about it beyond “I should do thi—WHOOPS did it.” I still don’t know if Vertigo “counts” as DC for instance, or Icon for Marvel, since they’re both more-or-less creator-owned imprints. I didn’t even bother figuring out where comp copies (as a journalist) or freebies (as a guy who is blessed to have friends) factored in to the embargo. I eventually just decided that nobody has to follow my dumb personal rules, so if somebody gives or lends me something, I’d take it instead of throwing it back in their face with a lecture like a stereotype of a Berkeley progressive. “Why be a jerk?” was my motto, I guess. Better that than “Have you even HEARD of that time Stan Lee attempted to collude with DC Comics to keep rates for artists low?!”

At the same time, it was difficult because I’ve read and enjoyed Marvels, and to a much lesser extent DCs, since around the time I learned how to read. I was twenty-eight when I consciously decided to quit. That’s about twenny three years of inertia, interest, and love to overcome. I didn’t magically stop liking their comics or the characters or the creators (I’ve probably written more about Jim Lee-era X-Men post-quitting than anybody who’s still reading cape comics) and my curiosity is on par with my guilty conscience in terms of having a continually debilitating effect on my life.

For example: I don’t eat pork. I quit swine in ‘99. I could tear up some porkchops and bacon as a kid, but it wasn’t a struggle to quit pork. I didn’t waffle over it. I just did it, and that was a wrap. I don’t look back on porkchops fondly or reminisce about those days. “Mannnn, remember how good that porkchop was back in ‘97, second week a May? Hooo whee!” That’s absurd.

But with comics, it’s different. I do that with Spider-Man constantly and in great detail—Return of the Goblin, his first meeting with Luke Cage, that time Betty Brant said something nice about him and he was like “Dang, I never noticed her before, but she’s cute AND she’s on my side” like a doggone teenaged idiot, Mary Jane going Sibyl to get a soap opera job and dodging stalkers…I can recite it chapter and verse. It’s a part of me.

While I can and did change my habits, the problem was changing my thinking, the stuff I was taking in outside of the comics, too. I had to ask what was up with this, that, and the third much, much less. I had to stop reading essays, interviews, and promo for things I had no interest in experiencing. It was silly. “I don’t care about this so much!!!”

Changing those habits takes effort, which leads me directly to why it isn’t difficult to stay away from the Big Two these days: I succeeded at changing my thinking. Wednesdays aren’t new comics days any more. I don’t read comics news sites when I can help it. I discover new comics via word of mouth or Tumblr. I unplugged in a way that let me maintain my decision instead of waffling and crumbling.

I read other comics now, and the further I get from the Big Two, the easier it is to stay away. The less I indulge, the less I want it. The guilt and frustration that led to me giving up have given way to something akin to apathy (and occasionally disappointment). I hear summaries of recent events in comics I once loved and it’s like I woke up in Ancient Sumeria for all the sense it makes to me.

But that’s okay, because I don’t care. I don’t mean that in the dismissive sense, a “who cares?” type of way. I mean it very literally: I’m no longer invested in what happens to Spider-Man. I’m still curious about a few things (the black characters, pretty much, and I like when the creators I enjoy get a cool-sounding project), but in terms of keeping up, keeping track, paying attention, entertaining the idea of going back, checking out what I’ve missed: nah, son, I’m good. I grew past it and it’s not for me any more. It’s for somebody else. And that’s cool. Win/win.

I feel good about my decision. But I started buying vinyl and various types of bottled root beers and sodas in the interim, so I couldn’t afford to go back if I wanted to.

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Ghosts of Retail Past

December 26th, 2013 Posted by Gavok

Christmas is over. I hope yours was nice. Mine was pretty great. Here’s me wearing the stuff my best friend got me.

In return, I got him this pillowcase.

There are a lot of different things that made this holiday season great, most of all being that it’s my first Christmas with my two nephews, Jack and Syd. Being an uncle rules.

