To Be A Problem In America
On an unusually warm day in November of 2014, I remember my throat feeling raw and uncomfortable from yelling, and not caring. Those of us who had gathered to give voice to the slain victim were chanting, “WE ARE MIKE BROWN,” interspersed with, “THE PEOPLE, UNITED, WILL NEVER BE DEFEATED.” Hundreds of us had come together at LOVE Park in center city with the intention of marching from there, to the Philadelphia Police Administration Building at 8th and Race Streets, also known as The Roundhouse. We were going to shove our pain into the faces of those we deemed the oppressors, lay our gripes at their feet. Ferguson, Missouri and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania are two different places, obviously, but the pot had boiled over, and the city of Philadelphia has problems of its own to answer for. A recent report released by the Justice Department notes the “undercurrent of strife between the community” and our police force (Berman NP). And while there is currently no reliable data on officer-related shootings to serve as reference (this is problematic in itself), Washington Post reporter Mark Berman observes that Philadelphia’s police shooting rate is rather high when compared to cities of similar size (Berman NP). Besides, as far as my fellow protesters and I were concerned, the “Boys in Blue” all represented one uniform gang of society, each city simply signifying various chapters of the corrupt system as a whole. We, the people, were demanding change. At the very, very least, we wanted respect and acknowledgement. We needed to be heard.
As we walked and chanted in solidarity, the lurking presence of Philadelphia’s police force did not go unnoticed. As we rounded every corner, signs in hand, any number of police vehicles and details could be seen surrounding us. But it wasn’t as though they were trying to deter us from our mission. On the contrary, they seemed to be wholly cooperative, at times even holding traffic so that we could safely pass by. Upon arriving at The Roundhouse, we finally realized why. They had allowed us safe passage and kindly guided us to its back entrance, where administrative employees entered the building. It happened to also be completely separated from the rest of the employees, from the cops we had come to confront. They had kindly and conveniently directed us out of their way. We stood together and continued chanting as a line of armed officers icily stared on. While we passed around a megaphone to exchange thoughts and testimonies, I even noticed several smirks and looks of condescension on the faces of the officers. Some of them were Black, some of them were Asian, some of them were women --- but they were all blue. And as we began a final chant of “WE ARE MIKE BROWN,” it suddenly started to seem so monotonous and droning to me. These people weren’t hearing us. They weren’t seeing us. I was standing directly in front of the line, not more than 5 feet from several officers. As I continued to repeat the words, I sought the eyes of the officer closest to me, an African American man of about middle age. Despite his look of grit, he actively avoided my gaze. It was at this time that I noticed that none of the officers would dare to make eye contact, with any of us. And as I stared into the seemingly blank eyes across from me, almost without noticing it, my scream of “WE ARE MIKE BROWN” suddenly became, “WE ARE HUMAN BEINGS.” Before long, the crowd had also changed its tune. Tears streamed down my face uncontrollably, down the faces of many, yet still there was no noticeable change amongst the officers. The only recognition I perceived in their faces was that of a society looking out upon its problems.
In How Does It Feel To Be A Problem?: Being Young and Arab in America, Moustafa Bayoumi provides the narratives and perspectives of several young Arab-Americans in the age of the War on Terror. In one particular story, that of a young charismatic boy named Akram, violence met with anger. Akram was just beginning his senior year of high school when the 9/11 attacks happened, and his early reactions were visceral. He listened to classmates demand revenge, insist that America go and “bomb them,” whoever “them” was. Akram was sad at first, bursting into tears after listening to many of his classmates casually speak of eradicating entire countries . Later, he became angry, punching a glass cabinet and storming from a classroom. “What’s going to happen to us now?” he thought . Almost instantly he realized what these events had meant for his people, for his family and fellow Arabs. He knew that they had become a recent addition to the list of America’s problems.
This story, and many others in the book, leave me with a feeling of solidarity. Though African Americans have been a problem in America for a long time, since, in fact, there was an America, we are not the only ones who feel as though we are a difficulty in this country that needs to be solved. Being a problem in America means not being seen and not being heard. It means that many times, your life, and the life of those like you, is viewed as disposable. It means being angry, confused, frustrated and afraid. Very afraid. Afraid that there may be no future for you and your kind in this land of the free; in this land that was truthfully, never the land of my people to begin with.
March 31st celebrated the 25th anniversary of the cult classic we know as Heathers. I have always appreciated the social cynicism and snappy wit of this film, as I'm sure fellow pop culture and pulp fiction fans do. Flavorwire brings on the Heather's new year with a look at how the film and some of its most iconic themes and lines came to be. The article touches on how signature phrases like, "What's your damage?", were far ahead of their time. Check the link here. Read on--- enjoy.
