The night that Los Angeles burned, I walked the streets of Brooklyn alone. The next day was what I called White Flight Friday. I was a young man on the way to all the answers I now possess holding but a third, and yet I had a clue. The reporter asked how long, and I said the fires will all be out next week. She gaped incredulously, I continued to march, peacefully. That was 22 years ago. I wasn't even married yet.
That Thursday night near midnight when the streets were quiet, my mind was raging. I expected to be greeted with radical handshakes on every corner but the world in my immediate proximity was silent and calm. Of everything it was possible to know, the facts conspired to leave my neighbors at peace. I knew in that moment that disruption was the exception, and normalcy was the norm. I realized that I alone in Prospect Heights chose to arrange the facts to incite me to a certain active mindset. It was perplexing and frustrating. I was angry in my raging solitude; because they didn't get it.
They never do.
The night that Brooklyn burned, about somebody named Yankel, or was it Howard Beach, I'm sure that I was somewhere oblivious in Los Angeles. So when I got to New York and asked where the upper middle class black neighborhood was, I got stared down. I was supposed to hate Crown Heights as a black man, but I didn't share the context. When I came to rap in the local throwdowns, they saw my tie and expected me to croon. I refused the 8 Ball jacket and quickly learned how I could not have been expected to be taken seriously.
Black orthodoxy is an echo of the blues, and I have come to believe it is stuck in a key that hasn't been transposed much in 30 years. The orchestra is maintained by a conspiracy of facts purposefully arranged to incite. I have, over the years, become adept at recognizing the signature tones of its moaning chorus. Anybody black can solo, if you hit the right notes, but there are certain soloists who are sought out over others. These days, the sounds of the imprisoned and the dead round out the top 40. We've been here before, these blues are old standards now.
I'm talking about some place in Missouri. But I wasn't there and neither were you. Nor were you in Cosby's boudoir or OJ's driveway. You weren't in Clarence's office and you weren't in Rice's elevator. You weren't in Rodney's car and you weren't on Diallo's street. You weren't in Tupac's crew or R. Kelly's video. But you wanted to be. You wouldn't want to if you had your questions answered, how to think about America from the eyes of its darker brothers. You had to have a black man question settled once and for all, sorta. You gather facts that conspire to incite, because questions demand answers and answers demand action. Such curiosity cannot kill enough cats. You have to keep asking. The cats of racial theorems are in a superposition of states. You open the Pandora's box of race and either the black cat scratches your eyes out or it's just dead. It will always be that way, so long as you keep opening the box. And you do.
Brentwood. Rosewood. Jena. Howard Beach. Ferguson. Your eyes got scratched and you're singing the blues. What did Flip Wilson say? He loved the blues because when the record wears out, it still sounds the same.
You know the names of the 27 victims. It's an arbitrary number, but you could figure them out because you're an American. You could write a history of Black America in 27 Victims. It's what you're supposed to know. You are supposed to get it whether you live in Los Angeles or Brooklyn. You are supposed to know there's not just a black cat in the box, but a raging black panther. And if we just left the race box open and let it out, it could bring a righteous fright to all the quiet neighborhoods, and everyone would know what it feels like to get their eyes scratched out. We could all be equally blinded and in pain. We could all know the facts that incite us to action.
I say leave the box alone. The cat is just as dead as it is dangerous. It is only the obsession with observation that endangers our vision. It is only our desire for perpetually asking painful questions that brings the pain. Do you doubt me? Then why Ferguson? Why Ferguson for more than a year? Why this moment, on this day? Because drama requires a ticking clock, a pregnant pause, a single symbol above all others to confirm one way or another, what you already know the facts conspire to incite. The soloist may or may not sing on key but the chorus continues.
It's sad that so many people in the land of the free choose to stick their noses in the racial box. I understand that questions must be answered; it's a part of growing up. Once upon a time, people got killed for a reason and we talked about the racism that was the cause. I could name names, but you already know them. Now people get killed for no reason and somehow folks decide the reason should be racial. You know, because some people are white and some people are black and sides have to be taken. That's the devolution of thought required to incite lights, camera, action!
It's quiet here in Los Angeles. I've been thinking about Lewis Hamilton today, because that's what matters in my world. No I wasn't in Abu Dhabi over the weekend, but I wanted to be. I recognize that a lot of folks are going to think of America today in terms of cat scratch blues. That's their choice. That's what they want to know. That's the box they want to stick their nose in. Of all the things it's possible to know today my curiosity leaves me calm. The facts I persue conspire to leave me at peace, because peace and quiet is what I desire. I'm not even interested in rhetorical conflict.
There's always somebody who argues that a black man should not desire peace, but righteous anger until.. there's a black clerk at Woolworths, a black NFL quarterback, a black cheif of police, a black Supreme Court Justice, President, two-term President, King of the Universe Until forever. A black man should always be angry, right? Never give up the Struggle. Let 'em know.