A lesser, but still important, factor into what made this season so fantastic was that it’s the first time in nearly 10 years that I haven’t been working holiday retail. I had worked for Barnes and Noble for seven and a half years and with that was there for eight holiday seasons. When I discuss my time there, I tend to tell people, “I worked there for seven and a half years and enjoyed seven of them.” For a long while, I felt very loyal to the company and did my best. That got chipped away as the years went on, mainly towards the end.

There were a lot of things that set me astray, I suppose. I remember finishing off the 2012 holiday season with a feeling of, “Never again,” without putting much thought into it. Shortly after, a managerial miscommunication over a necessary day off I asked for a month in advance soured me pretty badly. Everything was beginning to wear on me and I started feeling like Randy the Ram during his last day at work in the Wrestler. Another big thing was how we got a new, stricter district manager and that led to a big “shit rolls downhill” environment in the store. Everything became more corporate and less fun, even though we were a store that consistently met our goals.

I can bore you with specifics, but one of the big things was selling the membership. Or more importantly, selling new memberships. We had quotas on that and the increased pressure made it unbearable due to the “lead a horse to water” mentality of it all. Even if you had a good week, it didn’t matter because maybe next week you don’t do so well and you get talked down to for your failure. I had my opinions on it and I had my own methods of motivation, which got results. Those got me in trouble to the point of being told I was on thin ice.

Initially, I became emotional. I was afraid for my job and I felt that I was one misstep from being let go. I told myself and my coworkers, “I need this job. Barnes and Noble is all I have.” Then I calmed myself and realized that that wasn’t true at all. I wasn’t happy anymore. I used to be, but not anymore. Even if I didn’t feel like my employment was in danger, what was I working towards? A management position? I’ve been wanting one for years, but with my patience for the more rotten customers wearing incredibly thin, all I’d be doing would be dealing with the negative aspects of my job for a little more pay. Nah, I needed to just secretly find a new job and then give my two weeks.

The moment I made that decision, I felt so free. It was amazing. I was quick in finding a place that wanted me and was able to say my goodbyes and move on. It was a good thing too because while I certainly had my problems with the place’s new direction, I wasn’t the only one. In the month or two surrounding my leaving, there was an exodus of like a dozen employees for a variety of reasons.

Oh, and they changed it so that people can only apply for jobs there via online and that slowed down the process so much that it was like four months before they finally filled my position. Jesus.

This year, I didn’t have to deal with all the holiday madness. Sure, my current job got pretty busy in the last week, but it was a drop in the bucket compared to B&N making $7,000 an hour in sales. I didn’t have to spend hours cleaning up messes of people who decided to take out ten books and leave them in a pile in the café. I didn’t have to endure the impossible parking and extended hours. I didn’t have my Christmas ruined because I’d need to get to sleep early and wake up at 4am because I was scheduled for a 5am shift on the 26th. I also won’t have to deal with two months of assholes wanting cash back for a gift that somebody else bought them with a gift card.

As a way to celebrate, I thought I’d tell some stories. I have a million tales from that establishment and since they most certainly didn’t want me mentioning them while I was on the payroll, I guess I might as well have some fun. These are just some from the top of my head.

– I once gave a piggyback ride to a customer. It was a weeknight and the place was pretty dead. I was at the information desk and a couple showed up to ask me about a book.

“It looks like we have it.”

“Can you show me where it is?”

“Hell, I’ll give you a piggyback ride if you want.”

“Okay.”

“Really?”

“Yeah, sure.”

“All right, then. Let’s do this!”

Then I walked over, had him hop on my back and walked him over. He proceeded to give me a $5 tip. I went back to the info desk, feeling pretty good about myself. Then I saw that the next customer was like 300 pounds and knew that wasn’t going to be a repeat.

Later on, I was reading my horoscope and it said that I’d make a small fortune in an unorthodox way. Swear to God.

