Over the course of my life, I’ve come to understand that being a black man in Richmond is a tiring task.
What the last few days have taught me is that being “woke AF” in Richmond must be exhausting! It just has to be.
I pride myself on knowledge of self. I’ve come to understand systematic racism. For the most part, I understand Richmond’s racial history, economic inequity, the concentration of poverty in our poorest communities, etc.
Richmond’s history – and the effect of that history on our current community – is real and it does have a significant impact on what we see today in what most of us call “the two Richmonds.”
Let me be clear, while I consider myself “knowledgeable” there are levels to this shit and by no way do I consider myself an expert on “wokeness.” I recently met David Banner at VCU, in many ways, Banner is someone I’d consider an expert on wokeness (check out his brand new The God Box album).
In May, Essence Magazine published a cover story titled “100 WOKE WOMEN.” I encourage you to find it and read it. I’m not even the most woke person in my own household. First of all, it just seems exhausting. Seeing the systematic angle of every play within our community is draining. I have a lot of friends – close friends – that I consider way more woke that me, and more power to them. You don’t have to tell me you’re exhausted, I know. I feel for them as I’m sure they feel for me, in whatever state I’m in.
It has been a tough collection of days for the Richmond region. While I did not have the pleasure of knowing State Police Special Agent Michael Walter, I’ve learned of his story since his tragic death and my heart goes out to his family, friends and those he impacted through his community service, mentoring and coaching.
I struggle to make sense of the entire situation. I struggle to make sense of the violence in Mosby Court (read MPW recent column about Mosby in the RTD). I struggle to make sense of the role of local media. I even struggle about what to tell my son Cam when he is old enough to understand situations like this. My personal emotions have been all over the place.
But once again, social media is leading me in a direction that I really didn’t want to go but I can’t ignore. And that is, where do we draw the line on individual destructive behavior within the black community? How much of it is the result of systematic inequity and how much of it is personal action? Can we truly see the forest from the trees when it comes to these questions?
I believe black people can do bad things — and it can be just a bad thing done by a black person. That shit is possible. I know that I’m simplifying issues and circumstances that deserve a deeper understanding. And of course, this does not apply to every situation. I don’t even want it to specifically apply the violence in Mosby Court — but some of the social media contortions I’ve read online regarding any issue involving the state of the black community, crime, poverty, education, etc. has me confused and it is tough to fully come to terms with. And really some of it (a smaller part) is just embarrassing.
This week, I’ve read social media post in defense of things that I consider indefensible. What if black men are scared because police kill innocent black men all the time? I understand that fear and live that fear too. You don’t have to live in public housing to live that in 2017. Yet, I’m not going to shoot the next police officer that pulls me over or walks up to my car. Most black men will not either nor should we. If you’re about that life, we’re just on different pages.
But where do we in the black community draw the line on applying systematic factors to every circumstance? As Chris Rock (another person I’d consider woke AF) famously said, “Whatever just happened to crazy.”
Again, I don’t want to apply this specifically to the Mosby shooting. It’s a much larger more specific problem within the black community in Richmond. I don’t know Travis Ball. I don’t know his history outside of what’s been reported. For the record, it’s been reported that some of his family, I believe his sister, said that he’s made mistakes in the past but this is out of character.
My larger point is that the Black community in Richmond can apply our history and systematic racism to literally every circumstance and condition — and It would be valid. I am not one that believes we should just get over it and move on, not me. But where is the line drawn that certain things are simply out-of-pocket and even with all the factors in place – it’s just a bad person doing a bad thing?
My grandmother just turned 87 years old. I don’t know if she would consider herself woke. I think that’s the trendy term, young people like to label things. I know that she’s lived through so many things on the Northside of Richmond (4th Avenue) that no one dares to question her authenticity (if anyone did, she wouldn’t care – old black women just have that about them). And she’s always stood up for what’s right and taught me and my family to do the same. I remember sitting around her dining room table with my family and my grandmother calling things (and people) for what they were – and sometimes that was just plain crazy.
Being woke AF is great. Keep that third eye open. Have an understanding of the conditions we live in and how we got there. And apply that knowledge in all that we do in the community but we can’t get it twisted to the point where we make blanket excuses for destructive behavior. Bad people do bad things — all races, colors, and creeds. Black people are not absolved of this reality due to our history.
I wish I could tell you that I’m optimistic and the death of Officer Walter is the tipping point to end violence in Mosby and set a new course in Richmond. Right now, I’m not that optimistic.
We all have to work together and do our part to help improve the conditions in our community. That time is past due and I willing to do my part too.
I just look at some of my woke AF friends and know that they must be exhausted. #WESEEIT