The Black Guy

I remember attending a party, a get-together, maybe I was just out at the bar. A few days later, I was talking with a friend, and he was asking if I knew someone there. “He had short hair, a white t-shirt…” the descriptions kept going, and literally they could describe half the people in the room. So finally I asked, “The Black guy?”

My friend got flustered and didn’t know what to say. Finally he stammered, “Yeah.”

I shrugged and said, yeah, I knew him, and said his name. End of story.

Except it isn’t, because I’ve been thinking a lot lately of how I’ve been racialized, how I’ve been shaped as a white man, how as a white man I’ve made mistakes that have hurt the people of color around me, that I’ve done things I thought were right that were actually pretty racist.

So why did my friend feel so horrified to fully describe that person as Black?

On the surface, as another white person, I’m sure he felt that if he acknowledged a Black person’s race that he would be doing something racist–it’s bad to describe people based upon their race. But that’s wrong: race is as valid a descriptor as height, hair color, or if he has hair at all. It isn’t until we make assumptions based upon race that it turns into prejudice, and it isn’t until that prejudice turns into action that it becomes discrimination.

But the fact that he couldn’t say, “He was Black,” screams of racism.

Think of it like this: What if instead of being Black, the man had done something embarrassing that would’ve immediately made his identity known. Maybe he’d dripped cheese dip on his sweater. Maybe he forgot to zip his fly. Maybe he came overdressed to a casual party. To call him out on any of these things would be describing him according to a fact that we perceive as embarrassing, as impolite to mention, as undesirable and inferior.

So we wouldn’t say, “He spilled wine on his pants,” because that would be rude, so when we refuse to name his race, when we refuse to acknowledge his Blackness, then what’s the unspoken conclusion we’re creating about what it means to be Black?

That being Black is undesirable and inferior.

Erasing parts of his identity to appear in-offensive implies there’s something offensive about the part of his identity we’re erasing. When we ignore race, when we refuse to see race, when we insist we’re colorblind, we’re perpetrating racism by stifling the conversation. By implying that just acknowledging someone’s race is calling them out for being something bad.

Moments like this bubble up for me all the time. Small bits of memory that seep into my awareness at odd moments throughout the day, while I’m watching something on TV, reading a book, hanging out with friends. They’re innocuous moments, the sort of filler that’s too bland, too real to ever be captured in cinema or script. Yet something about those moments riled me inside, left me unsettled and questioning: Why? Why did I react like that? Why did he?

It’s uncomfortable, I’ll admit, but maybe I’m a masochist: Examining that discomfort feels meaningful, feels significant. I don’t have all the answers, I don’t know the solutions to the problems we’re facing, but maybe by looking back at these instances of cognitive dissonance, I can discover something about myself, something about the world I’m living in.

So, yeah, he was the Black guy. Why couldn’t we just say that from the start?

Out of Sorts

“I hope you’re pleased with yourself,” Hermione Granger said to Harry Potter and Ron Weasley on page 162 of Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. “We could all have been killed–or worse, expelled. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m going to bed.”

Ron responds: “No, we don’t mind. You’d think we dragged her along, wouldn’t you?”

The movie plays differently: a slight inversion at the start and a spot of humor in the end.

“Now, if you two don’t mind,” Hermione begins, “I’m going to bed before either of you come up with another clever idea to get us killed–or worse, expelled.”

And Ron says, “She needs to sort out her priorities.”

Which is precisely why, dear reader, I’ve brought you here today.

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Sloom. Intransitive. British, dialectal. To doze. Become weak. Drift along slowly.

I like the word intransitive. In middle school when I learned the word it didn’t mean much, but now I can tease it apart and dissect its meaning: trans across, in meaning opposite. It does not go across. It’s an action without object.

Adrift is a good word too. Describes the feeling nicely. Adrift in the ocean: a battered raft riding the waves, sun rays beating down, dehydration, head lolling off the side, tongue lapping at the waters–but if it’s salty, it’s like drinking death anyways.

Or maybe adrift in the air: like a bird gliding through an updraft, slung upward, seeing the ground far beneath it, but unable to do anything but lilt in the wind. Or adrift in space: an astronaut untethered, touched not by gravity. Total silence. Absolute abyss.

Or maybe, like me, adrift in my own head.

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A Rose by Any Other Name

This post kicks off my 2019 Pride Month series “Proudly Reaffirming Identity, Diversity, and Equity,” exploring present-day issues facing the LGBTQ+ and allied communities.

We all know Shakespeare. We all know Romeo and Juliet. Perhaps not the first illicit love, but surely the most notorious. MacBeth gave us witches, and Hamlet gave us unanswerable questions, “To be or not to be?” and Romeo and Juliet gave us words.

Words, however, should not be underestimated.

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Speaking in Tongues

I kept thinking, after I wrote about my doubts in writing the sequel to Starfall, and I decided finally to go for it: On November 1, I began writing. And even with a couple days encumbered by sour and bitter feelings, I’ve written a few thousand words every day since. In fact, I expect I’ll hit 50,000 words today–but the story is still far from complete, and as I predicted back in 2012, it’ll need a third book to finish this tale.

(What can I say? Tolkien made trilogies fashionable.)

And then, just a few days ago, I decided to try my hand at mapping out the world–and my first attempt came out pretty well, if horribly off scale (catch it after the jump).

Then I realized: once you have a map, you’ve gotta start naming things.

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Distilling wonders into words, says my “about me” page, since two thousand ten.

While true, and catchy, and a play on the blog’s subtitle “Words and Wonders,” I’ve never taken considerable time to actually say what these four words mean.

In times of continued self-exploration, I often find myself thinking, “What do I value?” Today, these two questions seem more intertwined than distinct.

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The Brave Little Faggot

I was sitting outside in the beautiful fall North Carolina weather (our first day of sunlight in two weeks), musing about the story I might write for NaNoWriMo…I have an idea, but is it enough of an idea–

And then, from a table near mine, “–faggots kissing.”

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Mood Music

“I am, by calling, a dealer in words,” said Rudyard Kipling, “and words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind.” But I am, by vocation, also a mathematician, and there’s a strange yet beautiful intersection of words and math known as music.

I am not, however, skilled in music in any other manner than its consumption. I cannot carry a tune in a tote bag or keep the beat with any sense of rhythm (but I can rhyme, and alliterate, and parse the sounds of vocabulary into something musical, if still not music).

And yet, in all my years of listening–which is, perhaps, all my years in general–I’ve discovered that even at times when I cannot hear myself, I can find myself in music.

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8 Things You Need to Know About Chanukah

In my last post, I spoke about the uncomfortable reality of being a non-Christian in a country that mistakenly believes its religious identity (which doesn’t exist) is synonymous with its civic identity. I also alluded to a conversation with a friend who assumed Chanukah is a much bigger deal than it is–but instead of making my misconception corrections then, I decided to make them their own post.

So before the candles burn low, here I go.

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Talk About Them Blurred Lines

Can music exist outside its message?

Take Robin Thicke. He’s a handsome dude. Very pretty. Nice to look at. And though I’m saddened he can’t think of anything to rhyme with “hug me,” when his song hits the airwaves, my shoulders start rocking, my head starts bopping, and when that ubiquitous “Hey-hey-hey” comes up, it comes out of my mouth, too.

But I’m conflicted. I like the song, but I can’t stand for what it says.

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