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Our Mutual Experience Gap b/w Feeling Bad About Feeling Mad

December 16th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

There’s a Village Voice piece on R Kelly going around. Voice writer Jessica Hopper interviews Jim DeRogatis, a journalist who helped break the story of R Kelly being a sexual predator years ago. It’s a good read, very thorough and timely, and it looks like it’s getting the reaction the writer (presumably) hoped for: people are reading and talking about it. Which is good.

I’ve been watching it spread over Twitter since I first saw a link this morning. My black friends have met it with a “yep :/” or whatever whatever, acknowledgement that it’s real, true, and that they’ve been known that fact. My non-black friends and followers, though, are coming with surprise, shock, “I can’t believe it,” that kind of thing.

The reactions from non-blacks tend toward the sympathetic and horrified almost universally, which is entirely appropriate and (for lack of a better word,) welcome, but—and you’ll have to pardon me if this is too flowery, but I’m trying to choose my words very carefully—the reactions feel like what happens when someone is initially dragged from ignorance toward knowledge. That combo of shock and acceptance, horror and belief…

I remember when the George Zimmerman thing happened, and myself and several other black people spoke out like, “Hey, this is real life, this happens all the time, our mothers constantly live in fear.” The reaction from black folks, men and women, then was “Right on, I’ve been there, keep your head up, stay safe.” A lot of us had shared stories or tips, too, like driving to a well-lit area when you’re being pulled over because you should never be alone with a cop. From non-blacks? “Holy crap are you for real? You have to live with this? I’m so sorry, I had no idea,” and so on.

I can’t fault somebody for not knowing, and I try to avoid treating people who don’t know the things I know differently. There’s a lot I don’t know, and there are some things I definitely should know that I don’t. Learning is part of being alive, possibly the best part of being alive. I think it’s important to educate, to put people up on game, before you condemn them for not having had the privilege—no matter how painful or ugly—of knowing what you do.

And part of me knows this is unfair, but the other part of me just watched a group of black women take part in a wide-ranging Twitter conversation on R Kelly with first-person accounts not two weeks ago. The other part of me knew about him messing with girls in the ’90s, despite living in Virginia and Georgia, away from the girls he preyed on. The other part of me has a mom who told him how to stay safe when dealing with the police before he was a teenager. The other part of me knows men who got beaten up, stabbed, and kidnapped for garbage reasons. The other part of me spent forever pulling teeth to write about race and comics and watched white people eat while I got stuck with the beef. That part of me says “Fuck fair.”

There is a gap, a gulf, between us. Between me and you, between black and white, between Latino and Japanese, between everyone. Every time one of those “This is what racism is” things roll down tumblr, and it’s somebody getting dragged behind a truck or beaten up on account of their skin or left in poverty because it’s economically convenient, I want to roll my eyes, which is a terrible reaction to sympathy. But I have that reaction because sure, this over-the-top and horrible example is racism, and that’s bad! But so is you calling your butt a “ghetto booty,” so is what motivates that dude at parties (literally every party I’ve been to with strangers as an adult) asking me stupid questions about my hair, like if I can store things in my afro. Racism is the Klan, but racism is in us, too. Racism is a lot of things. It’s the death of a thousand minor humiliations.

There is a difference between my experience and yours, is what I’m getting at. I don’t know the fullness of your experience, and you don’t know mine. I figure if you aren’t in it, you aren’t in it, so it’s unfair of me to expect you to know. I know that intellectually, as someone who makes a little bit of money spitting words for profit on occasion. But it still sucks to see your reality treated as a source of surprise. “It’s like that?” hurts when it’s been like that, when it’s never not been like that.

The gap in our experiences is real and the reasons for the gap are complicated. Sometimes it’s down to happenstance. Sometimes it’s thanks to the white supremacist standards that this country was founded on and which still infests a significant part of it today. “Black” news is special interest news. “White” news is the punchline to a joke. There’s a reason for that. And for situations like this, where R Kelly raped a lot of girls or a lot of boys live in fear of the police, that’s painfully relevant. The girls and boys are black, which makes it a “black problem.”

