Recently I was invited to attend a Hillary fundraiser featuring Chris Sacca. The setting was a tech-incubator/coding school steeped in the zeitgeist of the tech elite. How I wound up here, don’t ask me. I’d like to say that I was contemplating on that reality in some sort of deep, reflective way… but I wasn’t. I was basking in the awe of my contemporaneous proximity to a billionaire and actively plotting my way to get as close to there as possible. Plus, Chris is a very charismatic storyteller who was weaving into and out of startups and Google and Venture Capital and Shark Tank when, seemingly out of the sky he dropped his experience in rural Nevada up near Tahoe.
In addition to being known as Eric Schmidt’s fixer and appearing on Shark tank, Chris Sacca is a hardcore Hillary Clinton supporter. So much so that the guy went door to door in some really red Republican strongholds and knocked on doors for the Hillary campaign. It seemed like some masochistic purging regimen that he’d thought up to atone for becoming a billionaire. Who knows?
All I know is that his recounting was visceral and brought further to life for me by the fact that I have been in the area that he was talking about and lived very near to other similar areas for much of my life. When Chris described how utterly helpless and scared shitless he was when two guys – while pulling out of a gas station in a lifted pickup – threw a beer can at him and called him a nigger lover, the audience let out a gasp. After all, they were in central Austin, where 99.9% of the population voted and probably 85% vote Democratic or Progressive (neither percentages verified). They had every reason to gasp.
I cracked a grin and thought about Carroll Jenkins Jr.
You see, Carroll is my first step-father and an overall mean S.O.B. He was a rising star African-American navigator in the USAF flying B-52s. He was the first and only Black slated to fly the (then experimental) B-1 bomber. That is, until he lost his leg in a motorcycle. After that he became a supreme and violent alcoholic. He was the first person I knew as father – I have no early memories of my actual father – and he provided many of my early lessons. Good and bad.
Once he and my mother separated, his presence in my life was reduced to a monthly check and a sporadic phone call. The first one of those calls occurring after we had just moved to 344 E. Central in North Amarillo.
We had been living with Carroll in Aurora, Colorado where he was receiving treatment at Lowry AFB. A few of my earliest memories occurred at a two-story home near that base. We lived a multicultural life filled with a full palate of colors – especially the rusty pastels that defined the 70s.
So, imagine the shock I had when we arrived to North Amarillo and my first visit to the park ended in being attacked by 3 older boys and defended by my de facto brother and Australian Shephard named Bully Boy. During the attack I recall hearing the word nigger for the first time ever. The word didn’t even register with me at the time. It was just any other word in a confusing barrage of punches and anger. Thank God Bully Boy was there to bite those boys and chase them off because I could have been severely beaten. At the time, I was a scrawny 7-year-old who loved to run. So scrawny, in fact, that my Grandmother always fed me two plates of food in attempt to get some meat on my bones. After that initial encounter and fight, I was known in that North Amarillo neighborhood as “Niggerhead Fred”.
I don’t know who initiated the call but I do know that I hadn’t even cleaned the blood from my nose or the leaves and twigs from my afro. Carroll was on the other line and he was either into his cups, or well into his cups. He was furious when he’d heard from my mother that I’d been called nigger. Furious, and repetitive, which was a trademark of our future conversations where he’d detail how big and bad he was and how I should never, ever, ever wish to find myself in a dark alley with him.
But on this occasion, there was no bombast about him being big and bad. He had some straightforward advice for me. Don’t ever, ever let anyone call me nigger, coon, boy or any of that shit. And in a situation where someone did, I was to punch them square in the face and run like hell.
It was like a USB had come down from God and inserted another OS into my little brain. The neighborhood and even life, was now a minefield and I was to do whatever necessary to survive with my dignity in-tact. And that is exactly how I operated for the better part of 12 years.
I remember during one of my first weeks of Catholic high school where I was called an “oreo” at the lunch table and told that my kind could not sit with the pretty junior girls…. Even though they had invited me to do so. Well I left to retrieve the office admin’s lunch tray – but when I returned and saw Chris Bryant (Mr. Oreo name caller) crossing the quad I nearly took his head off with Mrs. Stich’s empty tray. And so on and so forth through the years, fortunately, never suffering the full consequences possible in a school to prison part of the country that I lived in.
