Dear Cheltenham Elementary Bus Driver

Dear Cheltenham Elementary Bus Driver,

It has been brought to my attention that you disapprove of my child getting off the bus by himself.  It appears that you called his mother to inquire about the circumstances surrounding this and asked “Why isn’t anyone waiting at the stop?” and “Who is in the house waiting for him?”

I’ll start by saying that neither one of those is any of your fucking business.

I understand that your inquiry may feel good to you as an attempt to consider my child’s safety, but I assure you that is false. I will remind you that the proper forms have long since been submitted (forms offered by the elementary school itself) in order for the child in question to be released from your bus without parental guidance present. There are after all, five homes and no streets between the bus stop and our front door (also not really your fucking business).

What is more dangerous, I believe, than a first grader walking fifty feet to his front door alone in the middle of the day, is the fierce aversion to independence forced onto children by overzealous adults such as yourself. I remember listening to the Invisibilia podcast not long ago as part of a school assignment; the episode was about a blind man (whom they called Batman) that had developed an unprecedented amount of independence because his parents let him run around with other kids and climb things and touch things and do things on his own. And have failures, and get hurt. He developed a sort of echo location close to sight. The absence of coddling saved him, and now he is on a mission to help other blind children become full people before they are hugged to death–and therefore crippled–by their parents.

You like your children be blind or free ma’am?

My child can see, though I fear him going blind beneath a veil of excessive comforts, participation medals and large bandaids with globs of Neosporin for capillary bleeding. While I’m not suggesting we all rub dirt on that shit,  drink water and drive on, I am suggesting that you relinquish yourself from deciding for me or my child.

I am constantly reminded that adults like yourself exist, when confronted with the remnants of thrice hugged children.

In institutions of higher learning, many young leaders of tomorrow cannot read a map, cannot use public transportation, cannot buy or prepare their own food, cannot read or write to a reasonable extent. Cannot meaningfully contribute to society in any way because they may never be whole people, because they’ve known at least a few adults like you. Who, may have wiped their doo doo till they were ten? Sometimes, I’m surprised that more of them aren’t passing out on the grass out front, forgetting to breathe. I want to hold their hands at times when I cross City Avenue.

I want to tell them, to tell you, that nothing is going to be okay unless you learn to make it okay. That growth does not happen in the absence of struggle or pain. That my biggest fear is this little clone sitting in front of me drawing pictures of aliens–that he ensures me actually exist–will be waiting for me to hold his hand across the street in ten years, instead of actively seeking to assist those who need much more.

Writing While Black

“If you do manage to get it on the shelf, you’ve gotta get past the reader’s barriers. The reader is going to look at a book that’s got a black character on the cover and they’re gonna think, oh, it’s one of those thug life books.”-N.K. Jemisin

The documentary “Brave New Souls: Black sci-fi and fantasy writers of the 21st Century,” set me back $2.00. Some of it was expected– thinly veiled self-loathing by black men in their answers to questions which the women were seemingly not permitted to respond to–mostly important stuff about the involvement of black art with politics and writing black characters. The two most common names I’d known as black sci-fi writers, Samuel Delany and Octavia Butler (also probably the two most famous, though N.K. Jemisin and Nnedi Okorafor did both just win Hugos this year) both spoke on race in science fiction. Delaney, in “Racism and Science Fiction” spoke at length about the difficulties of publishing writing with black lead characters. He was turned down for book deals several times on the basis of that alone, agents even going so far as to claim how great the rest of the book was. I remember Octavia Butler saying that without fail, someone always asks, “what does science fiction have to do with black people?”

To that I’m also considering female friends of mine who are having trouble with their books based solely on being women; who send queries out with a male sounding pen name and suddenly their book is worth reading. Claire Vaye Watkins wrote the essay “On Pandering,” in Tin House, discussing how, in light of recent success, her work was essentially written for white men. Same as much of what we read and write, what gets reviewed in the New York Times and shit. Marlon James had written before that about how writers of color should stop pandering to white women.

I remember voicing a pretty strong opinion about how Running a Thousand Miles for Freedom didn’t go far enough depicting the physical and mental torment of chattel slavery. It was about a year ago in an African American Lit class and as a biology major, I’d never actually read any slave narratives. My then teacher, now advisor, Dr. Lockridge said “maybe you should consider who they were writing to. Who was going to read it and for what purpose.” Of course I shifted my opinion after doing so. Liberal whites, mostly women, would have to actually read those narratives through in order for them to have an impact. Many of whom wouldn’t read through “Underground Railroad” or watch “Twelve Years A Slave” now. Made sense.

All that is to speak on how I need to be more introspective in my own writing and consider more strongly the audience I want to write to. Though maybe not right now, eventually I’ll have to come up against the very real modern oppression in the publishing industry (if I’m lucky?). There’s a hint of this in my creative writing workshops already. If ever there’s another black student (rarely, and if so there’s 2 max) I can maybe count on one thorough critique outside of the instructor’s if I’m writing anything that has to do with race. There’s this apprehensiveness surrounding the writing, like a fog that re-condenses in the throat and chokes down half the room.