Knowledge is key and spreading that knowledge is vital. But at the same time, it’s draining to see people demonstrating their ignorance of something that is very plain to you, something you took for granted as being a capital T Truth, something you’ve lived with so long you can’t imagine life without that weight on your back. So you feel triple-bad. You’re frustrated at the situation and the country that let it happen due to malicious negligence, you’re frustrated at your friends for not realizing how much it matters to you, and you’re frustrated at yourself for being frustrated at your fam for matters beyond their control.

Y’all really shoulda known about him and Aaliyah, though. That’s on wikipedia.

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“A tree never grown, shade that was never known”

November 8th, 2013 Posted by david brothers

I’ve got a rep.

Actually, I have several reps depending on who you’re talking to, and some of them are actually pretty cool, but the one that always bugs me is my rep for being negative or pushy. I bristle at that description in part because I think it unfairly turfs the vast majority of stuff I’ve written in favor of focusing on a small aspect of my work. And yeah, I have gotten in fights and damned things I thought were worthy of eternal damnation and being removed from the sight of God forever and ever amen. I freely and proudly own that. But the entirety of what I write about, my “body of work” if I can sound like a real writer for a moment, feels overwhelmingly positive to me. But that’s my rep, amongst a certain group of people: negativity.

I know why this is my rep. Spending five years writing about the intersection of black culture and comics every day for a month doesn’t really get links, and neither does writing about how much I like Katsuhiro Otomo or Frank Miller. But pointing out that a comic has some mildly racist undertones or is tone deaf in some way? Hoo boy does that get people talking. So if they see that, but not the other stuff, I can’t really blame them for how they perceive me. They only know me that part of me.

It still grates, because I spend a lot of time thinking about how I approach writing, especially racial issues. You’d be hard-pressed to find anybody in comics I’ve called a racist. I spent a long time only associating that word with acts, not specific people. That was a purposeful choice on my part. I know how people—white people, specifically—react to the word “racist,” so I’ve avoided it. I’ve made sure to structure my arguments in such a way that they weren’t purely inflammatory or pointlessly insulting, included context and history and excuses and disclaimers and things that would soften the blow of saying, “Hey, this thing you did? It’s ugly and hateful and you should be ashamed of yourself for even thinking it.” I mean, count how often I’ve cussed here on 4l!—less than fifteen times since 2005, probably? I do quote a lot of rap songs, though, so maybe it evens out. Anyway.

I did and do that extra legwork because of how I was raised and who I am. I mentioned on tumblr the other day that I’m worried I might have a near-pathological fear of being seen as an Angry Black Man. That’s because I learned that Angry Black Men are someone to be avoided, someone that’s easily discounted and dismissed because he represents loudness or anger, instead of knowledge or power. I didn’t want to be that guy. I want to be taken seriously. It’s an insecure stance, but it’s one I can’t shake.

I bite my tongue a lot, I take great pains to avoid a certain type of offense even when throwing a jab, and it doesn’t work, because I don’t get to decide how people feel about me. They’re gonna feel however they’re gonna feel, and if that’s going to affect my personal and professional lives…been there, done that, and came out the other side with twin middle fingers, a mean mug, and a bad mood. But the idea that I can’t control the reaction to my work is a hard lesson to learn and an even harder one to internalize. I’m still not there yet, so I balk whenever I see it.


This thing, biting my tongue to avoid offense, is part of a concept called “respectability politics.” This recent post by Maurice Dolberry is a good primer. The short version is that respectability politics is a system in which you sand down your rough edges (pull up your pants, cut your hair, erase your accent, dress differently) in order to appeal to the majority. In America, that means white men, nine times out of ten.