It was in my first year of college that I became friends with Ameer Martin. See, Mr. Martin is from Compton and at that time he was a 6 foot 145lb Black kid who spoke like he had a British accent. Lol. He enjoyed the same things that I did at that time. Primarily girls and basketball. And he would constantly say the word nigger. Constantly. And in that God awful high pitch accent of his. Much more appropriate when offering crumpets than when calling someone a nigger.
I did not grow up with many Black people (like literally less than 10 up through HS) and nigger wasn’t a word that we’d say to people that we did not know well. My multicultural friends (Vietnamese, Chicano, Black and Latino) in middle school and high school would have their cache of crude jokes ready when it came time to get in a circle and cut up. Our culture was one where a few Black jokes, Mexican jokes and Asian jokes (which were equally revolting in their own special way) were always in your back pocket.
There would always be someone who crossed the line, though, but no one ever crossed that line by using the word nigger – unless they wanted me to punch them straight in the face. Such was the red that I saw when I heard that word and my reputation in the 56-kid, private high school that I attended.
You may understand why it pained me so much when I’d hear Ameer say it. It was a well exercised place of rage and anger that was triggered when I heard that word. But that exercise and resonance was impeded and imploded by Ameer’s Blackness. Ameer was far “Blacker” than I and surely had more of a reason to be angry with that word that I…. but man I just wanted to punch him in the face. And how ironic would that be? Violence on a Black person, who was Blacker than I, for calling me nigger.
He certainly did not seem affected by the word and, well, if he could get over it, why couldn’t I? I did protest to Ameer that he shouldn’t use that word. His response – priceless BTW – resigned me to my inability to change his course.
“Fuck you nigger”.
A phrase that made me boil and seethe with rage, but when it sailed from the lips of Ameer and his high tea accent, it left me absolutely dumbfounded, speechless and at a loss for how to respond.
It was like Ameer was a mental Marine drill sergeant and I was a cadet and he was breaking down my mental status with the word nigger to the bare nubs so that he could build it up, this time desensitized and irrelevant.
And for that I owe much to Ameer Martin. Mere words and the thoughts they represent are far more dangerous than any threat that we actually face in this world. It’s the thoughts that the words represent which are most insidious as they burrow into the psyche like viruses infecting the hosts who provide harbor them. Much the same way that Leonardo DiCaprio planted seeds so subtly into your dreams that you believed that you dreamt it yourself.
Nigger is just one of those thoughts and my own “inception infection” – if you will. But there are countless infectious inceptions that we should actively work to identify, articulate and develop large scale cures for. And that is what Chris Sacca looked at square in the face in rural Nevada. Self-hate perpetuated through others. It’s ugly – but it’s real.
In this process of self-discovery I have come to understand that self-hate is more powerful than the largest army and its destructive effects can be witnessed in almost every community, almost every family.
The Evolutionary Struggle, for me, is one to realize that evolution is the only path to the higher plane. Not a physical evolution, which is so controversial and well-trodden, instead a mental evolution which has a deserved place and an important role in our collective history that heretofore has been occupied by the concept of revolution. But the problem with revolution dominating our psyche is that it really changes nothing. It just, in theory, turns things upside down. Instead of nigger being so viscerally repugnant maybe it’s cracker or honkey?
What I am proposing, with this blog and this first message, is that we begin to think and imagine the new traits and characteristics that will be necessary to proliferate and define the species and which could insulate it from its most insidious existential threats.
Those threats, if you ask me, include racially or religiously motivated violence, a sub-species wide shift away from empathy and an over reliance upon artificial intelligence for basic survival. We need to augment our capacity for empathy with one another and take our mind, spirit and emotions to another level.
I would like to invite you to share your journey of self-exploration and related thoughts with respect to this Evolutionary Struggle that we find ourselves in. My hope is that this becomes the medium of a thriving conversation and exploration of topics. Please feel free to submit a profile and an initial entry to me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.