Similarly, science fiction writing in general, though it’s becoming more mainstream, still hovers on the margins in the minds of many young lit students I’ve met. Being black and primarily concerned with writing speculative fiction, while also wanting to write to a community that I care about (that is, one that doesn’t consist of only whites) complicates the idea of audience, even though I’ve rarely considered it in the first place. I remember the first time I read Diaz and then later on Laymon and thinking, damn, these niggas are keepin it real as shit and they got published… Which, while true, immediately made me think that there could only be a limited amount of voices from the POC community. I mean shit, traditionally there has been. Publishers have regularly touted tradition within the publishing industry as reason for not publishing authors of color because the perceived audience is smaller for characters that no one cares about. By translation, people that no one cares about, clearly.

When Laymon said something about white folks will have you thinking there can only be one in reference to writers of color, I felt silly that I’d been going along with that. I loathed myself for cooperating even subconsciously with the anti-black ideals of white civil society. Still don’t have answers though. I think more now about audience and I say that I want to write to people whom writing isn’t typically directed, but I don’t feel that in practice I have. Sometimes I see the reflections of my workshop peers in the computer screen as I write; they look as they do when I say the word nigga in class (even though I know damn well some of them go home and listen to Lil Uzi or some shit), flat, silent, stifled.

Then of course, I contemplate my own ethics for a second (am I respectable in what I’m saying, am I supposed to represent the race, “nigga bad?”). Then I think fuck that, nigga, nigga, nigga. Now I’m code switching in class, bonding with the only other black student on a killing spree to squash out any expectation of respectability and exhaust myself trying to prove that I’m just as smart, if not smarter than every single white student because why? My own lack of identity, the insecurity, the dread of being perceived as insufficient, angry, dumb, violent or lazy and even fucking worse, having any of those traits linked to the fact that I’m one of few black students, or writers in the first place. And that’s when I remember, when I know that my behavior has not a god damn thing to do with anyone’s overall perception of colored people, most of whom will continue to see that black character on the cover as a thug under every conceivable condition through a white racial frame in a civil society that continues to deny its reliance on black suffering.

Luke Cage Got People in They Feelings

I haven’t finished it yet, but the most important thing I’d like to know about Luke Cage is when the fuck he’s gonna finish reading Invisible Man. It’s not that long son. I definitely appreciate the shout outs/not so subtle plugs to all the black intellectuals throughout the show, but you’ve been sliding that same novel into your gym bag a little too long, which brings me to the next point.

Luke, where are you going with said Gym Bag? I mean, several episodes in, you were spotted jogging through Harlem and then claimed that what you do is closer to crossfit, but isn’t that a little redundant? I mean, you were already swole from day one and all you were doing was washing dishes and sweeping up hair. Add to that the complication that you’re a meta-human with super strength whose skin deflects bullets and I find it strange that you’d have a Planet Fitness membership or whatever. Not to compare, but is Superman out there gettin his Billy Blanks on? No. Clark has a job, shit you had two, and there are some legit reasons why you’re no longer employed, which reminds me, fuck you gonna do about it?

This nigga Cottonmouth done fired you, got Pop’s shop shot up trying to murder a child, then he blew up the building you live in while you and Connie were bonding over some Beef Lo Mein. What are your limits son? I understand you’re a respectable black man, but you’ve been whoopin ass all across Harlem, and then you go in this nigga Cottonmouth’s lair too scared to lay hands on him? For why? You know whatever happens you’re gonna get blamed for it anyway. Couldn’t you at least slap him? That nigga blew up an entire building in the middle of Harlem with a rocket launcher, you think you’re gonna negotiate? Word? You’ve got bigger things to worry about than niggas calling you nigga, which, in my opinion, should happen more often.

The music is dope though, murdered that.

I gotta agree with Damon from VSB on that acting though, Luke’s whole presence reminds me of Plank from Ed Edd and Eddy. A bigger issue for me, even though I’ve never read the Luke Cage comics is just the paper thin plot and lack of brainpower in the characters. I remember Mark Bould said in “The Ships Landed Long Ago: Afrouturism and Black SF” that Cage was often upset at himself for “betraying his intelligence,” and I’m just sad I don’t see any reflection of that riding along with the champion of the black male stereotype. It could just be me though, and high ass expectations for a T.V. show in general. I’m told by Aisha that automaton characters and naked plots are par for the television course, I’ve just been out of the loop. Maybe I just need to look harder for smart black narratives, which is another point.
The thing that doesn’t bother me about Luke Cage though is the lack of white people in it. White people. I should have called it but was struck dumb by the notion  that it’s “racist” to have a show about a character who was originally black, living in Harlem, played by mostly black actors. Word? White folks be so hype over “Seinfeld” and “Girls” and “It’s Always Sunny” and the Oscars and blaxploitation films and playing black characters in blackface that the strength of this cognitive dissonance is terrifying. Erasing color from the public eye is what white folks do. Then you tried to bring one black dude on “Girls,” Donald Glover, as the token republican negro, who clearly hated himself as evidenced by his dating Lena Dunham. All I’m saying is, go ahead and prowl around Philly with Charlie and them like we don’t live here, but don’t act brand new when you can’t be found in Harlem. What’s next, you gonna be mad at the lack of white representation as field hands in “Birth of a Nation?”