My relationship with the hood has always been a conflicting one, of hate and social empathy. I have been in it all my life, grew up there, live there now, yet I have never felt a part of it. I respect it for what it can teach a person; that you must always be aware. That there is a seedier part of life that can and will sharpen you if you are surrounded by it, in a way that those who are not exposed can never be. I guess most would refer to those people as “sheltered.” Now I’m not saying I used to sling rocks back in the day or anything, but no one would refer to me as sheltered.
I’ve always felt that I have rejected the hood, from a very young age, and it, me. I’m not sure which occurred first. I’ve never felt my mind and spirit was in a similar realm as those around me. Not in a sense that I was above anyone, but in terms of many having the mindset that, doesn’t place someone in the hood, but allows them to stay there and become a product of it.
A friend and I talked of our thoughts of that mentality the other day. We were discussing how people can be so stuck and so seemingly stupid, as to keep repeating the same mistakes, committing the same crimes and senseless violence that allows them to remain trapped in a monstrous cycle. It was then that I had, I suppose, somewhat of an epiphany. A bunch of thoughts and observations and knowledge that I had been gathering since I was old enough to gather them all started to come together. I wouldn’t have been able to have such a thought 10 years ago, because I was still a child who only knew a resentment of this place I had grown up in. This place I had never been a part of and from which I could only see negativity erupt. I’m not all-knowing and as wise as can be, but I have gained more knowledge since then.
I realized that, for the most part, the difference between those people and me was that options were not imaginable to them. I once wanted to be an archaeologist, only to realize it wasn’t a promise that life would be as exciting as that of Indiana Jones. I attended a science and engineering high school with the thought that I would pursue passion and profession somewhere in those fields, only to realize that’s not where I was meant to be at all. But to those who may be trapped, these things are not even in their spectrum of reality. They see amazing things being accomplished on TV and in movies, but because of whatever circumstance has brought them to where they are, none of it is an actual possibility. They are separate from those worlds. They have been reached by the negative forces in this place and have literally had their dreams stolen from them. Generations of passed down drug abuse may have brainwashed them into believing that all they are meant for has already been presented to them. Some people may overcome. Some manage to hold on the dreams one dreams as a child, all while the place that envelops them and surrounds them with plight tries to make them believe that all they are born with is all they have, all they will ever have. And the bad place is right. All that you are born with is all that you have, all you will ever have. But the bad place will have you believe that only consists of the money that isn’t there, of the poor education provided to you and the city that tosses you aside like its garbage. Of the violence. The truth is, however, that when you are born, infinity is there. Boundless, endless possibility. Sometimes, those who overcome don’t even know this, don’t even see it. They believe that somehow their God or some outside force has given them the courage to do the difficult things they know they must to rise up. But that’s not true. It’s been there the entire time. Their God or the Universe or whatever you must call it has only just allowed them to see. And those who don’t overcome never see. They never find the strength and courage and answers that they seek, that are lying there within themselves for all of their lives. They are looking for a way out, for happiness. And they believe that way is monetary, as most people do. And when you have had to go without food for lack of money, it’s not hard to give in to that belief. When the bad place around you has succeeded in robbing you of dreams, they become separate from your reality and impossible, and you never discover the strength and courage within yourself to rise above, the perfect storm occurs. You use the elements around you to try and escape, because you think it’s the only way. You believe you can use the violence that happens around you as a means to gain what you need and want. You may choose to push those drugs back into your community to get the things you always thought would be denied you, not realizing that you are helping to murder the dreams of another child. You become a part of the problem. You’re helping to keep the monster fed, making it stronger. Thus the cycle continues.
I think the most frustrating part for me is that I don’t have the answers. It seems to be so easy for me to clarify the problems, but never the answers. And it has always been so hard for me to reconcile my feelings of annoyance and judgment of the dudes posted on the block or the school children on the train who are loud and ignorant and disrespectful and seem lost, and whom I sometimes guiltily believe are already gone, with the fact that there is such a larger socioeconomic plague that has placed us all here. I don’t know what I will do. But I do know that always striving to be the best person I can be and trying to touch people with only positivity whenever I can could never be a bad thing. And selfishly, it makes it easier to sleep at night.
I'm not sure I know what passion is anymore. I am exhausted. Constantly exhausted. My own mind and fear are my two greatest foes. Fear grabs hold and spreads roots like weeds. I manage to beat it back every so often, but like weeds, it pops up again, planting itself deep into my being. Or rather, reappearing, as it was all never really gone in the first place. It is the sole object stopping me, this self-concocted fear. Yet I can't figure how to beat it. Still working on it. Chopping the weeds everyday, in the hopes that someday, I will wake the next morning, and they will not have returned.