It’s common, super common, and I can’t really blame people for buying into it. If you don’t have power, you don’t want to alienate those with power, because that just makes your life worse. Respectability politics argues that you should hide your light under a bushel because it might make somebody who doesn’t know you and will never care about you turn up his nose. It makes sense, because it’s basically “A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.” But it still doesn’t do any good, because it requires a level of control and equality (in power, in position, in dialogue, in society) that simply doesn’t exist. Respectability politics blames the powerless for their powerless status irregardless of history, and prioritizes the comfort of others over your own personal comfort.

You can’t win. The only thing you’re doing is diminishing yourself at the unspoken behest of someone else. It’s a “love me please” that tends to fall on deaf ears.


A few weeks back, I let a young black dude use my phone on BART. After I handed it over to him, he laughed and said that he knew he had to ask me, because none of the white folks around us would have let a young black guy hold their phone. “You know how that go,” he said, and I laughed, because I do. Some of them would have, but for the most part? Even money on a very high chance of getting a rude response.

A big part of being black in America is being constantly aware of how your blackness affects others. It’s being aware that you might could get away with something in one situation, but you’d get murdered trying that same thing in another situation. The guy knew he could ask me because, even if I still had a bunch of internalized racism (I do, it’s killing me inside), there’d still be a good chance I’d have a voice in the back of my head telling me I’m the same as him and should treat him properly. Our shared experience of being suspicious first, of being not-normal, was what made that transaction possible. I’ve been on both sides of similar interactions with other black folks, both out here in Oakland and in Georgia.

I got a flat tire on my bike last week, so I had to take to riding the bus to and from work until I was ready to fix it. One morning, while walking to the bus stop, I saw a car at a stop sign with the hood up. I looked in as I walked past and there was a lady just sitting in there, doing nothing, but obviously upset. Her car’s busted, it’s pushing 0900 so she’s probably late for work, that’s a bad scene.

My bus stop was across the street from her, catty-corner, but close enough that I could see her sitting in the car at the sign and watch as cars paused in confusion before looping around her. I got to the stop early (full disclosure: late for the bus I wanted, early for the bus I settled for) and I had plenty of time and nothing to do but look around.

I saw that there was space for her car in a red zone just around the corner, maybe 15 feet away from where she was. It’d take her out of traffic, it’d be less embarrassing (I’ve been stuck in traffic with a busted car—it’s awful, especially if you don’t know how to or cannot fix it), and it’d be safer when whoever she called showed up to help her. I had ten minutes on the bus, and I could’ve easily pushed her car over there for her. I’ve done it before for friends and family. It’s easy. It would have taken longer to convince her to let me push her car than it would to get it where it needed to be, particularly since she was at the bottom of a hill, but still on the incline.

But again: I’m very aware of who I am and where I am. Strange black dude knocking on her car window in a moment of distress? Maybe it would’ve been okay. But as a counterpoint, my beard’s mad scruffy lately, my hair’s slowly getting longer, and I was probably in a t-shirt, jeans, and a backpack, because waking up blue means just throwing on clothes that sorta match and leaving the house. I was dressed “regular black guy,” not “respectable black guy with a decent job,” and a lot of times, “regular black guy” is not good enough to avoid people looking at you as a threat.

I had to choose whether or not doing something to help someone, which wouldn’t have involved going out of my way or anything resembling actual work, was worth the risk of getting dissed and dismissed first thing in the morning, whether that was a curt “no thank you” without eye contact or her jumping in fear when I tapped on the window.

I chose to go to work.


Renisha McBride was murdered in Dearborn Heights in MI recently. She had a car accident and was walking door-to-door looking for help. She knocked on a door, the man inside saw her and recognized a threat, and shot her in the head. She was nineteen and unarmed. He has not been charged, and the prosecutor’s office says they need more information before they decide to file charges.

Jonathan Ferrell was murdered by the police. In a cruel twist of fate, he had also experienced a car accident and was looking for help. He went door-to-door, looking for it. A woman opened the door, thinking it was her husband, realized it wasn’t, slammed it shut, and called 911 to report a home invasion. The cops arrived, Ferrell ran to them, and was tased, shot, and killed. The charge is voluntary manslaughter, and the cop who killed him is free to walk the streets after posting bail. Ferrell was twenty-four, unarmed, and had been in a wreck so bad he apparently had to crawl out of the back window.

These are recent incidents, but they are far from uncommon. These situations? These are my mother’s worst nightmare. A lot of what she taught me—including the respectability politics—was delivered with the intent of preventing my early and sudden death or a trip to prison. Like anyone else, I have a right to my anger, to my frustration, but I know that that frustration, no matter how eloquently I express it, will be seen read differently than anger from a white man or white woman, and I will be treated as more dangerous by default. It’s not my fault—it’s the result of centuries of white supremacy—but I have to live with it.

ComicsAlliance EIC Joe Hughes tweeted some things recently that were the truest tweets ever wrote:

Renisha McBride was shot in the back of the head for the crime of being a black woman who asked for help in a white town. She was 19.

We won’t talk about it enough. The story won’t go viral. Because as much as this country hates black men, it hates black women even more.

I doubt Jonathan Ferrell’s family will ever actual know justice, but at least we TALKED about his story. I doubt Renisha will get even that.

Every day I fear being shot to death while unarmed, my family going through a media circus that ultimately leads to nothing. Every day.

And so I’ll sit here and fear for my life, and my sister’s. And I’ll feel horrified and enraged for Renisha McBride’s family.

And when I’m done working, I’ll head home and hope to god that no one shoots me dead, knowing full well that they’d get away with it.

And somewhere, my sister will do the same. Because that’s what we do. Every day.

This is real life. This is truth. It sounds like paranoia, but paranoia suggests irrationality, or that you’re at fault. This is fear, and more than that, justified fear. If there’s a shooting near my area, or near places she knows I frequent, Mom will email me to make sure I’m okay. She knows that white America hates black bodies, and that colored life isn’t worth too much. She shouldn’t have to live under that burden. We shouldn’t have to live under that burden.

Killer Mike, one half of the duo Run the Jewels with El-P, said this on their cut “DDFH” (“do dope, fuck hope”):

Cops in the ghetto, they move like the gestapo
Drunk off their power and greed, they often hostile
My lil’ homie talked shit back and they beat him bad
That boy in the hospital now, he lookin’ bad
and I’m with his mama and dad, we lookin’ sad
My own mama called me said, “Baby, I’m just glad
“They ain’t put they hands on my child and kill his ass
“Please don’t rap about that shit ‘fore they murder yo’ black ass!”

And this situation is fictional, it’s storytelling raps, but every line of it is drawn from real life.

Vince Staples on “Versace Rap:”

I asked my mama what’s the key to life, she told me she ain’t know
She just try to take it day to day, and pray I make it home

I don’t quote these songs to prove a point so much as to illustrate how we think about the fact that we can get dropped any day of the week. Some of it is typical parental concern, but there’s a morbid edge, a fatalism, tucked in there. We prepare for this, train for it, because it is a real enough possibility that we worry about it. And in that sense, we accept it. We reject the violence, we reject the post-death smear campaigns that always follow, but we accept the reality of the situation, which is that we might just get killed by the people who are theoretically responsible for our safety or total strangers who fear our skin. Sometimes it’s glib, a lot of times it’s a joke, but underneath the gallows humor is the truth: “Please, God: any one but me or mine.”

Respectability politics are a self-defensive move. I modulate my self. I avoid police as a general rule, I avoid the appearance of wrongdoing, and I’m very careful and discreet when doing something I know I shouldn’t in a way that none of my white friends have ever been. I don’t ever lose my temper in public, I’m polite, and I’ve never thrown the first punch.

But it’s gonna be what it’s gonna be. I can’t fix any of this. I can’t make anyone feel better. This is the kind of problem that manifests itself in major and minor ways. You could get murdered for being black or dissed in a store. Both results are unacceptable to me. But all I can do is try to figure out how to survive and steal a little happiness for myself without simultaneously diminishing myself.

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